First Trip to Chester
The excitement of call night had passed and Nancy and I finally moved on and had accepted our fate. And so we began to make arrangements to make the move to Chester. Our first priority was find a suitable house or apartment.
Our contact down in Chester was the current pastor. Pastor R. Pastor R was relatively new to Chester himself but seemed to be very knowledgeable about the area so we made plans to drive down to Chester. Pastor R and his wife offered to host us for the weekend so that we could do some house hunting.
We made plans to head to Chester in early June. My first day on the job was to be August 15th so it was necessary for us to find a place, pack up our stuff, move it to Chester, and settle in to our new digs.
The drive down took forever and although the scenery was beautiful, eight hours was just too much. Finally in the early afternoon we arrived. The school was an older structure built in 1913 with the church, built in 1849, across the street. On the corner, across the street from the church, was the parsonage, or pastor’s house. It was a two story, white, colonial structure. The exterior was well maintained and as we soon found out the interior was beautiful and tastefully decorated by Pastor’s wife.
Pastor was an “okay” guy. He was very likable and down to earth. He liked his beer. He met us at the front door of the parsonage with a bottle of Stag beer in each hand. He shoved one into my hand and took a drink out of the other. We exchanged pleasantries and talked a bit. What a difference years can make. I remember my most important question at that time was not salary, not insurance coverage, not even my teaching assignments. Being a cub fan from Chicago, my biggest concern was “can you pick up WGN television?" I quickly learned two things number one you cannot pick up WGN. Number two I now lived in the territory of the Chicago Cubs arch enemy, the St. Louis Cardinals.
After dinner pastor took me out for a quick tour of the town. We made it as far as an establishment known as Wittenbrink's. This was a bar right out of the 1920s the main bar was approximately 30 feet long complete with the jar of pickled pigs feet and pickled eggs. There were additional roundtables with wooden chairs. This appeared to be the meeting place of many of the local men in town.
After visiting with the locals for about a half hour we returned to the house pickup pastor's wife and Nancy and begin the search for a house.
The selection of living quarters left a lot to be desired. The first quote unquote house was basically an above ground dungeon. The only thing missing was a skeleton in chains hanging from the walls. We looked at several places after that but none of them that the requirements that we were looking for, a living space suitable for humans.
Finally, we came upon a two-story house that was being used as an income property. The main floor was great. Wooden floors, fireplace, pocket doors, crown molding. The biggest drawback was the kitchen which, if you stood right in the middle and stretched her arms out, rotate slowly, you could probably touch all four walls. But it was a nice place that we have been to and we decided that's where we would take up residence. There was one stipulation, and that was the house was for sale. Had we known at that time that the asking price was only $12,500 we would probably have bought it. But we didn't and we were quite happy to simply rent it.
The rest of the weekend went by smoothly, we attended church and met many of the teachers and parishioners and parents and headed back to Chicago Sunday after church. Things were beginning to come together and we actually were beginning to look forward to packing and making the move to our new home in southern Illinois.
Move over Popeye!
My call as fourth-grade teacher was to begin on August 15. We had all her belongings packed and had rented an apartment coincidently to my sister-in-law and her husband whom I had gone to school with since first grade. They were actually moving in as we were moving out. My wife is a neatness freak and as we left the house, it was spotless. But that did not stop my brother-in-law's mother from cleaning everything she had already cleaned as we moved the furniture out.
The saddest part of the whole move was the fact that I had to sell my 64 Chevy Impala super sport with inverted chrome wheels, a 409 engine, reverberation audio, a truly hot car. As a replacement we bought a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger. With the Dodge dart swinger packed to the gills and a rented truck antennae and a few friends headed south to Chester.
Arriving late in the evening we unpacked and settled in to our new home. We were in the house for half an hour when there was a knock at the front door. It was pastor he was aware of the fact that we were arriving that evening. He welcomed us, and then informed us that the house was sold and we would have to move. An unpleasant word formed in the back of my head.
It would be hard to accurately describe the disappointment Nancy and I felt at that moment. We had no idea where we were going to live and I was to begin work in two days I begin to wonder if the above ground dungeon was still available. Pastor said that he would be back in the morning and we would begin our house hunting all over again. With nothing more to do that evening we prepared for bed surrounded by unpacked boxes.
I must preface this next part by saying that as we prepare to move to Chester, Nancy had asked the question "what would we do in Chester?" My response to her was simply that we would sit out on the front porch and listen to the grass grow. Okay, now you have to remember that Nancy was a city girl. As we lay in bed that first night in Chester she heard, for the first time in her life, crickets chirping. She looked over at me and in all seriousness asked me," is that the grass growing?" I laughed so hard that I felt out of the bed.
And so began the first year of our 40 plus years in Chester.