I have spent my entire life in Illinois. Born and raised. But for the last sixteen years, I’ve lived in East Central Illinois, which sometimes seems worlds away from the Metro Chicago Illinois where I come from.
Where I grew up, my house was three blocks from Chicago city limits. Here, my house is three blocks from a cornfield. And while most of the time these differences don’t matter at all (don’t people everywhere dote on their children, and drink coffee in the morning and go to the grocery store for food?) sometimes they do.
Sometimes, on an any-Thursday afternoon, I experience culture shock. Sometimes, when I see restaurant billboards advertising country fried steak sandwiches, I want to huddle my children together and assure them, “Kids, we’re not from here. That’s not us.”
I have a friend (that I) named Farmer Jack and we catch up every Sunday morning before church. I’ll ask him if he’s going to his grandson’s football game and he’ll bark gruffly, “WELL I SPOSE.” (translation: “Of course! I wouldn’t miss it!”) He always talks at a louder decibel than necessary. As if, should someone suddenly start up a combine, he’ll still be heard. “So what’d you plant this year, Jack?” “CORN AND BEANS, SAME AS EVER.” I think he’s wonderful.
This place is charming. With deep rural roots, this Illinois has a cool, unassuming culture all its own.
At a garage sale last month, I found a big, old plat map, framed in a black wood frame. Below the title of “Edgar County, Illinois” tidy plats press together to determine a farmland geography. If you look closely at each plat, you’ll see a neat, handwritten name with property measurements and a township plat number. Accidentally beautiful and surprisingly chic, this plat map has a graceful elegance. I picked it up for its cool, utilitarian style. I also loved its hefty, sizeable scale. Big, authentic pieces are hard to find, and I have a few large wall spaces that crave beauty. (Now that I think of it, even large-scale reproduction art is hard to find, or pricey to purchase.) This piece is incredible. And at just $5, I had money left over to buy paint for the wall behind it.
As I was cruising for unique jewelry supplies the other day, I had a funny “I’m not from here” moment. I found some gold 4-H medals that said, “Illinois Honor Member.” I grabbed them because they were so quaint and I knew I could turn them into a great necklace with a bit of urban swag. To write-up the description of the finished piece, I knew I was going to have to get smart about 4-H really quick. “Horse, heart, hands and something.” So I googled it. Guess what? “Horse” isn’t even one of the Hs!
(It’s “head, heart, hands” and something. I think it’s “hearth.”)