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Columns

Pat Wallis: Smiles, waves and greetings go a long way here

Pat Wallis
Pat Wallis

Don’t play close to the highway. Don’t cross the railroad tracks when you’re playing outside. Say “Hi” to everyone you recognize or meet in Sandwich. Those are three really important rules I recall from my early childhood.

My parents bought a house on U.S. Route 34, and we moved there when my brother and I were very young, about 2 and 3 years old.

It was a great location, next door to A.E. Woodward grade school, where we could join other kids on the school’s playground year-round. And, best of all, our grandparents, as well as four more households of great-aunts, great-uncles, aunts, uncles and cousins, were just a two-block walk south. It was in the late 1930s. The population of Sandwich could have been about 1,500.

Our home’s location on Route 34 brought on the necessity of the first rule. It seems one Sunday afternoon soon after our move, my brother and I were outside, already dressed up for some special occasion while our parents were finishing up in the house. My dad was taking his trousers off a wooden hanger when he looked out the front bedroom’s window. He saw us standing on Route 34’s curbing, sticking our toes out, trying to touch the cars that were driving down the highway.

From what I understand, he ran outside in his boxer trunks and used the hanger to spank us. I don’t remember it and can’t really recall him ever spanking us again.

Just recently it occurred to me why we weren’t supposed to cross the railroad tracks that were just a block north of our house. I learned later that children who grew up on the north side had the same rule.

It was probably because there were no gates on the Green Street crossing to stop cars or pedestrians when the trains were approaching.

The only two railroad crossing gates were uptown, on Main and Eddy streets, and operated by Ed Schumaker, who was seated in a tall structure. The small, wooden, stilted building was located just north and east of the Main Street railroad crossing. Schumaker would manually close the gates, using a tall lever, when he saw trains coming into town.

Unfortunately, he was seriously injured when a railroad car went off the tracks and knocked down the building while he was in it. He never fully recovered, according to reports from townspeople.

Automatic railroad crossing gates were later installed, but only at the Main and Eddy Street crossings, while flashing lights and a loud pulsing bell were the only warnings at every other crossing for a while. 

I learned the third rule, about greeting others, when Mom and I walked uptown one day. I keenly remember being really small, holding my mom’s hand when we were walking uptown. We were maybe in front of Rud’s Butcher Shop or Ohler’s Ladies Wear. A young man walked toward us and said hello. Mom replied, “Hi.” When he’d passed us, she sat on her heels and looked into my face to quietly tell me that I should always say “Hi” to everyone I saw in Sandwich.

Maybe waving, saying “Hi” and smiling are pretty good rules to follow, whether we’re in our cars, sitting on our porches or shopping. It not only makes us feel better, it might make someone else’s day.

It could be said we’re pretty easy to please in Sandwich, since smiles, waves and greetings go a long way here.

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