Windylane was the name of what was supposed to be our family homestead – two acres in my Mother’s home town of Nauvoo, Illinois right on the Mississippi River.
I was born in my Father’s home town of Ft. Madison, Iowa – just across the river. It was an industrial town, typical of many in the Midwest at the time – where many of the world’s goods were then manufactured. It has since become part of the American Rust Belt – but this happened much later.
The West End of town, where my Father’s family lived, was built to serve the Santa Fe Railroad – because it operated a large depot there, called Shopton, for repairing its Steam Locomotives. My Father’s family had been impoverished itinerant farmers, moving from farm to farm in Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. The Railroad was a god-send for them – steady jobs for unskilled workers!
A shanty town quickly sprang up around the Railroad – with cheap houses and cheap women to gladden the hearts of the working man. It was a rough, dirty place. The presence of so many stream locomotives meant that the air was filthy. And on top of that a paper mill – that turned straw into paper – would open its vats every so often – and then the stench was overwhelming. The place stunk – literally. But for the working man, that was the smell of money – the sweetest smell on earth.
I was a sensitive boy, and the place made me sick. My Brother ran away from home twice. My parents knew something was wrong, and in 1947, when I was 11, we moved to Nauvoo – which saved my life. It was a beautiful, fruit-growing village of 1000 people that shipped table grapes to the large cities and was full of apple orchards also. Plenty of cider was available (both hard and soft).
We were told that Windylane would last forever – and would be a place where we could always come home - like any other homestead.
But instead our parents went completely crazy, and spent their money wildly – moving an old house on to our property that looked impressive, but had no insulation – and was therefore always cold in the long, bitter winters. Father made big money during the War – and assumed it would continue. But in fact his Photographic studio back in Ft. Madison made less and less money – and eventually none at all.
We were broke in a house that made no sense, inside or out. This was not unusual. The family farms, such as the one our relatives, the Ourths, bought just down the river – were going broke too. City people, who had made the fruit business possible, were no longer interested in fresh fruit. Small businesses, the backbone of every city, large and small, were disappearing everywhere.
In this period of crisis, my parents decided to go into the whole wheat flour business. A stupid decision if ever there was one. Dad built a strange mill full of strange machinery that attracted a lot of visitors – but few buyers of his flour. People did not want to bake their own bread – it was too much work.
So they built a bakery – and Dad (who was an excellent cook and baker) developed some tasty products. Business started picking up, and they hired a couple of local women to help with the work.
Then abruptly, the folks abandoned Windylane entirely (and my youngest sister) – to become part of a religious mission in Mexico – that eventually faded also.
Our family had lived a lie all that time. And no one thought that unusual – everyone else was doing the same thing.
America was going down the drain – but nobody realized it at the time.