I’m Not Ashamed of Cahokia

Within seconds of it being on the news, word spread fast that a guy who grew up at the same time and same place that I did just got busted for operating a meth lab in a Cahokia house. Comments about it were of course all over Facebook, but the one that stood out to me was something like “I wish I could forget where I came from.”

And it made me sad.

Because Cahokia then, when I grew up, was not a place I would ever want to forget. Sure, it’s not the same as it used to be, but to me, there couldn’t have been a better place to grow up.St. Monica

Today when I pull up in front of the house on St. Monica where I lived for the first ten years, at first glance, I want to cry. It’s been abandoned for a while, but I can’t look past the memories I made there.  See that big tree? My brother climbed it every day. We had a tire swing that went so high, we could touch the branches. We had tomato stands in the front yard, and when awesome neighbors would stop to give us money, we’d grin from ear to ear. In that subdivision, we played hide and seek with kids for hours, going in and out of our neighbors’ yards until my dad whistled for us to come home — or ’til the streetlights came on. We walked to the convenience store – Kemper’s – with a quarter to buy a bag full of penny candy. Those are things I don’t want to forget.

tomato

When we moved across the highway to Old Cahokia, I was a little older. My best friend lived right behind me, and together we rode our bikes all over the neighborhood. We roller skated forever while carrying our boom box. We trick-or-treated until our pillow cases were full and went door-to-door selling fundraisers, sometimes even without our parents. People who didn’t grow up in Cahokia can’t imagine a place where it was ever safe enough to do that – but we remember.

Plum house

I drive through town and see my old softball fields consumed by weeds, but the friendships made on those fields have stayed strong enough and lasted long enough to get me past the sadness of the fields being gone. I choose to be thankful for those lifelong friends, and to remember the cheers, the silliness, the pouring water over each other’s heads at home plate. The memories.

ball

How many towns where people grew up had a movie theater, a youth center with karate classes, a public pool, a roller rink, an ice rink, and carnivals in the grocery store parking lot? We didn’t have to go far for entertainment.

Most summer days from the time we turned 12, my mom dropped us off at the pool at noon and picked us up at 5, knowing we were safe. On an average winter weekend, we went to five sessions of ice skating.  That city allowed its kids to be active. You can’t be ashamed of that.

Cahokia was filled with hard-working people with good kids who had parents who cared – and a lot of folks who turned out to be upstanding citizens.  Instead of turning our heads the other way when people talk badly about it, we should be proud of where we came from and remember the good times.

The friendships.

The fun.

The good people.

The memories.

97 thoughts on “I’m Not Ashamed of Cahokia

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  1. My parents bought a house there when my dad was going to Parks College. Their first business was there Nelson’s Tool Rental. My brother and sister grew up there. I saw Cahokia from an outsiders view because my parents bought land in Columbia. They were fortunate enough to keep their property there until the mid 90’s. Dad just couldn’t keep up with the rental property any more. What I saw in Cahokia was a community that was no different from where I went to school. Over the years, I made good friends with many families. I played with friends until dark riding bikes, shooting hoops and throwing baseballs. It saddens me to see the state the village is in today. My dad still ventures out to see some of his old haunts sometime I drive him there so we don’t forget. Plus I get to hear some of his old stories that I hold so dear to heart! Yes we are from Cahokia and I won’t ever forget that.

  2. Nice job. I grew up in Parkfield Terrace (born in 1960) and by the time I was in high school it was affectionately referred to as “The Ghetto”. When I was a kid we rode our bikes all the way past the high school and to the Dairy Queen. We had a neighborhood candy store (Sammy’s) that actually had penny candy. We really did stay out until the street lights came on, and we played in the rainwater that accumulated in the ditches (OMG, the toxins!). I wish I could re-create that world for my kids (who are now grown). I learned, too early, to cringe when someone from St. Louis or Chicago asked me where I was from. I wasn’t from one of those cool Chicago suburbs with exotic names like ‘Palatine’ – and I couldn’t compete with ‘Parkway West’. I mumbled something about “southern Illinois” – and it’s a shame. If you grew up in Cahokia you grew up with grit – you know how to survive in the world – you’re not a wimp – and if you were lucky you took advantage of the proximity of all the cool stuff on both sides of the river. I’m so ‘over’ being ashamed of where I grew up. I see it as a badge of honor now. Face it, in many ways we’re pretty bad-ass! (pardon my language) 🙂

  3. I too grew up in Cahokia and am not ashamed of that fact. I have great childhood memories of growing up and attending my entire school years in Cahokia, IL. Granted, I did not choose to raise my family in the same area due to my career but they are pretty envious when I relay the stories of the tight-knit and positive community spirit that at one time Cahokia was known for. It is heartbreaking to read in the news of the city’s decline but I will never forget where I came from and am truly grateful for the memories.

  4. Great article! I grew up on Garrison Ave., but their wasn’t a part of Cahokia I didn’t ride my bike! I wish I could give that kind of childhood to my daughter, but things sure have changed since the 70’s. Thank you for reminding me how incredible my childhood was!

  5. I loved, loved, loved reading your post and all the comments left by fellow Cahokians! Thank you for bringing back great memories! I walked to Holy Family most every Sunday for Sunday School – just me and my sister – and then my mom would join us for church later. Sure can’t do that in most neighborhoods now. I had a great childhood in Cahokia and sure wish I could bring my kids back to see how it used to be. :(. Thank you for posting and bringing back great memories!

  6. Thank you so much for this post! It honestly brought tears to my eyes! Reading through your blog was a wonderful stroll down memory lane for me. My childhood memories of Cahokia are among some of my best memories of my life……..your words painted an awesome picture of how Cahokia used to be. Well said and shared!

  7. All, well most of my fondest memories are from growing up in cahokia. I have a hand full of friends, real friends, I have known all of my life from cahokia. roy made a bad choice that has nothing to do with cahokia. I’ve made some bad choices too. live and learn. There nothin better than reminiscing with tru friends like adam and eric browning. so many good times that makes me smile and feel good. three for five at the pool hall. sledding on car hoods at the levee, riding our bikes from sun up till sun down, little woods, aces track, exploring the grainery, skippin school with friends, fishing at echo lake, snake hunting, my bike was stolen…i stole some bikes, catchin crawdads on bacon at the levee, peeing contests at adams house, first kiss upsidedown on the monkey bars. the memories go on and on. that’s cahokia.

  8. I also grew up in Cahokia, Holy Family School and Church with my family. Played softball at St Joseph league fields and played on the play ground, after dark. I also lived in St Joe gardens, on St Leo and have many happy memories of playing under street lights and ballgames at Huffman school, walks to Dog nSuds and candy from Kemper’s. Thanks Cahokia for the GOOD TIMES.
    carol

  9. Thank you for this. Well written and so true. Most of my happiest memories occurred in that little town. We all need to be reminded of the good and not jump on the negative nelly band-wagon. Bless you!

  10. Wow! Love what you said…I feel the same way. I loved growing up in Cahokia, when I get to visit St. louis ,I try to go by my old house ,when i do it makes me so sad to see the once pretty good neighborhood we grew up in ,is now run down ,friends houses that i went to are abandoned or torn down and the house i grew up in looks so different. I miss the old days when growing up in St. Johns wasn’t a bad neighborhood. It was awesome and I thank you for reminding me of my childhood years.

  11. My dad always used to say I was raised in Cahokia, I’d have to say a good chunk of me was raised by Cahokia too. Riding my bike from the trailer parks over by Wirth across town to the strip malls near Sauget. Learning to program and use computers at the library and stopping at the pool to let my Dad know what I was up to. I lived in that park, beyond living in Cahokia Heights… good ole Kutz St. Tough to see all pf the opportunity ground down by poor management. Wonder what it would be like if so many of us weren’t gone. Cahokia taught me so much that I tried to bring it to Ottumwa, Iowa and started a youth center there! Does make me wonder after that middle america I grew up in… hope it isn’t disappearing! Which is part of why I chase my kids out of the house and my neighbors look at them funny as a 7 and 5 year old wander the field behind my house!

    Great to see so many old friends posting!

  12. Cahokia was a very safe village to live in – the excellent schools, teachers that actually cared and were able to teach (30 + students), and you never really had to worry about your neighbors. Neighborhoods were close knit families who shared values – hard working folks, who taught respect. I grew up on School St. and I’m not ashamed of saying I’m from Cahokia. It saddens me a great deal to see how far down it has gone. Thanks for the article, it was nice to see someone else appreciate where we came from.

  13. I wouldnt have wanted to be raised anywhere else, was raised at 24 West Adams in Bridgdale. I also raised my kids there until the schools started getting bad at 1128 St Benedict Dr in St Louis gardens. Bought the home from Burtcille Smith my mother in law at the time. she was a nice lady. sold my home & moved my kids from there in 1999. I miss all my old friends & riding dirt bikes behind the sub. I still go to my mothers to help her & work on her house, she is still at the same house in Bridgdale. & So many old friends have passed.

  14. I grew up in the Bruce Place subdivision on Sycamore. I remember all the fun we use to have playing ball in the field, chasing lightning bugs, and following the bug man ( oh how dumb). Gathering at McDonald’s or the “sign” at Nova Plaza. There are so many amazing things to remember about the Cahokia I grew up in that I have to say, NO, I am not ASHAMED that I grew up in Cahokia

  15. I wouldnt have wanted to be raised anywhere else, was raised at 24 West Adams in Bridgdale. I also raised my kids there until the schools started getting bad at 1128 St Benedict Dr in St Louis gardens. Bought the home from Burtcille Smith my mother in law at the time. she was a nice lady. sold my home & moved my kids from there in 1999. I miss all my old friends & riding dirt bikes behind the sub. I still go to my mothers to help her & work on her house, she is still at the same house in Bridgdale. & So many old friends have passed. I POSTED THIS LATE LAST YEAR BUT SAID IT ISNT APPROVED YET.

  16. I lived in Cahokia with my parents and siblings since 1960 on Chaudet.. After graduating in 1961 I moved around a little in the area but moved back in 1966. Lived on Chaudet again at a different address and then Delano Drive. Me with my two baby girls bought a home in Saint Louis Garden on St. Boniface. Lived there for 32 years. Moved in 2006 to St. Peters, Mo. Was a beautiful place to live and enjoyed bringing my girls up in Cahokia. Remember all the good times. Disheartening to go thru there now………

  17. Not ashamed of Cahokia….still here in the house my grandfather built in 1956. Yes the town has went downhill but mainly due to politicians and the buddy system in which this town has always been ran.

  18. I lived at 1242 St. Michael Dr. In St. Francis Gardens. It was a great place to grow up. I was saved in Maplewood Park Baptist Church when I was about 12. That in itself makes Cahokia an amazing place to me. No matter where I go in this life I will always know my eternal sole is safe forever.
    God is good,
    Diana

    1. I lived on Ellen Street in St Francis Gardens. It was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s. Rode our bikes everyone. Shopped at Dixies and Dillions and felt very safe. Really sad to see how it is now but I will always be proud of the little town of Cahokia and the life I know there.

    2. Rev Hall was my amazing pastor. In the church he baptized me, married me 25 years ago and consoled me 3 weeks after my wedding when he performed my fathers memorial service. I have so many memories of growing up there.

  19. Was a great life for me living in Cahokia proud to say i grew up there, played alot of baseball and football across the street from Kempers,knew Mrs Kemper and her daughter for many yrs until they sold it,. I was on the Cahokia Volunteer fire department in the early 1970′.The best place to grow up in in the 1960’s.

  20. I loved living next to your Grandma and down the street from you and your best friend behind you..my niece:) I remember going to all the picnics and would talk forever, I knew everyone. I loved being involved with St. Catherine and Holy Family. Although I enjoy where I live now it isn’t the same as the bonds of my Cahokia friends. I have friends in Cahokia and the ones who moved away support Cahokia sports and memories of our youth. I can say if you did something wrong in Cahokia as a child someone’s mother would let your mother know and the great small stores to buy candy…they don’t have towns like that anymore.

  21. I grew up in Cahokia and am still proud of it. I lived at 607 Water Street in the house that my Dad, my Uncle Joe Bagsby and Uncle John (bug) Bagsby built. I drive by it often. Still love all my friends from there. It was a GREAT place to grow up. Love all the memories and no one can change that.

  22. I was born and raised in town and wouldn’t change a thing! Made great friends in Cahokia that have been there my whole life.

  23. I lived in Cahokia from the 4th grade through high school graduation in 1969.
    I chose to get married and have a family in Cahokia. I left Cahokia when I was 30. I have many good memories of Cahokia. There are people everywhere in all parts of America that make the choice to do Meth and other drugs and you can’t blame the town they are in for that. Cahokia was a great place to grow up as far as I’m concerned.

  24. Loved Cahokia,
    I grew up living above my Family’s tavern, Sonny’s Village Stop, I had my 1st job Shining Shoes at Kenny’s Barbershop. Kempers was the best. Where else could you walk into Mayor Mike Kings office and ask him to open the gym so we could play!!!!!!!

  25. I currently live in Los Angeles but spent the first five years of my life in Cahokia (late 1970s). I drove back there several years ago and was shocked that I was able to drive right to my old house. I hadn’t been there in nearly thirty years, but I remembered a few key landmarks and was able to find it. My best friend lived on St. Monica (he and I went to college together and still keep in contact to this day); in fact, I think his family still lives there. Thanks for sharing your memories.

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