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.
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.
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.
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.
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 good people.