Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Great Road Trip: DeKalb IL

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My Parents Pasquale and Joan and my Grandparents Ed and Helen
So we continue our journey on the Great Road Trip, the second destination in the 1700 mile journey, DeKalb, IL. Perhaps best known for its namesake corn, you see the signs all over the Midwest, birthplace of barbed wire and it is also home to Northern Illinois University. Most important, the home of my mom Joan. She grew up here with her 4 sisters and brother, my grandparents Helen and Ed, and her Grandfather. I visited with Christina, my sister Lori, my cousins Chantal (her 2 children) and Susie, their mom my Aunt Jeannie (my mom's sister) and of course my parents.
Susie, Susie, Chantal and Lori
So in good form, our first stop was the Serbian Cemetery. This is where my Great Grandfather Steven Miskin is buried. He was quite a figure in the Serbian community and I have been to his childhood home in Trbinje, Bosnia. This cemetery is very different from Mt. Carmel in Chicago, here the Serbs have a small corner of a large cemetery. The names can be quite hard to pronounce, but like my Italian side, they came here willing to do whatever it took to be Americans. They worked very hard, they sent much of their money back to the homeland to help the other family members, and they embraced America. The Serbs in DeKalb still tend to this little cemetery, paying tribute to those brave immigrants.

We drove by the old houses, and took pictures trying to remember what it all looked like 40 years ago. My Grandfather was a tavern keeper, and Ed's Tavern was a short walk across the backyard from the house I remember so well. It was a small tavern with a loyal customer base. It was nestled in a neighborhood so many patrons walked there. During WWII, Ed framed a photo of every neighborhood serviceman and hung them on the walls. The young men would return and give Ed a patch from their battalion, squadron or unit. He made a large banner that hung as long as the tavern was there. My mom now has this banner, and it still smells faintly of cigar smoke and beer, or perhaps it is the wonderful memories that we smell. The banner is one of the most complete of WWII patches. We have encouraged her to find a home for it where it can be preserved and admired, but she is afraid it would end up in a drawer in the archives of museum.
This is just a snippet of the banner
As a kid, I would go into Ed's through the back door. There was a large rounded fridge and he always had Chocolate Kayo Pop in a bottle. If I helped him wash glasses in the warm water with the fuzzy heads, I could earn a pop and maybe a pickled sausage. I never ventured to try a pickled egg. I thought being in that bar was the most wonderful thing. There was a Hamm's Beer sign, (sing along, Hamm's the land of sky blue water...) and the sign changed or moved. I can't remember. I always thought that Hamm's was from Wisconsin, and as a kid, that was my second favorite place, Delavan, Wisconsin, but alas, it is from Minnesota. Oh well. A few years back, the new owner of the house and tavern let us have a look around and took us into the tavern. It just didn't stir any memories. It is great to think back to that era. Men don't stop in and have a beer with the guys on the way home anymore. And they can't really take the wife out for a drink in the neighborhood. But wouldn't that be fun? I will do a blog on Ed's and the photos I have.

We then went to the Catholic cemetery where Ed and Helen rest. My mom has lost 2 of her sisters, and both have had ashes scattered here. Losing my grandparents is one of those memories that makes my heart ache. I was in 2nd grade when Ed passed. It was really hard for me to understand. I was in high school when my Grandma passed, and to this day the smell of roses brings back her funeral. It is all I can remember. I still look for Jergen's Lotion in the original formula, my Grandma used it every day, and smells just like I remember her. As we left the cemetery, I passed the grave of John Manekitis (I know I spelled this wrong). He and his wife are buried together and I never knew them, but I know the name so well. My Grandma had a cat maned John Manekitis. We always thought this was a funny name when we were kids, but he was apparently someone they all remembered and John (the cat) was a great pet. Walking past his grave made us all giggle as we thought about our funny and loving family. Maybe someone will name their pet SweetiePetitti one day. You never know!

We had dinner in DeKalb with my mom's best friend from grade school. They have their 65th class reunion later this summer. That is amazing. This photo is from a few summers ago, but my mom and Pauline have maintained their friendship for over 70 years, and much of that before the advent of the internet. They haven't lived in the same town for almost 60 years. Isn't it amazing waht Christmas cards and phone calls do to maintain a friendship?

The next day we took a long walk around the campus, gorgeous! And then before we hit the road for the next chapter, we went to the church. St. Mary's Catholic Church. The church opened in 1901, and was truly a neighborhood church. My mom and her siblings all attended the school there, and my mom would go to church every morning before school and on weekends to play the organ for Mass. My mom and dad were married in this church 59 years ago. Sadly, there was a fire in the mid 70's which took much of the grandness of church with it. Today, it is a little bare, and needs a little care, but the stained glass windows remain some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. We all said a little prayer and hit the road. The next stop is Clinton, Iowa.


  1. What a great article to commemorate such a trip. It will become part of my kids scrap book. Cousins unite!

  2. It sounds like you are having a fantastic road trip Susie. I love your families history and I can't pass up on the 70 year friendship- something we can all learn from!
    Look out Iowa!

  3. Thank you both. I love to write about the family, I am a nostalgic kind of girl. Wish there had been better food on the trip:)

  4. Hello,

    Very interesting article. My name is Jacob and my grandmother's maiden name is Hrnjak. She is also Serbian. She grew up on Dodge Avenue in Dekalb before getting married. Her parents and grandparents are buried in the Serbian section of the cemetery also. I run a blog where I write about the history of Serbia and Russia. If you would like to talk and maybe exchange some information on the history, my email is: