A look at
Minonk's past

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Walking home

By Barth Weistart

Walking home from downtown on a moonless night was an anticipated venture. I worked at Morrison's Chocolate Shop and then Liner's Diner till 10:30 or 11PM some nights. Then came the walk home!

On a dark night, sounds, perceived shadows, traumatic stories dictate the imaginations of the young. It was no different for me. Going home took a lot of thought. I would leave the restaurant and head north on "main" street. At the Vissering's corner, I would turn east on Sixth to Kents Lumber and Coal. My journey continued north. Oak was a dark and foreboding street. The art of whistling was now a necessary skill. Whistling had a strategy. On Oak, the strategy was to whistle to warn others you were coming up the street. Lights were scarce but there was one at the corner of Seventh and Oak. The bulb shined a ten-foot diameter beam to the ground. Step outside the beam and you were in the dark. As one walked away, the light became a fading beacon. In the 1940's people were still awed with the light bulb. Research to develop brighter bulbs and reflective globes was just beginning. Consequently, Minonk was still a dark town. Downtown had lights every 30 to 40 feet. Residential streets generally had lights only at the end of the block. There were few alley lights.

Preceding east along the tracks was a breeze. There was open space and the fear of whatever was diminished. The fears were never defined. They were imagination not yet refined by experience. In later years, the dark would become an ally when we perceived ourselves as "nijas of the night" after reading a Tom Clancy novel.

Upon reaching the alley between Locust and Oak, the journey was half over-the longest half in distance but, the shortest half in frights. Each foot was dragged over the crossing so that a raised board or rail would not catch your shoe and plummet you to the ground. Then down the railroad bank into the heart of the alley.

Here the strategy of whistling changed. It was dark and being quiet so no one knew you were on your way was paramount. On the west side of the alley there were out buildings-cob and coal sheds, a privy, an unused garage, and other places of dark sanctuary for the unknown. You would proceed down the alley along the east side to stay away from the dark abodes. But, on the east side there were obstacles-burn barrels and trash heaps.

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Getting past Fehrings house was navigable. The Jochums house was next. It was easy to walk into their burn barrel. You would fight it until you realized it couldn't fight back. If the burn barrel fell over and spilled its contents, the right thing would be to put everything back the way it was. To someone heading home on a pitch black night who had just had a burn barrel experience, stopping to pick up garbage was not an option. My parents pointed out several times that someone had dumped Jochums barrel. Jack probably wondered why the barrel was dumped only on dark nights.

On to home! Next was our house, but there was an obstacle. Sheds lined both sides of the walk to our back door. What lurked around these buildings? Usually nothing! But, I wasn't convinced.

I had four brothers and at least one was concerned about me and wanted all my expectations brought to fruition. On a couple of occasions, as I passed through the last black hurtle, arms reached out and embraced me. All my fears and anxieties were realized in that second. The voice of my brother didn't soothe me as I vowed vengeance. The favor was returned once, just not in as dark conditions.

Jack Cullen told me he had similar feelings when he had to walk home on a sidewalk upon which a man was reportedly found dead and which was lined with several old and dark buildings.

You may wonder why we would take routes home which raised such anxieties in our lives. The only explanation I could think of was–it was the shortest way home.