A Sense of Place / November 2014
Yours Truly in a Swamp,
by Leonard Earl Johnson
Further back down the road, in Illinois, my Grandmother spoke German and English. Her Mother spoke only German.
December 28, 1916 ~ October 12, 2012Margaret "Mac" Echoles-Staudacher Johnson, in 1943
We all lived, in our turn, in a German-American village in Illinois. It was named Ullin, after some early settlers or, as my Father argued, the Daughter of the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski, who perished at the Battle of Savanna, during the American Revolution. History shows Pulaski had no children -- sometimes your own Father can lead you wrong.
My Father, Gordon Hale Johnson, was nicknamed Porky, and came from a nearby back hill railroad village named Alto Pass. It was a spur line town shipping Illinois' Ozark-foothill produce to a world largely unaware Illinois had hills, and was so named by railroad surveyors who measured it the highest point on the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans. With this new rail line -- only truly busy when area orchards were in fruit -- Alto Pass joined the mainline commerce of America.
My Father's Father came there with the train, from "up-East." Before that, "Europa. Denmark, Norway. No where exactly," he said. He worked his way west with the railroads -- the high tech industry of the day -- and when the tracks reached Alto Pass he got off.
My Father claimed some vestigial objection to Ullin being named after Germans. He would say, "I should know, I married one!" Thus was born the Count Pulaski's Daughter theory. Supporting evidence to his error was the fact that the county was named Pulaski. In truth, it was a family he thought descendants of the original Ullins still living in the village that bothered him. They were the local establishment, as he saw it, and their Ullin was on the mainline of the Illinois Central. He was an interloper from Alto Pass.
My Father and Mother owned a roadhouse, named Porky's, where the food was good and he was the floor-show sitting at the end of the bar expounding on the Ullin-naming issue, and F. D. R.'s New Deal (he disliked both). My Mother, who grew up in Ullin, liked the 'Ulins' and the New Deal, "Just fine!" Porky evidently won the naming-argument because the resident family allegedly bearing that name dropped one 'l' from their spelling.
"Out of fear Porky was making people think them Polish!" my Grandmother laughed.
Illinois Central Station, early 20th Century, Ullin, Illinois
My Mother's antecedents
had been citizens of Germany's Bönnigheim, near Stuttgart, Swabia. These are lands of mountains, Black Forests, German industry, and people who like to sing and yodel.
They immigrated first as one Brother / Son / Uncle, who sailed to New York City, took a train to Saint Louis, Missouri and a raft / barge, in those days called an "ark," one-hundred miles down the Mississippi, to the Cache River. To the new German settlement of Ullin, at the southern tip of Illinois, twenty miles north of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers is where Mark Twain's Huck Finn was headed on his raft to set free "Nigger Jim," from the slave-state, Missouri.
My people arrived after the Civil War. After Mark Twain had captained river boats to New Orleans, fled West to avoid that war -- after briefly joining the Confederate Militia in Missouri -- and then moved to Hartford, Connecticut to write.
Twain, aka, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, came from Hannibal, Missouri, two-hundred miles upriver from Ullin, Illinois. He was born in 1835, following the appearance of Halley's Comet. He died in 1910, at 74, on the day after the Comet's return -- something he had humorously predicted. Growing up, my siblings and I read his books and thought ourselves better for it.
The German Brother / Son / Uncle to first seed our New World became my Great Great Uncle -- though he never lived to know it. I don't know if he ever read Mark Twain. His name was Wilhelm Stadacher and when he arrived on that first trip he secured land along the Cache River, on the opposite bank of a sawmill. The next century saw that sawmill’s offices become the roadhouse nightclub named Porky's owned by my Father, Porky, and Mother, who was always called Mac.
| Mac and Porky, 1943, taking the baths at Hot Springs, |
Arkansas, celebrating my birth without me.
When Wilhelm returned to Germany, he gathered his extended family and led them back to The New Promised Land, "Ullin-America!"
My Grandmother left behind a life for which she pined, I always thought. She did not talk much about it. America's two World Wars with Germany further tarnished her reminiscence of "The Old Country."
About all my Sister and Brothers and Cousins ever heard her say about Germany was that they had lived in a country town, near Stuttgart. They lived in an apartment above the ground floor, where a family of cows and two horses lived.
J. Staudacher Corner
19th Century, Bönnigheim, Swabia
Swabia was a good land full of "Jovial people who liked clocks," she told us.
It was like Texas and Arkansas, it sounded to us. With a dash of Detroit -- in the days before Detroit became America's first fallen star. This, also, is the area of Germany where Hitler first arrived from Austria to save Das Vaterland from the Versailles Treaty. But that is another story, and you know how badly it turned out for the German folk.
Her funeral was all you can ask of one. It was at the Crain Funeral Home, on the street where I grew up, in Ullin, where we all lived in our turn. It was loving, tearful and supportive. And her Priest, Father Chris Mujulea, a slim black man from Ghana, preached on how she asked him to pray for the Lord to take her Home. He told us this day was the Feast of Saint Mary Margaret. Margaret was my Mother's Christian name.
Our Cousin, Lt. Paul Echols, a retired Carbondale police detective credited with solving a notorious cold case serial murder, and authoring, with Christine Byers, IN COLD PURSUIT, My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir, read a remembrance of family duties and kindness that hung stars in my Mother's crown.
Father Mujulea gave my Sister, Margaret Yvonne, permission to play the Ingrid Lucia, Irvin Mayfield, 2005 music video, "Do They Play Jazz in Heaven" (made just after Hurricane Katrina). She had loved this video, this song of faith and rebirth. We all did.
Afterwords we caught Amtrak's City of New Orleans back to Louisiana at 1:30 a.m., from Carbondale, Illinois -- home of Southern Illinois University and my distant school daze. A barefooted student came in off the street and asked the ticket clerk about trains to Chicago. He was told there where three a day, "But you must wear shoes."
The south bound train pulled out of Carbondale and passed into the Shawnee National Forest and through nine little towns and villages important to me. It passed on to Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.
by Leonard Earl Johnson
In my cozy Pullman car,
the Shawnee National Forest and nine towns and villages that nurtured me.
than recalled from youthful Ullin, Illinois,
where we all lived in our turn.
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|L. E. J. and Mac, in 1944|
Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
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