This week’s post is brought to you by my amazing, beautiful, talented, sweet, big sister Julie — I may admire her just a little bit. She so graciously offered to step in for me this week because A) I have been traveling and B) She had the opportunity to visit my mother’s childhood home in Illinois. So, thanks to Julie the Old Country is venturing to a whole new land: the Midwest! And if you like what you read please take a minute to mosey on over to Julie’s blog about socially conscious wedding planning, Engaged With a Cause. Julie had her big day last October, but her site is a wealth of information for the creative, charitable bride.
|With my beautiful sister Julie at her rehearsal dinner last October.|
The Dish and the Dish: The “Dog” Days of Summer & Hot Dogs
My sister brings the Old Country to my mother’s Midwestern childhood home
Last week, I sat in the overly air-conditioned backseat of a newer model Ford Taurus, driving through an endless ocean of cornfields, with the occasional soy crop thrown in for good measure. I listened to my parents bickering over which highway to take and whether we should stop for lunch in Davenport or Rock Island. When I closed my eyes, the familiar banter brought me back to long car trips to St. Louis to see our aunt and cousins. Yet, when I glanced over, it was my husband, not my little sister Caroline sitting next to me on this voyage west.
The miles of cornfields must have gotten my mom feeling nostalgic too. Only her nostalgia wasn’t just for summer road trips, but rather for her old home. See, while you might have learned via Caroline’s blog that we have a rich New Orleans heritage that’s sprinkled with old world flavors from the Rhineland and the Mediterranean, my mother spent much of her childhood in a small suburb of Chicago — Wheeling, Illinois.
|This post's for you Mom. Here's a junior high school photo of her in Wheeling.|
Growing up we heard many a tale about the Americana of her Midwestern childhood. Lacking any real knowledge of Illinois, or the 1960s for that matter, Caroline and I recreated my mom’s childhood with the fireworks scene in the Sandlot or the bike riding sequence in Now and Then. Yet, having never been to the place, as we had been to my dad’s childhood haunts many times, it was hard to see her there.
|The Midwestern childhood we always imagined and envied. PS Caroline is totally a Sam and I'm a Roberta. Photo found online|
Well, during the trek to Iowa for my friend’s wedding, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to go to Wheeling — the mythological place my mother, and perhaps even I had idealized. My mom left Wheeling in 1970 and had never been back. Talk about a clear demarcation between childhood and high school.
As we drove into the tiny, middle-class suburb, a lot had changed. Situated on the northwest/west side of Chicago, the town’s demographics had clearly shifted with America’s. Korean and Mexican restaurants dotted the main drag, along with numerous hot dog places — there were at least ten.
“My daddy used to take us to Dog and Suds. We would get sodas and hotdogs there. It was just like Sonic, but before Sonic — the girls wore roller skates and coin purses. I’m sure it’s gone now,” Mom said, as her eyes nervously searched for some sign that this was the place she has left 40+ years before.
As we neared her childhood home on Redwood Trail, many of the places she missed began to pop up along the way — her elementary school where she won her first science fair and the swing set she sat on during her last morning in Illinois before moving to Louisiana.
|Mom's old elementary school|
After we stopped and saw her home and school we began our journey out of town. There was one more place she wanted to see — Dog and Suds.
Sure enough, the Dog and Suds was no longer open, it had been replaced by a Gyros and Brat restaurant, but the building looked straight out of Happy Days. There was even a meeting of old car collectors parked there when we went by, giving the whole thing an over the top Back to the Future vibe.
Even though the years have gone by, some things stay the same. Folks in the Midwest know their Brats & Dogs. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen so many hot dog stands!
Inspired by my recent trip to our “mother’s land,” and the timing of Caroline’s own summer road trip, we decided that we should take inspiration from Dog and Suds with a '60s Americana themed BBQ — complete with aprons.