I was blessed to grow up in DuQuoin, Illinois, a small, midwestern town with so many good people and more extended family members than I can begin to count. When I think back to winters growing up, my mind goes immediately to the DuQuoin fairgrounds. The Hayes family owned the sprawling re-claimed stip mine acreage where the Coca-Cola bottling plant they also owned was housed. There were two very large homes-we called them the Hayes Mansions-where the two Hayes brothers and their families lived on the property. They were a very generous and community minded family. The gates to the fairgrounds were almost always open to the public. I remember going to the DuQuoin State Fair every year. There were also lots of picnics on the grounds with family, church groups, school groups, etc. It was a beautiful place with hills, lakes, and creeks with wrought iron bridges across them. But when I think of my childhood winters, I always remember sledding on the huge hill on the North side of the fairgrounds.
As soon as there were a few inches of snow on the ground, that hill filled with kids from all over DuQuoin. My dad would load the car down with our sleds and winter gear, and take Chuck and I to this very popular hill . When I got older, I remember him just dropping me off with my friend, Sue Bulmer. We would spend the next two or three hours going down that hill and climbing back up for yet another thrilling ride down the hill. Sometimes we would load two or three of us on a sled and all slide down, hopefully upright, to the bottom. Other times, I would lay on the sled on my belly and fly down the hill guiding it with the wooden moveable slat acrosss the front. The best part of the ride was when you reached the bottom, curved a bit to the right and slid all the way across the frozen pond at the bottom of the hill.
I don’t even remember the cold of those winter days, just the laughter, screams of excitement and the knot in my belly as I reached the bottom and curved onto the frozen pond.