It’s odd when I describe our years in Spencer or Davenport, Iowa. I end up saying, “we loved it there and didn’t want to move!” Those two towns/cities are as different as night and day! Spencer had a small town vibe with maybe 8,000 people while Davenport was 100,000 and the largest quad of The Quad Cities, (Davenport/Bettendorf/Rock Island/Moline) which totaled significantly more.
The reason we loved Spencer was family. We were 60 miles from both sets of parents (which was close enough). The Hubs, (youngest of 5) was born when his sister Elly was 18. She got married a couple years later, so he (we) never really knew her or her family. We moved to Spencer when John was about 30. Elly and Dewey had been there for years, thus began our incredible part-best/sibling/in-law/aunt/uncle-but more like grandparents to our kid’s friendship/relationship we could imagine. We had them over for supper once a week. They had us over for a meal just as often. We bowled on a couple’s league together. We went antiquing together as often as we could afford (or even when we couldn’t). I can’t count how many times we went out for Miller’s Bay Friday night fish fry up at the Lakes (think the fish fry cost $2.35 but even that was a stretch). I wouldn’t say we were inseparable-but it was mighty close.
More often though we didn’t ‘do stuff, go places or spend money’ with Elly & Dewey. Many times it was just supper and cards, take a ride after supper or stop for an ice cream cone. Watch the kids play in the park while we solved the problems of the world. These were lean years for us and we all knew it. We were constantly on the lookout for a bargain. It would take 2 decades of marriage before I bought an expensive antique (300 bucks) that didn’t need a ton of work done on it before it was presentable. For the most part, that discretionary spending didn’t happen until we moved to Michigan.
Hubs company in Spencer downsized 5 years later and he was laid, off which meant a move. We were devastated and I think Elly and Dewey were too. John found a job in Davenport, about 350 miles from Spencer. All the things we loved doing together were over.
Davenport was a hip, urban city which grew on us though. Situated on the mighty Mississippi it was a shopping mecca and had restaurants up the wazoo. Some of my closest and best friendships sprouted in Davenport, but it was hard because we saw Elly and Dewey infrequently. They had been such an integral part of our lives. This is the story about one of our fun, cheap adventures after we had moved away.
I don’t know how we first heard about St. Charles, Illinois. Located about 150 miles east of the Quad Cities, they boasted one of the biggest and best flea/antique markets one Sunday a month. Acres upon acres of miscellaneous odds and ends, vendors and antique dealers, plus carnival food! It opened at 7 am and you had to be there early for the good stuff. This was one place where hesitation or deliberation was a fault. You snooze, you lose. Dealers didn’t want to ‘hold’ a piece for a couple hours while you debated how badly you wanted, needed or could afford it. Want a sure way to sell an item 50 times over? Put a ‘hold’ sign on it. For buyers, it was that one unattainable piece which held more appeal. For the dealers, they kept seeing dollars slip through their fingers. “Damn, I coulda’ sold that piece a dozen times.” A no win situation.
Not being able to ‘mull over’ something before buying it though rubs me the wrong way. I’m not into impulsive buys, especially when ‘spending’ money was hard to come by, but at St. Charles, my brain needed needed to be retrained. If you spotted something that made your heart beat unfamiliarly hard, but you weren’t quite ready to commit and wanted to process while you walked a half mile aisle and circle back, forgetaboutit. Way too late. That piece had been sold, refinished and was now setting in someone’s home. This was the place for split second decisions.
Elly and Dewey had zipped across Iowa to stay with us in Davenport for a few days. This was not a last second decision. This trip was well planned out (but for one minor detail). It was St. Charles weekend and the four of us were leaving in the middle of the night to get there by the crack of dawn. Shannon was babysitting Josh and Adam (much to their dismay), but this is not the kind of flea market for little kids. Too easy to lose track of one and all that walking wasn’t much fun. Standing near a booth while boring old grown-ups looked at every stinking dish, tool, wooden box, hair pin and piece of furniture got old after 10 minutes.
We left extra early so we had time to stop in Dixon, Illinois (Ronald Reagan’s childhood home) for breakfast. By the time we hit the massive fairgrounds parking lot it was just getting light out. As well as we had planned out their visit, we had minimized something crucial. Hubs wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. As a teen he had taken a nasty spill from his horse, which had landed on him, crushing his foot. Lengthy recovery time in a wheelchair and crutches had taken its toll over the years. Twenty years later his foot was badly misshapen, causing pain and unable to wear most shoes. (The front third of your foot is supposed to face forward, not look like it’s taken a right turn on 2 wheels).
So the Hubs had just gone through some comprehensive, complicated foot surgery. He had 5 various sized, thin, razor sharp crochet hook type needles, each one sticking out of his bare toes for 5 weeks. (Then the doc just yanked them out with a pliers! Yikes)! The toe joints had all been removed due to arthritis. So John was on crutches (why didn’t we get him a wheelchair that day? My guess is he thought walking around 100 acres on crowded, uneven grounds were doable when you’re 35 and a tough guy). His pits were the pits by the time he called it quits after a long day. Dang crutches.
So 10 minutes in, he’s already a mass of sweat (it was very cool) and lagging behind the rest of us. I spotted a piece of furniture that piqued my interest so we waited for him to catch up and help me decide. The dealers were downright scary. Two brothers, wearing bib overalls (sans shirts underneath, remember it’s very cool) with one set of teeth between them. John was the better price negotiator, besides this piece was a mess. Not real big, 40 inches wide, 6 feet tall and dark oak. The technical name is chifferobe. One half is a door resembling a closet for hanging clothes, the other half are drawers. It was cute, but sagging, drawers askew, nearly tipping over. Had to see if Hubs could put it back together to be useful in a house with 3 wild kids.
The ‘toothless moonshine brothers’ were willing to dicker but not hold it for us. If we wanted it, we had to decide and pay. As John’s going over the piece, it nearly breaks apart and falls on him. It’s too wobbly to move. Hubs got them down to almost nothing and the deal was struck. One of the ‘good old boys’ grabbed a ball of twine from his pocket (I believe its real purpose was used as floss), and start circling the cifferobe a few times to hold it together when we lifted it.
Elly and Dewey go for the truck, slowly driving through a maze of thousands. We loaded the piece and Dewey heads back to park. Hubs takes a load off, sitting on a bench for a half hour, Elly and I keep shopping. She has more interest in glassware, I’m still trying to find antiques for our house. They’re at the point where they have most of the furniture they want or need. It would take us another 15 years of buying, trading-up, selling, fixing, giving away and refinishing antiques until I’m at that point.
Within a half hour I spot a rocker that shows promise. Pressed back, fancy spools, curved seat but has been painted multiple times. Ugh. So much work. John would think he was down to bare oak every time he stripped another coat of paint off, which included brown, red and John Deere green. Every time he stripped one side of a spoke, runner, arm, rocker, there’s more sides to do. But it was magnificent. And cheap. We end up buying it so our wad is spent. Elly has to cruise through another 30 acres, but Dewey and John are pretty much done for the day. We’re leaving just past noon with a few nice pieces of glassware. Some for Elly’s house and others she’ll sell. It’s been a good day for everyone but John. His armpits are sore and raw and he’ll feel this trip for the rest of the week. But there’s not much he wouldn’t do for me or his favorite Sis…