I get my kicks in Champaign

I am delighted to hear the Aussies won the cricket last Sunday. I think maybe the Australian Cricket Board should seriously consider paying for me to be out of the country all the time when our team is playing any matches of importance. Every time I go to watch, they lose, and when I stay away, they win! Seems clear to me.

My thoughts were with my fellow cricket fans at the Gabba on Sunday and I was thinking of how different the atmosphere at the cricket is from the extravaganzas we have attended here. Maybe it is because the game itself is so much more interesting that there is no need for the huge sideshow (Peter laughs uproariously!!). Because really, what do you have for entertainment at the Gabba when your mind drifts from the match? Well, there’s always the wave, and the beach balls, and watching Fay throw mustard bottles onto the pitch. Apart from that, the most exciting thing is watching the effects on human behaviour of 8 hours of alcohol consumption in the hot summer sun. No wonder I love it!!

We cannot believe how lucky we have been with the weather here. While you are all suffering the second hottest summer down there in Oz, we are enjoying the up-side of that – the second warmest winter on record in Indiana (and many other parts of the States). It seems that even global warming can have a silver lining (at least in the very short term for us!!!). We had expected that our travels would be somewhat curtailed in January as we might be snowed in or find the roads too dangerous to travel. So far, we have had no problems at all. Last weekend we had planned to go across to Champaign, Illinois, to visit our friends Cathy and Harry Gunn. The weather forecast on Friday night predicted an inch or two of snow. We decided we might need to make an early start so we could drive slowly in the snowy and icy conditions. However, the promised snow failed to eventuate and we were again able to travel unimpeded.

If we have been lucky with weather, we have been even luckier with the wonderful people we have met over here. Cathy and Harry had organised a memorable weekend of activities for us. Monday was a holiday in honour of Martin Luther King, so we were able to spend two nights with them at their beautiful home on the outskirts of Champaign. Champaign is a twin city with Urbana and they are the site of the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois, the largest university in the USA in terms of land area.

We arrived just before noon having taken a small detour through the town of Danville which was hometown of Dick Van Dyke. We didn’t see him wandering the streets, so continued on to Champaign where Cathy and Harry had a delicious lunch waiting for us. We chatted and I wandered into every corner of their house. They are collectors of all things interesting and their walls are covered with amazing things of beauty and fascination. It made me homesick for my “stuff”.

I was particularly interested in the many old quilts which Cathy has, made by many generations of their families. Above our bed in the guest room was a quilt that Cathy had made when she was 12. It was lovely. They also collect posters, Native American artefacts, and their latest interest is Gouda pottery. Until meeting Cathy and Harry I thought the good citizens of Gouda were too busy making cheese to do much else, but apparently there are many busy potters in that little Dutch town who make the most delightful floral designed pieces.
Cathy is the director of the Illinois Virtual Campus, but she does have a real office and took us down to see the great set-up she has there. We also drove around the extensive main university campus and past Harry’s workplace, the University Press. After the tour we went home to prepare to go out to dinner at their favourite little pub in the small nearby town of Sadorus. The atmosphere was great and the waitstaff greeted Cathy and Harry like family (particularly Harry, who has a most engaging personality and manages to gain best friends at the drop of a hat).

Now, we first met Cathy and Harry when they were living in Flagstaff, but their move back to Illinois about three years ago, was in fact a move back home. They both grew up, went to school, met, courted and married in the small town of Waverly, about an hour and a half from their current home. On Sunday, they took us to show us their hometown and to meet some of their family. Our first stop was Harry’s farm. His parents died only just recently and the farm house is now rented out to a lady who breeds horses. This was a special place for them both as Cathy and Harry had also lived on the farm for a number of years when their two children, Sommer and Kristian, were small. They shared some of their many memories of their life there.

We then went into town to meet Cathy’s parents, Ralph and Edris. Ralph is a retired school supervisor and is now the elected treasurer for the local county. We went out for lunch to the “Last Chance Café”, the favourite eating place in town. We did indeed have to fight the Sunday lunch crowd, but got a table and again the waitstaff greeted their familiar guests. One young girl was a new employee and she was introduced around. She was most excited to hear we came from Australia, and told us that was “cool!” We had been told that the local speciality was a dish called a “horse shoe”. Those feeling the need to eat less could order a “pony”. I had a special special called the “Robin Hood” which was a horse shoe made with ham and bacon instead of the more traditional beef or chicken. We all thought long and hard, but couldn’t decide what possible association all that pig meat had with Robin Hood. If you’re down in Waverly, try the horse shoe. It’s meat on bread, covered in cheese sauce. You can have it with or without fries. Harry and I shared a piece of Cherry Cobbler for dessert. We got some take away for Edris, who was not well enough to join us at the café for lunch, and then returned to see the wonderful collection of antique pottery which Ralph and Edris own. You see how these obsessions are genetic!

Well, I thought I had learnt a lot about Gouda pottery from Cathy and Harry, but Ralph fascinated us with his extraordinary collection of pieces mainly of Roseville, Hull, and Weller pottery. He is very well informed and was able to tell us stories about most of his pieces. Many of the vases, baskets, bookends, etc., were very valuable, but each of them had a particular value to him that transcended their monetary value. For him and for Edris, their antiques are a hobby and a passion, as well as a means of financing their retirement. I can see Cathy and Harry following in their steps and eventually opening their own antique shop.

Edris also had some beautiful quilts – some she has bought at auction, and a really beautiful one she made herself. She also does cross-stitch and I saw many of her intricate works proudly displayed in their lounge and living rooms. As we were leaving, we were presented with a jar of her home made strawberry and rhubarb jam and a bag of hand-picked and hand-shelled pecans from their own tree. We were most delighted.

We then drove back into Springfield, the capital of Illinois. Even though Chicago is by far the biggest city in the state, the smaller city of Springfield is in fact the political capital. Here we were greeted by Harry’s sister, Betty, and her husband, Dave.

They have just moved into a brand new home and were happy to show us through. It was beautiful and gave me some ideas for when we start house hunting in a few months time. We all went out to dinner again, this time to Cheddars, a place that Cathy and Harry assured us always served good food. The staff did not recognise them on arrival, but Harry was soon charming all and sundry and I’m sure they’ll know him next time he goes there. I had a Chicken Pot Pie, because my mind flashed to the cricket and that was the closest I could get to a meat pie. It was delicious and I must say, it was far more elegant than an Aussie Meat Pie.

It was quite late by the time we headed back to Champaign, and I was very conscious of the wonderful experience of “home” and “family” that Cathy and Harry had provided for us during that day. I was thinking what an intimate time it had been, when Harry asked if I had enjoyed the day. He said: “We knew you were missing family and thought you might enjoy spending time with ours”. I was so deeply moved by their thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit. They are wonderful friends and I look forward to being able to share our family and friends with them when they come to visit us in Australia.

Unfortunately, we were not able to meet their children. Sommer lives and works in Phoenix, and although Kristian and his wife, Erin, and baby Collin live only about an hour away, Erin is expecting their second child in March and was not feeling up to the trip. Cathy and Harry were discussing names and noted that they had to find something that went with Gunn. I suggested “Anniegetya”. They said they would offer it as a suggestion. When we got back home from our town tour on Saturday afternoon, there was an interesting message on the answering machine. It was from Sommer’s boyfriend, who left a cryptic and somewhat disturbing message that he needed to speak to both of them. They called back immediately to learn that he was asking their blessing to ask Sommer to marry him. It was so exciting! The wedding is planned for November so it may take a little while for Cathy and Harry to recover emotionally and financially from that before we get to see them down under.

We had a most memorable and enjoyable weekend.

This week’s question is: What National Day is celebrated this Saturday?
Have a good one!