In Birdland I swear the clocks are wound too tightly and running too fast. How else can I account for a month’s passing so quickly? The other day we said goodbye to our Japanese friend, Yuki, after spending the day before down in Amish country. On the way to Arcola we stopped at Bryant Cottage in Bement to show off one of our county’s historic Lincoln sites. We must have been confused when we looked at the web page, since it’s not usually open on Wednesdays, but we found Marilyn in the yard, who was kind enough to guide us on a special tour of the house. It’s a small cottage, but nicely detailed, and we learned something about every aspect of 19th
Century life on the Prairie, from cooking on a wood stove and food storage, to entertaining important guests like Stephen A. Douglas in the fancy parlor, to bed keys and chamber pots. We learned about the origin of sayings and songs we take for granted, like “sleep tight” and “pop goes the weasel.” We learned about how much work it took to run even a small household, and Yuki and my youngest, Ellis, got to try lifting one of the cast iron cooking pots by the long handle. It was heavy enough even without being filled with hot stew, even without holding it from the end of the handle so you didn’t get burned. We saw the fancy stovetop with multiple sized burners, to fit multiple sized Dutch ovens and cook pots with insets to fit right into the hole over the fire. We saw a worktable with bins for flour and cornmeal, for potatoes and onions. Marilyn’s gentle descriptions helped us imagine the family at work and at mealtimes. She helped us understand the purpose of each small room. The cottage is furnished with period pieces and Marilyn let us know which were original to the house. Sites like the Bryant Cottage help us make instinctive and imaginative connections with our past. These connections help us understand who we are today.
After a lovely visit, we got back in the car and continued south to Rockome Gardens in Arcola. I remember being enthralled as a child with the sculptural quality of the gardens, walls, fences, decorations made of concrete inlaid with tiny pebbles and rocks. Parts of the gardens were in various states of decay—sadly, the large model train is in ruins, but still the flowers bloomed as a woman gently weeded the beds. We toured a dusty haunted house. I’m not fond of being frightened, and Yuki and I were reluctant to go in, but finally curiosity got the best of us. Ellis led the way, and the house itself was pretty corny, filled with puns and electronic surprises. No real fright, but lots of giggles at the silliness. We saw some nice shops and Yuki bought some souvenirs to take home. We visited the petting zoo and had a buggy ride.
That evening we had cake and ice cream with a few of the friends Yuki had made during his month in Illinois. We talked and laughed and took some pictures and recounted memories. Yuki passed out some presents from Japan, and made sure he had everybody’s address so he can keep in touch. Over the month, Yuki shared with us a lot of his culture. We took a trip to the Asian grocery and he made us a dinner of some deliciously savory pancakes with cabbage and green onion. One breakfast we had a rolled omelet, and he learned to make do with my round skillet since I didn’t have the traditional square one. He taught us a Japanese card game, “Baba Nuki” which his electronic translator called “Decaffeinated Joker,” and we taught him “Spoons.” We had our last lunch in a pancake house and played a few rounds of each. We met his bus where he reunited with other Labo kids, all dressed in blue Labo shirts with the Labo “Friend-Ship” logo, and started on his journey home. Yuki takes with him our friendship, and leaves us a little richer than he found us.
Share in Beauty; Translate Peace; Blessed Be.
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in learning about various cultures. The website for Bryant Cottage is www.bement.net/bryant.htm.