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Reverend Antonio Hernández IBA
'The people who move here in modern times from northern cities are shocked. Many of them still say they feel as though they had stepped back into the nineteenth century, and they have'.

There is a city-- its people prefer to think of it as a canton or village-- sprawled out along the rolling hills and deep black forests of northwestern Illinois State in the U.S. It’s called Milltown, based on a mid-nineteenth century businessman’s fondness for the French word for mill, "moulin". Makes sense, since many mills were located in or next to bodies of water; Milltown is a Mississippi River city. Most of the people who were raised here recall swimming in the river, boating, and watching the steamboats coming from and going to New Orleans. There were "calliope duels" almost every day in the summer, when two passing riverboats’ calliope players competed intensely. In my youth, when there weren’t so many cars, you could hear the calliope players for dozens of miles. The town could very well have been the model for "The Music Man" town of River City. Though people in my town, Milltown, are much nicer than the fictional Iowan denizens of River City.

Illinois was once popularly referred to as the "northernmost Southern state". There is good reason: approximately 80% of the residents, especially in Milltown, are descended from Southerners. This is a beautiful area, one reminiscent of both the American South proper and jolly Olde England. Many English and Scots settlers, landing in New England, preferred to make their way inland and ended up here. There is one immense corridor of migration, beginning in the Virginias, passing through the Appalachian region and on through Ohio, and turning sharply north-- which leads to my town.
Later, Germans, Swedes and Belgians found a new haven here. My own family, like the tiny percentage of Southerners who came later by a different route, were refugees from Chicago. But the remainder of my extended family is mostly Southern anyway. My family, originally from Mexico, came to the U. S. just after the turn of the century.

Colorful old people here still recall the Civil War era. Illinois was divided, roughly 70-30 with a Southern majority, during the war. The citizens were at first loath to get involved; when they did, they resented automatically having to fight for the Union Army. Most of the soldiers were literally shooting at their own kin from the South. Illinois suffered horribly during the Civil War. Many travelers come here for retreats, and are shocked to find a population speaking in what closely resembles a Kentucky or Virginia dialect-- such speech, this far north? It’s funny, but if you take a globe and extend the Mason-Dixon line-- the line that separates the North from the South, and forms the border between Pennsylvania to the north and Delaware to the south-- it runs exactly through Milltown. That, in turn, actually makes Illinois an almost 80% Southern state.

People who come here learn a profound lesson about America. Illinois was a state that favored the abolition of slavery. No one here kept slaves, and the Underground for escaping slaves ran right through here. Many folk are of mixed blood, descended of those slaves, and are not ashamed of it.
The people who move here in modern times from northern cities are shocked. Many of them still say they feel as though they had stepped back into the nineteenth century, and they have. Our favorite shops and restaurants are virtually the same as they were in the 1800’s. There are few bums in Milltown; everyone works, and we work hard. There are many poor folk here, but proud, with that streak of passionate Southern pride that can’t be erased. Amazingly, there are some wealthy and influential people living here too, and we boast the fairest circuit court judges in America. Of course, crimes are generally crimes of passion hereabouts, somewhat different than the horrid crimes of the big cities.

We have the normal tensions though. There are racists here, who want the black community to "know its place". Most recently there has been an understandable discrimination against anyone who even looks Middle Eastern or Indian. We don’t have the best record for treatment of Native Americans, either. The tribes that once occupied these lands were wiped out in short order, after first being banished to a barren island in the middle of the Mississippi. (Today that barren island is one of America’s greatest military arsenals.) There has always been a sort of shadow of racism in Milltown, but most people are wary of it.

Milltown eccentrics are more on the spooky side than anything. "White Lady" was very popular, though frightening. She was an unfortunate black woman who was said to have lost her wealthy white husband to some tragedy. Soon afterward, White Lady lost her mind and began dressing only in white. She always wore white-framed sunglasses, ghastly white makeup on her face, with normal makeup applied over it. People thought she looked like a demonic clown. She wore white gloves, drove a white Cadillac, and gas-station witnesses said that she dusted the interior of the car with talcum, to make it white, too. Second only to her was the "Guard", an elderly black man who wandered the streets in a threadbare white uniform, gloves and cap of mysterious origin. He was mean, but only to other black folk, and sported a wooden gun in a holster. Some say his real gun was taken from him when he shot another black man, but no one is sure-- he never spoke to white people. These eccentrics are remembered fondly and yet deeply pitied, because for whatever reason, they resented being black to the point of insanity.

Luckily there were only two of them. The black community thrives here for the most part. We here in Milltown are a happy lot-- in spite of the uppity folk who complain that we are "a decade behind the rest of the country". Most Milltowners prefer it that way. This is a town of old-fashioned Democrats, and we love things as they are. If a change is good enough for us, we rush to embrace it. But for the most part, on a nice day off work, the average Milltowner will have dinner at the local rib joint, then go on to the local ice cream parlor-- both are world-famous-- then amble down to the riverfront for a few hours. Chores are always finished first, of course, and the shopping at Wal Mart and K-Mart has been done. Everyone will wave and say "howdy", no matter who you are, just like they’ve known you for years. Some people will tell you their life’s story, if given enough time. That’s how we are around here, in Milltown, Illinois.

© Reverend Antonio Hernández IBA July 2002

Previously on Hackwriters by R.A.H.

email: "Antonio. Hernandez"

Reverend Antonio Hernández, IBA
Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote a great deal about God, yet he was an atheist.

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Rev Antonio Hernandez unravels the mythology of Star Wars
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Attack of the Giggles
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we are treated to a cartoon Yoda, hopping about like an angel-dusted Kermit

Peter The Roman
Reverend Antonio Hernández IBA
Aron Jean-Marie Lustiger, cardinal and Archbishop of Paris, is this front-runner in the soon-to-be-held conclave to elect the next pope.

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