In my last post, I lamented that my Pop took pics of us kids posing by the house we grew up in, but not OF the house. But I did think it would be fun to share the pics that show a smidge of the house and yard where I set my novel Home Place. And a reader asked me recently if the novel offers a window into how I grew up in this special place. It certainly does. As do these photos. Enjoy!
Most of the pictures I have were taken before I was born. I’m the youngest of four so there are hundreds of photos of my sisters and only slightly fewer of my brother. Photos of me number in the dozens. I try not to take it personally.
But here’s proof that the Home Place was my home too. Here’s the front porch – for company and for show – referred to in the novel. One door leads to the ‘no man’s land’ room that separated the sides of the house used by Kat and her father as it did when my grandmother lived on one side and my parents, sibs, and I lived on the other. The other door leads to ‘our’ living room – the room where Kat strips wallpaper and tears down filmy Priscilla curtains – like the kind my mother favored.
The block of stone where I’m standing was always a bit of a mystery as was the reason for the numbers 1819 carved into the stone. Nobody I asked when I was a kid had a good explanation, though it’s likely that it was a stone from an early bridge across the Pecumsagen Creek. Built in 1819 when Illinois only became a state the year before? Seems unlikely. The stone was a great place to pose and served as one of the many stages on which I rehearsed for a future acting career. My friend Phyllis, whom I’ve known since I was two, remembers belting out tunes like ‘Hooray for Hazel’ atop the stone when we were about the age I am in this picture. We were so cool.
On warm Easter Sundays, Pop took photos in the front yard.
When it wasn’t Easter, the back yard was good enough. Below you can see my mom, siblings and me (the baby) standing in front of one of twin back porches on the west side of the house. Between the back porches were cellar steps that I’d later ride my bike down. I was winning a race with my brother – and as the youngest, I never won anything! So I wasn’t looking where I was going and I hadn’t yet learned how to stop! I screamed all the way down but ended up with only a small cut on my foot – a scar that only shows on my psyche or when I’ve got a tan.
Grandma’s porch to the north was the only of the house’s five porches where anyone ever sat, despite how boiling the house could get in summer. Was it that we were too busy? Or was it about the flies on our working farm?
Inside photos don’t show much of the house.
By the time I was born, our farm no longer had horses or chickens, but we did raise sheep, hogs, and a few cows for milk and beef plus the grain and hay to feed the animals and a large garden to feed us.
The Hills, creek (always and forever pronounced ‘crick;), and the Timber – about half of the three hundred acres when we lived there – were no good for farming, but terrific for kids! In the Home Place novel, Kat notes how much of her family history – like ours – took place there. The Timber, bluffs and woods on either side of Pecumsagan Creek is a big part of why my heart is so rooted in my Home Place’s soil.
The creek was the reason my great-great grandfather homesteaded that particular forty acres. Among other pursuits, Simon Crosiar was a miller. We believe he and his brother fought in the War of 1812 as a way to be released from indenture to a miller in the Pittsburgh area. The factual basis of the photo and story below seems somewhat suspicious. Simon died in 1846. Were photos common in the Illinois countryside then? But yes, Simon did build a mill on the Pecumsagan in a spot where bullrushes grew.
The mill house was long gone by the time I was born, but the mill race remained. The warning of snakes meant that we crossed the race balancing on a board spanning its width to get to the clearing above the Falls where many picnics took place.
I have few other photos that show a lot of my old Home Place – not the house, not the hills, not the timber or the creek. There is a shot of my father’s machine shed, built in the early 1960s and about as ugly as a metal building of its time can be. And a few more shots Pop took – snow in cornfields and drifting near the creek. Not nearly enough to capture the essence of the place.
Not enough to guide me – and more importantly my cover artist Nancy Lane – to recreate my old home as a cover for my novel. Fortunately, Nancy is brilliant, a superb listener, and incredibly patient! The cover of Home Place, the novel was conjured from memories, and it’s become my all-time favorite depiction of the place as it looked when I lived there. It really is MY Home Place where my roots remain deeply planted.
By the way, the house does still stand, and from the Google Earth perspective, it appears to have had renovations but still houses two families. The land has been bulldozed, reshaped and groomed into what Kat feared most – a golf course. I hear it’s a good golf course. I haven’t been back since one lightning visit in the mid-nineties (I think.) It took weeks, maybe years to lift my jaw up from the ground from the shock of barely recognizing the place that lives in my memory. No doubt that shock, along with my love of the place and its history was the impetus that led me to set a novel there. That and my fervent hope that in fiction, I might be able to re-write history so maybe Kat could save her ancestral home when that option was not available for my family. Maybe. Or maybe not. You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Find Home Place, the novel at: https://www.amazon.com/Home-Place-Novel-Sally-Crosiar/dp/1689612010/