Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Little aluminum house on the prairie

Oscar winner Hillary Swank grew up in a trailer. Country star Gretchen Wilson did too.

Big deal ladies.

At any given time, roughly 30 percent of my extended family is living in a trailer in some godforsaken corner of America. As a cousin or an aunt leaves one, inevitably there’s another crawling in.

Our little part for balance in the universe, I guess.

I spent the first 10 years of my life in one. From 1972 to 1982 me, my brother, sister, and mother kept it real in the Valley View Trailer Court in downstate Illinois. My grandma and youngest aunt lived in the neighboring trailer.

Over that decade, our two trailers were the anchor for what was to become a sort of Kennedy compound without the money, servants, and spirited political debates. We remained as my six aunts and uncles and their families would move in and out of other trailers as they were down on their luck. That was pretty often.

Now trailer life obviously isn’t glamorous as one would suspect. But as kids you really didn’t know much better. There were always cousins to play with; to say we had the run of the place would be an understatement. There were hills to climb, little patches of woods where the boy cousins could shoot each other point-blank with BB guns, and taverns that would sell cigarettes to a six-year-old. My grandma had like 40 stray cats that she fed, which became a stable of sorts for my ill-behaved cousins to torment. (There was never any actual torture; one would grab the front paws, the other would grab the hind legs and they would swing them higher and higher and then let ‘em go.)

It was like a white trash Disneyland.

Crazy uncles would regale us with tales of their childhood. Never did we hear about walking uphill both ways to school in the snow. They were much too creative for that.

“We were sooo poor,” said one uncle.

How poor were you Uncle John?

“We were sooo poor that we didn’t have blankets. We had to cover up with the cockroaches.”

The other  uncle who took an unexpected leave from the Marines in the late 70s--that I’m pretty sure Uncle Sam didn’t O.K.--would take us on hikes and hunting trips. He would have six or seven of us with him and have us walk ahead, and before we’d know it he’d be out of sight. A couple of the wee ones would start crying thinking we were all alone and lost, but us bigger kids knew he was just a freak and would show up soon enough laughing like he’d heard the greatest joke on Earth. When you think about it, being left in a clearing while an armed, AWOL marine is lurking in the woods uncle or not, probably isn’t the best place for kids to be.

Anyway, I’ve barely scratched the surface on this one. Growing up without a lot of stuff sucked, sure.

But man did we laugh our asses off.          


Anonymous said...


Geri said...

Awesome! I feel like I was there with you. Great storytelling!

t2ed said...

Um, isn't White Trash Disneyland are around? I thought it was also known as (and this begins our multiple choice joke of the day):

a) Dollywood
b) The State Fair (any state, you pick it)
c) Texas

Nikki said...

Just think, if it weren't for that White Trash Disneyland, we would have never met at the age of 8 and found out we were birthday twins. O.K. we didn't find that out until years later, but we still thought our birthdays were a day apart!

God Bless Jonesville!!!

'p' is for profound said...

"little aluminum house on the prarie"


"white trash disneyland"

make this post priceless.

angelatee said...

Anonymous--how many kids get to spend 10 consecutive years at Disneyland, white trash or not?

Geri--I think you were there. Did you live in a van down by Kotar's grocery store the summer of 80? i always thought that was Jewel.

T2ed--All those places are where the truly white trash aspire to go to. Fun outside of the court was mainly the occasional dip in the public cement pond.

Nikki-Yes Jonesville brought us together.

P-thanks lady! I think they're were maid of aluminum. At least it seemed as they were.

angelatee said...

I've really developed dyslexia!

Made of aluminum!


'p' is for profound said...

no, it's just the trailer trash coming out in you!

jk :)

NJ said...

Great blog! I'm a fellow midwesterner that grew up with little.My family did move into an actual house from the Northlawn Projects in Milwaukee about 2 years before I was born. We had 7 kids in a 4 bedroom house, like you said we didn't have much but we were happy.