Saturday, June 21, 2014

Travelogue with Louella Odie: Small town charm

One week into our summer holiday and we're looking (and feeling) good!  Our jet lag is a thing of the past, the kiddos have had lovely time playing games like kick the can in the backyard or riding their bikes on the quiet streets of Oglesby.  We've put in daily sessions at Memorial park, on the swings and the merry-go-round or shooting hoops at Lincoln school.

The hubby and I have enjoyed some craft brews on the front porch and some good thrifting adventures at Goodwill, the charity shop, and yesterday at an estate sale.  The most excitement in a day is usually a quick run to the grocery store to pick up more milk and other necessities.  

That's how it goes in a small midwestern town, and that's just fine to me.  It's a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and the pace of life slows down.  I have to admit, it wasn't something I appreciated when I lived in the US and would visit Oglesby on weekends, but distance and time away serves as a good reminder of the beauty in the simple things.

It does take us all a little while to adjust to small town life.  There are no places to rush off to and no deadlines to meet so the kids have to relearn what it means to be kids with a backyard.  They have to figure out ways to entertain and make fun for themselves.  It's good.

What I love most when I come to visit, is hearing the stories of how my hubby and his parents grew up.  Life in a small town doesn't change too much, yet it changes so drastically.  A drive down Main Street tells a tale of what's happening in many small towns.  Big businesses come in and wipe out the local ones: the grocery store, the shoe shops, the dress shops, milk bars and diners.  Windows are boarded up, and buildings with beautiful old facades stand empty, left to erode and crumble.  The only establishments that seem to survive are the local taverns and even then, it's only the regulars.

It feels sad.  There's so much of the town's history living within the walls of those buildings.  In some places, like the Dickinson House, the history is being preserved and restored.  In other places, the history is forgotten.  In larger towns like Madison (where we are now), the locals are loyal to their small businesses, pushing the big corporate ones out to the smaller surrounding towns.  And, it's really a catch-22.  The big companies that come in can provide jobs for the townspeople and help their local economy, but in the process, they take jobs away (and long running businesses) from others.  

Some survive, however.  One business that has stood the test of time, just around the corner from the hubby's childhood home, is Garzanelli's Supper Club.  Walking in is like taking a step back in time.  The first thing that strikes you is the uniqueness of the round bar, and then the beautiful lighting, such a vintage ambience.  Even the neon sign outside comes from La Salle Neon, a dying trade for sure.  The business has been in operation since 1918, when the Garzanelli family opened it.  It went through a few incarnations of grocery store, restaurant and finally a bar in 1933, after the end of prohibition.  In 1974, the current owners, the Carretto family, bought the business (and their famous ravioli recipe) and it remains a family business.  Chuck the bartender told us how he began tending bar at only 15, when their existing bartender passed away.  Until then, he'd been bussing tables, but the family needed him to fill a hole.  He and his brother in the kitchen along with their mother have continued to run the successful restaurant and bar together.   

It's kind of a special spot for me because years ago when Joey first brought me home to meet his family, we came to have dinner here.  I remember being nervous when he recommended their famous garlic salad because I didn't want to feel self-conscious about my breath.  To think, that was nearly twenty years ago!  Now our kiddos ask for Garzi's chicken and ravs on a Saturday night in summertime. Just this summer, little Ella came with us for the pick up and she sat at this bar to have a kiddie cocktail while we had a beer and waited for our order.  Joey said it was what he used to do when he was a kid, too.  Later, when he was in high school, he worked back in the kitchen.  First as a dishwasher, then frying chicken, doing prep work on potatoes and finally making those famous garlic salads.

I love how stories and history live on.

Don't forget to check back on the Louella Odie website for map updates of my journey and an exclusive 20% discount for my followers.  Just enter traveltribe at check out.

*photos taken by my lovely hubby


Unknown said...

Loved reading this-- written so well!!!

Glad your enjoying our town--
Your in the best neighborhood!!

Hope to see you soon:)

The Gardener said...

This was on my paper route growing up...i was actually the paper boy for your In-laws. i still live in town and it is sad to see so many beautiful buildings just falling apart....and it is a little weird being an adult in the town you grew up in. thanks for this great blog...

italgal said...

My dad grew up in Oglesby (well, Jonesville to be exact)and I've been enjoying Garzanelli's my entire life - literally. I used to feel so grown up when I was a little girl, and could sit at that gorgeous bar with my aunt and uncle, drinking a kiddie cocktail. The bar was jammed back then, on a Friday or Saturday night, during the era when everyone enjoyed a drink before dinner...and often a drink after dinner, too! I am so glad you wrote about the bar! The food is as good today as it was back then, and it has been a real gift that they've decided to bottle and sell their famous garlic dressing for their fans to enjoy at home. Great tribute to small town living. Have a great summer!

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