Of the stories Mary Alice (our Mother) loves to tell, some of her most familiar tell of moving to the farm northeast of New Salem, Illinois. Glen Hillmann moved his family from Quincy, Illinois, to New Salem in 1935, leaving his job as a life insurance salesman, when life insurance was a lower priority than putting food on the table for most people, to become a farmer, with help from his father-in-law, Ezra Doane. Ezra was preparing to move into town, leaving his farms and houses to his daughters’ husbands.
The Hillmanns, Glenn and Dollie Leigh and their four daughters, moved in January, to be ready to do the field work when spring came. Mary Alice had just completed sixth grade in a program that made it possible for students to work at their own accelerated pace. That meant that seventh grade in nearby Tennariff School had already been in session for four months. She came into that grade mid-year in a one-room school, and she faced major changes from the separately graded city schools in Quincy. She wondered whether she could make it in such a strange setting, starting months behind her classmates, with all the grades in one room, and a one-eyed man named Hugh Kerr as her teacher, the first male teacher that she had. She didn’t have to worry. She excelled in her work and fit right in. When Hugh Kerr sent her out with a pail to fetch water, after she had also used the girls’ fancy outhouse, and she returned to the classroom without the pail, then was embarrassed to remember and she slipped out to return with the full pail a few minutes later, and the teacher didn’t say a word to her about it, no punishment or anything, she decided it was going to turn out all right.
Tennariff School sat just around the corner of the section from their farmhouse, an easy quarter mile walk for her and little sister Rosalyn except on the coldest of days. Barbara was still at home, too young for school. In another year Mary Alice joined her older sister Aileen in New Salem High School. That was a long two mile walk up and down the steep Rutman and Quinney Hills. Aileen was taller and her stride longer, but Mary Alice was faster, and she liked to run up the hills, much to the consternation of her less athletic sister. Aileen would whine from behind, “Wait for me, Mary Alice! Wait for me!”
Mary Alice had little patience for her older sister, who didn’t like the farm and didn’t adjust to farm life. Having no boys to help, Mary Alice was happy to become her father’s helping hand around the farm. She did chores with the animals and hitched the horse to the plow, and learned to work in the field. It wasn’t long before a tractor replaced the horses, but she didn’t mind working with either one. Aileen, on the other hand, had no interest and missed the city life.
The old memories and the feelings that came with them persist long into the dementia of aging. Aileen died nearly twenty years ago, and Rosalyn was too young to do field work until after Mary Alice had moved on to study and work at Western Illinois College and obtain her teaching certificate there, which she used for years to teach in a one room country school. Now, when she can neither farm nor teach nor run, she often tells us of the times when she could. She pictures that sister yelling “Wait for me,” every time she has to get up out of bed, use that walker, and head down the hall.