Glenwood Farms
13 October, 2008
author: Rebecca Ditch-Hammack (aka Dreamer)


I remember years ago growing up there were many summer days spent in a place called Glenwood Farms. Glenwood was great. It was where a kid was free. Well pretty much..

It was a time before parents were scared you might get a germ and people didn't think twice when they seen a kid banged up with a few bruises here and there or a scraped a knee or broken bones.. Kids could climb rocks, play in a creek, run around in the woods, swim in a huge spring feed pond, walk a mile down the winding road to the trading post a mile or so away just to get an ice-cream or to watch the horses in the field. or just hang out at the pavilion without anyone giving it much thought.

Best thing was you were around a bunch of kids that were like you and got to travel around and do things with their families. There wasn't any judgment of the other kids. No one picked on you.

If you were one of the seasonal kids you got to see some kids. Every weekend and kids you met a while ago would show up and knew you and looked for you when they came a few times a year.

Some kids worked the various jobs around the park... The trail ride boys Donny, Brad, Scott and his brother were the cowboys in the group. They handled the trail rides.. Donny was a local boy and most of the others were full time seasonal's and were there for the full summer.

In those days people didn't sue you if they got hurt on your property so you could go and sign up to go on a $2 one hour trail ride thru the woods and up and down hills across small creeks ending on a big hill that was almost straight up and down..

Here you really got your money's worth on the horse ride.. It was riding a horse the way it was supposed to be.. The trail rides were always filled in advanced and there were probably 20 horses. All had names and once you got to know
them had distinct personalities..

These kids road up front and behind and some would run and gallop back and forth along the side of the ride making sure no one was having any problems. They saddled and unsaddled the horses fed and watered them.. They were real cowboys.

At nights the cowboy kids would ride around in the campground cars.. They used to just travel around the park and stop and talk to people and were there in case people needed some help or to just give people that safe feeling. They tended to place during the week keeping it mowed down cleaned up and would run the horses up to higher grazing pastures.

Friday nights when the seasonal families would start getting there. We always came in on Friday nights so we could watch all the week-enders arriving and get the most of our weekends.

We'd get our camps all set up for the weekend taking our boxes filled with food and clothes and supplies from the cars to the trailers. Then would go and find some kindling for the fire. If it was still daylight after things were set up we would all head down to meet up at the pavilion to see who was there.. Usually after dinner most all of the regular kids were there. We would all go down and meet up with the other kids at the pavilion.

Most Friday nights the cowboy kids would all come down there and it would be endless joke telling. You would think all these boys did all week was read and memorize joke books.. They would all just sit and tell them back and forth all night. It was great. Sometimes one of us would chime in with one that we had heard.

It would last most of the night till we all eventually wondered off due to our individual curfew times. After our group would go back to camp we would all sit around our camp fires for a while with the families. Sometime there was one big fire where all the adults were sitting. Sometimes each family had their own fires, and sometimes there was an adult fire and a kids fire..

Last thing we would all do is have Some-mores. My mom always had Chocolate covered graham crackers and marshmallows. So all us kids got a nice sweet treat before going off to bed.. We always strived for that perfectly cooked marshmallow and we would always make comment of the most perfectly browned ones. With 2 marshmallows it is always hard to get the bottom one done as good as the top one.

Then it was off to bed. Usually us kids were tired. There wasn't too much fuss. Sometimes perhaps when all 4 to 6 kids wanted to sleep together on one screened in porch or another.. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get to do it.. Our porch was always the best.. It was nice and level and there weren't many obsticals to sleep around.. Not to mention it was indoor out door carpeted.

Those were the best nights. It didn't matter what temperature it was outside.We would line up our sleeping bags on the blankets that we put down between us and the rug. We would all lay there giggling and goofing around for a couple more hours till the parents had had enough and wanted to go to bed too. They used to make sure we were all settled down before they would go to bed..

Sometimes we would listen to the radio. The radio mystery theater would be on. It was like the last radio show that was on the air and I am sure they were re-casts. It was like a radio movie. That would usually calm us down a bit..

David and Paula would always fall asleep first and Tom and I would stay up talking later. Sometimes even after the parents had come in and went to bed. I remember having long nights talking about 'stuff'.. Couldn't tell you now what 'stuff ' it was.. Kid stuff. Plans on what we would do the next day or just discussing what we did that day. I was nearly always the last one to fall asleep.

We were the "Nervous Knob" families. Our campsite was the first at the top of the hill leading into the park. It was like we were in our own place. It was the crest of a big hill with a steep hill of trees on three sides and the other was the main road that everyone had to go up or down to get in or out of the park.. So we got to see all the action.. The back side behind our campers you could see the pervillion thru the trees. down at the bottom of the hill. It was a nice valley. Our camp was perfect.. My dad and mom liked to watch the different kind of campers coming in and everyone waved at everyone. Being a steep hill people came by slow. The hill went up further from us around a pretty steep curve.. That turn is why we were called Nervous Knob.. People would frequently come around it a bit faster than they should have.. Though no one crashed disastrous (though thinking about it, there was one kid on a bike that got hurt) there were a couple mishaps over the years where our log fences would get knocked down and needed to be put back up. They were not fences in the traditional sense.. It was a long straight tree limb on top of a post. Thinking back it was a bit like along hitching post. with a couple opening..

Our camps were decorated and kept up real nice with landscaping. It was a nice set up for they type of campground it was... My mom had ceramic dwarfs doing various things in her landscaping.. One was shoveling, one laid on his belly kicking his feet up, another had a wheel barrow full of flowers.. We had to put them out every weekend in our set up rituals... I always liked the giant toad. Mrs Radakovitz had a goose family. Our yards were all manicured and neat looking with a nice ring of rocks around out fireplaces..

There were usually 3 families of kids there. The family in the middle (next to us) was The Radakovitz's. There were 4 kids in their family.. Joanne she was the oldest she was about 4 years older than me, Larry he was a couple years older and a football player. Some times they would come out and sometimes they would stay behind in Chicago. They never hung out with us.

Then there was Tom. He was my age with only a couple weeks difference. We were best buddies and hung out all the time.. We took advantage of the natural surrounding and went out to play in the woods and the creek, following paths inventing Huckleberry Finn adventures, ( after all we were Tom and Becky) Paula was David's age and they were real close friends. They could play for hours and mom and dad said they never seen two kids play silently for so long.. The Radakovitz's were there pretty much as long as we were. The Hyde kids came later.

The Hyde's were from Peoria Heights. Dawn was a year younger than Tom and I and Ricky was David and Paula's age which worked out pretty good. Dawn was a cheerleader/popular girl. We were all just regular kids. They didn't usually get there till Saturday and had to go and visit family they had in the area quite often. Some weekends they didn't come at all.

It was really great cause we all got along real good. The parents seemed to like each other pretty well too; at least for appearances sake with us kids. I don't really remember what the parents did for a living. Guess it didn't really matter. Not in a kids world anyway..

We all went and did our own things too. We made weekend friends of the other kids that came into the park.. To them we were the popular ones. We all had friends and were lucky enough to always seem to be there. And we knew where all the neat things were to see and do.

Saturday mornings we would all get up and go thru the morning rituals with our families and usually by 10:00 we were set free to play. I think it gave our families comfort to know we were all close and most of the time were all together. Tom and I just wanted to go catch frogs and walk up and down the creek naming rock formations along the way.. Or make up secret hiding places.. We would hike thru the woods and making up games of looking for mysterious unseen creatures.. Following horse trails, hanging out at the "Per" as we called it..

The pavilion was a really large building that had a huge stone fireplace on one end.. It was not used very much that I can remember. In the summer it had about 30 picnic tables or more opposite the fireplace there was a snack bar where you could get candy, homemade donuts early in the mornings and a pop machine, a jukebox and a small game room with a couple pinball machines. Saturday nights they had Fried chicken dinners. Sometimes there were bingo games or a band. But mostly for us it was a place for us kids to meet up and hang out.

A few feet from the pavilion was a creek that went on for miles in either direction. There were all kinds of good climbing and sitting trees with roots that grew out of the side of the hill that made great steps. We spent many many hours watching the minnows and darters, crayfish and water bugs and frogs in the creek. We were always jumping from rock to rock, criss crossing back and forth, depending where the largest walking area was.

We spent hours climbing outcroppings of rocks to create shortcuts to the top of hills. Didn't know there was a name for it called rock climbing. We never used any safety gear, didn't know we needed to. We were just climbing shortcuts to the top of hills. Just didn't give thought to the hills being straight up.

Sometimes we would get a few feet of fishing line and a hook and tie it to a long stick and put 'bubbs daddy' bubblegum, hot dog, bread or bologna on the end of the hook for catching sunfish. We never kept the fish always throwing them back. It was just fun to see who caught the biggest one.

Any of the weekend creatures we caught were catch and release on Sunday. We usually put them right back where we found them.

It was funny I don't remember too much thinking about school or my friends back home much when I was here. Only that I would like to share it with a few of my closest friends.

This was another life. We didn't worry about the bad guys. They would have to catch us in a world of woods we knew so well we could travel it in the darkest nights without getting lost or scared.

We would spend the cool spring time catching tadpoles in various stages of development, frogs, small snakes and all sorts of this and that in big 5 gallon buckets. We would watch them and play with them gently over the weekend. We learned quite a bit about the creatures we caught though we didn't know it at the time.. I remember Tom saying he wanted to grow up to be a zoologist.. (wonder if he ever achieved it) We had bug catchers to see how many different bugs we could catch.. A walking stick was always a prize. They were neat to watch.

Sometimes I would go somewhere and take my guitar and play and sing. Usually attracting attention of other kids who would come over and either listen or just to start conversations. On some occasions they had their own guitars and would play together for a while.

David and Tom found a place they called Apache creek. They would find rocks we called Apache tears. Tom found some really huge ones one summer. It was a dried up creek bed back in the woods. I didn't go there very often. I liked the life in the living creek. Though I am sure there were no Apaches in Illinois there were some Indians. Occasionally we would find an arrowhead out in the woods or in the creek. Which we would make up some mystery about and hunt for more.

As we got a bit older we got jobs helping out at Glenwood. I worked the pony rides a summer or two. I worked in the snack bar helped with chicken dinners and sat with Dawn a couple summers helping her watch as she life guarded from the beach tower. It was nice to get paid a little bit here and there but I would have done it for nothing it was fun to do.

In the summer we would play for hours in the spring fed lake. When I say it was spring fed I mean it was Cold cold cold water. It never got warm. Once you got used to it it was okay on a hot summer day, or anything above 75 degrees in the late summer. The water was not the kind you waded in to get used to. No way. It was run jump and dive in and get it over with. Some of the teenage boys found it was fun to ride their bikes down the large hill really fast and off the hill and into the water, bike and all. Looked like fun. And surprisingly, as dangerous as it was no one ever got hurt.

At the end of the day the cowboy kids would come waking down the hills in their swim trunks wearing their cowboy boots with a towel draped over their heads and under their baseball caps or cowboy hats. They were so funny..

Summer at the lake was great. We would go and play all day long. We played catch, tag, and Frisbee. Sometimes we would take that 5 gallon bucket with us and try to use it to breath under the water. Inner tubes were great fun. The Radakovitz's had the huge one you could dive thru the middle long as you were careful not to catch the stem on your back or arm going in which we probably all have a scar or two from.

Saturday evening the Radakovitz's would go to Church.. They were Catholics and it was either Saturday evening or get up early and go Sunday and most of the time they chose the Saturday nights. It was always around dinner time. They were back in time for the sing-a-long..

The sing-a-long was pretty much an every Saturday night event. Loren Dannelson owned the park. He and a guitar player would get up with the microphone and speakers that could be heard thru the whole park. Sometimes hundreds of people joining in. They sat in a huge circle of logs that surrounded the bonfire, big enough that when you sat on them they were as tall and sometimes taller than a chair. Some people would bring lawn chairs and blankets. We always got there early so we could be right up front and watch them light the fire. Which started with gasoline and a huge POOOOF!!!

We knew all the words to all the folk songs we sang. They would sometimes have contests to see who could sing the loudest. "Old McDonald's Farm" had a Ford with a rattle rattle here and rattle rattle there. In "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" we would sing it and leave out the pronouns. (I know you are trying it now) During "JaDa" we would all yell faster till the guitar player would eventually every week beg us for mercy. We did the traditional Home on the Range, Down in the Valley, and sang in rounds during "row row your boat". They did requests but the requests always were for the same songs we would sing anyway.. The seasonal kids would yell out the titles we wanted to sing.

Our parents never went down, they liked to watch from the top of the hill that overlooked the whole thing.. I can only imagine how neat it had to look from there. Loren used to always make fun of the "old people up on the hill" pointing them out. Everyone there would turn around and look up, which would make them all wave and for a few seconds they were the stars.

After and hour and sometimes more of the sing-a-long they would finally end it.. Always with the same song and it almost always brought tears to my eyes. "God Bless America" To hear hundreds of people singing that song just moved my heart and gave me chills. The song still moves me to this day. Sometimes we would leave a few minutes early knowing that it would get crazy with the congestion of all those people leaving at the same time. We would get half way up the hill to the camp and turn around and look back over our shoulders at the group of people and still sing along.

We had to check in every couple hours up on the hill. In those days we didn't have cell phones, so wherever we were one of us at some point in time would go and check-in with the parents. If we got too long, my dad would whistle a loud whistle that everyone knew as Mr Ditch at the top of the hill. You could hear it throughout the valley at least a half a mile away. No one made fun of us for our father calling us up with a whistle. They all thought it was cool that he could whistle that loud.

During the summer there were several events that were really special. There was NCHA the National Campers Association that came in. The park was always packed that weekend. I loved "The Barber Shoppers Weekend" They would have contests on a big flatbed on Saturday night. You could walk thru the park and there was people practicing and singing everywhere in 4 part harmonies. They had women groups, kids, men, mixed, families. Didn't need entertainment that weekend you could just walk thru the park and they were entertainment in themselves as they practised.

The big weekend of the year and the final big blow out was "Halloween weekend" This was another weekend where the park was packed. They had events all weekend. The costume parade was pretty neat they would start at the far end of the park and everyone would walk down the road in costume all the way down to the valley on the hillside of the swimming lake. It was a nice man made hill where people could stand on the grassy hillside like they were on risers and everyone could be seen. Hundreds of people in costume, adults and kids alike. Sometimes the whole side of the lake was full. Some went all out. I would have hated to be the judge..

They had a pumpkin carving contest and provided free pumpkins. One year they had a dinosaur egg hunt which was a bunch of watermelons painted white and hidden all over the creek and valley. There was always a scavenger hunt and everyone wanted to be on Tom and my team. We knew the woods and nicknames of places and land marks described in the hunt. We were always the team to beat. We knew where the deer and raccoons frequented the creek in order to get there prints. We knew where the one person was that we had to get a signature from. There was alot of things we had to find too that weren't as easy: striped shoelaces and spoons with odd handles, yellow toothbrush, 10 bottle caps, stuff like that. But we had the advantage with no doubt. The prize was usually a team trail-ride. I always wanted to go on those. I loved the horses.

The last game they usually had was the Silver Stampede which had a young age limit. This was a neat way of getting the sand spread out the beach for the next season. They would bring in usually 2 or 3 truckloads of sand and as the truck was dumping the sand they would throw in a bunch of coins and during the stampeed the kids got to keep what they found. So as you can imagine there were lots of kids and the sand was flying, over the whole beach. After the mini sand dunes were reduced to a beach of freshly strewn sand we would go out there with our metal detectors and look for some missed coins. Sometimes we would get lucky, but most times those little kids got every last nickel.

It was always a great weekend but it was always a bit sad for us seasonal kids. It signaled the end of the summer. The end of the camping season. No more sing-a-longs, fewer weekend campers. There might have been one or two last weekends in a good Indian summer.

Usually we were there while the parents got the camp sites closed up for the winterizing since you couldn't use the park in the winter. They didn't plow the steep roads. Our parents would send us out looking for hedge apples. They had heard they were good for keeping the mice out of a trailers during the late fall and winter months. To them anything was worth a chance. Mice could destroy a trailer over the winter. So we would do our part. Whether it was just to get us out of our parents hair or not. We would get a bit of time to hang out but there was always a little sadness in the cool autumn air.

Sundays we always stayed as late as we could, still allowing enough day light so that we could drive home the hour it took and unpack when we got there. If we stayed late enough and it was slow in the park we would get to watch the cowboys stampede the horses right up the hill along side of our camper and across our hills and then up the road to the "Honda Hill" the high grazing area. It was always awesome to hear the thunderous sound of them coming. We would open the fence so they could get thru. To see their manes flying in the air as they ran like a wild herd up the hill was awesome.

Eventually we all started growing up and going our own ways. Tom became a football player and seldom came camping anymore. Dawn started going out with Larry, Tom's older brother, who was also a football player.

I just felt a bit too old and left out. I was no longer a kid and not yet considered an adult. Mom and Dad didn't want to leave me at home by myself. All my camping friends were moving on and doing other things. The kids back home were dating and doing things I could not be part of going away every weekend. So I spent alot of time in the woods. I would take my guitar and sit in the woods sometimes playing and sometimes listening as nature played her own version of music.

I quit going camping with my parents the weekend I turned 18. When I was a bit older I went back with my friends sometimes tenting up on the hill.

Those days are gone now. But the memories ride along with me for pondering on the summer and autumn weekend afternoons. I think about my summer friends and wonder what became of them.

Sometimes when I go and rake leaves i remember the huge piles of leaves we used to rake up just to jump and play in. Sometimes I long for the days of youth's freedom.

Part of Glenwood Farms will live on in me forever. I know you can never go back. But in my memory I can go back anytime I want.

God Bless America..........


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