Saturday in Salem

A Slice of Southern Illinois had the pleasure of spending this past Saturday in Salem participating in the vendor fair for Royal Kids Camp and visiting familiar Salem icons. Each vendor donated items to the quarter auction to raise money for foster kids from group homes and in foster families to be able to attend the special camp this summer. Even though the weather outside was rainy and chilly, we had a great time.

I grabbed lunch at the concession stand at the event. Evergreen Christian Church does in fact have some great noodle makers. The nachos supreme looked pretty good too.

My young interns drove through one of the spots that former Salemites tend to visit when they come home: Chico’s Mexican American Restaurant.

After the craft show, we had an opportunity to visit family in the area. Then this Salem Wildcat/Selmaville Rocket alumnus decided to drive around a bit. I didn’t go by as many places as I wanted to see because the weather was not ideal. I did parallel park across from Sweney’s Drug Store, or rather, where it stood, to take some pictures. The building has been gone at least a couple of decades, but there is now mural on what was once an inside wall.

Sweney’s was not only a pharmacy. They sold gift items and had an elaborate soda fountain. Back in the day, Sweney’s was known for their five cent Cokes. I can remember standing in line at the pharmacy counter with my mom as a young child. On a weekend, I would be listening to Casey Kasem host “America’s top 40” on WJBD radio and staring with fascination at the huge, decorative glass container of blue liquid. I always wondered what was in that thing. At Christmastime, my parents would get boxes of chocolates at Sweney’s to give as presents. I liked to watch the store clerk expertly wrap each box.

The ABC Pub sits next to Sweney’s Corner. Of course, I have no childhood memories at pubs or bars, and I’m really not sure if they served food when I was living at Salem. I do know that it is now known for having great food. A few years ago, my high school class had our reunion there. The food was wonderful, the people were nice, and it was a lot of fun catching up with friends. We even walked next door as a class to Sweney’s Corner and released balloons in memory of classmates who are no longer with us.

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The old movie theater, now used for local and guest performances, sits across from the ABC Pub. The first movie I saw there as a kid was “The Unidentified Flying Oddball.” This was before everyone rented movies, multiplex cinema was everywhere, and you could just stream movies at home. We would wait with anticipation to see which movie came to town each week and looked forward to going to the show with friends on weekends. “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Secret of My Success,” “Big,” and many more great movies once graced that screen.

I finally got to visit GoGoGourmet in the newly rennovated Orchard strip mall (formerly Southern Gardens Shopping Center.) This is a place where I could really be a kid in a candy shop. I’m sure fellow foodies could relate. Lisa Lamb and her staff have done a great job with the shop. They had multiple gourmet teas, coffees, chocolate, and even a variety of finishing salts. We tasted some delicious dip mixes, dipping oils, and balsamic vinegars. I loved it. A surprise bonus was getting to visit with a friend at the shop who I had not seen since high school. We had a good time reminiscing and catching up with each other.

After we left GoGoGourmet, we headed toward Selmaville School. We inadvertently took a long route because things looked so different on roads that I used to know by heart. Houses where I played with friends and attended slumber parties have been remodeled, and there are more houses scattered along the way. I’m glad that I didn’t get us lost. That would have been embarrassing.

Perhaps if you listen really closely when you pull up to the school, you can still hear the echo of Mrs. Steinman’s seventh graders reciting their pronouns: “Subjective: I, you, he, she, it, we, they…” We really did have great teachers who cared about us and our futures. There are many great memories tied to that school. We were fortunate to be able to learn from many things beyond just books and classroom instruction.

Selmaville may have been a small school, but we had opportunities. It was a time before so much academic testing, increased regulations, and lofty government expectations that we could still be kids. We didn’t worry about being embarrassed on social media because unless the Salem Times Commoner or our small class newspaper printed it, it wasn’t going to be online for the world to see. “Online” was just bad grammar for being “on the line” in P.E. or sports. We still had class Room Mothers who were allowed to bring homemade treats.

We had good coaches, sponsors, and a wonderful music teacher that inspired me to pursue my music degree. Schoolmates and I lobbied for and eventually got to see and play on the school’s first girls’ basketball team. (They have come a LONG way since then.) We had a marching band and flag corp that actually placed in parades. If a sports team or the band did well at a competition or event, we were met with a police escort as we neared the school. We felt supported by our community. At ballgames, if it was a sport you didn’t play, you cheered on the Rockets and hung out with friends. We were not glued to cell phones. Granted, I couldn’t get by with anything too “horrendous” though because my dad was the principal…news did travel quick in a small school. Even if you were just making a mess by helping friends at your lunch table “operate” on green beans.

I thank God that many of us from my class stay in touch with each other. Part of me is sad that my kids did not have the full opportunity for the experiences that I had at Selmaville.

Eventually, we met my family at Pizza Man, another one of the places Salem people often crave when they move out of town. It was our opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day and a couple birthdays together. Of course, the Family Pleaser with the famous French dressing (seriously, people buy it in containers to take home…) and Little Egypt Special was wonderful. (I also love the Salem Special, but not everyone likes olives and jalapeños…)

After dinner, it was still a bit rainy, but I wanted to show my faithful interns the Dairy Mart, a seasonal favorite that has been in Salem as long as I can remember. As a kid, my brother and I couldnt tolerate cow’s milk, but we were able to get slushies. My childhood favorite was the Grasshopper Slushie. No insects were harmed in the making of the minty ice drink, but it was grasshopper green. I dont think it has been on the menu for at least one decade though. Initially, I planned to just drive by and snap a few photos since we had just stuffed ourselves at Pizza Man. Then I saw the drive thru… I decided that since I would not have to get out of the car again, I shouldn’t pass the opportunity for one of their iconic lemon soft serve icecream cones…It was the perfect, sweet way to top off a visit to my hometown.

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