Sunday, November 28, 2010

Legion Park

We were in Watseka for Thanksgiving. We stayed until this morning. Weather-wise, it was a perfect post-harvest weekend; frost in the mornings, a chill in the air, and sunshine during the days.  A Woodland farm-girl recently told me that, on days like those in the 1970s, she and her friend rode in bean wagons to stay warm after they played outside.

On Watseka mornings, I usually spend time in Legion Park. Early today, there was a light frost covering the trees, the grass and the playground equipment. The Lagoon had a paper-thin sheet of ice on it. The air was so crisp I swear I could hear Sugar Creek’s current.

Man, Legion Park brings back good memories!

The Lagoon is a Legion Park Landmark. I doubt anybody ever voluntarily swam in it - although some people got pushed in once in a while.  Many of you probably fished the Lagoon. Wasn’t it the spot for an annual fishing derby?  After the “Turtle Derby” (can anybody send me the history of that event?) there were dozens of turtles let loose into its green water. The Lagoon really lends character to the Park.

The pool is empty for winter. It’s changed a bit, but it’s basically the same pool that many of you swam in after hours (could you still climb in the dark?) when you were in high school. 

Who remembers being young and spending hours at the pool in the summer?  Did it seem to anyone else that a ten minute pool check lasted an hour?  Who brought change for the concession stand?  What was your favorite candy? Did you put your shoes and shirt in a basket or carry them out to the pool side?

Which one of our classmates, trained in first aid as a Watseka lifeguard, ended up with stitches after slipping on the pool’s concrete while working? At the time, was he saving a small child or goofing off in a mock super-hero costume?

Most of the Park's old metal playground equipment is still standing. It was probably covered in lead paint when we were kids. Remember the wood planks on the merry-go-round by the monument off Fourth Street? They were guaranteed to give a kid a dagger-sized splinter. We are all lucky to have survived.

There are few changes in elevation in Iroquois County. Because it has the only hills for miles that aren’t dotted with tombstones, Legion Park is ideal for sledding. I am betting some of you have children or grand-children who will sled in the Park this year - like you did years ago.

In the 70s and early 80s, on the Fourth of July, the Park was the center of the universe. I remember: bands playing on flatbed trailers; mud volleyball pits; and all kinds of other activities during the day. At night, everybody watched the fireworks at the Girls’ Softball Fields.  

The Park still has well kept picnic pavilions. They are great places for family picnics and getting together with friends. Remember how, when lightning closed the pool, the pavilion across the road would be full of kids waiting out the storm?

The roads through the Park were great for cruising. When we were in high school, today’s gazillion dollar muscle cars were just cool used cars. Of course, after an oak tree brought a Plymouth ‘Cuda to a dead stop, the new speed bumps slowed things down.

Speaking of trees, could there be a better collection of them anywhere? There are willows, maples, oaks etc. Does anyone know how old the oldest Legion Park oak tree is? 

Sugar Creek is a nice border to the Park. There is a pretty good current just south of the Pool. The Creek is wider at the Park than the Iroquois River is in many places.  The current and width of the water made the Park an ideal place to launch a canoe.

Legion Park was a gateway to other things. The banks of Sugar Creek had paths that led to the “swimming hole” (complete with a rope swing) and the trestle. I’m not sure today’s kids, regularly dosed with amoxicillin from birth, could swim in the pre-eco-friendly-era waters of the Creek without becoming septic overnight. How high was the trestle? To a ten year old, it seemed to be a thousand feet over the water.

Legion Park is one the best things about Watseka.  It’s one of the reasons there wasn’t any better place to be a kid.

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving!