We all look back on our childhood with "blame and praise."If you are like me, I sometimes ask myself, "Who helped me become the woman I am today?" At the head of the list are my parents, extended family, teachers, peers and believe it or not, Kankakee, Illinois. They all had a profound impact on my life.
I grew up in a small, blue-collar town: Kankakee, Illinois. Laughingly, when people ask me where I grew up, I say, "Kankakee by the Sea." Believe me, there was no sea. There was the dangerous current of the Kankakee River and the Kankakee State Hospital for the mentally ill. The town had two State Governors who were carted off to prison, and a little Jewish girl (me) who stood out because of her religion and her family's prosperity.
The environment of the community and its people had a profound affect on shaping my character. For me, "Kankakee by the Sea" was a lesson in mental survival. It helped me develop my moral compass. Little did I know at the time that the town would provide mewith an ability to "learn values and deal with life."
Growing up in Kankakee was a lesson in "true grit." I was one of only three Jewish kids in my high school class of 400 or more students. I did not come from a blue-collar family. I realized early on I had a choice. I could sink or swim. I decided to swim and learned to get along with kids regardless of religious beliefs, monetary status or skin color.
I learned to stand up for my beliefs.
I learned humility.
I learned I had to try harder to be accepted.
I am grateful to you, "Kankakee by the Sea."
At 18, I left for college and never looked back, but I took "Kankakee by the Sea" lessons with me. They have boded me well over the years. As my husband says, "One of the reasons I am attracted to my wife is because of her small town qualities; her essence." Again, thank you, Kankakee!
I carry with me "that small town girl quality of values." As the saying goes: "You can take the girl out of a small town, but you can't take the small town out of the girl." Today I live a worldly, sophisticated and charmed life (thank you to my husband, Shelly). I am well-educated (thank you to my mom and dad) and yet, I continue to have my small town values; that quality of innocence and gratitude for absolutely everything that happens to me in my life.
How have I passed on "my small town values" to my grandchildren?
All of my grandchildren have traveled to "Kankakee by the Sea" and seen the home I grew up in, the grade school and even the high school where I spent hours learning. I took them to the Synagogue that I studied and prayed in. As we passed by the home of their great-grandfather, I related the story of his crossing the ocean and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time and crying with joy. Last but not least, they hear their grandmother's stories of growing up in "Kankakee by the Sea."
I would advise you to take your time to do the same. I promise you an enjoyable adventure. Tell your grandchildren your stories and take them on a tour of the neighborhood where you spent your youth. The children will love learning about their grandmother, their family tree and the lessons you learned in your young life. Learning to value their history through their grandmother's eyes and to hear your stories will be "a keepsake" they will keep in their minds and hearts forever.
Grandmas, we have the responsibility to pass on our history and values... our very essence.My grandchildren love my stories. Your grandchildren will love yours, too.
I could not have written this blog without you, "Kankakee by the Sea."