Friday night we went out with our new friends Gene and Steve to see the Belvidere Wagon Train. This historical observance, interesting in its own right, had the feel of a country fair, with happy crowds strolling among musicians and food vendors. It was a beautiful, warm evening that served as a great excuse for us to get together and to know each other better.
It's stretching things a bit to call Belvidere a "town"--it's more a collection of houses with a store, a restaurant, and a post office. But what a store and what a restaurant! The grocery carries all the staples you would expect in a country store and is unremarkable until you work your way back to where the meats are kept. There, your eyes suddenly feast upon hanging rows of hams, pork bellies, poultry and sausages smoked on the premises, and a cold-case full of beautiful steaks, cuts of pork, and home-made sausage. We didn't buy anything but I was reminded of the old joke about the lady standing in line at a fast food restaurant who says, pointing at the menu posted on the wall, "I'll just have side orders--that side and that side." I wanted it all!
The restaurant is in a converted historic home and serves excellent, homemade southern-style cooking at low prices, a good place to go for a simple, well-prepared meal if we don't feel like cooking. (And as for that post office: it serves all the people dotted in farms and homesteads within a radius of many square miles, so it is consequential despite its smallness. Its closure, if that ever happened for misguided reasons of economy, would create hardship for many.)
Both Gene and Steve are locals born and bred, with roots that go all the way back to the original English settlers in the region. Steve is, among many other things, a history buff, and has become the go-to person for anyone doing research on the area. (I joke with him that he is the local historical society, but for all intents and purposes he is precisely that, since the actual institution does not yet exist in the county.) He has traced real estate records and family trees deep into history; a drive with him along the back roads of this rural county--roads and scenery where the uninitiated would see nothing but endless fields dotted with occasional houses in various states of liveability--becomes as fascinating as a tour of any city.
The evening also had its share of big laughs, thanks in part to the fact that Steve has so many aunts and uncles. Practically everyone he passes, it seems, is a cousin. Once, as we passed some antique artifact, Steve said, "My cousin made that." He forgave me for observing that he seems to be related not only to every person in the county, but every thing.
The guys are in the middle of a project Steve and I know only too well: the re-creation and customization of a very old house into something that will be completely their own. As they walked us through the rambling old place, showing us rooms both original and added on, and walls that were put in to create new spaces, we felt we were in very familiar territory. They still have a way to go, but they have plenty of time, and the finished parts are on their way to being a comfortable place they can be proud of.
Of course, for all the familiarity, there are some differences from what we had in Arlington. Our old place just had a small yard with bird feeders in the back. Steve and Gene have a collection of peacocks, some chickens, a horse and a jackass--which they've tried to mate to get a mule, but the mare is so far having none of that--in addition to the usual dogs and cats. The closest we ever got to anything that exotic was the neighbor's pot-bellied pig, who occasionally escaped his back yard enclosure for forays into our petunia patch. When we called Animal Control, we had to repeat the story a couple of times before anybody would believe us. Here, Animal Control wouldn't even be involved--heck, I'm not sure it even exists. The critters belong where they are and nobody bats an eye.