By Tom Nauman
I grew up mostly in Henry, Illinois. I say mostly because I think my father is a decendant of the German nomadic tribes, so prior to reaching age eighteen I had also lived near Pekin, Illinois; Silver City New Mexico; and Ventura, California. During the same timespan I lived in Henry three different times so I've always considered Henry my hometown.
During the summer in Henry, 1961 to be exact, a boy of ten only had one activity to occupy his time on a hot afternoon. And that was at the local swimming pool. I think it was a combination of relief from the heat, socializing with friends, and the lack of electronic entertainment present today that made the pool such a magnet. We did have Ed Herry's pinball machine but that was off limits to some of us and cost a nickel per game. Things have sure changed. The only other thing that I remember about 1961 is that it was the upside-down year. That is, the number read the same whether you looked at it right side up or upside-down, it still was 1961.
We lived at the top of Harney Hill. Many Henryites probably couldn't tell you where Harney Hill is and I wouldn't be able to tell you either except that I lived there. It was about a six block bicycle ride to the pool and Mom insisted that I ride on Monroe Street to Front Street and then stay on Front Street to get to the pool. Front street wasn't as busy as the alternatives, so Mom figured it was safer. She must have been correct as I'm still here to write this story. Thanks, Mom.
It was along Front Street that I would see them; an elderly couple sitting in front of their home. I remember him the most with the thick white hair and the wire rimmed glasses. They were always doing something with their hands. I couldn't really tell what because everytime I passed by they stopped whatever it was they were doing to wave. And I always waved back. They never spoke. Neither did I. Just a simple wave and a smile.
And I never stopped. After all, they were strangers and the pool was only two or three more blocks away. And they were never there on my return home two or three hours later. I suppose it had something to do with with the heat in the house mid-day or the heat outside in the late afternoon. The scenario was always the same. A wave, a smile, and then back to the task at hand for all three of us.
I mentioned earlier that they never spoke and I never stopped and that they weren't there on my return. Never that is until one afternoon in mid-August when on my return to home the elderly man was standing in the yard - actually at the edge of the yard. And he was moving his hand in a come here motion. So I stopped the bicycle and as I approached the gentleman I could see he had something in his hands. He held it out to me and said, "Here, we made this for you." It was a wooden knife, dagger style and painted decoratively. I thanked him and then went on my way because this new prize needed to be shown to several friends.
The only change to additional trips to the pool that summer was that the wave and smile were accompanied by "Hi's" or "Hello's." And the smiles I'm sure seemed a little bigger and come to think of it the waves were a little more vigorous too. The summer ended shortly thereafter and I remember the knife being the hit of "Cowboys and Indians." Politically incorrect hadn't been invented in 1961.
The following summer we moved to New Mexico. Virtually everything we owned was sold at auction including the knife because there wasn't room for any extras. I didn't give it much more thought until many years later I saw a picture of the gentleman and his wife in the local paper. His unique facial features, the wild white hair, and the specticals (we called them granny glasses by this time) were unmistakeable. He and his wife were actually fairly famous. Famous for carving wooden things. Wooden things that now sell for tens of thousands of dollars! They were Charlie and Edna Perdew. If you're an outdoorsman from Central Illinois or even further and you don't recognize those names then you need to get out of the blind more often.
Do I wish I still had the knife? Sure. Do I think I'll ever get it back? Most likely not. Would I still remember the event had it not been the Perdews? Yes, because the important part of this story is that it wasn't the gift that mattered. It was the memory of the kind deed that has lasted all these years. And whether the knife would now be worth a hundred dollars or a hundred thousand, the memory is worth more. Be kind to someone today, they may remember it for a long time.
I received a postcard yesterday from Don Clark of Henry, Illinois announcing that he was saving a table for me at the Henry Decoy Show on February 13. They Henry Decoy Show is well attended and features area woodcarvers, artists, and wildlife memorabilia collectors. They even invite a few mushroom carvers to join them and for this we are grateful.
The city of Henry is very well known for its past and present wildlife carvers and the Henry Decoy Show is an annual convention of sorts where past meets present. I doubt anyone will argue that the most famous of these artisans was Charlie Perdew. Much has been written about this eccentric individual and his wife Edna. There will undoubtedly be some of their work on display.
A group has formed to restore the Perdew home and make it a museum. If you can help in any way contact them at : Charles Perdew Museum Association, 514 Front Street, PO Box 211, Henry, Illinois 61537-0211, 309-364-3261, www.cc.henry.il.us/charles.htm