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updated: 7/26/2011 3:11 PM

Peoples homes of the past shares stories of history

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When Matilda Weilinski sold us her house in 1961 because she was moving out West, she was said to have sold 28 other pieces of property in town. She was a well-to-do woman.

In her last grandiose gesture of generosity to the new owners, she waved her hands at the sailcloth curtains on the back porch and told us, "I'm leaving the curtains for you."

When we took them down after her departure, we made an amazing discovery: the curtains were hung on branches that had been stripped from backyard trees denuded of their twigs.

There were no curtain rods.

We found a certain charm in the experience. We liked it that something of the old life of the house was leaning into the new life we were bringing to it, caressing it in a way.

Soon we were looking for bits of olden days in all our experiences of the new. We felt an affinity with Mitchell's Jewelers when we learned that the building at 10 N. Dunton they were rehabilitating "was held up with tree trunks as support beams," as the Daily Herald reported. That made the much smaller tree trunks holding up shelves in our pantry seem almost mainstream.

The children particularly liked the fact that Arlington Heights Road's past as an Indian trail shows through its current not-quite-straight course. After they noticed some of its gentle curves, they were able to imagine early inhabitants circling around the low-lying marshes so prevalent in early history of the region.

Other familiar roadways reveal their past to noticing travelers. Campbell Street isn't straight as a die, but low-lying water was not the cause here. Steve Csanadi, who lived most of his life on Campbell, remembered its cowpath days when he and other local kids herded their cows down Campbell to the meadows on Ridge. The cows took the path of least resistance. Campbell still shows the result if you look for it.

On Walnut the famous curve can be traced to horses. Henry Leark, who lived on the Walnut curve, told me that when the Lutheran Home was on the Highway and the Lutheran Farm which supported the Home was on Oakton, the farmer let his horse pick the easiest way to make the daily journey. In time the horse cut a deep curve in the trail. It remains to this day.

The modest skyscraper canyon on Campbell speaks to us about the progress that our village has made. Gently winding roads give our town its human touch, remind us of those who came before, how they coped, and how they hoped.