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Liz Ciancone

February 19, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: Years along rivers make them feel like home

TERRE HAUTE — I’ve been following plans for celebrating “The Year of the River” with interest. Rivers have played such a role in my life that I’ve celebrated a good many rivers. The Wabash River is merely the most recent example.

I was born in Ottawa, Ill., and the first home I remember was on the banks of the Illinois River. In fact, our back yard sloped down to its banks. I’m sure Mom would have had a fit if she had known how often I wandered down there to watch the water. My earliest memory involves picking dandelions along the river bank. I was 3 years old.

We moved from Ottawa to Stockton, Ill. No river flows through Stockton, but we were not far from the Mississippi River. Dad’s company picnic always took place on the banks of the “Mighty Miss,” and we crossed it each time we drove to Iowa to visit relatives in Mom’s hometown, Dubuque.

We moved back to Ottawa for a few months before moving to Yorkville, Ill. The Fox River separates the south side of town from the north side, and Ed and I walked over the Fox River Bridge four times a day when we started school. We swam in the Fox — when we decided we were too big to swim with the little kids in Blackberry Creek. In the winter, we joined the other “big” kids and rode the bobsled down Court House Hill. The end of the ride involved a wide swing across the Fox at the bottom of the hill.

Then we moved to Sycamore, Ill., which boasts no river. I attended college in DeKalb, Ill., which had only the Kishwaukee which claimed to be a river, but seemed to me to be little more than a creek.

However, I moved to East Prairie, Mo., to teach school. This was a town just a few miles north of the “set back levee,” a dam which could be dynamited in case a major flood threatened cities downstream on the Mississippi. East Prairie was flooded almost every spring. The high school didn’t have snow days; we had high water days.

My Best Friend was raised along the Rock River in Rockford, Ill. When we married we settled in St. Charles, Ill., and I was back on the banks of the Fox River until we moved to Terre Haute and settled on the banks of the Wabash.

I knew I was home. I find I can’t sing “The Banks of the Wabash” because there is a lump in my throat. I’m back on a river.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send email to opinion@tribstar.com.

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