Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Oakdale, Illinois

The Daily Yonder and The Rural Blog are two sites I read each day; they both provide some of the most thorough, provocative and indispensable information and commentary on rural issues. The Daily Yonder today offers analysis on the senate election in Massachusetts (both the most heavily rural and heavily urban counties voted for Democrat Martha Coakley) as well as this fantastic reminiscence on the local history of Oakdale, Illinois--the fictional small-town home of As The World Turns. Here's a glimpse of writer Julianne Crouch walking down this soapstone memory lane:
Geographically, Oakdale started out in the corn fields somewhere in central Illinois. The town now has at least one hospital, a television station, three newspapers, a university, a fancy hotel (where characters unaccountably live for long stretches), a dive motel, and a police force. It has a convenient airport, with jets on stand-by if one needs a quickie divorce in “the Islands.” Like the town of Springfield, where the cartoon Simpsons live, it has whatever geographical features suit the story line. Oakdale is an easy drive to the mountains, New York City, and of course, Chicago. 

The show premiered in April 1956. When I first moved to Oakdale for one hour a day, Chicago was rarely mentioned. It might come up if someone sought an abortion or needed an organ transplant. But over the years, Chicago has become central to the lives of Oakdalians. Either Chicago’s suburbs are sprawling or Oakdale is snurching north. Oakdalians are Cubs fans but seem to have little interest in the Bulls or the Bears. They go to the Windy City for rock concerts or occasional shopping trips. They can get there and back in no time, unless they slide off the road and hit a tree or are kidnapped along the way. Hey, it happens.
While the essay reads as a sort of fabulist narrative of post-war rural America, the Daily Yonder's page also features a very thoughtful response:
Daily Yonder readers undoubtedly will be interested to learn that there is, in fact, a non-fictional Oakdale, Illinois, and it’s a lovely place.  It’s located in the southwestern part of the state – specifically in southwestern Washington County, about 55 miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri (and about 30 miles northeast of my hometown of Chester, Illinois).  The population as of the 2000 census was 213.
Oakdale is home to one of only three congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America in Illinois.  Its existence reflects the early-nineteenth-century migration of Scots-Irish Covenanters from Upcountry South Carolina to present-day southwestern Washington County and northeastern Randolph County, Illinois, largely because of their opposition to slavery.
 Read more from the Julianne Crouch's essay here.