“How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Freeport?”

“How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Freeport?” I could’t help but remember the lyrics from Judy Garland’s 1942 song from the film, For Me and My Gal. 

Unknown

“I grew up on a dairy farm on the northwest corner of Illinois between two small towns, Warren and Winslow. I have seven brothers and sisters, including an identical twin, all born in the 1950s. Every 10 years, we have a party. We had a 30-something party when we were 30. Then ten years later, we had a 40-something party. There are a few months when all the brothers and sisters are the same decade. That includes in-laws.”

They wait for the youngest to turn the next decade’s age and then have the party.

We were lunching at the organic foods cafe, Halsa, on Riverside Avenue in Rockford. It seemed right to talk to a farmer’s daughter in a natural foods place.  (Unfortunately that gem of a restaurant didn’t get enough support from the Rockford folks, and closed shortly after our luncheon.)

“Growing up on a farm, we didn’t see our classmates every day like kids nowadays do,”Janet continued. “We grew up with each other, so we were pretty close. We played softball in the backyard. You know, when there are eight of you, you’ve got almost enough for a softball team.”  Unknown-5

“And what about chores?” I chimed in.

“Well, just being on the farm, my dad always said, “I’m not a city slicker. We didn’t run to town just to see friends. We were three miles from a small town, six miles from school. Warren. In the summertime, we’d go to Monroe, 25 miles away. I remember trips to the dentist.”   Unknown-1

“This was a special occasion?”

“For us it was. Monroe’s such a neat town, built on The Square. If we were good, and didn’t have cavities, got a free ice cream cone around the corner. the dentist gave us a gift certificate for the ice cream at Ruf Confectionery. It’s still open. The dentist’s office was upstairs and had a nice view of the whole square.” (A Trip Advisor reviews states that if all towns were like Monroe, no one would live in the city.)

“Other excursions?”

“We made an annual trip to pick out materials for summer 4-H projects.

Janet’s 4-H projects were mostly cooking for the Jo Davies County Fair.

“I was baking bread and pies when I was 10. We did sewing and flower arranging. Muy sisters and I did mostly the food things. In addition to 4-H, we got into making money at an early age. We would bake cookies or rolls and would enter the fair.”  Unknown-3

“Did you win?”

“Yeah, till we were 14.” she smiles. “We made a haul. When we turned 14, we had to compete with the adults. There weren’t many 12-year-olds baking bread, making all the stuff we did.”

She left the farm to study foods and nutrition at the University of Illinois.

“My food interests never changed. I worked for a food manufacturer for more than 20 years–high end groceries, gourmet foods. Do you know Spike O’Dell from WGN (the Chicago news radio station, were he was a broadcaster until 2008)?

Spike had Barry Levenson from the Mustard Museum (Mt. Horeb, Wisc.) on his radio show. Spike said, ‘I ought to have my own mustard.’ He wanted it to first be sweet and then sneak up on you and bite you in the butt,” Jan said. “I was working to private label mustard, and suggested to Barry we could make the mustard in Freeport.”  RIGHT_museumexterior

Jan got a chemist to develop a formula, which she presented to Barry, and Barry presented it to Spike.

“It was called Bite Your Butt Mustard. It became very popular. We thought it would probably sell about 5,000 jars. The neat thing, for every jar sold, $1 went to the Neediest Kid’s Fund. We were raising a lot of money–more than $1 million. Stores started selling it in Rockford and Spike made appearances that drew crowds. He would autograph the jars of mustard and people would stand inline for the length of the (store) aisle.”

“Do you miss the farm?”

“I like living in the city, because I work a lot. It was great to grow up there, but I think I’d kind of get bored now.”

“You’re competitive.”

“Very competitive. I think my brothers and sisters were always betting on something. We ‘d bet bottles of pop on baseball games. I’m a Packers fan in Freeport. It’s probably 60:40 there, Bears to Packers.”

“You like winners.”

She laughs: “Well, I followed them through their bad years too. I like the Dodgers.”    Unknown-4

“You’re allowed to like a California team?” I needled.

“I wouldn’t wear a Dodgers T-Shirt to a Cubs game,” she smiled.

 

 

Protecting people, remembering why

Trooper Mark Nytco was standing in line at a coffee shop when I realized I had not interviewed a policeman and needed to do so. After obtaining permission from his captain, we agreed to meet at a favorite Mexican restaurant, Alvarez.  1375642_529961663748425_107114062_n

I ordered pork tacos, Mark was decisive: chicken fajitas.

He is just as confident about performing his duties as an Illinois State policeman. This tall, fair, handsome man has serious eyes with a steadying effect.  images

“When you stop people, are they respectful?” I began.

“Yes, very seldom do I have any problems with people.”

“Are you aggressive?”

“When I have to0 be. You have to know what you are dealing with. I do not take any disrespect from people. I am respectful to them. If they cross the line, then all bets are off.”

“What’s the most fulfilling crime-stopping you do?”

“It’s hard to tell, because it’s pretty much every day. Whether you stop a person with a gun in their car or whether you stop a drug dealer with a large amount of narcotics. Who knows? You think, well, maybe you saved something today from using the stuff.”

“Do you get involved with their families?”  Unknown

“Sometimes I probe, try to find out their background, what kind of person they are, what kind of home they come from. Sometimes it is shocking when you call a parent:

‘Can I call your mom to pick you up?’ They say, ‘OK, go ahead, she won’t care.’ The parent often says, ‘Can’t you charge him with something so you can keep him overnight in jail?’ I look at this kid and think, no wonder this kid is here on the street.”

“What’s the solution?” I ask.

“It all boils down to family life.”

Mark knows about family. He was 16 when he arrived in Chicago on a September Thursday in 1974.

“I was born in Poland about 80 kilometers east of Krakow. I was brought up under communism, but at home, I knew better than what the officials at school said. Parents and grandparents told me different.  data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,VG857Eg-k9KYTzCWUSnCnFuZmK1ZNhnDmeGeom7DBrFxYDE69zf6ZIS-Ob7IwPV5X7s4abxfuwoYgrPOUKusdI-OADc_kAcpnLC3MN0K3_w9fPpu_qjR7gibCGoKAM73Rlx_u5rRMDgjzBD9iilSYbqZIWG5T05jfJe_wxxe2nJBvFJ6WG6s8BwK-7GXsiAFZaHdp3U

Mexican guitar music filled Alvarez’s small dining area, but I was captivated by the Polish accent, the surprising story unfolding. He paused briefly for a bite of sizzling chicken or bell pepper, but he was intent on continuing. He had important things to say.

“When I was in school, I listened to the version of history that this teacher had, totally opposite with what my parents and grandparents taught me, or what they went through. For instance, my grandfather was part of the underground. Fought the Nazis,” he explained.

“After the Polish army fell in World War II, when the Nazis invaded Poland, a lot of officers got captured by communist Russians. About 10,000 were executed by Stalin. My grandfather was able to escape, but somehow the Gestapo found out about their organization. Under some kind of torture, they were able to get all the n ames of all the conspirators from this one person, and overnight they rounded up 236 of them, including my grandfather. They arrested him and eventually transported them to Auschwitz. A few months later, my grandfather was executed there, in Cell Block 13.”

He broke through to say, “I don’t know if you have ever visited Auschwitz, but you should. I think everybody should.”

“How did that change you? I asked.

“When you’re  kid, you think everything is beautiful. Then you listen to adults–not reading a  book or watching a movie. I had an eyewitness.”

His aunt survived three concentration camps.

“What they did to them every day, how they made them stand out in 10 below zero, in an outfit like P.J.’s and wooden shoes. Made them stand there for 10 hours at a time. And they didn’t care if they dropped dead. You were basically to die. They didn’t care. I realized how evil people can be to one another.

“This has affected how you do your job?”

“I understand when I come across a lot of people, and there are more and more people who are from former communist countries. I can understand why they’re so distrusting of police, because I can still remember what the police over there were like.”

“You can be more forgiving?”

“Yes. I can relate to them. I know why they are like that, because their life over there was hell. The policing there wasn’t to protect them, but to keep them in line.”

“Here you’re the good guy,” I said.

He smiled. “Yeah, I like to think so. And, this job doesn’t pay much. You have to love this  job; you have to sacrifice; but that’s where dedication comes in. You have to remember why you took this job.”