Growing up in Camelot – let’s re-create it cooperatively

Small town Camelot
Small town Camelot/Wikipedia

Growing up in Camelot,  a child’s version of it  anyway, forged my passion for healthy communities. In the 1950s, the Coal Creek Country Club was the social axis of the Central Illinois corn, soybean, and hog farmers in Sheffield and  surrounding communities.

“Country club” belied its true nature as an affordable gathering spot for sport, camaraderie, and, where children roamed freely, de facto child care. The turn-of-the-century clubhouse, 9-hole golf course, and swimming pool the size of a postage stamp, was the heart of the community.

When my dad lined everyone’s shoes up (8 pair) to shine, I knew it was the night of the “social.” The monthly summer ritual brought farmers in from the fields, housewives out of the kitchen, and children in from play for an evening in heaven with friends.

A committee served vats of scalloped potatoes, platters of ham, and every household brought a delicious dish to pass. After feasting, my friends and I wandered the golf course, serene at twilight, while the adults cleared away the food and transformed the dining room into a big-band dance floor. When we came in, the band got the party swinging. We bopped our socks off until 9 or so, when our parents took us home, tucked us in bed and went back out to party.

The club house, built by a benevolent banker on land that had been strip mined for coal, anchored the community with frequent gatherings for fun, sport, great music and sumptuous home cooked food.

Musty is the memorable odor in the loft where old drapes were saved for something. Mold found a comfortable home in sunless locker rooms. Bottles chilled in water in the commissary Coke machine. The magical clubhouse later burned to the ground and the swimming pool is gone too.

When I was 12, we moved from that idyllic village to Stockton, Illinois, a small farming community in JoDaviess County, the prettiest in Illinois. When I was 15, I got my first job waitressing, and later cooking, at the Lantern, a diner with mediocre food and bad coffee. Farmers came in after milking their cows for camaraderie and, undoubtedly, gossip.

Those chapters are over but the experiences left an indelible memory of what is possible and forged my passion to nurture healthy communities by gathering casually, affordably, and often. We hunger for present-day versions of Camelot.

There aren’t many benevolent bankers around but cooperatives offer a community-centric  way forward. With vacant store fronts in every neighborhood, together we could pull it off.  Cooperatives Fertile Possibility explains how they create jobs, share the work and the proceeds. Using this model, everyone wins. That would be Camelot, wouldn’t it?

If this interests you, please e-mail to get your community humming.

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