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“W.E. Etcheson, General Merchandise” was the large sign under which Donald Etcheson was (figuratively) born 82 years ago, and lived from infancy until young manhood.
Last week,Etcheson began sharing his story of his childhood days in Shafter Township. He continues sharing memories this week, beginning with his family's move to Vandalia.
The Move from Shafter to Vandalia
Don said his dad sold the store to Don Satterthwaite, and they left Shafter in 1945.
“We moved to town (Vandalia), to the north end of Sixth Street. The house is still there,” he said. “The bigger stores began taking over the country stores’ business.”
Growing Up and Onward
Don said he “grew up and went into the Army, and was in the 389 Medical Depot out of Georgia.
“When they called me and two others in to tell us we were being released to go home, we were told that we would be made sergeants tomorrow if we would re-enlist. I said no; I wanted to come home, because I was going with her,” Don said, referring to Berniece, his wife.
Therein lies another story.
Although Berniece Wright’s mother’s (Peak) family had owned a farm near Shafter for generations, Berniece’s immediate family had lived out of state.
When her grandparents died, her family moved to the farm. But Don’s family had moved to Vandalia the year before, so they had never met, until Don saw her and arranged to meet her by stepping out in front of her “accidentally.”
It’s interesting to note that Peak School, which Don attended for eight years, was built by Berniece’s great-grandfather Wright and named for his wife’s maiden name, because her grandfather wanted a school for his children to attend. Swetland’s now occupy the original building that her great-grandfather built.
“Gasoline was 14.9 cents a gallon when I was a young boy.
“You could buy about 5 gallon of gas for a dollar, if you had a dollar.
“We had two pumps, one was for ethyl and one was regular. One of them hand-pumped up the gas up in a bowl. We had that one before we had electricity,” Etcheson said.
Most of the farmers had Model A Fords then,” he said.
Young Don also had a duty that few young people are familiar with today, taking care of his grandmother, who lived in a small house just behind their house
“It was my job when I got home from school to see if she needed anything, and she usually did. I’d carry in wood for her, etc. I kept busy, because I had other chores, too.” He said.
“I remember, we had a Philco radio, that’s all we had. I got hooked up with listening to ‘Jack Armstrong, the All- American Boy.’
“One time, my Dad had been in town and got groceries, and he had been to see my grandma and left square-like things on her table. He had left, and I thought, ‘Wow, ice cream,’ and I took a bite – it was pure lard! That’s the only time I ever saw my dad laugh,” he said.
“Back then, I never did go hungry, but a lot of people did. If they didn’t have money, my Dad would just write out a ticket and they just came in and paid when they could,” Etcheson said.
“Dad had the store for 26 years, and he told me, ‘In that 26 years, I never lost over $1,000 dollars in credit, and I don’t begrudge that at all,’” Etcheson said.
“A handshake was as good as a contract back then,” Don said.
A Great Life (with a Few Bumps)
“I had a great life back then,” he said. “We had a smokehouse back then, and we had a homemade shower out there. I kept that thing filled up with water to heat up through the day for my brothers.
“I listened to stuff on the radio, and I decided one day I’d crawl on the smokehouse with an umbrella and play like I’m jumping out of an airplane. I almost broke my neck. You don’t get much wind in an umbrella with a short jump. I didn’t break a bone, but I was bruised up.”
He recalled that the original building Bethel Baptist Church was just west of the store.
“It was quite a thing, back in those days, because the roads were dirt for years and years and years, and people couldn’t get to Vandalia,” Etcheson said.
“I remember once when the roads were so bad, my Dad had to have groceries brought out to the store by a guy in a wagon and a team of horses.
“My dad lived in Vandalia when he was young and he had a team of horses and a wagon. He would deliver for people in Vandalia,” he said.
“I’ll never forget when I got my first bicycle,” Don said. “My dad would buy milk at Vandalia Dairy and bring it back out and put it in the icebox. He had entered a contest down there and told me about it.
“He had left one day, and I asked my brother, Jesse, where he went. He told me he went to town, and he thought he had won the bicycle,” he said.
“I got so excited. I climbed up on top of the chicken house to watch for him. Sure enough, he had it lying down in the back of the truck.
“I rode my bicycle into Vandalia all the way to Vandalia to go to the show when I was a teenager,” he said. “They had those Captain Midnight serial movies, where you went back the next Saturday, and Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
“Once in a while, I’d come in with my brothers when they had dates. And I’d go to both shows, the Lincoln and the Liberty, and meet them (his brothers) down at Wides Service Station about midnight. They were open all night.”
Neighborhood Kids & Games
“When you lived out in the country like that, we had neighborhood kids that came up on Sunday. We had a lot of kids on Sundays. We had a basketball court, my brothers made horseshoes, and we had boxing gloves.
“If someone got into it, we would go get the boxing gloves and they would fight it out. Nobody got hurt, but they got hit. I saw stars a few times. Then we would shake hands and go on,” Etcheson said.
Some of the neighborhood kids were: “The Hoover boys, Bob and John; the Mattes kids, Elvis, Leroy and Estes; the Jetts, and later, the Mitchell boys lived east of there; Earl Adermann and the boys, August and Ed, and their sister, Alvena; the Darnells, four or five of them, lived south, of the store; and Claudine Richardson Roberts, better known as Pat. We used to ride our bicycles together. Charles Daley, he was in on it, and we used to hunt some together. “They were all scattered out, all directions, but they all came to the store
“Things like that, you grow up with, that you won’t forget. I was 17 when we left the store and moved to town. I thought I knew everything and didn’t know nothin’,” Etcheson said.
He greatly underestimated himself, and he has stayed busy all his life. He worked after school for Fidelity Clothiers, a well established and popular men’s clothing store. He worked at Coca-Cola for four years and for Jake Kringer’s filling station. He retired from Illinois Power after 33 years, after which he began driving cars for Hosick Motors, something he still does.
Although he said he is slowing down, “Driving the cars is something to do, and a little extra money,” he said.
He got bored after retiring and took up golf for a while. However, arthritis began interfering with his swing, so he gave that up.
He said he doesn’t know how Shafter got its name, and he is now on a quest for that information.
He’s still busy, just in a different way. A pleasant, interesting and knowledgeable man who remembers the “sign” he was born under – that of the historic Shafter Store.