Friday, July 11, 2014

Bathgate Meets Morton Grove

You can take the farmer out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of a farmer. 

The following photo is classic for both our On the Road to Bathgate and our Morton Grove series. Leading the wagon is my mother, Evelyn Foster. Trailing is my father, George W. Foster, posing (more or less) as a hayseed farmer. In between is Rilley (son of) the Pig. The picture was taken at the corner of Austin Avenue and Dempster Street in Morton Grove, Illinois, the very same intersection where the notorious The Dells roadhouse was once located.

It is the annual Morton Grove Days parade, circa 1965. My dad served on the board of Morton Grove Days, a community carnival and fair which raised considerable sums that helped to support civic ventures, including closest to my dad's heart, fields for Little League baseball. A chip off his father I. J. Foster's block, my dad always loved a fair and was active in promoting the same.

One year, dad put his signature on Morton Grove Days by introducing an event from his youth in rural North Dakota -- a greased pig wrestling contest.  Dad found a pig farmer out by Gurnee who was willing to lend one of his swine. They named the pig Riley. 

Morton Grove Days has long
supported civic investments. This
August 4, 1950 article in the Daily
references the purchase of and
improvements for Harrer Park.
As the sun went down on the carnival midway, and sufficient beer garden libations had been consumed to infuse wrestling bravado, Riley was lathered in lard and released in a muddy pen. With hundreds crowded around, fair goers were challenged to wrestle Riley to the ground. The pig, however, was bigger, stronger, faster and more agile (probably smarter too) than the he-men he faced. The would be wrestlers ended up with nothing more than fistfuls of lard and a profile caked head to toe in mud. They never had a chance. It was hilarious seeing them slide into, slither and wallow in the muck.

Sure enough, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (do-gooders as my father called them) filed a complaint. After consultation with his management team, Riley submitted an oped piece for publication in the local weekly newspaper, the Morton Grove Champion

The pig said he was living the life of Riley. When Riley returned to the farm his new found fame dictated wearing sunglasses to deflect excessive public attention. By virtue of his Morton Grove Days performance, Riley became the most popular pig in the pen. He could not help but notice that when he was away from the farm, a number of his brethren had gone to bacon. Riley thanked the Morton Grove Days Committee for giving him the opportunity to defer the same fate.

The next year, the greased pig was christened Rilley, with a double "l." My dad claimed Rilley was son of Riley, but anyone who knows anything about how pigs are raised, knows that production pigs are relieved of the ability to sire young ones at a very tender age. A little hyperbole never hurt anyone.

A big thank you to the childhood chum who sent me the parade photo on Facebook!

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