January 1, 1906
The Boardinghouse of Mrs. Luella S. Anning
802 West Third Street, Sterling, Illinois
Nick had taken charge of everything related to my moving to Sterling. He’d even taken charge of finding my boarding house. I would have gladly made my own arrangements, but I had no idea where to begin, or to look.
I believe Ella Van Sant was like Nick in that she saw in me a project — in fact — Nick told me that Ella organized the my living arrangements, which he “knew would be completely to my satisfaction.”
The Anning’s house at 802 West Third Street was a neat, wood frame house built in 1900; I would have the choice front room for $5 a week plus board.
About 20 minutes later, we arrived; I was clumsy navigating out of the sleigh into the knee-high snow drifts. I felt the cold snow in my shoes, in my trousers. I shivered. The driver leapt deftly off the sleigh and quickly pulled my trunk off the back.
As I marched through the drifts up the sidewalk, the front door was opened by a large, motherly looking woman. “Well, here you are! Welcome Mr. Wilson!”
Luella Anning was all bustle and no-nonsense, ushering me quickly into the vestibule of her house. “Sidney, boys,” she said, turning to a young man about my age and two younger fellows lingering behind their mother. “Help Mr. Wilson in with his grips.”
I shook Mrs. Anning’s hand, nodded hello to Sidney; the two younger boys, known as Harold and Lawrence, arguing, noisily grabbed my trunk and began hauling it clumsily up the staircase.
“Here, now,” Mrs. Anning turned and bellowed to the boys. “Take care with the gentleman’s things, would you?” She turned back to me, “It will take us a little while to get used to you, and you to us,: she said, kindly. All in good time. I hope you will be happy here.”
I made some comment that I’m sure I would be; that Nick had been highly complimentary of you and your family, which made Mrs. Anning blush with pleasure. “It is our pleasure to be of service to you, and to the Van Sants,” she said.
Sidney offered to take my small carpet bag and satchel upstairs, which I gave to him. Mrs. Anning helped me off with my coat and hat; as she took my coat, she tsked, viewing it with some skepticism as she put my things in the hall closet, but said nothing. I tipped the driver, who thanked me, and now treated me with a bit more deference once he had heard I was here because of Nick Van Sant.
Although it was well after dinnertime when I had finally arrived, Mrs. Anning had kept dinner for me. “We’d expected you earlier but of course, nothing you can do about the storm delay. Please, come into the parlor and sit a bit in front of the fire place while I get your supper.”
There was a fireplace blazing. Like a moth to a flame, I went immediately over to it, my back to the fire.
“Won’t you have a seat?” Sidney asked, as he walked into the parlor.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather stand. I’ve been sitting on a train for almost four days and this fire feels wonderful.”
We heard the younger boys rushing back downstairs, and crowding into the parlor doorway. Harold said I’d need a heavier coat if I expected to live in Illinois and survive the winters. I told him a few other fellows on the train had said the same thing to me; what I had was the heaviest coat I could purchase in Florida — to which the boys chuckled. “It’s amazing thinking one would leave some place perpetually warm and sunny for almost six months of winter,” Sidney said.
I noticed that whenever I spoke, the boys gaped at me and asked me to repeat myself over again at least twice, and then, they would elbow each each other, chuckling between themselves. Sidney admonished them sharply for their rudeness. “They haven’t heard anyone from the South before,” he apologized. “It’s all right,” I said.
Harold asked if I had brought any firecrackers up with me from the South?
“No, why do you ask?”
“It’s New Year’s. There’s going to be a great celebration in town this evening — some of the fellows are getting together and firing them off! We’ve been saving them up since Christmas — or don’t you celebrate like that where you’re from?”
“I’d forgotten about it, to tell you the truth, with all the packing and traveling over the past week,” I said. But I assured them that we also have large fireworks gatherings too, with friends and celebrations with each New Year. At that moment, I felt a pang of homesickness wash over me.
“Well, Mr. Wilson, you are welcome to come along for the celebrations,” Sydney said.
“Excuse me, Mr. Wilson. I have your dinner was ready,” said Mrs. Anning, coming into the parlor. “Here we are,” she said, leading me into the dining room. The place setting appeared to be the best china and linens. Clearly they saw me as someone special and to be admired and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable to be treated so royally — it was unlike what I had expected.
“I didn’t expect such a fine display, Mrs. Anning. I’d have been comfortable in the kitchen.” To which she gave me a look of surprise and dismay. “Oh, no, Mr. Wilson. That would not do. We have instructions from Mr. Van Sant to provide the best possible accommodations, and we will honor our promise! The kitchen…” she said, shaking her head with a small laugh.
I took my seat, feeling awkward and on display; Mrs. Anning asked if I needed anything else at that moment.
I said no, I was fine, and thankful for the effort the family had made to make me comfortable and at home, but she needn’t had gone to so much trouble.
“Ah. Well. No trouble at all,” she said, briskly. “Please let me know if there is anything you need.” She then turned to leave the dining room; paused at the door, and said that whenever I was ready to retire, that my room was in the front bedroom, and said all was ready for me; it was at the top of the stairs, I would know it by the fine new red wallpaper and glass globes on the gas jets that were on the walls. “We had fixed up this room with finery in honor of my arrival — Mr. Van Sant made it clear that I was someone special, and we aim to please him.”
Then, she left the dining room — and me, alone at that big table — to eat my solitary dinner.
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