Labor Day Weekend: Get Thee to the Arthur Cheese Festival!

Posted: August 28, 2006 in Completely Off Bookish Topics

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Have anything planned for the long holiday weekend?

If not, I have a suggestion for you and it’s only about a four hour drive away. Why not attend the annual Arthur Cheese Festival in Arthur, IL?

Even if cow chip throwing isn’t your thing, the ceremonial cutting of the cheese is not to be missed. Of course I mean the ceremonial cutting of the 300-lb wheel of cheese, presided over by local celebrity Miss Slice. I think I can guarantee a toe-CURDling good time will be had by all this weekend at the Arthur Cheese Festival in Arthur, IL.

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After you’ve enjoyed a slice of cheese may I suggest a visit to a quilt shop or two? Amish quilts aren’t only gorgeous. They’re also a piece of genuine Americana. Pricey, yes, but they’ll last forever. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy, though, you can have a good look at these beautiful works of art.

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Arthur is the town I grew up in, and it’s located in the heart of Illinois Amish Country. While I’ll admit growing up there it seemed the place was about as entertaining as watching corn grow (and there was a lot of opportunity for doing that), now it seems one of the most charming and bucolic places on earth. After having lived in Chicago suburbia for twenty years, going back to Arthur gives me a chance to exhale and decompress. The pace is slower there, and the traffic definitely less challenging. The worst traffic congestion there happens when a buggy doesn’t give you right-of-way. It’s a whole different world.

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I appreciated the charm of watching buggies go by as a child, but the Amish had so little contact with we “English” it seemed a bit offensive. We did take it personally, silly as that sounds now. It drove a wedge between Amish and English, which is something they really encourage. They aren’t hermits, and don’t cut themselves off entirely (they need the commerce too desperately to do that), but too much mixing isn’t perceived as a very good thing. Knowing they thought us inferior, sinful and overly-worldly didn’t lend itself to very much positive feeling, growing up. A person takes exception to that.

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There was one Amish child in my class in school. He attended with us through junior high. That’s as long as the Amish children tend to go to school. They’re only there to get enough education to ensure they’ll be literate, generally educated, and have basic math skills. Generally they attend their own one room schools, but for some reason this boy, Willard, attended with the English. He received a lot of abuse in his years with us, shamefully, at the hands of the bullies who singled out anyone who was different. Being Amish painted a target on the poor kid’s back, and I really don’t know why he stood for some of the treatment he got. Maybe it was a lesson to him, that life with the English would lead to a lot of heartache and unhappiness. Whatever the reason, I’m sure he was glad enough to leave when the time came.

Martha Stewart featured Arthur in one of her programs. She did a program on the Great Pumpkin Patch in the rural Arthur area. You may have caught that on TV, but if you didn’t something tells me you can buy a video of it somewhere in Arthur. I have a strong feeling that’s the case, as it’s not every day this tiny town is featured on national TV.

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Even if you don’t make it down for the Cheese Festival, I heartily recommend Arthur as a getaway destination that’s not too far to do in a weekend. There’s actually a lot there, for such a small town, and the Amish area covers a few other small communities that feature their own share of charm and recreation.

Rockome Gardens (Arcola, IL) is one of the necessary stops. If you can imagine a rural Amish amusement park this is about as close as anything gets to that. There are also shops (Amish and non), plenty of restaurants and even a few hotels in Arthur, Arcola and Tuscola. Tuscola is along I-57 and also features an outlet mall, in case getting that far away from suburbia gives you the jitters and makes you have shopping withdrawal.

Keep this in mind when you feel the need to get away, and maybe I’ll see you there.

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