I grew up in Washington, IL, a small town right outside of Peoria that no one knew existed until a tornado ripped it in half almost two years ago.
We didn’t need the world to know about our little town to know we had something to treasure.
I grew up riding my bike to my friend’s house, playing barefoot in creeks with my brother and hanging out at my friend’s farm, feeding her cows. You know, all the things that scream "small-town life."
There was no hustle and bustle, and no racing from here to there. There were always tons of parking spots and space wherever you went.
Sure, you always knew when harvest season was, and if you are like me, you had to buy allergy medicine in bulk to make it through.
But, that is just something we have accepted as part of life in our little Midwestern town.
All you have to do is go for a walk in Washington to see what this wonderful Midwestern town is all about and know it's a place to raise your children.
Here are the people, places and things that make Washington, IL wonderful:
1. The people who helped with the tornado.
On November 17, 2013, an EF4 tornado ripped my town in half. Neighborhoods through which I used to ride my bike were flattened.
My family and friends were put out of their homes. People were trapped and possessions were lost forever.
But, the true miracle was everything that happened afterward. Within minutes, the police and firefighters were there to make sure everyone was safe and pull people out of their homes.
Even our mayor was out, doing the same. He was in the debris alongside the emergency personnel, helping anyone he could.
Now, less than two years later, our town is almost completely rebuilt.
It was not easy, but everyone pitched in to help get people back in their homes and every day, it seems there is someone else who gets to go home.
2. Your neighbors.
Just the other day, I was on a run, huffing and puffing, when I passed a family that was out riding bikes.
Every single member of that family said hi to me as they passed. But, that is nothing new.
There is always a “hi” when walking the path that goes through town, or a smile from the lady gardening as you walk by.
But, it isn’t just the summer sun that makes people friendly; I have had help shoveling my drive in the winter, too, and no one wants to be friendly when temperatures are below zero.
This is the candy shop to beat all candy shops, and I am not even 100 percent sure why.
Every time my aunts and uncles come back to town, they have to stop at Holland’s.
With the rows of candy to choose from, plus ice cream and frozen coke, who doesn’t want to go to Holland’s?
If the candy store weren't enough, you can walk about 10 steps down the road to the popcorn store that hands-down has the best popcorn you have ever had, and I am not just saying that because I grew up with it.
With flavors you would never think of like, s'mores and bacon caramel, it is truly the popcorn store to beat all popcorn stores.
3. Washington Square.
All of these wonderful treats can be found on the historic Washington Square. Okay, that sounded like an ad for the square, but it really is historic and has a great fountain in the middle. It is worth checking out.
1. The small-town atmosphere.
Some old buildings, some hole-in-the-wall shops and neighbors who will actually be nice to you — this is the small-town feel that people talk about and Washington has it by the bundle.
Mom and pop grocery stores, like Lindy’s Downtown Market, cool candy stores and parks across the street from a park make Washington the perfect place to live.
I went away to college, to another small town, but have found myself back at home and I couldn’t be happier.
This is a town that lets you be whoever you want to be (I mean we have NFL Player Colton Underwood, who plays for San Diego Chargers), even if you don’t want to leave.
Plus, Peoria is right across the river, so you don't have to miss out on a bigger city feel.