Zerwekhs have a long history in Peoria. My grandparents spent most of their lives there. My dad grew up there. Some Zerwekhs still live there.

Peoria is weirdly fascinating. Entering from the southeast, the skyline suddenly appears around the bluffs, just as you cross the Illinois River. As a kid, I considered it a stunning sight. Peoria has such a wonderful spot on the water. Unfortunately, the city does little with its geographical placement, other than a Steak-And-Shake with the best water view in Illinois. Somehow the city has a symphony and a zoo.

At its heart, Peoria is a blue-collar town dependent on jobs from Caterpillar, maker of heavy machinery. Part of the city is in sharp decline. My grandparents lived on E. Ravine, a little northeast of one of the hospitals. As jobs disappeared, drugs moved into the area. Their working-class neighborhood transformed into a shooting gallery, and by 1990, we had to move them out of the house they had lived in since 1945. Before my grandmother died, my family visited the neighborhood again. The house remained standing, but the city had demolished several others. My aunt declared "why did you go there? Someone got shot last night!"

My dad seems indifferent on growing up in Peoria. The high school he attended is no longer open-- transformed into a vocational school, I think, due to the declining population. Dad left town as soon as he could, attending university, whereas many of his classmates probably went to work in factories. Although the circumstances have changed, the goal remains the same for Peoria youth-- leave town as soon as possible.