Friday, October 07, 2011

Chicago Childhood Memories

I don't know what finally got into me, but I felt the need to write simply about my beginnings as a child in the South Shore neighborhood in Chicago. It was really what started me researching children in cities. Why, I asked, don't people think that cities are appropriate for children? Ten years after I started my research, I'm glad to see that young families are seeing the resources and opportunities of raising children in cities.

This are simply my experiences:

When I was young in Chicago, I took the CTA—the Chicago Transit Authority--- bus to kindergarden. It was a bit scary, but I had my experienced older brother who was in third grade at the time to help me navigate. In that city neighborhood, South Shore, I had a bunch of friends: there was Wayne and Pam upstairs. Wayne wanted to be a yoyo champion, and Pam wasn’t all there, but she was my best friend. Chrissy lived down the block. He had shiny blond hair and bunk beds, and I had a crush on him. We all would ride our tricycles over the sidewalk to the Jewish girls’ school parking lot where we would ride around and then come home. The concrete sidewalks weren’t in the best shape: I remember because I tripped over a crack and shattered my glasses.

The South Shore Nursery School was a couple blocks away. I went there, as well as my siblings. John, my older brother, was the smart one and the teacher said that I wasn’t as smart as he, but I would probably be happier. Billy went there too, and I remember walking down with my mom to pick him up regularly. In the mornings though, a driver with a station wagon came to pick us up at the apartment. I remember the him coming in and calling up the stairs for me the morning I had the mumps. I didn’t feel bad, so I very cheerily told him that I wouldn’t be at school for a couple days.

Lillian Walla was the pretty single lady who lived upstairs and was very nice to me. She gave me some chipped cups and saucers once, that I treasured. She was a singer like my mom and my mom’s best friend. Then she moved away to a very nice apartment closer to the lake. Then my mom found out she was having an affair with my dad. That was the end of that friendship. Lillian died of Alzheimer’s disease and dad gave me the bedroom furniture that he had given her.

I went to O’Keefe elementary school. My mom would pick me up early sometimes to go somewhere, but I don’t remember where. I just remember she was saving me from this physical education class where we marched in a circle to a drumbeat while wearing shorts that we had to change into. Really boring. I didn’t understand what we were accomplishing. I still don’t.

The National Food Store was across the IC (Illinois Central) tracks. We used to walk there for our groceries. One special day, I was with my mom and it started pouring rain. She decided we would run for it (only a couple blocks). By the time we got home, we were cold and drenched, so we took a hot shower together.

We used to take the IC downtown for my ballet and piano lessons which were at the Fine Arts building. The seats were still cane and flipped back and forth, and the windows still opened from the top. Air conditioning was something that only movie theaters had.

From our apartment building, a six-flat, we could see the corner which had a drug store under the blockier apartments above. Mr. Rini was the pharmacist there. It was rather brown and unadorned with ceiling fans keeping it cool. I ran into Mr. Rini in a pharmacy in Champaign, IL at eighteen years old, when I was there for school. He was surprised that I would remember him, but I don’t know that he remembered me.

The old lady in the single house next door was crabby and always yelling at us to be quiet. Quiet is not a word that little kids understand.

My dad began his business in the basement of that building, and until we moved out, he had a shop there, with bottles of nuts and bolts, nails and big machinery including a lathe, drill press and band saw.

When we moved to the suburbs, it took a long time to find friends. My mom had to drive everywhere, she spent many days totally alone, and she cried a lot. My dad worked in the city which was a different world. Often, he didn’t come home until late at night.


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