Sunday, February 04, 2007

My Small Town

For some reason, the other day, I Googled the area "where I grew up" in Chicago. I lived on the top floor of a 2-flat at 1507 N. Monticello that my parents bought in 1956 (red dot on map; click to get larger map). I was six that year. We only lived there a couple of years before moving less than two blocks to the west, to a brand new yellow brick ranch house at 1457 N. Ridgeway (red arrow). We got our first television (black & white) in 1962 and in 1963 my Dad bought his first car, a new four-door Chevrolet Biscayne from Nickey Chevrolet on Irving Park. He ordered a Laurel Green model without even one option; not even a radio. I still have the new car smell of that vehicle in my nose. As soon as he picked up the car, he installed "feelers" on all four corners of the car because he was incapable of judging the distance between the car and curb. It was the source of great embarassment for me, but I kept quiet about it. After all, he was a musician, not a macho guy.

The more I examined the Google map, the more memories flooded my mind. What struck me most was how incredibly small the area was that I considered "my neighborhood," indicated with grey on the map. My travels were determined (limited) by the locations of the homes of friends, my school (Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; I am not making up the name), the library (and the record store across the library), and the Tiffin Theater, which was a central part of life in the "North 'n Pulaski" business district. You could see the blazing Tiffin sign a mile away. This is where I got my real education: House on Haunted Hill, Godzilla, Psycho, The Birds, Hard Days Night and the James Bond movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball; an a hundred others. Sticky floors, popcorn with real butter, cartoons between the double features. Memorable was the personal visit to the theater by Dave Clark 5, promoting their movie (Catch Us If You Can?). Connie Francis was there once too, I don't recall the movie, but I do remember being instantly but smitten for a day or two.

Walking, along North Avenue, to the Tiffin, was like walking down a small town main street. There was a Woolworths, a hobby shop, toy store, dress shops, dry cleaner, grocery, coffee shop, etc. The difference, and a defining urban element, was the busy newpaper stand on the southeast corner of North & Pulaski. It was a time when shoe shine boys trolled the area, local telephone numbers started with HU(mbolt)9, and everyone stopped at the record store each week to pick up the WLS Top 40 Radio Survey list at the record store. The Top 40 was the ubiquitous bookmark in every school book. We moved away, rather suddenly, in 1966, to the Riis Park neighborhood because my parents were alarmed that the neighborhood was "changing." What really changed was my life as I knew it. Everything was left behind. My grammar school friends, my room, the slot car track, the record store . . . gone was my small town.


Anonymous Janis Kenyon said...

I goggled my old neighborhood of Chicago prior to my Oct 2006 visit. I grew up in the Irving Park area and attended Schurz High. We had a band reunion in October which I organized from Buenos Aires. My parents bought a home on St. Louis Avenue for $12K when I was 3 years old in 1951. I went back to see it. The owner is remodeling it and said it will be worth $500K when he's done. I lived in the house until I was 21 and married. We drove around the neighborhood and past the grammar school and park. It brought back found memories. Those were the days when Chicago had neighborhoods and you knew your neighbors. I'm glad to be living in BsAs where I'm a familiar face and people stop to say hi and talk.

2:29 PM  
Blogger 20-20 said...

Janis, how interesting that you live in BA. My wife and I own a place in BA. We only get there a couple time a year, but it's great to have people 5,000 miles away who know you. -John

2:39 PM  

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