Tag Archives: Chicago

Summer In Chicago 1950’s style

 

I grew up in the city although it didn’t seem all that urban to me. What I though urban meant as a kid didn’t connect in my kid-brain with the tree-lined streets, lush lawns of Marian Blue grass or Creeping Bent and the Georgians, Cape Cods and Ranch style brick homes of my neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a direct result of much-needed housing for those returning from WWII who married, started having kids, in many cases lots of kids and yes, everybody knew our name. It was the law of the land I guess so our neighbors could tell our parents that we walked on their grass or tried to climb their tree or walked between parked cars or God forbid, rode our bikes in the street. We didn’t know it then of course, but we were the baby boomers.

It was a working class neighborhood for the most part with a few professionals thrown in for good measure. You could always tell who made a little more money, their houses were just a little bit fancier than the rest.  Oh yeah, everyone was Catholic. Some even wore their Catholicism on their front lawns, in the form of statues. These were usually the Italians, the Irish thought such outdoor displays tacky yet every room in their houses claimed enough crucifixes, rosary beads, holy cards, holy medals, holy statues and palms from Palm Sundays past to outfit a new church. Tacky? In many cases overkill too, but I’m Irish so I can say such things.

Everyone had a front porch or as some called it a front stoop. Folks would sit on it and talk, or watch kids play or read the daily metro newspaper. Lawn furniture? I never saw anyone with lawn furniture, not even on their lawn. Lawn furniture was up at my grandparents cottage. It was hard and metal and the back was shaped like a shell. But, in the city we sat on the cement porch.

Everyone played outside all day almost every day, especially in the summer. We found plenty to do with bats and balls, Hula Hoops, jump ropes, roller skates, chalk, dolls, trucks and toy guns. Some of us had dancing lessons or organized baseball or softball but we weren’t carted around daily by our parents so we would have stuff to do. The neighborhood was safe, we didn’t always lock the doors and we played in the alley with marbles because they would roll better. When the streetlights came on we knew we had to go inside because well, just because that was the unwritten rule for anyone that wasn’t a big kid.

My sister and I were going to take a trip back to the old neighborhood last week to see what our old house looked like now. She and my brother had been back more recently than me and of course we keep tabs on it through the news. I’m no spring chicken and I was worried about what we might see or encounter even in broad daylight. I figured two old ladies, even in a car could look like an easy mark. She agreed. We figured maybe we should spend our twilight years remembering the good times in a great neighborhood, rather than face the reality of toy guns that have turned into real guns. Alley games have now been replaced by drug deals and sitting on your front porch can make you a gang target even if you never met a gang member in your life. The streetlights rarely go on as many of them have been shot out and now what I thought urban meant as a kid is a far seedier, grittier, unsafe version of reality for my old neighborhood than what was in my mind’s eye as city life.  My old Chicago neighborhood is like a war zone and I can only hope and pray the good guys win.

My brother sent me this DVD;  http://amzn.to/1qzaaRz called Chicago, the Boomer Years. I think you can only get it used on Amazon as the PBS Chicago channel sells it for much more new.  It sure is a riot to watch if you are a boomer. I am an Amazon affiliate so I get a small commission if you purchase through my link.  My brother said he sent it because he remembers me and my sister wearing funny hats to church and saw some just like ours in the DVD. They were like a scarf with flower petals and we thought we were quite fashionable  little kids in the 1950’s.

 

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July 7, 2014 · 11:07 am

My Top 10 Best Childhood Christmas Gifts

I decided I needed to write down these top 10 childhood Christmas gifts quick, before my long-term memory goes the way of my short-term memory that can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.  I won’t get into the Christmas is not about the gifts stuff and how we should all be grateful for whatever we think we should be grateful for, this is strictly about the shallow part of Christmas. The materialistic, me, me, me, Santa’s list type, emotional yearning for–gifts.  Also, as a child I never bought into the it-is-better-to-give-than-receive creed. As an older and wiser adult–I still don’t buy it. Herewith, my all time favorites:

1. RED COWBOY BOOTS

I was six, I lived in Chicago, far from any cowboys except the ones I saw at the yearly Chicago Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Chicago Ampitheater. Just to be sure I got those boots, I asked for nothing else. I figured, how could Santa say no to just one request? My poor mom told me years later that she had scouts out everywhere looking for those damn red boots. Word was, the first night I had them, I slept with my boots on.

2. YELLOW TRANSISTOR RADIO

Nobody under 40 probably even knows what this is. This was even before boom boxes. It was the 1960’s and WLS Radio station in Chicago was king and so was my favorite radio disc jockey, Dick Biondi. I really NEEDED this radio so I could listen to a radio station that was more in-tune with my top 10 favorites (played over and over every hour) and much less of my parents favorites like news and talk radio (thanks mom and dad, I eventually went into the news business). This radio was yellow with a leather carrying case and shoulder strap. It was a Westinghouse and the size of a medium size purse. I didn’t need a dog, this radio was my faithful companion.

3. STADIUM CHECKERS

I have no idea why this game was called checkers because it was a plastic stadium contraption with marble-like pieces. I loved this game and since you couldn’t really play it alone it forced me to play with my sister. She was three years younger and could play the game well enough to assure my winning most of the time. Playing my folks however, was a losing situation for me. The stadium seats moved to advance the marbles to various levels. Okay, it was a much simpler time but we weren’t all zonked out on video games.

4. HEIDI

This book made me cry every stupid time I read it but I just kept re-reading it anyway. Yes, I knew Heidi was going to eventually find her grandfather but each time I read it and they would come so close to finding each other and miss, I would be yelling at the pages. This was during my sad books (Black Beauty) with happy endings era.

5. PINK ANGORA SWEATER

Only rich kids in my neighborhood had Angora sweaters, and rich kids in my predominantly working class/middle class neighborhood were few and far between. I never really asked for this sweater because I figured it was out of reach for my folks so I figured I would just settle for the scratchy mohair. When I opened that box I was never so shocked, it was just like–Christmas.

6. RED LEATHER BUCKET PURSE

These purses were very popular in the 1960’s and I had never really had a nice leather purse. I can remember this purse like it was yesterday. It was a pebbled grain red leather, a long shoulder strap and two small flaps folded inward on top of each other and it looked similar to what else? A bucket. I used this purse for many years. I suspect it was not made in China.

7. BLACK WOOL CHESTERFIELD COAT

It was all in the details. Double-breasted, velvet collar, sophisticated and perfection. I was 13 and it was my first black, grown-up coat. I remember that this coat was $50. because even though it was a Christmas gift my mom left the tags on in case in didn’t fit. This was a lot of money for a coat in the 60’s, and a huge amount for my parents to spend on a single item. But, my parents always felt quality clothing was more important that quantity. That coat lasted me all four years of high school and beyond.

8. GAS STATION

I was never into real girly type toys and thank God my parents didn’t buy me dolls I wouldn’t have played with or gender based toys that girls would have traditionally liked. My father owned a Standard Oil gas station and this was a sturdy, metal gas station with a bay for fixing cars, gas pumps etc. And of course, a Ford and a Chevy. Loved this gift.

9. HAWAIIAN  UKULELE

I don’t actually know if it was from Hawaii, but I told everyone it was. It was the real deal and not a toy and had a nice carrying case. I wasn’t very “instrumental,” I usually took dancing lessons and acrobatics. But, after watching “The Parent Trap” movie (the original one) with Haley Mills (playing twins) singing the song “Let’s Get Together yeah, yeah, yeah…” I had to have a ukulele and learn to play and sing that song. I did. My youngest brother still has that ukulele. Why does he have it? Geez, my mom must have given it to him, I need to talk to him about that…

10. FIGURE SKATES AND OUTFIT

Even though frozen vacant lots is where I did most of my ice skating my parents would occasionally take me to Michael Kirby’s professional ice skating rink in Chicago. Kirby was a Canadian National champion ice skater who started the first ice skating schools in Chicago (now long gone). I couldn’t afford lessons but I could afford the small fee to free skate whenever I could talk my dad into taking me there. I decided since it was a professional atmosphere I needed to look the part. My Christmas gift that year was the most beautiful pair of figure skates, flesh-colored skaters tights and a black corduroy short skaters skirt with red satin lining (red again). The next time I went to that rink I felt like a million bucks. And, I swear, I skated way better than in my typical street garb.

( In case you just have to have a pair of red cowboy boots for a child in your life I found these;  http://amzn.to/1ryj1Zo They are a little fancier than the ones I had a a kid but at least they are red. I’m an Amazon affiliate so I do get a tiny percentage if you click through this link and purchase these or anything at all. I almost forgot, here is a very, very similar ukulele like the one I had that my brother more or less stole under the guise my mother gave it to him. It’s made out of mahogany; http://amzn.to/1tipR1G . I have no idea what mine was made out of but I’ll bet it was better than any ukulele they make now-a-days, after all it was made in Hawaii-or somewhere.

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So does the ‘cheese stand alone’ at Chicago’s 7-Eleven stores?

Corn chips (Fritos)

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A man who allegedly stole nacho cheese from a University Village 7-Eleven found himself in jail  Sunday, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

Michael Richards, 50, bought a bag of potato chips from the store in the 1300 block of South Halsted, then illegally doused the chips in nacho cheese, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Dan Piwowarczyk said.

When the store clerk told him the nacho cheese was only for customers who paid for it to use on corn chips in a traditional plastic tray, Richards pulled the clerk’s arm behind her back, twisted it and threatened the clerk, according to a police report. Police arrested Richards a block away Saturday, the report shows.

When Judge James Brown asked, “So what was stolen was the cheese?,” Piwowarczyk kept an admirably straight face as he replied, “The defendant was informed that it was not yo’ cheese.”

Richards, of the 9400 block of South Burnside, was ordered held on bail of $10,000.

“That’s a very low bond, for a robbery,” the judge told him.

I wish I could say this “news” report is a joke but it is not.  Callers on a Chicago radio station Monday were calling-in in droves stating that the 7-Eleven in question actually had a sign by the cheese stating  ” free cheese.”  Some in-the-know 7-Eleven frequent visitors say this particular store does keep close watch on their cheese and breathes down your neck as you are pumping that cheese on your corn chips.  I suppose this alleged cheese stealing guy may have been a little aggressive in his quest for the squirt-able, processed non-cheese product but imagine the food fight that could have erupted if he had not twisted the clerks arm but just squirted her with the yellow slop.  And what would that have been?  Battery with cheese?

So I’m suggesting to 7-Eleven that since their cheese stands alone allowing virtually anyone to walk up and pump a squirt or two they really need to enlist the aid of a “cheese watcher” so the clerks can spend more time on their customer service skills.  Also, they need to make people aware that their particular store policy is “The customer is definitely not always right” and finally they need to make a big sign and put it by that ridiculous faux-cheese that states “That’s Na-cho Cheese” and maybe some of us dummies will get the picture.

(If you’re just dying for some nacho cheese and don’t necessarily want to face the wrath of a cheese watcher you can get over 6lbs. of your own at Amazon;  http://amzn.to/1qHJSNe but keep in mind that I am an Amazon affiliate and will be dipping into that nacho cheese too, as I get a small percentage if you purchase through my link)

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Elizabeth Taylor: A Kid Remembers Her Movies

Screenshot of Elizabeth Taylor from the traile...

Image via Wikipedia

It was the easy-going world of the late 1950’s. I was a kid, TV was free, our household got two Chicago newspapers a day (my parents didn’t want to miss a thing) and movies were about 75 cents for adults (much less in smaller towns). I wasn’t even close to an adult yet but I wanted to go see the Elizabeth Taylor movie Cat On A Hot Tin Roof because I guess I thought it had something to do with cats. My folks filled me in on the movie in cryptic fashion like adults tended to do in the 50’s stating it was an adult film with Elizabeth Taylor, end of discussion.  I thought it would be cool to see an adult film, my parents thought differently.

You see in the “old” days, parents actually decided what movies their kids could see, instead of the movie police. In many instances back then,  parents were a lot tougher on movie viewing for their kids than any R, G, PG system that would eventually be adopted. I was allowed of course, to see National Velvet on TV.  Elizabeth Taylor was so beautiful in that movie and I begged my parents for a horse. Promising to groom it daily, exercise it in our miniscule city backyard and board it in our garage. No dice.

The only reason all these memories came flooding back to me today was of course, the news that Elizabeth Taylor has died today. From the perspective of a young female child, I thought she was talented, glamorous and lucky to be in movies with horses and dogs (Lassie). It wasn’t until I was much older that I witnessed the rather complicated life she had lived. Here was a child star who grew up in front of the public who adored her for her professional life and at the same time condemned her for her private life.

Taylor said in an interview a few years back that the gossip bothered her a great deal and she would often go and cry by herself.  But she admitted she made mistakes in her life and was not happy with some of the things she had done. Not making excuses she said simply “I am me.” Taylor took up the AIDS cause long before it became fashionable. Even when her own health was failing she still raised millions for AIDS and other gay and lesbian causes.

It’s not only sad that Elizabeth Taylor the film legend has died but she really is the last icon of that era. The Hollywood movie star era is over and all the glitz and glamour that goes with it. One only has to look to the recent Academy Awards last month to see that unfunny and weirdness are in and sophistication, class and glamour are gone.

I did finally get to see Cat On A Hot Tin Roof when I was much older and my parents were right, it wasn’t about cats at all.  Rest In Peace to a movie star–in the truest meaning of the word.

(While the movie is still great you can probably see it on a number of movie channels with our 24 hr. viewing opportunities now-a-days. I however, always thought the book was better than the movie adaption but I always loved the writing of Tennessee Williams. You can get the book here; http://amzn.to/1nbLZOB and my dog eared copy has been read a few times. I am an Amazon affiliate so I do get a tiny percentage if you purchase through my link. I’m sure you can find a used one too.)

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