I’ve been thinking about the homes I have lived in since my earliest childhood memories. So a couple of weeks ago I decided to visit each one and grab a photograph. I was certain that my memories were accurate, but it turns out they were not.
Most of what amazes you is that the size of things you knew as a child are so much smaller. Our first apartment was at 606 East 50th Place. Around the corner was Henry Horner Elementary (no longer there). The school has been replaced by some nicely built row houses. The entire block where the school stood has been gentrified.
The apartment building itself is smaller than I remembered. We lived on the third floor left (as you climbed the stairs). My Uncle Burley and Aunt Betty (my mother’s sister) also lived in the building.
We moved from this apartment building to our first home. It was located a few miles away at 6815 S. Michigan Avenue. Across the alley from where our garage sat a fellow by the name of Butch lived with his family. I remember meeting the fellow whom his older sister was to marry. He was an Army officer. I was enthralled with the uniform he wore. I had to be all of 8 or 10 years old at the time. Butch spent his Saturdays detailing automobiles in the alley way. I would often watch him at work.
Across from our homes entrance lived the son of a doctor. He and his widowed mother were among the more wealthy folks on the block. His name was Reginald Chisolm. He later became a Chicago policeman. Around the corner from him lived another friend Billy Sledge. Billy was a slow walking fellow. We all played baseball at the corner vacant lot on 69th Street, across from our favorite convenient store, Jays. We would walk into Jays and buy potato chips with hot sauce. As a child the biggest name in potato chips was Jays. I always assumed that these folks actually owned the company. The lot has been replaced by new housing. It too has been built in the wake of gentrification of the area.
My second home was in Marynook. It was at 8529 South University. This was a community which at the time was racially diverse. My next door neighbors were a Japanese couple with a son about my age. They had been interned during the Second World War at Mansanar. Across the street was a doctor whose daughter was to become a good friend of my middle sister Victoria. They were eventually to move to the Knob Hill area not to far away. While they were there however they had a fellow visit them who I had heard of. A young blind harmonica player by the name of Stevie Wonder. It was at that time in my life when I too was an avid harmonica player. Stevie was popular in the black community but had not made it big in the wider world.
Near the doctor was a Jewish family whose daughter would later move to Scandinavia and who would correspond with my sister Victoria up until my sibling’s untimely death from breast cancer. It was probably this young woman who led my sister to have a ministry to Jews while she was in college.
There was a nice park near the home called Avalon Park. I would walk through it just for the fun of being alone. Later before my mother died in my freshman year of college I would walk her through the park in her wheelchair. She passed away from a disease which caused her muscles to wither and die. Eventually she suffocated because her diaphragm could not be controlled. It was a blow to everyone in the family. I remember not being able to cry throughout the funeral or the time of her death. I figured I had to be strong for the younger siblings. It was not until Thanksgiving when I was eager to go home for the holidays that I sat at my desk in my dorm room and balled like a baby. It all hit me like a ton of bricks.
I passed a building on the way over to Marynook that I have ridden past on my bicycle during a tour or two of the South Side with other bicyclists from across the City of Chicago. It turns out that the building is named after Gary Comer. Actually there are two such buildings adjacent to one another. But what really blew me away was that the second of them is the home of the South Shore Drill Team for which my nephew works.
Across the street were parked two of their travel buses. Upstairs through the windows I could see some of the kids rehearsing for their next show. Great stuff! Next time I am in the city I’ll see if I can’t wangle a visit to the place from my nephew and capture some video footage of the group “up close and personal”.
We dropped by my Aunt’s home (which was dark from the outside) with her Christmas present. We left it in the door before driving back home in the dark. It was an interesting exercise in revealing how different the world looked back then than today.