Chicago Northwest Side
Growing up in the great state of Texas, we did not have “sides,” as in the south side or the northwest side. We had TALL fences. Then I married a Chicagoan who navigated the CTA with his eyes closed, understood what the heck 6400 West/3200 North meant, debated citywide ward politics, and frequently hurt my ears with the Chicagoism, “I’m tellin’ you that!”, and talked about growing up on the Northwest side of Chicago. Having grown up without sides, I was often confused when Joe defined people by where they were from, as if where you were from explained everything.
And then I met, Chicago Northwest sider, Julianne and she ‘splain everything. Really.
Being the seventh child of eight, I sort of got lost in the shuffle of strict parental guidance. In fairness, my poor mom had five sons and three daughters who demanded her attention, and my dad was either at the firehouse or working a side job. Belmont and Central became our playground.
The ‘60s were weird for those of us at St. Ferdinand. We had more freedom than today’s tethered tikes. Summer’s drill was to get your chores done Saturday morning and then you were free to go out and “play” as long as you were not a minute late for five o’clock dinner. Boy, what we could cram into seven hours of unsupervised “play!” This was a time of no cell phones and usually one family car that was strictly used for shopping, doctor appointments and Mom and Dad date nights. No child was ever driven to school, to a friend’s, to practice, or to the park. It was your legs or your bike – period.
Once our chores were checked and the back door opened, we took the stairs three at a time and off we went. Our parents trusted us to remain within the perimeters of the parish. They weren’t neglectful – they were tired, and needed their horde to vacate the premises so they could have seven hours of laundry, meal preparation, cigarettes and a little coffee klatching with the neighbors. I usually went to “call” my girlfriend Kathy. Translation: You never knocked on a door or, God forbid, rang the doorbell – ever. If you wanted to get a friend to exit their house, you simply stood at the base of their back porch and yelled YOOOO KAAAAATTTTHHHY (insert appropriate name) in a very melodic loud pitch! Once a parent, grandma, sibling or the named friend acknowledged your presence, we went to “call” another until we’d assembled our band of merry adventurers, and then we were off.
Sometimes, we rode our bikes to Brookfield Zoo – eight miles of hugging 1st Avenue sans helmets. We were fit and crazy. Hitchhiking was an occasional thrill that took us to Foster Avenue Beach. Oh, if my beloved Mom & Dad ever knew! Ah shit, they knew, but as long as they didn’t get a call from a neighbor, the police or hospital, then we were just kids being kids and what they didn’t know saved our ass.
There was one day in the week where they knew exactly where every Catholic and public grammar school kid was: Thursday was the FUN SHOW at The Will Rogers theater. 6-8 hrs of cartoons, with lunch bags of homemade popcorn and penny candy from Joy Lee. No wonder we had to bike to Brookfield Zoo, and no wonder we had street smarts as well as remedial readers. Swimming at Riis and Portage Parks with our rubberized bathing caps tearing the wisps of hair at the napes of our necks is a fond memory, as well as the 40 degree water. Good ole summertime! By the grace of God, we made it through.
Julianne P. Joyce
Thanks Julianna for sharing! What a wonderful writer and storyteller you are.
Odd Loves Company,
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20 thoughts on “Chicago Northwest Side Tales”
Katybeth, I love this story. I love your blog. We never
yelled for our friends, though. We knocked, rang, or played
Really….and I can so see you yelling YOOOOO! I just can! Waiting for your story!
Loved the story! felt like I was reliving the past . Living around Belmont and Central was like being part of a HUGE family, You knew your neighbors and they sure knew you, especially when you did something you were not supposed to be doing by the time you made it home your parents already knew what you did. I miss those days running in the alley’s sitting in the Will Rodgers show on a rainy afternoon giggling with your friends. Just walking down Belmont going into Walgreens and sitting at the bar sharing a bunch of fries with ketchup,then heading over to Learners to look at an outfit you and your girl friend could buy in different colors so as to be the same but not the same. I will always remember Yooooo TTTTIIINNNAAA being yelled from the gangway and off to more adventures on Belmont and Central.
Thanks Tina for sharing your Northwest point of view!
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It was such a special place and time. For some reason Julie’s story just made me cry. It was a magical time of fun and true love for your neighbor. Occasionally there was a neighbor you didn’t get along with but not very often. People truly walked in love, they lived their Baltimore Catechism and it was grand! This is why we didn’t check in with our parents because as Hillary Clinton writes ” It Takes A Village” well we had our little village within the city. I’m telling you it was a magical place!
Not sure of the year, but this story extends beyond the Northwest Side. It is relevant to the NW Side sagas, though, because it involved NW Siders.
Cubs Park was easy to get to by walking to Addison Avenue or Irving Park Road and taking the bus. Addison dropped you off across the street from the Friendly Confines, while Irving required a stroll back to Addison. Irving was used if the Cardinals or Pirates were in town and you wanted to sit for the ride. Sox Park was another matter, in all regards including getting there and back.
A friend’s dad was a busdriver for the Chicago Transit Authority, and this friend therefore figured that he knew the streets well enough to get us to Sox Park via public transportation. He was right, too, we got there in time for batting practice and then enjoyed a real baseball game, complete with bunting, basestealing, defense, and pitching (offense intended, Cubfans). After the game, the busstops were packed with people waiting for busses, so our pal decided to take a different route home. Possibly, he was flushed with his success in getting us there.
Sox Park was in an awful neighborhood, and we soon found that whatever bus we boarded was getting us into a more awful ‘hood. So we had to get off and try another route, which meant we had to stand at another busstop until a bus showed up. People of other races would stare at us as they walked past, and we began to feel a wee bit timid.
Our leader then decided that this bus was taking too long to arrive, and that we would march to another main thoroughfare to wait for a different bus. It wasn’t dusk yet, but that was a march where my back developed eyeballs.
After a some more of this, we were finally on a bus plowing down a street that we recognized, and we finally made it home. Before dark, too, and if my memory serves I am fairly certain that our parents thought we were anywhere but on some pretty mean streets for those five or six hours.
Great story Bill. Thanks for the add-on!
LOL – wonderful memories of growing up in the Ferd’s parish! Amazing what we took for granted! Riding bikes to CUBS games, out to O’Hare to watch the planes land and take off, or just over to Riis or Chopin Parks, we had no fear and we always, always had fun!
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