Monday, January 30, 2017

Early Childhood Memories

When I was young we lived in a one bedroom apartment at 1141 West Anslie Street in Chicago. These memories are from that early part of my life up until I was nine years old in 1954.

The halls were dark and musty and I played there with my yellow "earth mover" truck.

Once I left the yellow truck on the stairs when I went in for dinner. I never saw it again.

My aunt lived in the next entrance and I had my second dinners there. Not only second dinners but my Aunt Annette and Uncle Sherwin were like second parents to me.

My grandpa (father's side) would rest in the darkened bedroom. I could see shadows from the blinds playing on the walls through the partially opened door.

My grandpa (father's side) was not a friendly man and I do not remember much about our interactions.

My grandma (father's side) spoke only a very little English and she always smelled from fish because that is what she ate most meals: chub, salmon, lox, whitefish. I remember her as being unfriendly like her husband.

My grandma (father's side) called my grandpa (father's side): "Mr." And he called her "Mrs." They never called each other by their first names Sarah and Max.

My grandma (mother's side) would send me to the mom and pop store down the block to buy olives and pencils. I loved her very much and she was a good friend to me.

Grandma (mother's side) was diagnosed "manic/ depressive." When she was "manic" she was fun (but a danger to herself.) She smoked up a storm and left cigarette burns in her chair. Every now and then she would run away to Detroit where she was born. When she was "depressive" she was quiet and calm (but mostly distant.)

I still have an image of my mother telling us about the "Kitchen Klenser" (like Comet) fight which grandma had taken part of in the bathroom with one of the other woman at the institution.

I remember that we went to visit my grandma (mother's side) at the "mental institution" where she was staying. Turns out I did not know that she was being released and would come back home with us. She had always been a full, heavy woman. When I saw her, she was a frail, empty, thin person. I was shocked.

Sometimes my grandpa and grandma (father's side) would arrive for a visit unannounced and wait on the back porch until we got home.

We would take them for a ride to the drive-in that sold accordion french fries and had a sign on top with a larger than life hot dog dressed like Tarzan. (SuperDawg)

One of my earliest memories, aged three, was when SuperDawg opened in 1948. My dad had worked on the electrical signs, lights, and order call boxes (it was a very early drive in.) They had an opening party for everyone who worked on the place and my dad took us to the party.

Once and a while I would take ten cents from my mother's purse without telling her. I would use the money to buy penny candy. To this day, candy is one of my weaknesses.

Mr. Hartell and his wife lived next door. She gave me yellow raisins. I had never seen yellow raisins before, just black ones.

One Thanksgiving, Mrs. Hartell was not feeling well so my mother brought her dinner on a tray. Mrs. Hartell died shortly after that. Mr. Haretell missed her very much. I was eight years old.

When we would visit my Grandma and Grandpa (father's side,) I would help pick onions in the "victory garden" on the lot next to their building.

For Passover, Grandpa (father's side) would set up saw horses with plywood on top to create a long table for the Seder meal. The service would take over an hour so Grandma would sneak us children a hard boiled egg each to tide us over. One was not supposed to eat before the service so this was very clandestine!

The Passover service would take so long that the children would get antsy. We would begin to get the giggles and often the adults would as well. Grandpa would get furious that we were not paying attention and yell at us, which would serve to settle everyone down for a little while before we began to giggle again. This tradition of the Head of Household getting furious was passed down to my father, who would do the same thing when we, now as adults, and his grandchildren would get the giggles.

In my paternal grandparents' living room was a clock. I would watch the little open circle turn from red to white as a little wheel behind the opening turned with each tick of the clock.

My grandma (mother's side) would repeat what the characters said as she watched television. She mispronounced some words like Tuuurkey, and Glub (for globe or lightbulb.) For thanksgiving, she hated turkey, my mom would make her a hot dog (ot-og.)

My parents would talk to my grandparents (father's side) in Yiddish when they didn't want me and my sister to understand. We usually understood!

My mom used to make Christmas Press Butter Cookies on the ironing board because the kitchen was very small and didn't have a work counter.

In the middle of the kitchen, a cord hung down from the light. At the end of the cord was the on-off switch and a plug outlet. That's how apartment's electrical systems worked in those days.

Over time, my father the electrician, added wall switches around the apartment and additional outlets in the walls.

Once I locked myself in the bathroom by accident. When my father finally got me out, my parents were so happy to see me that they yelled at me!

Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein owned the mom and pop grocery down the block from our apartment building. She called me DARK EYES and gave me a stick of licorice whenever I dropped by. My mom would write a list of things to buy on a piece of scrap paper and I would hand the paper to Mrs. Goldstein who in turn would pick and package the order and hand it to me when she was finished. Usually with another stick of licorice!

During the summer, my mother would set up large pots filled with water on the second floor back porch of our apartment building on Anslie and my sister and I would play "beach."

My mother and father slept in the living room on a sofa bed and my sister and I slept in the one bedroom. When my sister grew old enough, she got the bedroom and I slept on a small bed under the window in the dining room.

I slept in a crib until I was six because we couldn't afford to get me a new bed. I sucked my thumb until I was nine.

Before bed my sister and I would check under the beds and in the closet for "boogie men."

When my mother and father would fight, sometimes my father would enrage my mother until she would go at him with her fingernails. He would run to the bath room and lock the door to protect himself from her.

My sister and I would try to separate them when they fought. I would hide under the bed wishing my father would die, and then feel guilty that he might.

In an argument, mother would often tell father, "You father was a miserable person and you are just like him!"

Father would call mother, "Mrs. Jesus Christ," implying that she always saw the good in other people at the expense of never taking his side when he was upset with some one.

Once my father brought home a short Christmas tree from work. He got it for free. We propped it in a bucket between two coconuts we got while visiting Florida. We decorated it with school art projects that my sister and I made and which my mother had saved in a box she kept in the closet.

When I was sick I would play with cars on the window sill and watch people on the street below.

One summer afternoon, while plugging in my record player, I touched the electrical prongs with my fingers as I was leaning, without a shirt, against the metal radiator. I got quite a shock.

My mother was always reminding me to not lean back while sitting at the kitchen chair. I usually did it again later or the next time, to another reminder. Earlier in my life, I had done that, the chair slipped out from under me, and I cracked open my head on the radiator. As you know, head wounds bleed a lot even if minor so you can imagine that I scared my mother almost to death, thus the repeated reminders!

I remember the dish I painted for my mother as a Mother's Day gift. It was done in a pretty pink and blue pattern that looked like a flower. My mother kept it in the dish cabinet.

Sometimes when my mother and father were out, I would go exploring in the dish cabinet and found magical things. Usually the cabinet was off limits to me and also, I had to climb on a dining room chair to reach into it.

My friend and I each had a cigar box in which we kept magical, shinny, wonderful things. We would sit in the hall and look at each other's collections.

I remember waiting for my aunt and uncle to come home from the hospital with their new first baby. They let me hold him.

Once a little boy was hit by a car on Broadway Street, just at the end of the block from our apartment building. My dad told us about it and said that the boy's shoes had been knocked off. I couldn't imagine why that had happened but I was afraid to ask.

When my grandma died (father's side) I stayed home and cried instead of going to the funeral. My parents thought I was too young to go. I was nine.

There was a automobile dealership next to our apartment building. I used to set up an orange crate and sell lemonade to the mechanics. Many a turtle or fish, in a special box, were buried with a beautiful ceremony, on the next door lot before it became a dealership. I remember thinking that my deceased pets would be immortalized under the black top forever!

Once I set up the orange crate on the sidewalk near Broadway Street. I placed a table cloth on top and beautifully arranged my "collections." I sat behind the box, like the curator in a museum, pretending that the passing people had come to admire my museum. (Early beginnings to Michael's Museum?)

In front of a building across the street, the janitor had planted "Four O'Clocks." I considered them my favorite flower. They would not open until late afternoon and by morning would be closed again. They smelled sweet, were red and pink and orange and yellow, and were shaped like little umbrellas. If you carefully pulled out the fruit, a string would stay connected to the petals of the flower and when thrown in the air, would float down like a parachute.

In the shopping area down Broadway, there was a Vallowille Fresh Chicken Shop. They gave children a yellow, plastic chicken when they came in with their mother to shop. Wish I still had mine.

There was a shoe store down Broadway that had a grand opening. Clarabell the Clown, from the Howdy Doody Show, was the guest of honor. I used to have a newspaper photograph of the event showing me standing in the crowd with Clarabell. I had circled my face in red pencil.

The shoe store had a Fluoroscope machine which showed an x-ray of your feel so the salesman could tell if the new shoes fit correctly. Eventually they got rid of them because of the harmful effects.

When I was nine years old, we bought our first house. It was on Kedzie Avenue, was one of four units in a "Town House," and was build by our cousin Irving. Uncle Al helped my parents with the down payment.

A future post will relive some of the memories from that time in my life.

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