Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Remembering Kedzie Avenue

I lived most of my young life in a second floor apartment at 1141 West Anslie Street in Chicago. At age nine, we moved to our first house at 6551 North Kedzie Avenue, also in Chicago. Lived there until I went away to college in 1962. Shortly after that my parents moved to a new home at 8051 Harding in Skokie. These are some of my memories of living on Kedzie Avenue, aged nine until college age. I am sure some embelishment will take place as that was some 64 years ago. 

Previously posted memories of Kedzie: "Running Away From Home" (opens in a new window) and "Elementary School Days" (opens in a new window.) 

For a post about my time on Anslie click here. (opens in a new window.)


Moving to our first house was very exciting. The apartment on Anslie from which we were moving had one bedroom and one bathroom. In the beginning my sister and I shared the bedroom and my parents slept on a over stuffed green brocade sleeper sofa. When my sister came of age, needing privacy and a quiet place to study and entertain her girlfriends, I was moved out onto a cot under the window in the dining room. I didn't mine it, didn't know better, and didn't yet need privacy.

The new house was made possible in part by Uncle Al, my Grandma Lillian's brother who was the wealthy one in the family. He provided the downpayment for us and also for my Aunt Annette and Uncle Sherwin (with kids Terry, Ricky, and Karyn.) Part of the reason Uncle Al did this was mainly because he was a generous person, but also because his sister (Lillian) took turns in her old age living with us and with my Aunt's family down the block.


When we moved, I transfered to Daniel Boone Elementry School from fifth through eighth grades. Changing school was difficult if only because I was a loner, was intimidate by the other boys in the class, was really bad at sports, and somehow got into trouble all the time with my teachers.

I remember when the teacher marched us down to gym, which was on the second floor, I would move to the end of the line and as we passed the assembly hall balcony, I would duck in and hide out behind the seats until gym was over. As my class was being marched back to the room, I would join on at the back of the line. Amazingly I never got caught!

Boone was about a mile away from the house. I would walk to school, even in snow deep weather. In those days one would bundle up and do what one had to. I do not know if there was a bus service and if there was, why my parents didn't have me picked up. With both of them going off to work early in the morning, I sure couldn't expect a "ride to school" and in those days kids had to fend for themselves. 

When I was old enough (either by my parents standards or the schools) I was allowed to ride my bicycle to school. I felt so grown up, so accomplished, so excited. Until then the bicycle was only something you did when "playing outside." So with this new eligibility, I was able to "play" myself to school each morning during good weather.

I so wanted to be a crossing guard and to wear the bright orange belt which signified such. I think I craved the recognition and the authority that came with that orange belt. But since I was always in touble with the teachers, I was not allowed to do so. 

One class which was right above the office, Miss Johnson's room, was the source for students to run office errands. It was in the early techonolgy days so there were no computers, phones, or monitor systems. A wire was run ouside the window of that class to the office, which was located below. When the office need a student to run an errand, they would push the button which would sound the buzzer in the classroom. We took turns in order to run errands. 

If you misbehaved, Miss Johnson would put a check next to your name on the black board and you would be skipped over for being a runner. After everyone in the room (who wasn't checked off) got a turn to run an errand, she would errase the checks and begin over. Needless to say, I never go to run an error that semester for all my checks!

I "flunked" grade 7B which I discuss in "Elementary School Days" (opens in a new window.) Let me sufice it to review that Mr. Rosengardener had one drawer in his desk devoted to all the toys, tsotskies, and candy he took away from me! I rarely turned in assignments and I probably talked back.

While I was not yet self-identified as a homosexual (that was the term those days, not "Gay,") being with other boys made me nervous and I found most of them intimidating. At school the boys bullied me (probably because of my "tendencies" as they were called in those days,) was often called "queer" (althought I didn't do anything sexually queer, just liked hanging out with the girls,) and was periodically physically and verbally abused. 


One of my favorite things in life continues to be candy. A previous post talked about Lazar's school store, which was across the street from Boone Elementary School and where most likely my first adventures in candy begun. Also, even at the young age of 9, I was creative and entreprenureal. Read about how I found extra funds to support my candy habit (addiction.) Click here to read about Lazars. (Opens in a new window.)


Our home on Kedzie was one of a connected string of four houses each which lined the block from Arthur Avenue to Albion Avenue with each 4-house unit being alternately pulled back from or closer to the street. My friend Sherrie and her family lived in our string which was the last one north on the block. 

There were a number of boys my age who lived on the block and I was somewhat friendly with them.  But we were never really close, I hid in the basement when they were outside in the street playing baseball, football, or other sports. Did I say I was not at all athletically inclined and therefore was too embarassed to practice, play anyway until I got better, was always picked LAST when the group was making up teams.

My Aunt Annette and Uncle Sherwin, the Aronsons,  lived two strings down to the south. I baby sat their kids Terry, Rick, and Karyn. Usually went over for a "second dinner" just because I was a growing kid. And often watched TV and made popcorn with them. Annette and Sherwin were my most favorite people and they played an instrumental part in my growing up. Both of them died years ago by now but their memories are still warm for me. While we have grown apart after the Aronsons moved to California, and are now all over the country, I really loved my cousins very much and they were all an important part of my life!

In the first string to the south lived David, a sometimes friend who I probably, in looking back, loved in my immature way at the time. His family was the first I knew who kept cats. Once I slept over for a week when my parents went out of town. The neighbors were not Jewish, so the experience was an interesting, growth orriented one ... between their not being Jewish and the cats! David was the first person from whom I learned how babies were made: "You put your dick close and pee on her."

Also in that first string to the south lived a family of two women and one man, brothers and sisters, who were never married. One woman was an elementary school teacher, one woman was an author, and I do not remember what the brother did for a living. My fondest three memories of them are: the so many books they had in their house, helping the teacher with her "ditto" copy machine which has a wonderful (while toxic) smell, and the freshly squeezed combination of orange and grapefruit juice they often invited me in for. 

Perhaps they were kind to me because they recognized what my family didn't or couldn't ... my being Gay. Maybe they were Gay or maybe just a-sexual. There was never a person to person violation, but they were always suspect by the neighbors and rumors were whispered about them and their not being married. In those days homosexuality (being Gay) was very different from today. It was the "sickness that dare not speak its name." The only time it was discussed was in whispers or when someone "got caught" and it was on the night-time news.

On a related subject, at the south end of the block in the last unit, lived two women who we all referred to as "the old maids." They were for the most part mean to everyone, especially the kids on the block who ran on their grass or stole their flowers. I am sorry that I never really got to know them personally. That's all I know (and remember) is that they were old, they were not married, and they were mean!

The Korers lived in the same string of townhouses that and Aronsons lived in. I used to baby sit their two boys and often I would go with Jeannene (the wife) to help out at the Korrers' dry cleaning store. They would treat me to lunch and that is where I first ever tasted mustard on a hamburger. Un until then I was a katsup only kind of person. Since then mustard rules!


Kedzie Avenue itself had a history with us. When we first moved in the street was unfinished. Just a pile of dirt tamped down by the city periodically as necessary. The new townhouses on my block, and the new four flats in the block to the south were the first development on the street and I guess up until then just empty, part of the canal area, undeveloped land.

The newly poured sidewalks, now that the houses were completed and it was part of the neighborhood, were some two to three feet below the street level. You can imagine it was a muddy mess when ever it rained. There were no sidewalks. I do not remember what parking must have been like on our side of the street but I do memember that you could pull into the canal part parking on the weeds and dirt.

I spent a full summer watching the yellow machinery bring the street down to sidewalk level, dump and spread the asphalt, pour the curbes, put in street lights, and stop signs. Many well built men worked without their shirts not noticing that a lot of us neighborhood kids were watching their every move. My watching, as far as I know, had different implications from the other kids.


Our back yard was long and narrow and separated from the other yards by cyclone fensing. There was a garage at the back against the alley with a door that let you right into the fensed yard. My father always kept the gate (on both ends of the yard) locked so people wouldn't cut through. Being a newly developed area, I guess people who had lived there for several years by now were used to cutting across the empty field on their way elsewhere and they continued to do so after our houses were built. 

On the house side of the garage, across the entire lot, my parents planted a row of lilac trees which were tall and filled with beautifully scented deep purple flowers each spring. Lilacs continue to be one of my favorite flowers. In a row across the back, in front of the lilacs they planted peonies. Pink, white, deep red and some other combinations like white with yellow centers. Peonies continue to be another one of my favorite flowers.

The yard was planted with thick grass that usually was in great condition. Every now and then my father had to reseed or treat for weeds. My job was to mow the lawn every weekend and to water. A sidewalk ran down one side of the yard leaving a 12" area for planting other flowers like Marigolds and Petunias. This was also my job. Opposite the sidewalk, along the fence was another 12" area planted with flowers like Four O'Clocks, Tulips, and Daphodils. I seem to remember a small vegetable garden at the back but cannot see it clearly in my memory.

There was a charcoal grill in the back yard and my father was an excellent chef when it came to hamburgers and hotdogs and rarely to a steak or two. Often we had company for which the bar-b-que was active and often the party took place on the patio out the back. One thing I rememember is that often one's neighbor's joined the parties if only because when they were in their yard, cooking their dinner, or just sitting having a beer you couldn't really ignore them.


As a young boy I was at least as creative as I am today. Probably my most creative venture was putting on puppet shows for the neighborhood kids, most of whom were younger than I. I had always enjoyed playing with puppets and one day my father brought home a store display from Polk Brother's Appliances where he was an electrician whose company did all the work for their many stores around Chicago.

The display looked like a castle window with turrets on the top. My father and I worked on turning the display into a puppet theater. It had to be placed on a table to get it to the correct height. He cut out part of the back to make a place where the puppets could be brought in for their appearances. A shelf was added to the bottom of the front window. The entire piece was painted in bright colors and a string of Christmas tree lights completed the theatrical marvel. He probably did most of the work but I remember the end results, for which I must have helped some. 

One had to animate the puppets from memory because you could not see them from the back where you put on the show. One had to make sure the puppets were standing straight and tall, but not too tall so that your hand inserted into their skirt would show to the audience. They needed to face forward unless they were talking to each other, then they needed to be facing the correct direction depending on who they were talking to. We could get up to five of them onstage, with three puppeteers backstage working the puppets. 

A curtain rod by the front window was hung with a cloth which could be raised and lowered with a string. Another curtain rod at the back facilitated the hanging of various sets of scenery. I created a complete half hour show (and maybe several over time) which include dancing, jokes, singing, and little plays. My neighborhood friend Sherrie helped if I remember correctly.

The basement would be set up with rows of folding chairs with a center aisle. I would make tickets and sell them to the neighborhood kids several days before a performance. I probably charged something like 10 cents. I prepared bags of popcorn (baggies with twist ties beacause ZIP-LOCS had not yet been invented.) I made lemonade to pour into small cups. 5 cents? There were suckers, tootsie rolls, and other types of candy for sale. Popcorn 5 cents? Candy 3 cents?

The basement lights would be turned off, the puppet theater's Christmas lights would be turned on, the overature would be played on the record player that was on the floor behind the stage, and the musical, play, extravaganza would begin carrying the audience through 30 minutes of visual magic.


Another creative adventure of mine, was running a summer day camp, with the help of my neighbor Sherrie, for the younger kids on the block. I could not have been more than 12 years old myself and I believe that Sherrie was just a touch younger. I do not remembe how much we charged but I am sure it was appropiate for the times, maybe 25¢ per child per day.

We had a red wagon in which we transported supplies and campers as well from the Kedzie Block to the nearby Chipewa park I believe. Besides the playground we had activities that included coloring, crafts, and games. We would take a snack break for the little boxes of juice and baggies of cookies we packed before leaving.

Once and a while, if my memory serves me, we would go to a further away park, Indian Boundary, which had a small zoo of maybe half a dozen animals like a bear, a fox, and a few others.

I do not remember how long each day's session was but it could not have been more than a few hours. The neighbors were more than willing to pay us to watch their kids for a short while giving the mother a reprive of some time for themselves.


At Devon and Kedzie there was a baseball the size of a small bus emblazened with the word THILLENS. It was a sign for the stadium there sponsored by Thillen's cashiers. There were two fields. The front field was complete with seats, bleachers, a call booth, a professional score board at the back of the field, and a refreshment stand.

Periodically I got to run the scoreboard while Mr. Bill Beeble called the plays. 

To this day I can picture the woman who ran the refreshment stand. What stands out is that she would heavily salt the grill and then place a hamburger patty ontop of the salt. Interesting but tastey!

I used to go watch the baseball games by crawling under the fense near the back field. Never got caught but did rip a shirt or two trying. 


I mentioned the canal, the sewage canal, earlier in my "Running Away From Home" (opens in a new window)  link. It was just across the street from the townhouses, just a little behind a wild park/forest type area. Sometimes the stench coming off the canal was quite noticible, other times it wasn't.

One of the favorite activities of me and my friends on the block was to stand on the bridge at Devon and Kedzie and watch the rubbers, as we called them, go floating by. Condoms, which now I think came from the at that time untreated sewage after passing through the plant at Howard and McCormick Avenues. We usued to think that "teenagers were fucking along the banks of the canal and throwing their used rubbers in when finished. We were impressionable.

There was a bike path that ran along the canal further to the north. It was a narrow path worn by use rather than anything formal or park district like. I loved riding the path. One day as I was riding the path, I came to a part that had fallen into the canal, I could not avoide it last minute, and sure enough down the bank and into the canal I went, bicycle and all. It was not deep so no danger of drowning. I did scratch myself up pretty badly but in looking back am surprised that my wounds did not become infected, maybe my mother disinfected me when I got home.

I remember, as I was plummeting over the bank and into the sewage water, thinking and in my mind calling for help from "Lassie." Lassie was the favorite TV dog of every youth of the time and apparently such a strong influence that in my mind I automatically called for his help. "Quick Lassie, go get mom and dad. I have fallen into the canal and hurt myself."

Along the path further north there was a McDonalds. It was one of the first in the Chicago area. I loved McDonalds. Hamburgers cost 15¢, Fries 10¢, and a Coke 10¢. With tax lunch ran 47¢. Great memories and in those days, great tastes.


The area around Devon and McCormick was at one time magical. Slowly it changed and turned into big box stores and a shopping center, but during my youth it had a hot dog stand, miniature golf, trampoline jumping, and Kiddieland Amusement Park. The area was a wash of colorful lights, music, and people doing fun things. 

As a kid we were allowed, with a pocket of change, to visit the area now and then for an afternoon of fun. One of my fantasies was to work at Kiddieland as a ride operator but that was never realized. I did fall off a trampoline once and ripped a hole in the knee of my brand new white piddle pusher pants! Mom was not too happy with me about the pants but didn't seem to mind my ripped knee!


I started my highschool career at Nickolas Senn highschool. Senn was a huge, what felt like turn of the century highschool with four floors, several gyms and assembly halls. The older students tried to sell the new students elevator passes ... there were no elevators. I do not have many memories of that time.

As usual I was terrified of the other students and had very few friends. There were three school stores on the various corners around the school. "Ess & Gerties" was where the rough, bad, leather clad kids hung out. I avoided that corner. Why that is the only store name I remember is interestng. Another shop is where the "good" Jewish kids hung out and the third store is where the "good" Christian kids hung out. Given my proclivities, I knew about all three stores but didn't hang out at any of them, I just got my books at the end of the day and went home.

By my second year in high school I was transfered to Stephen Tyng Mather high school. It was a brand new school so attendance borders were redrawn and people from several highschool districts were moved there. It was much closer to my home and that was nice. Only two busses and a half hour ride (public transportation.)

Feeling more secure in myself I befriended several teachers and would hang out with them after class. My Spanish teacher, Miss Erickson, was a favorite. It was rumoured that she had been in the armed services as a WAC and most likely, in looking back, she was a lesbian. I am sorry we never talked about that even when our friendship continued for many years until her death.

When I was in high school, every year a trip to Mexico was offered by the Spanish Club. Miss Erickson (RIP,) my Spanish teacher and the trip chaperone, would pass out the multi-paged mimeographed itinerary for the trip. I can still see and smell the 8.5x11 rough grained multi-colored paper on which it was printed. Every year I would take home a copy and memorize it. My family was not able to afford me the experience but I dreamed anyway. For more details on the High School Trip to Mexico (opens in a new window) click here.

The art teacher, Miss Albach, was another favorite. I would go to her room last period when I had study hall and help her clean up after her day of art classes. I woul
d always make sure that I was late to study hall so she gave me an empty pass with her signiture on it. I would check off the correct boxes that would lyingly let me cut my last period and I would go home early. I never got caught. 

Interestingly enough, many, many years later when I was teaching fourth grade in Glenview, the school hired a Mrs. Ames to be their new art teacher. She was an older woman and yes, she was the one in the same Miss Albach, now married Mrs Ames. We recognized each other instantly.

At one point I made more friends, mostly what you would call outcasts for loners, and we formed a club called the "Sevants," meaning "the intelligent ones." We went on double and group dates and gave parties for the club members and their dates at our various homes.

Dick Biondi was THE popular radio D.J. at the time playing all the teenage favorite hits. He would visit "Dick Biondi Pizza Parties" after he got off of the radio, it was a celebrity kind of thing. I did the background work and was able to get him to come to the Sevants Dick Biondi Pizza Party that was in my house. I became quite "popular" then with the "unpopular" kids!

I think that I have only covered a few of the memories I have of that part of my growing up. Each memory awakens the next. But I will stop here. Maybe more next time?

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