Enough with the May flowers!

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April showers bring May flowers, right? We hear that every year. In fact, I’m sure I’ve written about May flowers a couple of times in the dozen years I’ve been writing this column.

Well, I’ve had enough of writing about flowers and I’m switching things up. Spring also marks the start of vegetable gardening season, which brings to mind the many such gardens in Roseland, Pullman and Kensington. Personally, I’ve never had a green thumb, but the array of colorful and abundant vegetable gardens has stayed with me since childhood.

Growing up in Roseland, I ran across gardens big and small, both literally and figuratively. Whether jumping fences to cut across yards, playing in those yards with neighborhood kids, or riding my bike past victory and community gardens, there was no getting around it: Roseland had a lot of gardens. There were even natural fields of produce of sorts for picking radicchio at the Metropolitan Sanitary District across from the Rosebud Farms Store on 130th Street.

In Pullman, victory gardens were a big part of the war effort during World War II. Almost every yard had a garden to produce food for the home. The Italian immigrants always had a touch of the old country, with their gardens providing an abundant table of produce. With mom-and-pop stores on almost every other block providing the main meal, the garden produced the produce for every dinner table.

There were even community gardens throughout Roseland. Vivian Battalgin Jurinak recently reminded me of one that she passed by often while growing up. It was located “down the hill” on 103rd Street. (“Down the hill” was a very popular Roseland term referring to anything east of Michigan Avenue).

At 116th and Michigan Avenue there was a large open lot that we called “old lady Larocca’s garden.” She could be seen tending to it during the warmer months. Roaming through the local allies, we always passed by a lot of gardens. Our house, which was at 15 E. 116th St., was at the other end of the block right next to one of those allies.

Before turning left at the last garage, our alley led straight to the back of St. Louis of France Church. Next to the church building stood to one of the best neighborhood gardens. It was in the yard of one of our playmates. Alex and Rosemary Angio’s family lived on the first floor and their Nonno Frank and Nonna Rose Arvia lived on the second floor.

Rose and Frank Arvia

Their Nonno Arvia was a no-nonsense gardener and would work that garden every day. Trust me when I tell you that we kids had nothing to do with it! We didn’t dare play in or near the garden — that would be needlessly risking Nonno Arvia’s wrath.

Their nonno’s garden was full of brightly colored tomatoes, red and green peppers, Swiss chard and spinach, and a variety of other produce. I vividly recall that the garden took up a good half of the yard from the fence at the alley all the way up to the brown-sided house.

We kids were smart enough to wait until Nonno Arvia had harvested his bounty and laid them out to dry. Every so often, boredom would get the best of us and we would end up playing in Alex’ yard right next to the garden. Adventure is the next best thing to an organized game for kids and being in Alex’s yard was no different.

Once we got tired of playing ball or whatever we were up to in the yard, we headed to the garage. The garage floor may have been used for parking cars, but it was up the ladder into the rafters that interested us!

Above us in the rafters of the garage were chicken wire screens laid out across the entire space. Each screen held dozens of peppers that Nonno Arvia had harvested and laid out to dry. We’d climb the ladder to the rafters and sit and talk, and then eventually mess with the peppers.

Nonno Arvia knew we were up to no good if we climbed up to the rafters and he was right. We’d end up making a dare to have someone take a bite of a pepper. Of course, we all picked out a hot pepper to show how “tough” we kids were.

It was all fun and games until Nonno Arvia realized why there were no kids playing in the yard. The side door to the garage would burst open and boom, out would come the Italian! It was definitely time for us kids to scatter and run home before we got into real trouble!

The gardening tradition continued thanks to Alex and Rosemary’s dad Mat’s green thumb. He maintained Nonno Arvia’s garden after he passed away, then carried on the family tradition with a great garden when he moved his family to Dolton. The photo shows all three Angio/Arvia gardeners at a St. Alexander Festa held at St. Anthony’s Church in Kensington. (Photo courtesy of Rosemary Angio)

Copies of “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” are available with prompt first-class delivery at $20 + $5 s&h.

More than 600 copies have been sold since it became available a year ago. Roselandites who have bought my book are very excited to have their memories brought to life. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have provided so many fond memories of Roseland.

My book is also available at D & D Foods, 1023 S. Halsted, Chicago Heights and at Bookie’s New and Used Books, 10324 S. Western Ave, Chicago.

Contact me by writing to 11403 S. Saint Lawrence Ave., Chicago, IL 60628; calling me at 773-701-6756; or emailing petalsfromroseland@gmail.com.


About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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