Memories we love

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When it comes to love and the month of February, we don’t have to look any further than the good old days in Kensington, Pullman and Roseland. The mere mention of a time, place or event from those neighborhoods brings back a flood of fond recollections about growing up in the greater Roseland community.

When it comes to our love of all things Roseland, who doesn’t remember the earliest days of their youth running around the neighborhood with the other kids. Sometimes, the best memories were created with siblings and other times with the kids next door or across the street.

I remember living across from Roseland Little League fields at 125th and Michigan Avenue. That was the place everyone hung out when baseball was king and a pickup game was always a possibility. I recall playing baseball with the neighborhood kids like Kathy and Ron McKay and Julius Sontag. When the field wasn’t in use we would play for hours.

During one game, I was playing third base and Kathy McKay hit a line drive right into my throat. It knocked me on my butt and knocked the wind out of me. Kathy came running and was almost in tears while I tried to catch my breath.

Another time, I remember we were standing along the fence watching a pick-up game when a man we didn’t know pulled up and parked. He got out of his car and came over to us kids to explain that he’d just bought a Polaroid camera and wanted to try it out by taking pictures of us. That was this back in the late 1950s before “Stranger Danger” was a part of the vocabulary. Of course, we said “Yes!” I’ve still got a couple of those photos somewhere in the hundreds one accumulates in 70-plus years.

The two local newspapers, the Calumet Index and the South End Reporter, gave a lot of boys and some girls spending money by virtue of them being the bicycle riding Paul Reveres of the local news scene. My brother Augie and I made our deliveries of the South End Reporter in the neighborhood around 123rd and Michigan Avenue to 127th Street. We managed to convince our dad to get us brand new bicycles from Montgomery Wards a 113th and Michigan Avenue.

We had some great customers that tipped us well and others who saw no reason for tipping kids doing their job. The best part of the job was running into some of the nicest people Roseland had to offer. Some of the not so nice parts were delivering to the grouches that didn’t need to have any kids hanging around their property. We survived our delivering duties by ignoring all the bad customers and concentrating on the good fun ones like the owner of the Shrimp Boat on 127th or the family that raised Pekingese puppies and operated Vince’s Fruit Stand up the hill from the Shrimp Boat.

The schools of Roseland may have been your standard CPS school but, we thought they were fine — if we thought about them in that way at all. We were more focused on using the exterios walls and playgrounds they afforded us kids. We played fast pitch against the wall right under the sign that said, “No playing baseball.” The schoolyard was big enough to field balls even if it wasn’t big enough for a game.

The playground was full of permanently constructed and installed climbing and swinging equipment that provided great times, They were all governed by “If you fall, it’s your problem, dummy!” Kids on the playground showed no mercy and the injured knew no mercy. Everyone just ran around doing whatever they liked to pass the time. We didn’t play on soft mats that fitted around everything on the playground to cushion our fall.

My specialty was the “Daddy Long Legs” slide. You had to get to the top of the bars however you could and then wrap your legs around and slide down. Now, that was living beyond one’s daredevil imagination. Hitting the ground off those babies was something you had to deal with when you landed. Many a leg ended up twisted or broken by a bad landing. By the way, no lawsuits followed. What followed for sure in the Italian families were a few choice words including “stupid” or “salami.”

Roseland had a lot of churches, in fact, according to Guinness book of World Records, at one time the most churches of any community in the country. (Don’t get too religiously excited. At another time we were known for having the most taverns.) I can only speak to the Catholic Church experience out of fear of being struck dead on the spot if I attended any other church.

We lived just up the alley from St. Louis of France Parish but belonged to St. Anthony of Padua’s down the hill on Kensington. By default, St. Louis became our emergency church if we were short on time. When the Martello kids were running late in getting up and throwing some clothes on, we just ran around the corner and up to the St. Louis choir loft to fulfill our religious duty.

Sometime I wonder how warranted my fears were of being struck dead. In talking about St. Louis, I recall returning to the choir loft after communion and somehow the sacred host fell out of my mouth. I wasn’t sure if I could touch it without being struck dead! There was no way I wanted to cause a commotion, so I scooped it up and put it back in my mouth. Nope, didn’t strike me dead!

Living near railroad tracks anywhere in Roseland gave kids a great path to parks, shopping, playing, and mischievous behavior. I remember stories of people being killed walking along the tracks that ran throughout the community. I also remember what we kids knew as the “keyholes,” which were east of Kensington (Morandi’s) Park off of Indiana Avenue at 117th Street.

As I’ve come to learn, the keyholes were where the original Kensington Station was located. They’re theory of where the name “Bumtown” came from. It seems trains heading to Pullman with building supplies would come into the area from the east with plenty of hobos. The train would slow when it reached the Kensington Station due to pedestrian traffic. That was when the hobos or bums would hop off the train, giving rise to the name “Bumtown.” Of course, the only things Roseland’s young people would do was hang out at the keyholes, and like any growing teens, drink and make out — the usual.

SAYPA was the acronym for St. Anthony’s Young People’s Association. It came into being about the time I was born in the mid-1940s. Fr. Nalin of St. Anthony’s thought it would be a good idea to have a place for the parish teenagers to hang out and play games. The recreation room had shuffleboard and a pinball machine or two. It had tables and chairs and even a couple of television sets. The entire effort was supported by the Holy Name Society or men’s club and lasted for quite a few years. Many of St. Anthony’s older parishioners can recall the good times they had in attending events and meetings at SAYPA.

My question now is: “Have I accomplished my mission of bringing up some loved memories of growing up in Kensington, Pullman, and Roseland?”


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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One comment

  1. Ah, CJ. You have written so many articles on Roseland but this one is so fresh that it could have been your first, and I can see why. Growing up there had to be magical and it made a profound effect on an aware, sensitive, interesting and interested boy, and these qualities and memories have followed you and guided you through life. … Grazie, CJ!

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