Picnics past and present

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Summer is rolling right along and I’m sure we’re all thinking we’ve got to do more to make use of this long-awaited weather. The timing couldn’t be better because it’s picnic season! For years, the first Saturday in August has been on everyone’s calendar as the day of the annual Pullman Family Reunion Picnic, and this year is no different.

The picnic is a great opportunity to reunite with old friends and see where so many of us spent our childhoods. The first Saturday in August is the day I gather all my picnic equipment and memorabilia together for my reader’s pleasure. Feel free to stop by for a visit and check out selections from my collection. My picnic gear consists of two canopies, eight chairs, two or three tables, a cooler or two, and a lot of yearbooks, newspapers, and other Roseland and Pullman memorabilia.

Everyone takes great pleasure in the casual atmosphere as they walk around Arcade Park talk over the good times with all the people they know or just met. Once the conversations start flowing, anyone within hearing range joins in the conversation with their personal experiences. It always amazes me how many people find their old classmates or their family members’ classmates through these simple conversations.

Talking about this year’s picnic reminds me of the picnics that took place throughout the Roseland and Kensington area in years gone by. I remember hearing about the Roseland Operetta Club picnics and the Gano Picnics. There were also a number of “picnic gardens” back in the day, where sports, religious and ethnic organizations would hold their annual outdoor gatherings to get their members entire families involved in the fun side of activities.

At St. Anthony’s on Kensington, it was always the Holy Name picnic that we parishioners looked forward to. That was definitely the one time of year where everybody showed up! There were games like horseshoes, three-legged sack races, egg tosses and raffle prizes. Of course, there was also food and refreshments, like cold beer, pop, and hot dogs and hamburgers.

Pullman National Monument

When I was about 12 years old, my whole family was at the St. Anthony picnic. If I was 12, that would have made it 1958 and my mom was 54. I distinctly recall this event because my mom never smoked or drank and everyone in my family would attest to that. However, at this year’s picnic, after I had run around taking part in some of the contests, I headed back to the table where my family had set up camp for the day.

What to my surprise did I find but my mother calmly sitting there at the picnic table in the heat of a sunny summer day with a beer and a cigarette. As I stopped in my tracks, I started to laugh and smile. That may have been very atypical of my mom, but it was not surprising because she always did what she felt like doing. It turned out that mom had let the beer sit in the sun so that it would warm up — European style! My brothers and sisters were also shocked because it was something they’d never seen our mother do. It wasn’t like I had missed out on her having these habits because I was the youngest. And it never became a habit since it was a one-time thing, that we always brought up in the future.

I recall attending the last picnic sponsored by the Holy Name. I had returned from two years in the Army with a year in Vietnam. I was attending Fenger Junior College, the forerunner to Olive Harvey College, and had begun dating a fellow classmate. Marilyn Chao’s family was known in Roseland because the family business was the Tea Garden Chinese Restaurant on Michigan Avenue across from the Roseland Theater.

After the fun and games, it was time to hold the raffle for the door prizes. Near the end, the man at the microphone kept repeating the Italian American sounding name “Marilyn Chiaro.” There was no response from the onlookers.

After the third try, my future wife saw that it was her handwriting on the ticket they were reading and stepped forward. The men ignored her and kept looking at the crowd for the Italian American Marilyn Chiaro. Finally, they listened to Chinese American Marilyn Chao, who was standing in front of them, realized their mistake and awarded her the door prize — quite the funny memory.

Pullman Coffee Club

Since its official designation, Pullman National Historical Park is fully staffed by Rangers and has free admission. They offer a number of exhibits that depict the establishment of George Pullman’s factory and town, which has been a “must see” tourist destination for many years.

There is also a new Pullman Coffee Club located in the old Sessions Restaurant building at 111th and St. Lawrence Avenue, which has a large outdoor patio facing the Pullman National Historical Park. It’s an ideal place to spend time relaxing and enjoying a warm summer’s day.

I can guarantee that if you attend the picnic you will have a good time reliving the good old days with old and new friends. I’ve always looked forward to this annual Pullman Family Reunion Picnic in Arcade Park with eager anticipation. Opportunities to share the memories of our youth and of our neighborhood are too few and far between to be missed.

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 800 copies since it became available. Copies are available from me at $20 + $5 s&h. Contact me at petalsfromroseland@gmail.com or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; res: 773-701-6756. My book is also available at D & D Foods, 1023 S. Halsted, Chicago Heights, at Bookie’s New and Used Books, 10324 S. Western Ave, Chicago and at Miles Books, 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, Indiana.


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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