Once again, we’ve survived another winter. I was going to say “Chicago Winter” but we are all aware that this past winter was hardly representative of a true Chicago winter. This leads us to wonder if this summer will just be a summer or will it be a “Chicago Summer”?
You know, summer days where the temperature ascends into the 90s. Or where the gods in charge of climate control keep things dry for swimming and athletics.
The summers of our youth always began with the Little League Parade down Michigan Avenue (“The Ave”) heading south all the way to the Roseland Little League Fields down at 125th and Michigan. Many of the local businesses were represented as sponsors of the teams that played. Of course, many of the fathers took their turns at coaching or managing the teams while their sons were on them.
That may have been where the athletically oriented kids spent a lot of their summers, but there were still many Roseland kids who kept themselves busy with other interests. The Chicago Park District was a big draw for youngsters throughout Roseland and the surrounding communities.
The parks offered summer camps, classes in everything from puppetry to swimming, and open baseball games and a variety of other sports. Who can forget the giant walls used for self-practice for tennis or handball. Depending on the size of the park and the community it served, the Chicago Park District provided horseshoe, volleyball or bocce courts with locker boxes for the equipment right next to the courts. I don’t even think those lockers were locked so that everyone had easy access to the equipment. (I know that wouldn’t be the case today anywhere throughout the city.)
Swimming was one of the greatest activities kids could take part in. Everything from waiting in line to being allowed into the locker rooms so you could change into your “trunks” to ogling the girls in the “girl’s line” and talking about them. I remember the deep end being the “forbidden zone” unless you knew how to swim. That automatically eliminated the diving boards, which were for the daring-do, or show offs!
If you lived near the Griffith Natatorium, aka “The Pump,” you had the opportunity for year-around swimming. Fernwood Park was just a bike ride away, but the big adventure with all the “cool kids” was waiting to take a CTA bus to Calumet Beach on the Lake. Then again, you had swimming at the outdoor pool at Palmer Park just begging for you stop by before or after playing ball.
If you lived in West Pullman, or Gano or Stewart Ridge, you were all about the indoor pool at West Pullman Park. Standing in line while waiting to go upstairs was always an ordeal, but once you got in, it was another story. There were the glass panel doors that were pulled up and down by chains only the lifeguards could touch. And, of course, there was ‘NO RUNNING BY THE POOL,” which I am fond of saying nowadays to octogenarians to remind them of the good old days.
One of the other maybe not-so-good staples of summer was the boy’s “buzz cuts” which were a summer ritual, at least in our family. School got out, and it was time to head to Patz or Veterans Barber Shop for the “cut it all off” summer haircut. A very productive haircut that resulted in less hair care, fewer haircuts, and less opportunity for hair issues, all the while saving our parents money: very economically sound however socially unforgiving.
One of the true thrills of summer were the church carnivals. St. Anthony’s was known as one of the best and provided a lot good times for adults and kids. The kids had the carnival games and the mating ritual opportunities that a carnival provided. The adults got to enjoy the interesting pastime of eating oysters — by the dishful. I could never understand that oyster business but it turns out that it is one of the major gustatory opportunities at Italian carnivals and festivals around the world.
The best memory I have as far as carnival food is of the “bingo pizza” being available every night the carnival was going on. “Bingo pizza” is the rectangular pizza the cafeteria ladies made for sale on Friday nights when bingo was being held in the school hall. The slices were 50 cents apiece and my sisters would always send me down to get a few rectangular slices so they and their girlfriends would have something to eat before going out.
While waiting for my slices, I would head outside and stand by the school kitchen’s vent where the hot air would come out scented with the most intoxicating, passion-raising aroma ever! I would stand there with the other kids, just enjoying the moment until my slices were ready for delivery to my sisters and for my reward of one slice.
Years later, when my wife and I were on our honeymoon at the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, we ended up in the Italian community. My now former wife couldn’t understand why I bought four pieces of their rectangular pizza slices for myself even though I tried to explain the scented aroma and nostalgia of it all.
Summer in Roseland was always an exciting season filled with life’s simple pleasures. We had everything from “The Ave” to the parks, the pools, the movie theaters and the drive-in restaurants, all of which influenced our perception of what life should be today. Those same influences can be felt in our trips down memory lane as we enjoy another summer in the winter of our lives.
Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or cjfranoi@yahoo.