Friday, October 11, 2013
Fifth Entry of a Long Journey
When I mention Chicago, some of you may think of Al Capone or hear Frank Sinatra's voice crooning "....It's my kinda town." For me the word has a special meaning. It is the name I have inserted on countless forms over the years in the blank marked "Place of Birth." My earliest memories contain images of coal-stained brick apartment buildings, ornate downtown skyscrapers, boxy little houses, amazing museums and zoos, summer thunderstorms, swimming in a huge lake, and playing in spacious parks which were filled with terrific climbing trees. I recall going to synagogue, walking with my sister to elementary school along noisy busy streets, and playing marbles in sand lots. It was where I first became conscious of class and racial differences. There were "colored people" who lived across 47th Street on the South Side. These were poor people whose tenements, run-down clapboard houses, and storefronts I would see from the elevated train on trips with my mother to downtown or peer at through the window from the backseat of our car on the way to my father's office. These people had lives beset with bad habits and, in my eyes, most were not clean, refined, or, for that matter, safe to be around. For the first ten years of my life, I accepted resolutely my place that I was a small, anxious, nervous "city boy" living among a dense mass of diverse people. In 1956, our family moved to Southern California and my attachment to Chicago faded rapidly as I began to connect to a new environment. Nonetheless, I have always felt a peculiar excitement and subsequent stimulation of old memories when I have returned to my old neighborhood. It is hard to define the feeling and value of the experience, except that it is similar to discovering a box of long misplaced puzzle pieces. For some reason a person feels wealthier because he has found lost shapes which contribute to the picture of his whole being.
Another benefit that returning to Chicago affords me is the opportunity to renew contact with relatives who still reside in the Windy City, most important among them my 93 year old Aunt Gertrude, the remaining member of my parents's generation.
So this past week, with great anticipation, I entered the South Side of Chicago from Indiana. My route took me on Lake Shore Drive passing the 76th street beach, Hyde Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Jackson Park. My first destination was to stop at the Field Museum of Natural History to ogle at the face of one of the city's most famous celebrities, the lovely Sue. (to be continued)