The West Side had been stagnant for years.
Names on mailboxes had remained the same year after year, and if not the same name than certainly the same European derivation of that name, or the neighbor’s name.
In the years following World War II, millions of people from throughout the world flocked to America, and in particular to the city of Chicago.
The Europeans came, some with more, most with less, but all came bringing their own culture, wanting to be with their own kind, and settling, as silt in water, upon the suited financial ledges in the existing melting pot ghettos and, for the most part, harmonizing with those who came before them.
But now, slowly, all but unnoticed except by those who lived along the constantly changing, eroding borders, the European names on mailboxes changed, from Mazisyk, Binkowski, D’Angelo and Shapiro to “American names”: Smith, Jackson, Washington, Davis and Robinson.
As the multitudes flooded into the city, both from within and outside the borders of America, the ghetto neighborhoods grew constantly, continually encroaching inward, and the existing natives began to move either deeper into the melting pot, temporarily away from the erosion, or, if they had the means, out of it completely, to the suburbs or cities of Berwyn, Cicero and Brookfield to the west; Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park and Blue Island to the south; Lincolnwood, Skokie and Morton Grove to the north.
Previously well-maintained buildings changed hands and the newly found money was transferred out of the old neighborhoods and into the new… Into high-rise apartment buildings for the wealthy… Into shopping centers and countless tracts of suburban, pea-pod houses.
The blight was not the fault of the encroaching people because they were the victims, but rather the fault of the political representatives of the previously existing people for allowing the onset of these destructive conditions. Graft was widespread. Building violations ran rampant and, against all existing building codes, the new landlords subdivided individual two and three-bedroom apartments into two, and even three separate apartments with shared bathrooms and Pullman-type kitchens.
The previous space housing a single family of three, four, five or six people became the spaces for two, three or even four families.
As the existing families vacated their ghetto apartments, the vacuum they left was quickly filled.
As the socioeconomic makeup of the neighborhoods changed, moderate- to low-income, previously decent neighborhoods became filthy, over-crowded slums, and in the passing of those going and those coming misconceptions and prejudices were formed that lasted lifetimes.
May 1, 1951: Parting
The hot sun reflecting off the cracked, white-glazed brick façade, the boys sat on either side of the front stoop watching as, much too quickly, the small moving truck was loaded with furniture being carried down the three flights of stairs by two sweating moving men.
They sat in silence, as though were one to speak it would open a floodgate of uncontrollable emotion, and neither boy wanted to appear less a man to the other. Beading their foreheads and upper lips, sweat trickling down the backs of their shirts, neither moved.
The last of the items, the refrigerator, was hoisted onto the tailgate of the truck and secured with rope.
For the very last time, a small women, a husky man, and a seven-year-old boy walked down the stairs they’ve traveled so many times over the so many years they’d lived here.
Stepping through the wide, doorless entry, the man nodded to the dark-haired boy, then, with his youngest son following, he went to the driver side of a green, ’47 Oldsmobile, opened the rear door for the boy, then his door.
Stopping, the women looked at the boys, and feeling their sadness, holding back her own tears, she kissed the forehead of the bigger boy, went to the car, got in and faced straight forward.
Sighing, the blonde-haired boy stood and looked down.
The other boy stood, also.
Blinking their eyes, biting their lower lips in concentration, the boys looked at each other for a long moment till, turning away, the smaller boy went to the car, opened the rear door, sat down and pulled the door shut.
The ignition turned, the motor came to life… and the car pulled away from the curb.
Removing his glasses so they wouldn’t blow off, leaning his head through the window, turning his head, he watched as the figure on the curb became smaller and smaller. Only when Mitchell disappeared from sight completely, did Norman bring his head back in.
Alone now, Mitchell turned away, and no longer able to control his tears ran through the long, now lonely hallway, out the back entrance, through what was Norman’s yard, into his yard and up the three flights of stairs.
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)