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By George W. Schwarz Jr.
Wednesday, October 09, 2002
When was the last time you saw a youngster with a skate key hanging from a string around their neck? I remember when one of the sure signs of spring was the sight of children digging out their metal roller skates and searching for the skate key – that elusive tool, with a socket wrench on one end to open and close the clamp that gripped the shoe at the front end of the skates and a hex-wrench on the other end to lengthen or shorten the single metal frame of the skate, that was `put away for safe keeping’ last fall.
When was the last time you saw a boy with his bicycle inverted on the front lawn of his home deftly balancing the front wheel of his bike and tightening the spokes to eliminate any slight imperfection in the wheel’s symmetry? I also remember when boys obtained employment after school and Saturdays, and during the summer vacation months delivering groceries or items from the drug store to the neighborhood.
Looking back at my formative years, I do not remember a time when I could not find work. The possibilities were endless then – the local grocery stores, the drug stores, cleaning attics, basements and garages of accumulated items ranging from newspapers, magazines, to old auto tires and batteries, old furniture, and on occasion, cutting and raking the lawns of homes that had large lawns.
Saturdays sometimes meant the matinee movies that required $.15 or .25 plus a nickel for popcorn, and .05 for a coke. This would require finding a job for the morning hours cleaning someone’s attic or garage paying $.25 or if you were lucky, $.50! After a dozen or so cartoons, another episode of a hair-raising serial, and the feature film, there was still time to get to the park to choose sides for a baseball game or if someone had a football, a tackle football game – no one I knew would be caught dead playing `touch’ football. Many are the times I returned home with my shirt missing buttons or torn and the knees of my pants split open – again.
My neighborhood was on the north side of Chicago within walking distance to the lake – Lake Michigan. Each neighborhood had its own business district filled with all the stores families needed. They were owned and operated by families that also lived in the neighborhood representing all the trades – groceries, meat market, bakery, separate stores that sold fish and poultry, the shoe repair shop and the jeweler, a drug store, and of course, a Chinese laundry where the ironing was done with heavy irons that were pre-heated over open flame. A delicatessen, a saloon, a cigar store, that also harbored the neighborhood `bookie’, and a Chinese take-out restaurant were all conveniently located in the larger neighborhood business areas to satisfy the variety of tastes and needs.
Neighborhood crime was non-existent due to the neighborhood policemen who keep an eye on all us boys and everyone’s property. It was only at Halloween that any `crimes’ were recorded or store owners complained of windows soaped. On occassion, an errant baseball broke a window or hit a parked car's windshield that caused some upset.
Returning from school, my bunch of guys shunned walking on the sidewalks preferring instead to walk home through the alleys. Ever so often, we discovered a discarded `treasure’ in a trash bin.
This immediately went to our `hideout' located in an apartment house basement. The alleys also provided a steady source of our income that we shared. Our eyes were always on the watch for the careless resident who left an empty quart bottle that offered a $.05 refund at the grocers or the neighborhood salon - the favorites were `Canada Dry', `Hires Root Beer'quart soft drink bottles, and any brand quart size beer bottle.
During the summer, I left the house early each day to work, play, explore, and not return til after dark much to the consternation of my Mother and Father for my missing dinner – there was no fear that something might happen to a young boy roaming around on his own neighborhood nor were any warnings ever issued to not speak with strangers. Hell, everyone was a stranger outside the neighborhood!
When I entered junior high school, my after school jobs paid more money, e.g. stocking shelves in the grocery store or heavier cleaning work. My first full-time employment was at the neighborhood grocery store. Working six days a week, Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m.-to-9 p.m., I was proud when I received my check for net $11.00 after the SSN deduction. I don’t remember an hourly wage mentioned when I was hired and I did not even know about overtime. All I knew was that I had so much money I could not spend it all!
By the time school began, I was able to buy my own clothes, Levi’s, and `penny loafers’ or saddle shoes – white oxfords with a brown instep, and I purchased my own baseball glove.
I recognize that it is surely a sign of old age when people start talking about the good ol’ days, but looking back to compare with today's youth, I believe I had more fun, learned more of life, plus learned to read and write – things and skills lacking in the children who attend many of our public schools.
And during the years of WWII when so many of the neighboorhood young men, and husbands, were away fighting a great war, I shared the tears of the neighborhood when gold stars appeared in front windows and rejoiced when the soldiers came home. During those long, dark months of the war, I learned of the diverse worlds where the war was being fought, and I learned what it was to be an American.
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|Reviewed by cindy
|Awww... Although I'm slightly younger than you this made me feel nostalgic for a time that sits on just the brink of my memory...Great!|
George W. Schwarz Jr.