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Donald J McNeely

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Day by Day
by Donald J McNeely   

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this is the beginning chapters of book I am trying to write. I would appreciate any comments or criticism that you would like to pass along. keep in mind this is only the beginning of a story that so far has lasted 72 years.

Chapter One The North side of Chicago can be a very unforgiving place in the dead of winter even for a six year old boy. I can still feel the biting wind on those long walks to school in early morning, however just a little bit of sun in the afternoon to us seemed like a promise of spring. So halfway home the scarves and heavy coats came off and we would run and laugh and play like a million other school kids on any Friday afternoon in late February. A lot of my earliest memories revolve around grade school, a small beach at Lincoln Park, and the Lincoln Park Zoo. I spent many happy summer days playing in the icy water of Lake Michigan and running through the zoo. I was raised with two older sisters so I devised various ways to amuse myself and was quite happy most of the time enjoying my independence and my solitude. I had one good friend that I hung around with during most of my spare time, which, in the summer was most every day. One evening my friend Steve and I decided to walk the four blocks to the zoo. Steve had heard that although the snake house had closed over two hours before, the attendant would let you in to watch him feed the snakes. Sure enough we got to the snake house about dark and the attendant let us in as Steve said he would. I don't think either of us was ready for what we were about to witness. We took our position in front of the cage that held a giant python. He was moving around his cage in a somewhat menacing fashion, possibly anticipating his weekly dinner. From the side door the attendant emerged with a small lamb on the end of a short rope. At this point I looked at Steve and he looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, as if to say “what’s going on here”. Next we heard a cracking sound and then another but paid little attention to them. At this point the bleating of the lamb increased to more of a scream, and as the attendant pushed the lamb into the cage, it began hobbling around on it’s two broken front legs. The attendant explained later that the lamb with four good legs was too fast for the python and the snake would get too stressed out trying to catch him and he wouldn’t eat. The huge snake had no problem cornering his prey and soon had several coils around him. The noise was subsiding now, partly because the cage was closed, but mostly because the lamb was unable to breath very well. Steve and I watched somewhat horrified but transfixed as the lamb started to disappear head first down the python’s gaping mouth. The teeth, the coils, and the struggling lamb all worked perfectly together to enable huge snake to swallow the animal alive. The process was very slow and deliberate, but as the very large lump descended, still struggling but slowing considerably, Steve and I left without a word to the attendant who was busy cleaning up at the end of the cage. 1 During the long walk home Steve did most of the talking about the spectacle we had just witnessed and how neat it was and what a great story it would be to relate to all of our buddies around the neighborhood. I of course agreed, but even at that moment I knew that I would never repeat the story again in all of it’s gory details, until now, almost sixty years later. The lasting impressions of that night would have a great influence on my life in the years to come. Although this rather bazaar incident in the snake house that night willbe forever etched in my mind, it is by no means typical of most of my early memories of my life in that really unique neighborhood. I was actually raised in a Polish area even though we were of Irish descent. One of my most pleasant recollections of this little neighborhood was the variety of smells encountered while walking only a few blocks down Shakespeare Ave. From the sweet aroma of fresh baked bread in the morning, to the spicy, pungent smell of homemade sausage, to the ever-present scents of all kinds of soups and stews. I never tired of strolling down these streets just to breathe in the all of the delicious offerings. Even though I very seldom left my little neighborhood except to take anoccasional ride on the streetcar with my older sisters on a Saturday morning. We would ride all the way to the Loop and back for a dime apiece. However, my favorite way to see the city was from my Uncle Bob’s beer truck. He would pick me up early in the morning and I would spend the day going from bar to bar, delivering beer. What I really liked about uncle Bob, he talked to me and treated me like a friend not like a little boy. Each little bar we would stop at was very much like the one before, but they were very friendly places. I would sit on a high bar stool drinking a six ounce bottle of Coke and feeling really important. Uncle Bob planned his day so he would conveniently be at one of his favorite places when it was lunch time, and I would be treated to a giant sized roast beef sandwich and French fries. As you might expect, that was one of the best parts of the trip. I never ceased to be amazed at the never-ending streets and neighborhood bars in the city of Chicago. The few times I made this trip with my uncle Bob, solidly placed him at the top of my list of favorite people, and I will always be grateful to him for treating me like a pal and showing me so much of this great city. 2 Chapter Two It was not long after that that we moved from Chicago to a small town in Indiana. Even though I was still in grade school, somehow during the move I skipped a grade, which was fine with me and my parents were quite proud. It was only later that I realized this “double promotion” also had its down side. I would forever be a year and sometimes two years younger than all my classmates, the problems with this would not seem too important until a few years from now. This new town of Muncie, Indiana was only about 200 miles from Chicago, but it was like being in a different world. Gone was the after- noon walks down Shakespeare Avenue and all the wonderful smells and sights. Gone also was the excitement of Lincoln Park and the cold waters of Lake Michigan. However I soon found out that living in a much smaller city had its distinct advantages. For instance I could walk to the downtown area in less than 20 minutes, walk to my school in five or ten minutes and explore all the interesting places around my house and still be in yelling distance from my back porch. My Mom worked in what passed as a supermarket back in those days and it was just across the parking lot from our house so whenever me or one of my sisters needed anything, which was not very often, Mom was just a couple of hundred feet away. My Dad got drafted shortly after we had moved from Chicago as the second world war was well under way. I missed him a lot, mostly the time I used to spend with him in his upholstery shop in the base- ment of the Sheridan Hotel in Chicago. The days I spent there was the basis of some of the finest memories of my childhood. We all worried about him but life goes on, even in a small town. Mom was kept busy working full time at the store and trying to keep the house and the family together as best she could. I’ll have to admit she got lot of help from my two older sisters and I think from me also. We all had certain chores to do and they usually got done on time or just a little later. Mom was a great organizer and had a way of getting things done without having to beat anyone over the head to accomplish her objectives. My main chore in the winter was keeping the boiler in the kitchen banked with a good hot bed of coals, that boiler heated the water that heated the entire house through large and sometimes-noisy radiators in every room. The trip from the coal shed to the house was probably about 60 feet. A really long 60 feet through hard packed snow with a 50 pound bucket of coal, and it took five of them to fill the coal box next to the furnace. I’ll have to admit that it at times was too much for an 8 year old that didn’t yet weigh 100 pounds. But somehow I got it done and every year it got easier, and the bucket got lighter. 3 As I slowly adapted to my surroundings I also made a couple of really good friends in my new neighborhood and we had time to do a lot of exploring before the start of another school year. One of the most fascinating places was directly behind our house, a very large ice plant. In the heat of Indiana’s summers it held quite an attraction to my newfound friends and me. I know now how the ice is produced, but back then all I seen was this huge machine which, every minute or so, would spit out this block of ice about the size of a small car and a large crane would come down with it’s giant ice tongs and haul it away through two large doors with rubber flaps. I suppose a lot of the attraction of the ice plant came from all the machinery, conveyors, and cranes, but I’m sure a good part of it was the fact that it was very cold in there. Everyone wore heavy jackets and gloves and it felt really good on a hot summer day. We would usually stand just inside the doors until one of the men would come over and give us a couple big chunks of ice, and tell us in a friendly way that we better get out of there.   

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Reader Reviews for "Day by Day"

Reviewed by Richard Bowers 9/2/2012
Reviewed by Donald McNeely 5/12/2008

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