Living in the Vail Valley seems light-years removed from my youth growing up on Chicago’s west side. But watching the White Sox from my lounge chair in Kauai has taken me back to 1959—the year of the Go-Go Sox.
The recent success of the “pale hose” has precipitated this reverie because some of my fondest memories emanate from my dormer bedroom of our three-room bungalow listening to the White Sox on WCFL radio with Bob Elson doing the play-by-play.
Ours was a typical west-side neighborhood with rows of brick houses stamped from a cookie cutter—each with 150 square feet of front lawn, concrete stoops, (also known as front porches) where neighbors would gather on hot summer nights, and alleys that separated garages & backyard gardens from those living one street over.
My brother and I shared the middle bedroom of the upstairs “railroad style” dormer, i.e. there was no hallway or corridor, just three rooms in a row. My older sister had the front bedroom facing the street (Mom liked Lois best,) while my brother Richard and I shared the middle room that looked out over the gangway between houses and into our neighbor’s mirror-image window.
On any given summer evening the ambient air temperature in that dormer was roughly 115 degrees. To redress the situation, my parents placed our “big” 14-inch fan at one end of the upstairs in my sister’s room, and the “little” fan in the “play room” at the opposite end of the dormer.
The 14” fan blew the hot, humid air in, and the 10” fan blew it out—this our parents told us was “cross-ventilation” and as good as air-conditioning; but hey, it was summer, my parents never bothered me when I was in my room (too cold I guess) and the Sox were in first place—life was good.
As with most ethnic neighborhoods in the 50’s, alleys were used as baseball diamonds, football fields and basketball courts because no one actually used their garage to park their car—the only vehicle traffic was the garbage truck on Tuesdays.
We ate Pez and dreamsicles, caught fireflies, had to be home when the street lights came on, and no kid was safe from being found-out for transgressions he or she might commit (like riding a bike over a neighbor’s lawn) because word of it always made it back to our parents before we got home.
We also had gardens, not just flower gardens mind you, but gardens where grandfathers (the Italian ones) grew tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. Many also grew peppers, basil, lettuce, and squash and every fourth house had a grapevine. All of which made late summer-early fall a wonderful time to scour the neighborhood for the fruits and vegetables ripening in every backyard.
And speaking of fruits and vegetables, I think the Italians in the neighborhood had the best relationship with food; and to this day I am in awe when I think about how we celebrated holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Italian mothers didn’t just prepare turkey and stuffing at holiday gatherings; yes we had salad, mashed potatoes, yams and cranberry sauce—but only after we had finished the antipasto, soup, ravioli, meatballs and sausage and whatever else my Mom thought appropriate.
My Mother alternated holiday cooking with two of my aunts—each with her own specialty. My mother’s was ravioli, which she began preparing days before the feast—my Aunt Donna’s forte was manicotti and my Aunt Wanda’s was meat lasagna.
When the turkey arrived it was always accompanied by a roast of some kind because Uncle Buddy wouldn’t eat poultry (legend has it that he once saw a chicken eat a worm and it psychologically scarred him for life) besides, there were always drop-ins and god knows we had to be prepared for anyone’s gastronomic preference.
Desert consisted of an assortment of fruit, nuts, pastries, candies and homemade cookies because no holiday was complete without a plethora of home baking—none of that store bought stuff for us. This is where one learned to eat an eight-course meal between 1:00 and 5:00 pm, how to handle hot chestnuts, sip anisette and listen to Grandpa, sing Italian folk songs after his third glass of Sicilian red.
Those were the days when my mother cooked every evening (only rich people ate out); and because my Dad returned from work late, sitting at the evening dinner table were my Mother, sister, brother and me (although my Mother did little sitting and much fixing and cleaning—God bless her!)
Back then when one of us didn’t like what my Mom put on the table we were told about the children starving in China and told to sit there until we did like it. Oh yeah, did I mention that we had to ask permission to leave the table?
In 1959 my parents never drove me to soccer practice; partly because no one had heard of soccer, but mostly because I had a 65 pound one-speed bicycle that took me anywhere I needed to go.
The only phone in the house was in the living room (replete with vinyl/plastic covers for the furniture) and it was on a party line. For those unfamiliar with the term, that meant before we could dial, we had to first listen and make sure someone you didn’t know wasn’t already using the line.
I don’t know what it is about baseball that takes me back in time; maybe it’s the pace of the game or the familiar roar of the crowd at “Sox Park.” But whatever it is, keep hoping for another World Series on Chicago’s South Side—Go Sox!