There are plenty of reasons to give thanks this time of year but it occurs to me that many of those reasons center around love and happiness. This is particularly true when we are talking about the Roseland, Pullman, Kensington communities. In all the annual gatherings — the Friends of Pullman Annual Picnic, the Zimbauer Family Roseland Reunion, the many Fenger Reunions, the St. Anthony Dinner Dance, the St. Louis Academy Reunions and the St. Nicholas Class Reunions — there is a common thread: love and happiness.
These events come about because of the love we share, not only for those communities, but also our love for those times and, over the years, for our friends and neighbors. Then, there are the fond memories we’ve grown to look upon with love as we stroll through the memories of the roads our lives have traveled.
I’ve attended many of the above mentioned events and the level of happiness is incredible. When we see classmates we haven’t seen in forty plus years there is a joy and happiness that springs from our hearts and cover all of those years from our innocence to our young adulthood.
True love and happiness is what we have to be thankful for. In the eight years I’ve been writing this column, the one thing that is always present is a nostalgic look at the past that makes up the event’s small talk. Moving around from table to table throughout any of these events I overhear snippets of conversation that include discussions that begin with “Remember the time … ” or “I’ll never forget … ” Quite often these starting lines are followed by “I didn’t do that, did I?” or “You were so bad.”
These conversations are born of the love and happiness we share for our childhood and for the Roseland community at large. There is a saying that change is inevitable and we’ve seen that played out throughout our lives. We can wish all we want to have a return to the days of our youth but they will never happen because that is not what life is about.
Life is not about living in the past but it is about moving forward and holding on to those memories that made us the people we are as adults. We are meant to have memories filling our hearts and sharing those memories with those we love. Our children and grandchildren will have their memories of what a good life they’ve had and what good friends they made as children. They will cherish their memories as we have cherished our memories. The fact is that, they too, will have their world “changed” without their direct input and yet, just as we have, they will go on and survive the changes to their lives.
Will they be as thankful as we are for the love and happiness which our youth spent in the Roseland Community gave to us? That’s a good question and the answer is “Yes.” I see it in my nieces and nephews and in the children of friends I’ve seen grow up through the years. They have their own good times, bad times, accidents and incidents in life along with “changes” that give them pause to give thanks for the love and happiness of their experiences.
Where does our love and happiness come from? How about we start with the biggest part of our hearts: Michigan Avenue – “The Ave.” Walking the Ave. was such a part of our lives that it was an accepted response when our mom or dad asked “Where are you going?” — “Down the Ave.” It wasn’t even followed by “Don’t stay out late.” or “Be careful.” because, after all it was the Ave. The stores closed and we knew it was time to go home.
Of course, as we got older, cruising the Ave. in somebody’s car added a whole other dimension to the night. From 107th Street, or somewhere north of 111th Street we’d head south looking for anyone we knew or we’d like to know. The cruising didn’t stop at 115th, the actual end of the Ave., but continued all the way to 127h and the drive-ins.
After 118th and the Home Store, we’d pass the Polish Home at 119th. It was where Tony DeSantis of Martinique fame got his start with the Emerald Isle. A few more blocks up and we’d drive past Fasel’s Service Station who always sponsored a Little League team. Over the IC (Illinois Central) tracks and at 123rd we’d pass Sola’s Liquor and Bar. The Little League Field at 124th was where so many memories were created and survive today as the best of many childhood memories.
A right turn at Mike’s Produce Stand on 127th and Michigan Ave. brought us to Chicken Little and the car hops. You could drive through on the alley and then come out on 127th and take a right to Vinci’s Drive-in — not be confused with Vinci’s Tap, which some of us went to when we got older. One last stop on the “cruise” was The BBQ Pit — nicknamed “The Pit.” That was the “cruise” route for most any nights but definitely Friday and Saturday nights.
If you weren’t cruising The Ave., you could more than likely be found at dance that the high schools put on. Mendel and St. Willibrord both had dances and were great places to meet someone. The Brothers that ran the Mendel dances were always watching to make sure that there was “light” visible between a guy and girl dancing. A rule that was more like a dare to those that were dancing.
While the younger people were busy cruising The Ave., the parents had their favorite places to eat or play. For Roseland adults a lot of their “play” centered on The Rose Bowl, Palisades, or Cedar Park Lanes. Bowling was a big sport in the Catholic churches and the Holy Name Leagues were where many a trophy was won and proudly displayed in the church hall.
When it came to eating a Sunday meal, typically the family meal day, the choices were usually wrapped into where your family went to church. However, amongst the most memorable places it seems the places specializing in fried chicken were the most popular. The Venice Inn, The Jolly Inn, Butler’s Plantation are three that I can recall.
Then there were the family dining occasions that were reserved for family celebrations such as baptisms, birthdays, and other celebrations like returning from Vietnam (specifically my family). Parise’s on Kensington and Pesavento’s on 115th Street were two places at the top of the list. There were many more depending on where your house was located and where your parents felt they had the best food.
Friday and Saturday nights were pretty much pizza nights and, if you were anywhere near the Ave., there were two choices: Giovanni’s or Nino’s. They were both great tasting thin crust pizzas and were frequently “first date” places after seeing a movie at the State Theater.
Gately’s Peoples Store was responsible for many, many memories, some centered on working there and meeting a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or shopping there and getting to eat at the choices they offered. Everything from the Hot Dog and Green River stand to the doughnut machine on the lower level to the cafeteria counter in the back of the second floor.
Most everyone remembers being spellbound by the doughnut machine as the uncooked doughnut was placed on the grated tray which took the doughnut on an automated cooking journey through frying oil, then flipping the doughnut to complete the second side. Finishing up on the drying grate and placed on a tray for decorating. This is how we all ended up spoiled with hot doughnuts that we’re fortunate if we can find today.
Then there were the churches throughout Roseland. No one was offended whether their friends went to a different church or had a different religion. Religion was a personal — familial — experience that we all seemed to respect as being an individual choice. Roseland had everything: Catholics, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, 2nd Dutch Reformed, Jewish, Protestant, Baptists, Greek Orthodox and Seventh Day Adventists. For some kids, it came down to which congregation had the least obtrusive pastor or minister and that’s were their family’s attended.
These are all the things that have changed in our lives and — we’ve survived! The blessing in this month of Thanksgiving is for us to recall those good times and bad times that shaped us into the people we are. And also, to realize the love and happiness we have in our hearts for those days that strengthened us to accept change because they are the foundation of the love and happiness we share with others.
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