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Looking forward while glancing back

If only I had a dollar for every time someone said, “I wish we had our Roseland back,” I’d be a wealthy man. It should come as no surprise to Roselandites, but whenever I talk to Italian Americans from Taylor Street, Bridgeport, Melrose Park or Elmwood Park, the sentiment is the same: “I wish we had (insert neighborhood or town) back.” I don’t know if that’s any comfort, but it proves that change is unavoidable no matter where we’ve come from.

“But, CJ, if the neighborhood hadn’t changed, it’d be the same.” Tell that to the Italian Americans who used to exist live where Kennedy took a right turn and cut through their neighborhood instead of going straight through the Irish Back of the Yards. Or those who lives in the Taylor Street neighborhood until the University of Illinois was built despite Florence Scala’s best efforts.

If you want further proof that change is inevitable, take out one of your school photos, or your wedding album or retirement photo. Then take a look in the mirror. Plenty of changes without even trying to look for them, right?

Would things be different if Adam and Eve weren’t into eating apples? It’s hard to say, and I can wait to find out. Change may have been included on the menu of life to give us an incentive to appreciate who and what we have while they are still in our lives. Appreciation for what we have seems to be a difficult lesson to learn.

Because September ushers in a season of change here in the Midwest, I’ve taken it upon myself with this column to remind you all of some of the changes we’ve experience. I want everyone to look back with fondness — not sadness — on what we had.

September was always the wind-up to the Roseland little league season. Many Roselandites can recall the players on that team and can often be found on Facebook reminiscing about that fantastic, fun-filled season. It was a big hit for the entire Roseland community.

For those of us who attended Catholic schools, September involved bittersweet partings after spending the entire summer playing with those public school kids. Lifelong “summer” friendships were formed through the sports available at Palmer Park and West Pullman Park, not to mention Fernwood Park and the Pumping Station. A lot of mixed-religion couples met at those parks and discovered that we weren’t all that different from each other. That is until the parents got involved and highlighted the differences. Of course, in some cases those differences didn’t matter when “true love” was involved.

September was catch-up time for many students whose families had summer cottages and basically moved away from the neighborhood — sort of the kid’s version of snowbirds. Who knows, that may have influenced so many retirees to become snowbirds!

I’ve heard comedians joke about the “busy work” assignment of writing 500 words about “What I did on my vacation.” I don’t know that that assignment really benefitted anyone but it certainly let the teachers know which families had money and which didn’t — not that the information would influence the way a teacher would treat her students (ah-hem).

The “Ave” (Michigan Avenue) was second only to downtown for shopping, and the merchants didn’t miss a beat when it came to the back-to-school sale. I remember Gately’s as the place that sold uniforms to match any worn at a Roseland school. I remember all the way into high school at St. Willibrords, that the girls got their uniforms at Gately’s People’s Store. Experiences from Gately’s could easily fill a book. So many Roseland teens worked there or their families shopped there. Later, a lot of young people made Gately’s a regular stop while cruising the Ave on foot to either check out the girls or meet up with their actual girlfriends. Hot donuts downstairs or Green River pop and a hot dog at the stand across the way was always the perfect quickie lunch.

The one good thing about September and returning to school was seeing your buddies who were busy all summer. The good times prevailed whether they were actual good times or times that you got in trouble that were good times in the retelling to your friends. You can be pretty sure that, once buddies got back together, there were a lot of plans made and a lot of spontaneous mischief—otherwise known as trouble.

There were many carnivals in Roseland but, I can’t recall, which was the last carnival of the season? I remember St. Anthony’s being in early August or late July. Other than that, I actually only remember attending the last St. Willibrord carnival on the lot that became Roseland Plaza. I was very impressed, even as an eight year old, with Father Exler. He was pretty old, walked with a cane, (hey for an 8 year old he could have been 52), and he had the greatest Irish ear-to-ear smile I’d ever seen. He really impressed me as a man with a gentle God guided benevolent spirit. I remember him presenting the Elvis impersonator winner of the talent show with a watch as first prize.

I’m sure that many more stories can be told by the readers of this column. Once you talk with you best friends from way back or your brothers, sisters or cousins you’ll have a lot of stories come to mind. There are two that I recall concerning St. Anthony’s School.

My older sister Augusta (Tootsie) told me that she and my brother William (Willy) were playing with a bunch of neighborhood friends when we lived at 221 East 115th Street. That building was across the alley from St. Anthony’s Grade School and the new convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph was being built.

Someone headed for the building under construction and they all followed. According to Tootsie, it was great fun with Willy chasing her and everyone else taking turns messing around. They would yell at each other and call out their names as they tried to catch them—their big mistake.

The next day in school, everyone in the group was called to the front of their classroom. That was when Fr. Nalin, the pastor entered the classroom, the priest and nuns worked as a cohesive punishment group. Fr. Nalin asked each if they had been running or playing in the under construction new convent. Of course, they all denied it—until Fr. Nalin read the list of names the nuns had created listening to the kids yelling their names at each other while they ran and played. Punishment was served to Tootsie, Willy and all of the other kids taking part in the good time.

The other story was when I was in 2nd Grade and sweet Sister Mary Laurentia asked me “James, did your brother August come to school today?” Since Augie and I had walked to school together, I responded earnestly, “Yes, Sister.” Sister Laurentia then asked, “Well then, look out the window and who is that?” There was my brother Augie jumping roofs from my dad’s garage to the neighboring garages so that everyone could see just how proud he was—he waved to the class. Thank God, I was the good son and willingly decided to go off to the Scalibrinian’s Sacred Heart Seminary where my misbehaving was confined behind a tall fence—until I realized there were girls on the other side of the fence.

Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or cjfranoi@yahoo.com; or visit Roseland Roundtable on Facebook.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

One comment

  1. always love reading your column. THANKS Jeanne

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