As I sit at my retiree desk writing this column, summer is still working its way into being a consistent season. My next-door neighbor Al Davis is burning some logs in his fire pit and the smell is wafting up through my barely open second floor window. The scent is playing time machine games with my mind and drawing me back to those days of burning leaves and other smells of the good old days.
Those simpler days were full of memorable aromas and some smells that we’d like to forget. (Why is it that we always sniff again and again when we think we smell something unpleasant?) Start talking scents with anyone who lived in Pullman or Kensington and you know what comes up: Sherwin-Williams. We all recall the company that ‘Covers the Earth’ but with a smell that was more like a stench when the wind picked up and blanketed our neighborhood. Of course, that wouldn’t be permissible in this day and age, but it’s a nostalgic odor nonetheless.
On the pleasant side, there were the 10 or so bakeries scattered throughout Roseland that gave forth a delightful aroma. Everyone had their favorite neighborhood bakery from Ergo’s to Huffnagel’s. Roseland had many churches and it wouldn’t be surprising if there were just as many bakeries because each church had their ethnic base and so did the bakeries.
I don’t know why, but it seems that siphoning gasoline was one experience many guys had back in the ’50s. Of course, siphoning meant getting free gas when someone was short of ‘gas money’ to cruise Michigan Ave., known as the “Ave.” It may have been a carryover from the days of gas rationing during World War II.
Usually the topic would come up when someone started laughing about someone’s accidentally swallowing gas as they attempted to siphon it. No one could ever forget gasoline’s peculiar vomit-inducing taste, not to mention the distinctive odor.
At St. Anthony’s on Friday nights, they would have bingo in the school basement and the ladies would make rectangular pizzas in the cafeteria kitchen. The best part about it was the smell of the tomato sauce. Those rectangular slices were the best 50-cent portions of pizza you could find.
They made a permanent deposit in our mental banks of smells, tastes and sounds from our youth. The aroma from those pizzas would float up and out through the giant exhaust fan that is still in the window of St. Anthony’s School. I spent many a Friday as a runner for pizza for my older sisters and a good five minutes of each of those pizza runs was spent standing by that exhaust fan inhaling that soul-satisfying scent.
Of all the great scents and smells we encountered in the Roseland-Pullman-Kensington neighborhoods, the winner by far has to be the smell of oven-fresh baked bread at Torino Bakery. Whether it was fresh Vienna bread or ciopa, there is something entrancing about the all encompassing scent of fresh-baked bread. Many of us can remember Saturday nights when Torino’s baked the ciopette for Sunday.
The bakery workers would expect us to show up at the door and were ready to sell us a few ciopa while they were still hot and fresh out of the oven. Some of the people in Pullman would make it a point to sit on the porch on Saturday evenings just waiting for that scent to hit their house. That was their signal to head over to the alley between 115th and Kensington Avenue to join the line at Torino’s backdoor.
I’m sure many of us can remember the smell of chlorine at the swimming pools. Palmer Park being an outdoor pool, it was more difficult to smell the chlorine. Of course, if you were there when they had just finished treating the pool, you definitely would smell the chlorine.
West Pullman Park, being an indoor pool, gave you a solid whiff of chlorine when you entered the pool area. It seemed to be a different world than swimming in the open air of Palmer Park. The walls kept the chlorine smell in the pool especially on days when it was raining outside and they closed the roll-up doors most of the way.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the lower-level bakery at Gately’s People’s Store! This is one spot that has sparked so many memories throughout the years. A couple of years back, I heard that a Gately nephew had rescued the famous doughnut train and had it in storage. That might just be hearsay because at Spaghetti-Os I spoke with a Gately relative who said she wasn’t aware that the doughnut train had been saved.
As as child, I remember my mother going shopping while my brother Augie and I stayed downstairs watching the donuts go from start to finish all the way around on the grated doughnut train. The dough was squeezed out, two per grated tray, and flipped through frying oil and various stages until they rounded the bend in the counter/display case. That’s when they were frosted or sprinkled or left plain to be sold individually or by the dozen.
I’m sure there are other scents, aromas, odors and smalls that put your mind right into that time machine and back to the wonderful place that Roseland-Pullman-Kensington were. It’s a great fact of life that we store memories that appeal to our senses as we live our lives, and it’s those sights, sounds, tastes and scents that trigger those great memories.
Our old neighborhoods no longer exist, and at this point we realize: this is life. Change happens throughout life. Our children grow up, we grow older and new sensory impressions join the seasoned ones, which we gather in the forward movement that is life and that bring us great pleasure in the remembering.
Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Roseland Roundtable on Facebook.