Here are eight things I remember from my misspent youth that I miss about summer.
Being a kid. Obviously enough. I sometimes think I’m 11 with 50 years of practice.
Unstructured time. We were usually kicked out the door by 10 AM and weren’t expected home until dinnertime. God forbid we be late for dinner. We had to figure out what to do with ourselves for eight hours to give Mom, who was also on summer vacation, some time to herself.
Lake Michigan. I’m hesitant to say “the beach,” because that has its own connotations to people who didn’t grow up in Chicago. To a Chicagoan, the 50 feet of sandy area from the shore of Lake Michigan was “the beach,” and usually there was a grassy area and a playground beyond that. Both were lots of fun to hang around in. My childhood was before the current trend of “playground safety,” i.e. playground equipment that didn’t have a chance to maim or kill you. We knew better than to fall off the monkey bars, which were something I’m sure they whipped up in the Chicago Park District workshop, because there was a good chance you could knock out a few teeth on the way down if you fell. Then you’d catch hell from your mom, especially if they were permanent teeth (and God help you if you had braces…).
Playing in the alley. In our part of the world, the alley was more important than the street as far as a place to meet your friends. Our milieu was the alley between the east side of Glenwood and the west side of Wayne, and yes, it was also where the garbage trucks went through the neighborhood and where people took their dogs for relief. You haven’t played softball until you’ve said “that pile of dog shit is third base.” And yes, we had a form of softball that could be played in the alley by two kids and an army of “invisible men.” A lot of my friends could be found a block over, in the alley between the east side of Wayne and the west side of Lakewood.
Walking everywhere. Our general boundaries were Devon Avenue on the south, the lake on the east, Clark Street on the west, and Touhy Avenue on the north. Sometimes we’d push that northern border all the way to Howard Street, but not often, because we’d have to walk back. If we were adventurous, we’d walk to Broadway and go south as far as Granville. Lambert’s Bowling Lanes were on Broadway, and my brother was a classmate of Lambert’s son. Not that it bought us anything; we still had to pay. Kind of hard to do when you had no money.
The shaded outline in red was pretty much our range.
Being broke most of the time. We didn’t carry a whole lot of money, because there wasn’t that much to carry, anyway. We had to figure out ways to get money. Returning bottles for the deposit was a good way to get it. If we were lucky enough, we’d get a paper route, usually with the Lewis News Agency, working for Chuck Sucks and his wife, Mrs. H. “Sucks” wasn’t his actual last name, but we saw “Chuck Sucks” written all over the neighborhood and knew who the artist was talking about. Chuck looked like a tall Groucho Marx without the mustache or the sense of humor, had an entire wardrobe of short-sleeved white-on-white shirts (you could see his athletic-style undershirt through them; while those types of undershirts are generally referred to as “wife beaters,” I couldn’t see him beating Mrs. H, because she’d probably kill him), pegged dress pants that reached up over where his navel probably was, and pointy Oxfords, smoked horrible-smelling green cigars that he chewed the ends of, and was generally really unpleasant to deal with, whether you were an employee or a client. But he paid pretty well, you had a lot of autonomy, some of the customers tipped pretty well, and occasionally you’d score a discarded Playboy. If you weren’t so lucky, you could try hitting your folks up for it, but that usually involved doing something really unpleasant, like stripping wax off the floor. Fortunately, Grandma Holton lived on the next block, and she was usually good for a Coke, anyway. The point being, being broke had little to do with having fun back then.
Wandering in the great outdoors. I mentioned once that I had a habit of wandering off in random directions, exploring the neighborhood, alone with my thoughts, which as you can probably tell were really strange. It was even more fun if I had my bike, because I could go a whole lot further faster.
Riding my bicycle. Being on my bike was kind of like being on foot, because I was generally going to the same places anyway, but I could get there faster on wheels. Kids didn’t generally bike in the street, because that was like taking your life into your hands, but the alleys, once again, were the thoroughfares of the neighborhood for kids.