Both my father, Dave, and his younger brother, Keith, are storytellers.
They live across the country from each other, Keith in Oregon and Dave in Illinois. If I could have, I would have gotten them in a room together, given them a beer, and pushed, “Record.” As it is, I asked them to write to me about their childhoods in the late 1940s and 1950s in Franklin Park, Illinois. Below are their emails. (Storytellers tend to drone on, so this will come in two parts. Maybe six.)
I have a lot of juicy stories. Your dad, on the other hand, has none. He was a very boring kid. Always had his head in books, memorizing statistics. To this day he can tell you Ralph Kiner’s batting average in 1954, and you’ve never even heard of Ralph Kiner. Or how many minutes into which round Max Schmelling knocked out Jack Dempsey in 1938. And he was doing all this while I was pulling Deldra Sue Bitner by her ponytail behind the old oak tree and having my way with her. Of course I was only six at the time and I’m not sure exactly what my way was but I knew I was having it. –Keith
As usual Keith is wrong. Max Schmelling didn’t knock out Jack Dempsey because he never fought Jack Dempsey. In Schmelling’s first fight with Joe Louis he knocked Louis out in about the 10th round. Louis went on to become the heavy weight champ and had a rematch with Max Schmelling. Louis knocked out Schmelling in the first found. The fight lasted about 2 minutes and it was one of the most brutal fights I have ever seen. Louis broke Schmelling jaw, cracked two of his ribs and knocked out a couple of his teeth. –Dad
The day we left our house in Pontoria [Minnesota], from which Ponto Lake is named, we had all our belongings piled high and roped onto an open-top trailer. I remember [oldest brother] Bob coming out of the house with his bow and stuffing it alongside the trailer between a couple pieces of furniture.
I believe we arrived at 3523 Britta Ave. in August, 1948. I would have just turned 4 the month before. Our dad backed the trailer up to the front porch and everyone started unloading. Dave and I asked if we could take a walk around the neighborhood and we were told not to go too far. We walked up to the high school [Leyden], about a block away, which at the time had a very large park next to it with trees and grass and baseball fields, and tennis courts. It was a foggy day and I got all turned around. I can remember Dave knowing which street was Britta and we eventually found our way back. –Keith
Franklin Park in the 1950s was a noisy, industrial town. When we first moved there, I was amazed at how many people and cars there were. Most of the industry was made up of small machine shops such as tool & die makers, gas stations, small steel manufacturers, etc.
Our home was part of a subdivision built after World War II. The adults on our street were all nice people. Most of the men in were tough and they had tough kids. They were primarily blue collar men who fought in World War II. There were some white collar workers but not many. They all knew me, Keith and Bob. If they saw us doing anything wrong, our parents heard about it.
Just about everyone drove a Ford or a Chevy. For a short time in the early 50’s, our dad owned a Hudson. They don’t make them anymore and with good reason. It might be the ugliest auto ever made.
I still remember my first day in Franklin Park. Our family jumped out of the car and rushed inside. I saw a boy across the street and went up to him and put out my hand and said, “Hi, I am Dave.” He hit me in the nose. I learned early that I had better learn how to fight or I was going to have many bloody noses. –Dad
There were trains everywhere–the Milwaukee Road train yards to the west, the Proviso yards to the south, the Soo Line yards to the north. The only direction free of train yards is to the east yet you had to cross the Soo Line tracks to get east. And, there were no overpasses or underpasses. It seemed as though we were always getting caught by a train.
Dave’s story of getting a bloody nose the first day reminds me of one of my early encounters of a similar nature. I was maybe 4 or 5, and our mother would often send me up to the IGA local neighborhood grocery with a list of items she needed along with the money to pay for them. As I was walking up Britta, I encountered Huey Whitside, Les and Howard Wagner, and the Bondlow kid. Well, they stood on the sidewalk and said I couldn’t pass. Howard was the most vocal and he shoved me down. I got up and ran back home.
Mom asked why I had returned so soon and without the items from the store. After I told her, she suggested I walk on Addison Street and then I wouldn’t need to go by that group anymore. That’s what I did for a long time. I never did grow to like Huey, but the Wagners and the Bondlow kid were o.k. –Keith
We either walked or rode our bikes everywhere. There was also a bus stop at the end of our street, which took us to a shopping area called Harlem and Grand. I used to go there to buy records.
I will admit that sometimes we rode our bikes to places that our mother would not have allowed, usually to a place called Blue Pool in Des Plaines. We had to ride down River Road, which was a very busy street. I used to go with a boy named Mike Taylor, who was one year older than me and a bit on the wild side. Sometimes we’d get on the bus to Chicago. Then we’d take the L Train to the south side, mainly Indiana Ave, to see where the “Negroes” lived. Those neighborhoods were not dangerous but it was a long way from home for an 11-year-old. –Dad