Meet: Sandlot, Sissies, and Rabbits

The storytellers are back. This is the second installment in a series of remembrances of life in Franklin Park, Illinois in the late 1940s and early 1950s. You can read the first post HERE.

I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning. I used to walk up Britta, carrying my baseball bat and glove.  By the time I got to the high school [Leyden] at the end of our street, I usually had enough kids to start a small baseball game.  Everything was sandlot in those days.  I did the same thing during the fall and we ended having a football game.  During the winter we could get into the high school gym and play basketball. Sundays were the exception.  They locked everything up but we just climbed over the fence and did our thing.  Many times we were kicked out and one time we were driven to the police station to get a lecture from the sergeant in charge.  We didn’t get in trouble,

The house on Britta Ave, Franklin Park, 1979

just a little scared.  However, that never stopped us.  We were back in the gym the next Sunday.   –Dad

Dave and I lived the farthest from school. We would head out in the morning and first we would get Bill Rush, then the McCarrons, then the Hill twins.  Often Rusty Erickson and Terry Denges would be with us also.  It was not uncommon for there to be 10 or more of us by the time we reached school.  We would often stop at the bakery on Franklin Avenue for donuts or sweet-rolls; we must have used our lunch money to pay for them.

On cold, snowy mornings we would often stop at Judge Hart’s crossing shack to warm up.  Judge Hart—not really a judge, but I think a retired justice of the peace; everyone called him “Judge,”—had a little shack with a potbelly stove at the railroad crossing.  And every time a train was coming, he came out of the shack to notify people when it was safe to cross the tracks.  Kind of like a crossing guard.  On cold mornings, he let us all pile into the shack to warm up because the tracks were about midway from our house to school. We never ever took a bus or rode our bikes (that was considered sissy), and many a winter morning it was cold, cold, and many a winter morning it was snowing.

What I find truly amazing is that most kids today would choose to be driven to school each day whereas we felt it far more interesting, and maybe more grown up, to be able to walk.  –Keith

Keith is right.  You were considered a real sissy if you took the bus to school.  I used to walk up Nearborn street because I thought it was closer for some reason. That is where I met the Hill twins and Dave Mudgett.  They told me I couldn’t walk up their street unless I joined their gang. I immediately joined their gang. –Dad

Franklin Park was very blue collar.  Most of the kids I hung around with did not have parents with a college education.  They worked construction or in the factories.  At one point there was a TV special about Franklin Park and that it was the largest small industrial town in the nation.  This was the reason our property taxes were so low and there was such an excellent school system in F.P.  To this day I believe I received the very best elementary school education possible. –Keith

My dad in the early 50s, about 7th grade

Most of the kids I knew had some type of part time job for their spending money.  In the summer we mowed lawns and in the winter we shoveled sidewalks.  I remember that in the beginning I charged 50 cents.  A year later I raised my price to $1.

My first paper route was in the fourth grade.  I pulled my wagon to deliver The Franklin Park Journal after school.  Sometimes Keith came along to help.  On Saturdays I went to the homes and collected the week’s fee.  In the 7th grade I delivered the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times every weekday morning before school, riding my bike and flipping the papers onto the porches.

I bought my first baseball glove using my paper route money, at a place called Trossen’s Sporting Goods. Mr. Trossen had a daughter who was a few years older than me. I used to go in there pretending to look at different sports equipment.  I just wanted to look at her.  –Dad

Even though our area was not considered rural I felt a real sense of open space.  On the other side of the tracks behind our house, aside from one sawmill, it was open prairie all the way to River Road.  Tom Webber, Dave Mudgett and I used to hunt rabbits all the time in those fields.  O’Hare airport was nothing but prairie back then, with the exception of the O’Hare golf course.  Dave and I used to get on our bikes with our golf bags over our shoulder and ride out for an 18-hole round of golf in the summer.  That must have been around 1954, 55, 56.

Then when the jet planes came into commercial use they pretty much closed Midway Airport because it was surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the jets needed longer runways so O’Hare became the airport of Chicago.  That changed everything.  Motels popped up everywhere along Manheim Road.  The kitchens that prepared the airline meals popped up everywhere to serve the various airlines.  Everything that supported air travel popped up in and around Franklin Park.  The prairies began to disappear.  At the time it didn’t bother me because I was getting into the upper grades and more interested in Barbara Larson than bagging a rabbit.  –Keith

O’Hare Field, 1950s

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5 thoughts on “Meet: Sandlot, Sissies, and Rabbits

  1. This gives me flashbacks to talking with my Grandfather and father about growing up in Buffalo, NY. They always walked to school, and it seemed like it was always snowing! Then again, it was Buffalo.

    I also CANNOT BELIEVE that old shot of O’Hare! OMG, what a different place Chicago was back then.

    Lovely piece!

    • Funny you should ask. His original words were a bit racier (just a bit) and I edited it–I think I was being protective. But he thanked me, since he’ll be seeing her at his 50th high school reunion this fall. She married one of his best high school friends.

  2. Pingback: Author Road Trip, Day 5 & 6: Bend to Portland « True STORIES.

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