Thursday, July 10, 2008

Neighborhood Memories

I grew up in Rock Island Illinois. My father was a middle school English teacher, and later a guidance counselor after receiving his Masters Degree. My parents purchased this house in an established neighborhood on 22nd street only seven or eight blocks from the bustling downtown district when I was about 18 months old. (My brother took this picture of the house we lived in when he went back for a visit a few years ago.) It looks much like it did when I grew up in it, except there was a chimney back then that is no longer there, and the house was ringed with bushes as well I remember my cousin fell out of a first floor window once and landed smack into the bushes and didn't even get a scratch. (Knowing my brother and my cousin it may have been more of a bet than an accident.)

I lived in this house until I moved from Rock Island in 1975. I loved this house. We had a big family of eleven people, and except for the fact that this house only had one bathroom for all those people, I never felt like this house was too small. We played many games in the full basement (in fact don't tell my mom, but we used to ride our bikes around and around through the rooms during the winter when it was too cold to ride outside.)

One of my favorite places in the house was the attic. Actually it became a favorite place out of necessity; my older brother used to trick me into going up there and then shut the door on me. The door was so big that I couldn't get it open from the attic side, so I would be stuck in the attic until someone noticed that I was up there. I found that my dad had stored old books up there, and I would pick out a book and snuggle up by one of the windows that faced 22nd street (the ones up under the eaves in the picture) and read until someone came looking for me, or it got so hot that I just couldn't stand it and had to bang on the door till someone opened it.

We lived in a great neighborhood in which to grow up. Most of the houses were single family dwellings with a few duplexes and apartment complexes interspersed among them. Everyone knew everyone else and we all took care of each other. Kids were respectful of adult authority because most of the adults were your parent's friends (who were your friend's parents by extension) and had the deputized authority to punish you for any infraction of the rules. In fact some neighbor's parents were more strict than ours so we knew to be on better behaviour when playing in their yard.

The city was laid out with paved access alleys between the streets. When not needed for garbage pickup or parents to stow their cars in their garages, these alleys were the domain of the neighborhood kids. We played very intricate games of kick the can or capture the flag that lasted all afternoon. Sometimes we even had bike and go-cart races down our alley because we were lucky enough to live on a hill. The boys in our neighborhood made some of the most amazing go carts out of the refuse they confiscated from the trash before the city trucks made the weekly rounds.

There was a huge estate of property that The Hauberg family had deeded to the city as a park that still sits directly cater-cornered across the street from our house. This was our domain. It was everything from fairy wonderland for the girls to viet Kong jungle for the boys all summer long. It had some of the most amazing rope swings that my older brothers and their friends constructed across gullies that I was too terrified to use, but loved to watch other kids swing across.

My brothers played war games all over these woods. In fact my younger brother broke his arm in one of their elaborate "training exercises" that my parents never did find out all of the details about because good soldiers never tell.
In the winter, the hills coming down from the back of the estate were the greatest sledding hills one could ever imagine. Some were even dubbed suicide runs, only to be used by the more daring of our brothers. All of us were known to sled down the long hill from the gatehouse down to 23rd street, knowing just when to strategically fall off our sleds so that we didn't shoot out into the street.

We had free reign of the entire neighborhood, so long as we came when my parents called us home. Every family had a different method to call kids home. One family up the avenue had a cowbell. One family just had a loud holler. My parents used a coaches whistle; two short blasts and one long blasts was the signal that it was time to come in for dinner or at the end of the evening. It was funny, we could tell the difference between mom's whistle and dad's, and we knew that if dad whistled it meant get home right now, while mom's meant better wind things up within ten minutes.

It may have been a simpler time then. The public school (Lincoln Elementary; sadly now just an empty shell) was six blocks straight down 22nd street and we all walked to school from Kindergarten on. The Public Library was three blocks beyond the school and I remember walking there from almost the time I was old enough to go to school, often by myself. In fact we kids walked downtown by ourselves or in groups during the summer to see movies at the Capri (they had 25 cent matinees on Saturday of kid movies; can you just imagine?) and the Fort theater before it became an adult theater. Or we would walk to the Drug store for a soda at the soda fountain.

We often walked down 12th avenue about seven or eight blocks to 15th street where there was a little corner store that sold penny candy. I can still remember walking home with our little bags of wax lips, candy dots and red hots.

Our Church, St Mary's, was two blocks further on than Lincoln, much of our family life was centered on the Parish community. It was a small parish. By the time I was old enough to attend school the parish school was about to close, so I never attended it. The nuns moved out of the convent shortly after they closed the school. The Parish Priest, Fr George Schroeder remained the backbone of the parish through my entire life in Rock Island. I went to CCD on Wednesday evenings, and to make it convenient for all the parish families, Fr. provided a bus that drove around the city to pick up the kids and deliver them to the church so parents didn't have bring the kids themselves. Our Parish Picnic and Winter festivals were well attended by families in the parish.

I loved my childhood. There were many things that happened that have left me with bittersweet memories, like the death of my close friend Jeff Ramsey when I was 12, and the death from cancer of my father just a year later, but I have many more happy memories of living in Rock Island, and I don't think I ever had better friends than the ones I had in elementary school and middle school.


Suzanne said...

Beautiful memories, angelmeg! I love your house and this story. Some of the things you wrote about.. I can remember, esp. how children played outdoors more and red hot candies, and how different parents called their children home, and yes, how different parents were allowed to parent us at times and how we did respect that. Lord, things have changed and not much for the better.
Still, I have to tell you how fortunate you were. Like, the big family, the big house to be imaginative in, being able to walk to a library often or at all for that matter. You are a good and strong soul for those things and good parents too. I had some of that but still better than things my kids have had..I'd much rather them have so much of this vs. all the things in the world. They've not used much of their imaginations and hardly played outside as we all did. I hope someday for them, that they will at least read stories about these things and daydream, for I can't see how they'll ever get to experience anything close to it! So sad, so angelmeg, as you've stated, you are glad...and thankful.
PS Hoping some of your friendships today are at least fairly close as those! ;) Hint Hint!

angelmeg said...

I meant school friends, I suppse I should have added that word. The sentence should read I never had better school friends than the ones I had in elementary school and middle school.

I hope that makes you feel better Suzanne, besides I don't think of you as just a friend, you are more like a soul sister hon. You couldn't get rid of me if you tried.

Suzanne said...

Aww.... okay...I'm all better now! :)
Glad that Katy may have the job.
Yes, I've been praying. Shane leaves for his mission trip tomorrow after lunch at St. Paul's. Keep them in your prayers will you...we hope that he will have good time and a time where he will really realize even more just how different his world is and that things here won't seem so bad or that he will appreciate things and not think that some of the stores in the mall are as imp. as he seemed to think they were all this past spring and stuff. I think he is not quite sure how to take all this...but since he has been hot and dirty as scout camp before..he'll at least get that part. I also hope he connects in a good way with the people there and in the group that he needs to to carry memories. I hope they will be safe and he won't get too hot ...that the weather will be reasonable and that he meets some wise old folks. They are working with the elderly there.