Facts of Life
There were events which took place in and out of school which I'd previously left out, in trying to keep things in a progressive age pattern. It became most difficult to achieve that goal. So here goes letting the chips fall where they may!
At the stage of my life where I began hearing stories from peers about the origin of life, I had mixed emotions. How could what they were telling me be so if what Mom and Dad (mostly Mom) had passed on to me was supposed to be the way it happened? It just didn't appear conceivable that babies "came from there as a result of that!" After all, the stork story was all I ever knew. Preposterous!
But time and continued peer pressure to accept the fact I'd been betrayed by my parents became obvious. I was deeply hurt at being kept in the dark for so long, even embarrassed at my ignorance. Kids would use language I wasn't familiar with, and I tried to act as though I knew what they meant. It went to the extreme that in trying to show I knew everything they knew, I misused terminology completely. In my quiet moments of reflection I thought I was putting it over on them, yet in time I realized I was making a fool of myself. Trying to be accepted as one of the "guys" had been overdone. I should have accepted the embarrassment of my ignorance and told how I'd been raised to believe otherwise.
In later years I served on school boards where the subject of sex had begun to take on heated debate over how far text books and teachers should be allowed to go with it. At first I was a staunch supporter of the conservative bunch; but as time went on I realized a more moderate approach should be takenone which would allow kids to be told things when they were mature enough to want to know them. Forcing sex information into their minds beyond what they might be ready to accept wasn't part of my thinking! Some of you no doubt disagree with my feelings on this subject; but you should at least be able to see where I'd been and where it took me.
Early Hearing Loss
In home-rearing we kids learned Mom was the constant intermediary between us and Dad. If she passed on a negative pronouncement to him about us, it would be taken to the "high court" where justice was administered quickly and forcefully.
The problem often was that Dad's hearing had faded, and he sometimes got the story wrong. In those cases one could suffer an unfair "strapping" which left Mom feeling she'd wish she hadn't said anything to Dad. We'd purposefully add volume to our yelling and howling so she'd feel the punishment was unjust. And maybe next time she'd think twice before "ratting on us." "Maybe now that she sees what happened to us, she'll just give us a minor rebuking next time instead of telling Dad anything" is what went on in our dramatic presentations.
Before I leave the subject of Dad's modus operandi in administering justice, most times we knew when it was coming our way, and we headed right for the bedroom and crawled under the center of the bed. Sometimes the setting was such that he couldn't get at us. But then when he finally did, it ended up worse than it'd been had we taken it the first time. The instrument used was Dad's leather belt (we grew up calling it a "strap"). He'd become quiet efficient at handling it due to the frequency at which he'd used it.
I related that Dad's hearing had dimmed some, and that condition worsened through the years. So whenever he'd hear any report from Mom about us kids, he'd feel if she bothered to tell him about it, it was worthy of a "licking." When I think back of Dad's hearing loss, I realize pages upon pages of material could be filled with stories of how he reacted to things he thought he heard, or things he didn't hear at all. We'd even kid him about speaking up on a subject which had just been covered conversationally. It was comical in a way, yet it was sad!
Mom tried many ways to cut costs in living expenses. She originated so many ways to do it that it amazes me when I think back of those years. Of course, she never cut corners to the point our lives were made uncomfortable or wanting. But she did do things people today wouldn't bother doing in order to produce a thrifty existence.
Most items that could be "homemade" were just that. She and Dad annually prepared concoctions of root beer and sometimes even "beer." The production process caused great interest among us kids, and we took part in it right up to the bottling and capping. The bottles were then placed under the house which sat on wooden posts raised above the ground about 3½ feet or so. The sides were boarded, giving the appearance there could be a basement under the house, but it was just soil. A door opening allowed one to crawl under to check flooring, or, as in this case, to set the bottles in place for "curing" (or whatever it was called) of the root beer and beer. The soil was almost always on the damp side, a feature which added to the curing process.
In regard to having made beer, I want to clarify that. My folks were not drinkers. Mom didn't even like the taste of beer, while Dad's only experiences with it came from occasional "after work on payday" excursions with his working buddies. There were a few times those parties ended in excess, but not too often. Maybe it was because Mom made it too miserable for him to overdo it.
Our first experience with the aging process of the beer and root beer came as shock. A loud "BANG" followed by an explosive sound of shattering glass could be heard. "What on earth was that?" we thought. Well, in examining the space under the house, we learned what had taken place. The expansion of gases in the bottles caused the caps to blow off, sometimes also causing the glass to explode. Fortunately only a bottle here and there was lost. And in time as this same thing happened again, we became accustomed to the sound.
Most of the beer was used to treat visiting friends of the family. I don't recall that Dad ever indulged to any great degree. But the root beer was an entirely different story! We kids had our spirits lifted beyond measure when allowed to go under the house and bring a bottle or two to the kitchen for one of the greatest treats imaginable (for that day at least).
Another of Mom's home made products was laundry soap. The ingredients were lye for one thing, some sort of fatty material (lard?) and some other additive. When it was boiled to a certain consistency, it was ready for pouring. After hardening it was cut into usable sized pieces. It had a clean kind of smell to it, and its appearance gave us the impression it resembled candy of some sort. Mom used much soap in her clothes washing, and the tight budget of those days called for using the lowest cost way to do it.
When speaking of "school days", I'm [really] referring to those hours before and after regular school hours and the weekends. Most of our travels throughout the community whether in playing or in more serious things such as in looking for junk behind buildings and in alleys took place on Saturdays. It was while on this and other types of enterprises that we chanced upon data which forms the basis for much of what's written here.
One such story developed from one of our hikes in our own community. Two to three blocks from our home lived a man known as the "Hermit." He was said to be in financial straits, though he didn't attempt to seek aid from any of the programs available at that time (such as The Federal Relief Program) according to those who seemed to be in the know. If you'd taken one look at his dwelling place, you'd surely have come to the conclusion he was in need. It was a shack! It resembled a "lean-to" which is said to exist all over the world.
Though we approached near to the outside of his home, no way would we consider knocking on his door for any reason. Why so? Anyone who would kill cats and dogs and use them as their meat source had to be quite different from the average person. "Who knows what else he might try?" we kids would think.
All about town and in nearby communities the word had gotten around about this man. People who had lost cats and dogs and couldn't locate them were certain where they found their end. Yet I can't be sure anyone ever actually caught him red-handed at that deed. If his reputation was built on rumor, it wasn't fair to himthough I doubt he cared. But somehow I feel there was something upon which that reputation was formed, something solid.
Traveling in his area kids seldom got closer to his shack than the street which ran alongside the front part of it. But the house was set back quite a way from the street, too. "Why take a chance when it was just as easy to circumvent it?" kids would say. Had he been a more open or people-oriented person, I'd have felt sorry for him for the way he existed. But as it was, even if he hadn't done those things and wasn't dangerous at all, with his appearance and actions, I'd have bypassed his property just the same.
As one reflects on hunger and starvation in the world today, I know cats and dogs are used as a source of meat in many places. This is especially true in the Philippines. In that light, our "hermit" wasn't so different. This would hold water were it not for the fact he could have received aid, which he did not do. But the standard of living in those underprivileged countries where no aid is available is very low, and their decisions regarding the use of these animals for food is more acceptable. But thank God he chose to place me in this country where such ways of life for the most part aren't necessary.
The 1933 Chicago World's Fair
Back to school days events, probably the single greatest took place in the City of Chicago in 1933 and 1934. It was called The Century of Progress, the World's Fair. It initially was planned as a one year affair, but due to financial successes, it was carried over into the second year. Imagine, deep into the Depression years, an extension of The World's Fair, because it was so financially successful! People generally (for sure those who lived in our area) were trying to stay alive by cutting corners in every conceivable way; yet here is an event which is finding its way to an extension brought on by "spending." Maybe people had a few dollars tucked away for contemplated emergencies, and they decided the time had come for a break in rigid living. The money had to come from somewhere, that being spent at the Fair that is.
We kids made numerous school-sponsored trips where we usually brought our own lunch. So the only cost involved would have been transportation. Rarely did any of us spend anything at the Fair. There was so much to see and do without spending. The various rides were the "costly" items there, and the Sky Ride was one of the big features of that time. But we looked past those kinds of things, knowing we couldn't afford to as much as hope for them. Can you imagine teachers trying to keep a group of school kids together and from separating themselves from the group in a crowd like that? No picnic for them!
There were also times when kids attended the Fair with parents and friends. We had our share of these excursions as well. The excitement in going there was not the rides or the costly things; it was the joy of the trip and seeing all those amazing exhibitions while walking through the Fair. Most likely the biggest expenditure for the folks was for an occasional drink of some kind (you can bet it was water ten to one, though).
Other 'freebies' (no, it's not in my dictionary, eithermeans something for nothing) in Chicago were the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum. Trips there, whether with the school group or with parents, were always planned on the "free" days. These were the areas of entertainment on which the schools always zeroed in [on]; so when arriving there, kids galore could be found everywhere. And inquisitive minds of youngsters were fed liberally at these places. Many hours of my young life were spent gaping with awe at those amazing exhibits!
Our trips to the World's Fair (Century of Progress), the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, and shorter trips which were too far for traveling on foot, required local bus transportation. Those outside the local bus line's route required "transfers." One paid something like a nickel for the transfer which allowed travel on the City of Chicago lines. The "going" part of every trip rarely presented any kind of problem, but the return one was another story which I'll explain [below].
Goldblatt's, the Bladder and Dreams
There was a store called Goldblatt's  located on West 26th Street in Chicago, a store frequented by people from all over the West Side of Chicago. The reason it was so popular had to be the lower prices they offered. They also provided bus transportation on Ogden Avenue, a street which ran diagonally through many suburbs to the west and on into Chicago going southwest to northeastor northeast to southwest, if you prefer. Ogden Avenue was one mile from our house, so we would just walk there on Ridgeland Avenue to wait for the Goldblatt bus.
For those not familiar with the ethnic population of Chicago and its suburbs, I can safely say it was primarily Bohemian, Polish, Lithuanian, Slovak, Italian and Irish. But in our area in the suburbs, Bohemians and Polish dominated. I'm saying that to bring about a joke of the day.
Bohemians were known for being thrifty people (wish I had learned from them). It was said that when they paid for anything, they used the Bohemian payment plan, "Everything down and nothing a month." That brings up another thought about the Goldblatt's Store. When shopping there, you were always given paper shopping bags with GOLDBLATT'S splattered all over them. Of course, they carried that magical term "free" with them. So these bags could be seen almost anywhere. The bags took on another meaning when the saying became popular "Bohemian Luggage" as another name for the bags.
We kids always contemplated the Goldblatt Store trips with Mom (sometimes Dad came along) for one big reason. The excitement of the trip was partially involved, but the big thing was the candy to which we were treated at the store. I guess they had some pretty low cost stuff, or we wouldn't have been so blessed. Staying home and waiting for the candy and cookies or other goodies to arrive could have proved fruitless (consumed before making it home).
Somehow on this one occasion (I was very young) Mom took me along. I know I was young, because I remember even today that I held the bottom of her dress for security. Something had taken my interest in the course of the shopping day where I'd let go of her dress, and she moved about to another areaunaware I wasn't "hanging on." When I came to, there I was all alone...people all over, noisy, confusion and no hope of ever finding her again! I sobbed with uninhibited vigor. Perhaps a better word might be "pitifully." I began to run from aisle to aisle, circling those squared-off bins of goods, since I was too short to look over them. It could have been minutes before Mom found me, but it seemed like a lifetime. A very distraught child who continued crying and holding on for dear life had "come home." Seems like a good analogy of God reaching out to lost sinners who eventually "come home."
A kid of today wouldn't be able to imagine having fun doing what we didgoing on a bus or street car ride, shopping at a department store, or even more menial things. Maybe this is the reason some of the older folk of today appreciate more the lesser things in life, be they ever so humble!
Back a bit I said I'd tell of the return trip home from those excursions to Goldblatt's and City of Chicago trips. If coming from Goldblatt's, the bus dropped us at Ogden and Ridgeland. That meant a mile walk to get home. If coming from Chicago, it most often meant transferring to local transportation at Ridgeland and [39th Street], only three blocks to home. However, you may recall what difficulty I had with shyness in matters of the elimination process from earlier chapters. I wouldn't think of using a bathroom away from home (at least while in our own metropolitan area). So by the time I reached Ogden Avenue or Ridgeland Avenue and 39th Street, and the walk home took place, I was almost always ready to burst my bladder or my intestinal tract. So whether the mile from Ogden Avenue or just the three blocks from 39th Street, the distance seemed like miles and miles. I imagined (as I held on for dear life) things such as portable johns which were attached to the body and could be used without anyone else knowing what was taking place. It would mean an immediate way of relieving the pressure which had been building for hours most likely. Or I thought of being at home and using our "beloved" outhouse which always was there to meet my needs.
This same scenario took place when on our way home from the church services in Berwyn on 32nd and Home Avenue (maybe 2½ miles distance). I wasn't always the only child in the family who experienced such difficulties, and it was a good thing we had "two-bangers" in our outhouse, because a further wait would have caused serious consequences for one of us. Can anyone of today imagine considering it a pleasure to reach an outhouse?
While on the subject of the "elimination" process, those earlier school day trouser-wetting experiences extended into night time bed-wetting. This condition persisted until about age ten. Today this is considered an illness which is treatable, and no one would have appreciated more than I the opportunity to have received such treatment!
Another constant companion of my youth[:] The dreams which often filled restless nights. One which persisted was "falling into a deep well" with no way of escape. The well was so deep, I'd spiral 'round and 'round as I fell, eventually hitting water, with a tremendous splash. And there was never any way to get out! Is it any wonder this dream took top billing in the horror department?
In analyzing those dreams (there were many, though I referred to only one), I know the one about falling into a well had to be associated with the well we had right outside the back door of the house. It wasn't that deep, and it was always covered with an old, galvanized washtub for safety purposes. But as a child who looked down into that well, it looked a lot more dangerous.
Along about 1935 to 1936 our school janitor, Mr. Lauferski, passed away. He had been there as long as I attended the Little Red Schoolhouse. Though he was one who meant business, was stern, not afraid to rebuke, etc., when I heard of his passing, a shock wave ran through my body. Maybe it was the fact I'd not been very familiar with death at that time which gave me that feeling. Or it could have been that I admired his cleanliness, always being on the job, and his concern for the school property which gave me the feeling of great loss. Whatever it was, I felt a personal loss and I mourned for him. I knew enough about life and death that I'd never see him again (at least in this life).
In that same time-frame [in my mind], Grandfather Sedory, Dad's father, passed away. [That] wasn't long after Dad and I had taken a trip to Streator on the Santa Fe Railway, which had a station in Streator, when this happened. Our purpose in taking the trip was to paint Grandpa's house. Dad did the painting (99% at least) while I played with the Novotney cousins across the way. Maybe I served as a "gofer" or helper, too.
In a week or so when Dad had completed the paint job, we hitched a ride back home with an old buddy of his who owned a truck line (tractor-trailers). Everyone should have at least one chance to ride in one of those rigs to see what riding and vibrating at the same time is like. Interest in scenery and how the truck was handled soon turned to wishes we'd soon reach home. When that wish became reality, a vigorous stretching exercise was required to iron out the tightened muscles and aching bones. The quarters within the cab left a lot to be desired!
Whether we all went to Streator to Grandpa Sedory's funeral, I'm not sure. I think we had. But this would have been done in the family auto. The reason Dad and I didn't take the car was probably the fact there were only two of us. With the whole family going somewhere, it became economically feasible to use the car. Everything was done on the basis of the cost factor. Pleasure or comforts were never considered in those days!
Text] "A Century of Progress, International Exposition" was the name of a World's Fair held in Chicago from May 27 to November 12, 1933, and again from May 26 to October 31, 1934 to celebrate the city's centennial. The Library of Congress web site contains the panoramic view, Panorama of the Century of Progress Exposition, Chicago, Ill., 1933 photographed by Harry Koss; August 22, 1933, and two others.
2[Return to Text] Goldblatt's was founded in 1914 near the corner of North Ashland Avenue (16th Ave. W) and West Chicago Avenue (8th St. N); there's a 5-story building at that location which has "GOLDBLATT BROS." inscribed in large letters at two places along its 1600's West Chicago Avenue entrances. By 1946, there were 15 stores (and 47 at its height), but in 1981 they declared bankruptcy. Though reopening in 1982 with only 6 stores, they closed for good around 2000.
4[Return to Text] The author originally typed "34th" here, but Concordia Lutheran Church has always been located at 3144 Home Avenue (32nd St. & Home Av.) since its founding in 1924. The author already mentioned this church in Chapter 5.