Reviewing a Lifetime
(A Psychotherapist's Nightmare)
by John D. Sedory

Copyright©2013,2014 by Daniel B. Sedory, Editor. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 3
Short-Term Change in Lifestyle

 

    I'm not certain of the year, probably 1927 or 1928, when Dad began earning rather large sums of money in his job at the brickyard. It was a time when everyone who worked seemed to be doing the same, the so-called "good times." This increased earning capacity for many led to changes in lifestyles. We who were once near to the poverty level were now experiencing an independence previously thought of as an impossibility. Mom and Dad were able to put some of Dad's earnings aside in the hope of one day buying their own home.
    Eventually in late '27 or early '28 [in fact, April of 1928[1]] they had saved enough to put a down payment on a new house located about a mile and a half southwest in the town of Stickney. New houses were going up just about everywhere, and this was one in such a developed area. I think the address [was] 4425 South Wenonah Avenue. [Editor's Note: Data from the 1930 Census confirms the author was living at this address on April 5th, 1930.]

 
 
 John ('Jack') and Mary Sedory, with (Left to Right): Philip, Edward, John and Marie.


All of these photos were taken at 4425 South Wenonah Avenue in Stickney, IL.
In photo at Right are: Phil, Ed and John. In photo below are: Phil, John and Ed.

 
 
 

 

Prohibition and Crime

    Since alcoholic beverages had been banned when the Prohibition Law [that is, the National Prohibition Act] was passed, and the Fed's were hard at work trying to enforce it, the demand for whiskey grew more and more as time passed. So one way to try skirting around bringing it over state lines where it was more readily available was to produce it locally among residents who would less likely be suspect. I don't know how many people in Stickney got involved, but it had to be many—one of our next door neighbors, for example, joined that group.
    The reason we became aware they had a still in their basement was made evident by the aroma (or odor) given off and the steam coming from the basement windows. They had an explosion later—which cemented our suspicions.
    Having a still installed in their homes was doubtless under the terms offered by the hoods. For those who were that eager to make a lot of money, the gamble of being caught or having an explosion in their residence must have been a secondary consideration.
    There were (and probably still are) stills of all kinds around, but those being installed in basements were fairly extravagant and sophisticated, becoming an integral part of the heating system, at least the furnaces. Stills require heat in order to process the ingredients. When the heated ingredients reached certain temperatures, gases were formed, sometimes building a pressure which, if without access to quick escape, resulted oftentimes in a terrific explosion—so great, in fact, many houses were blown right off their foundations.
    When riding through town years later one could see spotted here and there a ghostly cement foundation upon which once stood a house. These were silent reminders of the past which now haunted the surroundings by their conspicuous, yet ominous, presence.

    Vacant land separated our new house and Harlem Avenue to the west, just one or two half blocks away. Al Capone often operated from a speakeasy located almost due west of our house and on the east side of Harlem Avenue[2]. The building housing the speakeasy was a few stories high, having a small window located just under the roof level and on the back side facing our house. Many times had we seen some sort of signaling with blinking lights. We'd heard the police department in town cooperated with the mob, and most likely advance warning was given when a "bust" was about to take place. Folks who lived in that area, for the most part, knew Al Capone and thought he was OK. Money "talked" then as much as it does today.
    The speakeasy was a place where illegal alcoholic beverages could be purchased and where "dime-a-dance" entertainment took place. The idea was to arouse the male participants by way of body-to-body contact, with the idea of leading them further into depravity via the call girls who were readily available. It was an additional source of illegal income for Al Capone's mob.
    It should be made clear that I didn't gain this knowledge from personal experience, as I was about five or six at the time. It all comes from hearsay, though that type of operation did exist years later as well. Most of what I'm relating can more than likely be taken as the way it really was.

    For those of you who were not around at the time of The Great Depression and have not read or heard about it, you may not appreciate what it was like to have lived though those years. The "New House" in Stickney compared with others we had lived in was almost the ultimate in contrast. Brand new, running water, inside toilets, paved streets, neighbors all over the place, bus transportation a couple blocks away, all these and more made adjusting upward almost as difficult as going in the opposite direction. But I suppose it's kind of like the guy who said, "I've been rich, and I've been poor; rich is better!" So it must have been easier to go in this direction. That Depression was close at hand, but it was still in the future.

Early Unpleasant Experiences

    In the couple of years or less that we were in this new house, I personally experienced both pleasant and unpleasant times. So having more didn't make everything perfect, for me at least.

    One of the unpleasant times lasted during my entire first year at the Haley Elementary School[3]. It was one of those ordeals I'd just as soon not include in this life's story, but to leave it out wouldn't be doing justice to truth.
    Though I earlier presented myself as a "monster" at age late four to early age five, I still wasn't outgoing or communicative conversationally. The "tough guy" image may have been a cover-up for my shyness. Because all those nine months in the first grade, I could not bring myself to advise my teacher when I had a need for bathroom visits. I'd literally just about burst at the seams before finally ending up with damp trousers or puddles around my chair. The end result found me being led to the janitor's boiler room where I'd be assigned to the coal bin for a time. Maybe part of the reasoning was to assist in a drying out process for all I know. But it felt as though I had been sent to Hades, as the furnace blasted away, roaring as it burned fiercely. Little minds at age six put the worst construction on everything.
    Embarrassment in having to face my teacher and classmates again, together with continued corrective action, did not turn me away from my problem. That particular theme remained the whole year through. Today it is said this is a type of disease which is treatable with medication, as is bed wetting. Surely I'd have given anything then to have been relieved of that agony.

    A couple of major events took place in those two years or so (maybe less), one of which had its setting on a snowy, wintry day:

    After I left for school that day, a snow storm began depositing vast amounts of snow which, when coupled with existing strong winds, drifted into extremely difficult, if not impossible, heights for a six year old to handle. But being a boy in every sense when it came to challenges, I eagerly headed for home when school let out. It was not a wise decision.
    How close to home I made it before falling into a snow-covered hole, I don't know, but I remember being unable to get out. Yelling, intermingled with crying did not bring the hoped-for response, and as my face, feet and hands began numbing, I began thinking maybe this was going to result in my demise.
    If, at a very early age, you have experienced being lost in a crowded department store somewhere, separated from your mother, you will have just a slight idea of how I felt in that drifted snow.
    In pondering that story, I cannot recall if I was in that snow-covered hole for hours or maybe just for a half hour or so. Mothers, being the wonderful people they almost always are, would hardly wait for hours to go in search for a tardy son on a day like that. But as I began numbing, I became sleepy, and my crying out diminished greatly. Suddenly, I heard a most familiar and sought-after voice calling out, "Johnny!" The response must have come quickly; "I'm over here!"
    Upon arriving home with Mom (my brother Phil may have accompanied Mom in the search), home remedies dealing with frostbite were instituted quickly, and soon I felt secure once again. The sympathy and understanding first given were now being changed to solemn warnings about never, ever attempting such a dangerous undertaking again, at least while alone. It'd be safe to say "Many moons crossed the skies before I attempted anything even close to that."

Christmas, 1928

    Perhaps the last major event I can recall while still living the abundant life was the Christmas of 1928. We had enough financial reserve now to ask for things which in the past we couldn't even have wished for, and just before that Christmas we boys had all asked for musical instruments. Naturally, we went the route of putting in our request to Santa Claus, but deeply within our hearts I don't think we really bought that concept as the real source of those gifts. But not wanting to upset the apple cart, so to speak, and not being absolutely certain of this character, Santa Claus, we went along with the game. And, by the way, when I said "we had enough financial reserve," I was referring to my folk's finances, not ours as kids.

    Most likely our sister Marie had wished for and received a doll that Christmas, while we boys got the musical instruments each had requested. I'm sure we were delighted, maybe even ecstatic, in receiving everything asked for right down to the letter. I'm sure those weren't the only gifts we received, either.

Destructive Little Minds

    Well, it was just a matter of time until our inquisitive little minds (emphasis on "little") conceived the idea of investigating the origin of the sounds which came from these instruments. And disassembly in a most unprofessional manner was begun. A knife was inserted into both the drum and the accordion, but nothing "mysterious" was found in either which would have shown what produced those sounds. Whatever the third instrument was, I'm certain it received about the same kind of treatment in this research project.
    Whatever punishment we may have suffered as a result of our inquisitiveness, we must have thought it was worth the knowledge gained. And what we'd learned was that instruments "opened for investigation" don't produce sound anymore.

    Well, that was near to the end of Christmas, birthday, and general extravagances in which there had been plenty. The big bucks kept coming in, but gradually it was discerned that more and more money was needed to buy everything. Rapid inflation soon brought people to the realization their dollar had little value.[4] The big earnings no longer kept pace with the decline in the value of the dollar, and it wasn't long before many could no longer meet mortgage payment requirements[5]. The handwriting was on the wall. The good life experiences were over. Radical changes in lifestyle would be required of almost everyone.

 
 
 

Chapter 2

TOC

Chapter 4

Footnotes

1[Return to Text]  We know this because the Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of The Sanitary District of Chicago recorded the rental payments of John Sedory, Sr. throughout 1927 and 1928, up to and including April, 1928 on page 1325, 2nd to last entry in the 1928 Proceedings of the Board of Trustees of The Sanitary District of Chicago. After that month, he isn't mentioned again until 1930 (see next chapter).

2[Return to Text]  One source states there was a "Capone joint" called the "Harlem Nut House" at 4232 S. Harlem Ave., Stickney, IL. If this was the location of the 'speakeasy' our author is describing, they may have been able to see farther if there were fewer houses back then. (Note: The current building at 4232 S. Harlem Avenue is a new condo; in fact all the buildings up and down the street appear to be of fairly recent construction. If anyone has a picture of this street from that era, it might be helpful in resolving this question.) On the other hand, a different source states that Ralph Capone (Al's brother) operated: "a 'dime-a-dance' joint in Stickney, Ill, on Harlem Ave., called 'Dreamland'." So perhaps this was located further south in the 4400 block.

3[Return to Text]  The Haley School was built in 1921 [we are searching for proof of this year] on the southeast corner of 40th Street and Grove Avenue (to the alley), continuing almost all the way to 41st Street; the building survived until 1987 when it was demolished by School District 103. The land was later sold to the Village of Stickney, and converted into Haley Park in 1989. (Faith Community Reformed Church is just east of the park, across the alley, on 40th Street.)

From the paper Suburban LIFE Citizen, December 23, 1987, Part One, page 3:


Note: The paper Brookfield Suburban Magnet, May 9, 1924, mentions votes being cast at the Haley School in Stickney, so the phrase "more than 60-year-old building" must have been a decade round-off meaning earlier than 1927, but later than 1917.

4[Return to Text]  Which has happened a few times again since the end of the 1920s, not to mention the fact that our own government continues increasing its 'hidden tax' on anyone who has money in the bank by constantly printing more money and devaluing what we worked so hard to earn and save as we were told to! We all should have bought gold or something else they couldn't ruin like that. And if all countries decide to stop using American dollars as the "World's Reserve Currency," it may decrease in value by 30% or more overnight! (Perhaps this section title applies equally well to those politicians doing this?)

5[Return to Text]  To clarify: Mortgage payments were not the problem, since they are generally a set rate for many years (unless one unwisely signed a contract stating the payments could be increased), but rather the inflationary costs of goods and services, such as food, water, fuel, etc. (and today, taxes too!) which meant that many had too little money left to pay the mortgage, or not enough to eat, because their wages did not increase along with the inflation.