My family lived at
606 Brainerd in the block between Lake and Cook. I started kindergarten
at Central School in 1931. Except for two years in the service and college
absences I was there until 1953. Like many of my friends I found it a
comfortable, familiar place, but wondered what lay on other horizons.
My parents often
commented how fast things seemed to change after WWI and we all had the
same feeling after the second war and probably most people today would
say that the pace of change is accelerating. As an adult I look back at
the various places we've lived and am glad we did what we did; but I have
a sense of roots that my children probably don't have and I wonder if
it makes any difference.
My sense of "neighborhood"
mainly involved that one block. Various friends were a block or two away,
but they were in different "neighborhoods," both in my mind
and theirs. Today, as an adult, I think of where we live as a neighborhood
in different sense; it is both larger and less familiar. Mostly I don't
know who lives two or three houses away and don't much care. However,
conversations with children I meet while walking our dogs persuades me
that they have a real sense of people and their names and who does what
Our next door neighbors,
the Helfers, lived on the corner at Lake. Harry was at Schanck
Hardware for many years. His mother lived there with Harry
and Florence and was called "Grandma"
Helfer. She used to tell us that we had it easy compared to when she grew
up. Charlene, Bob and Harriet were the children.
The Helfers had the old-time horse barn with hayloft above and a large
tool room on the ground floor. Their yard was quite large enough for little
kids to use for football. In the summer we played croquet there, and burned
leaves in the fall. There was still a working pump in their back yard
and another at the kitchen sink. There were at least two similar situations
where wells were left in after city water came. They were quite shallow
and by today's standards, probably not hygienic.
and Rena Neville were south of us. Their yard was quite large with a garden
and grapevines in the rear. Next to them lived the Zollners. Bill
Zollner was a brakeman on the Milwaukee Road
passenger line. My mother had known Anna Zollner
since they were children. The Zollners were unusual on the block in that
they were childless and without a car, which was rare even then. They
had a splendid grape arbor with benches within where you could sit in
the shade. Lots of people grew grapes and to my knowledge they went into
juice, jams and jellies rather than wines. After the war I met people
from Waukegan who made wine from their grapes and was told it was quite
Enevold lived in the next house before his family moved to Meadow Lane
a few houses from my uncle, Joe Wilson. The Enevolds
had three children: Norman, a high school athletic star, and
Edith and Rose Doris. Those kids were old enough so they didn't mix with
us little kids.
The Franzens lived
in the next house and owned Franzen Lumber. We
played with Bill and Betty. Bill had a big
model railroad on a table in the basement and a nice glassed in front
porch where we played board games like Monopoly. Their tool shed contained
a seemingly bottomless barrel of homemade sauerkraut which we dipped into
with our fingers and ate uncooked. They also made a lot of root beer and
ginger ale. Before the war Bill had a bicycle route delivering the Chicago
Daily News. In the early mornings he delivered the Chicago Tribune, thrown
from the back of a truck driven by "Paper"
Smith. While in high school Bill worked at the A &
P and at eighteen became the youngest store manager in that giant grocery
chain. After the war he drove a nice '36 Ford coupe and restored a classic
Cord from the thirties.
had the next house and ran his plumbing business
from the barn behind. Their kids were Dave and Dick. The house on the
corner at Cook was a two-flat. The Waltons and later
the Thomases had the first floor, the Sellers
family the second. Dr. Milton A. Wiese, his
wife Marjorie and their adopted son Bill lived
east on Cook. The Wieses had met during the first war, he as an army doctor
and she as a nurse. Dr. Wiese was our family doctor for many years. He
practiced in his home. The front porch had been turned into a waiting
room. The Wieses and my parents were friends and frequently played cards
on Saturday nights. Dr. Wiese was short and rotund with a never failing
sense of fun and good humor. I'll never forget when he peeled the tape
off my chest and back that had been holding some broken ribs together.
It hurt like nothing I've ever experienced before or since. Dr. Wiese
sat me on the table, gripped one end of the swaths of tape and just walked
around me while I tried not to yell. When he was finished he clapped his
hands together and said, "There, nothing to it," and then burst
out laughing at the look on my face. He was still practicing when we moved
away in 1953.
Kirkman lived in the stucco house on Cook at the corner of Brainerd. Next
house to the north on Brainerd was owned by Paul
MacGuffin, a prominent attorney. It was the biggest yard on the block
with a large horse barn later turned into an apartment, a summer house
and a long grape arbor. Paul had a great resonant bass voice and his laughter
could be heard a half-block away. I mowed their lawn with a hand mower
for two summers during the war, no mean feat for which I was paid two
dollars, a substantial sum then. We little kids didn't know Lorraine,
the daughter, because she was older, but we all knew Johnny,
who drove a nice red 1941 Ford Tudor that sat on blocks in the garage
while John was away at war. The MacGuffins had a large spaniel named Patsy
who was infamous in our family for eating a whole mince pie my mother
had put on our back porch to cool.
Bert Ingrahams had a large two-flat with the Loomis
family on the second floor. After the war the barn was turned into an
apartment. Bert was a conductor on the North
Shore Line. His son Garland was old enough
to be out of our orbit.
Right across the
street from us was a large, rather ramshackle house occupied by the Perkins
family. In the thirties it was redone by Bill and Ethel Hodgins
as a two-flat. My mother and Ethel had been in high school together. The
Dean Bennetts and their son Orville lived on the
top floor. We shared a two-party phone line with the Bennetts. Our phone
number was 223-W and when we wanted to call the Bennetts there was an
arcane procedure that I never mastered. Also, there was an unstated code
of phone etiquette that came to an end in the later forties with the advent
of dial service. The Maude Helfer Schreck house
was next. They had a son named Lamarr and
were related to the Helfers. Once, after the war, I was coming home in
the wee hours and wanting to make a quiet entrance into our driveway and
shut off my ignition, forgetting that this locked the steering wheel.
My car came to rest in the Schreck's front yard, leaving a set of tire
tracks which I tried to clean up with a rake. The next morning dawned
clear and no protest from the Shrecks. I never tried the silent entry
The big house on
the corner was occupied by the Nelson family and
later by the Charles Jedlickas. Marguerite and
my mother had gone to school together. Frank Just,
who owned the "Independent Register" and the "Waukegan
News-Sun" lived on Lake at the intersection with Brainerd. Just east
were the homes of Frank Huber, the grocer, and Fred
Ayres. Other families on Lake were the Luecks,
Kapings, Varneys, and the
Jamiesons across from the cemetery entrance.
It was a good neighborhood for kids, though it was tough to get away from
adult eyes. There were no burglaries or any vandalism. It wasn't until
well after the war that we even locked our back door.