Yesterday, I posted a story about the gang of kids with whom I went to grammar school. Today, I am beginning a series of stories related to my adventure in high school. The time is September, 1952, the school is in the Roseland community of Chicago. My story is not different from the story of all kids who were born just before and during World War Two. The activities we enjoyed were the same. We all employed the same form of communication; letters and face to face speech. Phones were still scarce within the home, with a few public phone booths scattered about in businesses. Radio was the strongest media format. Television was still a rarity within homes, but catching on quickly. Not every family owned an automobile and public transportation was abundant with trolleys that ran frequently. Kids bought single 78 rpm records to play on their hi-fi players. Portable radios were the size of a large box of Cheerios, and used four to six “D” size batteries.  It was a time of my life that I would not trade for anything.



The long summer ended and the big day arrived.  Mom packed a lunch for me, and I set off to ninety-third and Woodlawn to catch the street car.  I was excited; I didn’t have a buddy with me.  I was on my own.  The few minutes waiting for the car to arrive made me more anxious.  Should I take a chance and walk to the next stop?  Just then I spotted the red trolley making the turn onto 93rd Street from it’s journey around the Nickel Plate round-house at Kenwood.

The ride to Cottage Grove lasted all of five minutes.  I got off to wait for my transfer onto the Cottage Grove South car. Another wait to make me anxious but there was more traffic to watch on Cottage and it relieved the anxiety a bit.  The trolley stopped near the corner and I stepped off the curb to cross the lane to where the long red trolley stood in the center of the four lane street.  The pavement was all cobblestone and rough.  Once I was on the Cottage Grove line and headed south, I breathed a short sigh of relief.

The Cottage trolley went two blocks before it made a left turn onto 95th street to cut through the via-duct under the Illinois Central (IC) tracks to where Cottage Grove continued south on the east side of the railroad tracks.  The IC tracks are elevated from the south suburbs all the way to 47th street.  The viaducts passing under the tracks are long, dark and noisy.  As soon as the trolley broke out of the viaduct it swung right to head south again.  At this point the trolley tracks were between the street and the raised Illinois Central tracks. Because of the separation the motorman could make time between stop signs and cross streets.  The electric motors accelerated smoothly, and since the tracks were off the street and there was no traffic in the way, the trolley sped along at 40 miles per hour and more.

At 103rd we had to slow down for the stop light.  After that, we slowed down once more for the viaduct at 107th.  The 103rd and 107th cross streets were a lot lower than the track bed, so the trolley dipped as it approached these intersections.  There was always the chance that a car or truck would break out from the viaduct into the path of the trolley.  For this reason, the motorman slowed the trolley considerably to cross the intersections.

I started to get nervous again because my stop at 111th was nearing.  The conductor called it out and the car stopped.  Many boys of my age got off.  Some were on the car when I got on; others joined us at stops along the way.

Again, I crossed over the street to catch the trolley going west.  It was waiting there, and I had to run to catch it.  I jumped up the stairs with my transfer ticket in one hand and my lunch bag in the other.  The trolley took off, and before I could get settled into a seat, we were at South Park Avenue.  I got off at the rear door next to Pullman Bank.  There, across the street was the gate that opened onto the drive that led to Mendel Catholic High School for boys.

The walk up the drive was pretty because the forty acre school campus was large and well landscaped.  At this point there was a crowd of boys all headed in the same direction to the tall, stately building in the center overlooking the pond and 111th street.  I ran up the front steps and opened the door to a new world and a whole new segment of life.

Burnside Teen Gang

Yesterday, Grandma Peggy  had the distinct pleasure of meeting a group of my grammar school buddies. Eight of us who lived within a few houses of each other, and hung around with during the seventh and eighth grades met with their wives to have lunch at Papa Joe’s in New Lenox, IL. It is amazing that after sixty years we can still relate with each other. We had a grand time, sharing our lives. I felt like I was back in Burnside on Avalon with the old gang.

When I retired ten years ago, I wrote a series of stories about my earliest recollections as a kid. I self-published the collection in a three-volume book titled Jun-e-or. Many of the tales are from the seventh and eighth grade years. I’ve chosen the one below because it best describes the relationship we enjoyed as friends. Five of those who were there are named in this piece. I hope I didn’t tell too many whoppers, but it is what I remember.



By the time I was in seventh grade, I felt like hot stuff.  I had many friends around the block.  Most of them were classmates from Our Lady of Hungary grammar school (OLH).  Others went to Perry school.  Today, they would classify us as a gang.  Back then, we were just some friends who hung out together.  If I needed companionship, I walked down to 93rd street after supper. Within a few minutes, someone would join me.  Our group had boys and girls. Eventually, each of us paired off with a partner.

I hung out with Rich Makowski, Joe Barath, Jack Adams, Bob Golden, Kenny Zivkowich, and Larry Somodi.  Joe Barath was a year behind me at OLH. Joe’s parents owned and operated Barath’s Grocery Store on 93rd Street. Jack Adams lived across the alley from me on Woodlawn Avenue. Bob Golden lived a block south on Avalon.  Ken Zivkowich came from Kimbark where he lived in an upstairs apartment.  Larry Somodi lived on Avalon, and then moved to 93rd Street.  Jack, Kenny, and Bob all went to Perry school, the rest of us went to OLH.

The girls in the group consisted of my sister Maria, Mary Ann Lihota, Mary Ann Pavel, Carol Cometic, Rose Ann Pfaff and Sherry Zajeski.  Usually, my group ignored Sis and Mary Ann.  Joey Barath had a crush on Sis, but she pretended not to like him. Eventually, he gave it up.  Rich Makowski had a romance going with Rose Ann Pfaff and Joe Barath finally paired off with Carol Cometic.  Jack Adams liked Mary Ann Pavel, but so did Ken Zivkowich.  Carol Cometic’s girlfriend, Sherry, is the one I fell for head-over-heels.

The gang had many other kids too, but I forget them all. We hung around together, sitting on the front steps of someone’s house, fooling around.

We were at an age when music became a very important part of our lives and we often played records together.  By then each of us had a television. After school, we all watched American Bandstand with Dick Clark.  Soon we were meeting for dance parties at someone’s basement.  Each of us brought our favorite records to play. We listened, sang along with and danced to the music with our partners until it was time to go home.

Once, Kenny Z came dressed in a pink shirt with the collar flared out. He matched the shirt with a pair of electric blue pants pegged at the heel.   They had white stitching running down the seams.  He was hot stuff and started a trend which all the boys followed, or at least the ones who could afford the clothes.  Another fashion statement was to add a narrow knitted tie to the pink shirt.  The knot was big and ugly because the knitted material was so thick and the tie was so narrow. The uglier the knot was, the better it was.  We also put pressure on each other to dress alike and to wear our hair the same way.  The DA (duck’s ass) hair style was popular with the guys as was the Brylcreem sheen.  We used Brylcreem on our hair to keep the waves in place, and our long sideburns swept back, and up sharply at the end. Our hair looked like the tail end of a duck, therefore the term “duck’s ass.”

One of the most popular guys in the neighborhood was “Dago.” His real name is Bob, but his nick name was “Dago.”  Bob combed his hair in the DA style.  He wore a black leather jacket over a white tee-shirt, Levi pants, and black engineer boots decorated with chrome carpet tacks on the heels.  Dago was our real life version of the “Fonz,” he hung around with Billy and Ray Anna from 93rd Street.  Dago was a little older than most of us and the very first to own his own car.  It was the coolest car in Burnside; a Black 1949 Mercury with fender skirts.  It had really smooth lines and was a trend setter for car designs of the future.

Our group was inseparable unless a couple went on a formal date, which was rare.  We hung out together throughout the seventh and eighth grade and up to the moment we separated to go to high-school.

I chose Mendel Catholic High School. Ken Zivkovich, Bob Golden, and Jack Adam, all went to Chicago Vocational High School, (CVS).  Joe Barath followed me to Mendel.  Larry Somodi went to St. Francis De Sales on the East side.  Most of the girls enrolled at Bowen High School.

Going into high school was a beginning for all of us, and the old gang didn’t hang together as often as it did before.  Each of us had unique excitement in our new environments. We were making new friends, and going to school events that were very different from each other. Many boys took part-time jobs selling shoes. They made money for car fare, lunch, and clothes. Each of us had extra excitement generated by the sports teams of our school. Football games, pep-rallies, and sock hops kept us busy on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In the evenings we were loaded with homework assignments. Our time for hanging out became very limited and precious. Often, when I walked to the corner to find someone to hang out with, I was alone. Many of us had telephones in our houses, but we never used them to call each other. We still relied on meeting our friends on the street. It was several years before we began to call each other.

By the time I finished high school, I had a new set of friends, and activities. My old friends all went their separate ways too. Some paired off with new partners, some had no partners, and some, like Joe and Carol, were going steady.

We Think We Have it Rough

White rye-type bread

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My dad walked home from work nearly every day.  He rarely took the car unless it needed work, or he was in a hurry.  When he arrived home, he followed a ritual that very seldom changed.  I remember him coming up from the basement into the kitchen and going directly to the fridge for the slab bacon. He cut off a square chunk, then sliced a slab off the rye bread. The bacon was too big to eat in a chunk, so he sliced it into thin pieces and laid them on the bread. Finally, he cut the bacon-covered bread into small squares.  He ate the squares, one by one. If  I was there, he shared. Hmmm, hmmm, good!

After this snack, Dad went back downstairs to light the fire in the small stove. He had modified the stove to run a pipe through the firebox and  into the water tank.  He kept a box of  kindling to fuel the fire.  The fire heated the water in the tank.  Once the fire was going, he started a project around the house like cutting the grass, or fixing something.

By six o’clock, the water was hot, and Dad went upstairs to take his bath.  When he was squeaky clean, he came down for supper.  Afterwards, Mom still had enough hot water to wash the dishes.

The small wood stove served to heat water during the summer months.  During the winter, the coal furnace heated the water. Another pipe routed water through the furnace into the water tank. Dad opened a valve to switch the water flow from the stove to the furnace.  During the winter we had hot water continuously because  the fire was going in the furnace.

Dad installed a gas-fired  water heater in 1950.  He bought the heater from Sears with instructions for how to do it. After that, he never used the small stove for heating water again.

Let’s Do Something Wild and Crazy

ZZ Top Eliminator at the Rock and Roll Hall of...

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Four years ago, Grandma Peggy and I wintered in the Phoenix area. We wanted to do something wild and crazy to make us feel young again. The following story is a letter I wrote to our  kids about the adventure. I hope it gives you a giggle. We still talk about it.


ZZ TOP Concert 18 April 2007

I have definitely learned the lesson that I can’t relive my youth. In my quest to be young again I tried an experiment in the name of entertainment. When Peggy and I arrived in Arizona in January, I read an ad for a concert to be held in April. I thought to myself that I’d like to go to hear this group. Over the years, I listened to some of their music and thought it was cool. The selections that I heard were limited to those played by popular disc jockeys of the day. No doubt the music selections rang true with many people, which is why they played them. I was also enamored by their album jacket photos of a yellow 34 Ford roadster. The group is ZZ Top.

Last Wednesday, as I read the morning newspaper, I came across the same ad. I asked Peggy, if she would like to go to a concert tonight. Being a dutiful wife, she responded “sure.” She never even asked what the event was about. Within a couple of hours, I had tickets for the main floor. Wow, I got main floor tickets to one of my favorite groups. How lucky can one get?

We drove to the Dodge Theater in downtown Phoenix using the GPS to guide us. The computer took us right to the front door. Not only that, there was a parking garage immediately across the street. “This was meant to be,” I thought.

The tickets were at the will call window, and there was no line because we were an hour early. I looked around to survey the crowd. Not too many young people, I thought. I guess I’ve known this group longer than I remember. Anyway, Peggy and I were not the oldest people waiting to get in. There was a very distinguished looking white haired and wrinkled lady ahead of us. She was with her kids, who also had white hair.

We grabbed a sandwich from the concession stand inside. There were several beer stands set up across the lobby. Strange, I thought, selling beer at a concert in downtown Phoenix.

We found our seats and waited for the concert to begin. Peggy was dressed smartly, in a white blouse under a black jacket, and plaid slacks. I wore my best slacks and carried my sport coat. Since the theater was still relatively empty, I wore the jacket to fend off the cold breeze falling on us from the aircon. It turned out to be the only sport coat in the theater. Most of the other attendees wore tee shirts and shorts.

The theater filled slowly. “This group must not be popular anymore, they don’t appear to be sold out,” I told Peg. The lights dimmed, and four very young men appeared, dressed in tee shirts without sleeves. Heavy chains with loads of keys hung from their waists. They wore blue jeans with holes at the knees, and across the seat. The pants looked as though they would fall off at any moment. Perhaps they were pinned to the guitars hanging from their shoulders. Their hair was long and dirty looking, certainly unkempt. Disgusting tattoos covered their arms. This was the warm up band. They called themselves BBB, which stood for Bang, Bang, Bang, or Bang, Bang, Boys. (Be careful when you search for them by those names, some very strange sites turn up.)

The concert began to a crowd that was about fifty percent of capacity. My trained ear told me that the drummer was the most talented musician on the dais. The three guitarists were seemingly into their music. Expressions of ecstasy or pain, I couldn’t tell the difference, grimaced on their faces. The bass notes pushed into our chests with the volume. The high notes pierced our ears, causing my normal tinitus to amplify. The skinniest of the three guitarists also shouted lyrics into the microphone. None of the words were intelligible, or at least I couldn’t make out any of it because my ears were ringing so loudly. As the number of songs progressed, more and more people continued to trickle in to fill the seats around us. They must be experienced concertgoers, I thought to myself. They knew this awful group would play first.

I often told myself that I can live through 24 hours of anything life throws at me, but this group was changing my mind. I lost count at six numbers. The songs sounded somewhat different, but the same. It was just organized noise. After thirty minutes of this torture, the group finally left the stage to some weak applause. What a relief, we will enjoy the quiet of an intermission. Wrong, the ringing in my ears was deafening.

Peggy looked me in the eye and said, “If being here doesn’t prove that I love you, nothing does.”

“It will be better when the real group comes on,” I said.

“I hope so,” she replied.

A youngish couple in their forties sat in front of us. Their son, about twelve, was with his friend. They had a typical Yuppie appearance. The kid fascinated me.  I had the greatest urge to slap him in the head. He wore a baseball hat with a flat bill over his left ear. Why would a nice young white kid want to look like a rapper? The two boys had cell phones. The son’s flipped open to reveal a keypad for text messaging. He was texting as we sat waiting for the concert to begin. When he closed the phone, it opened a second way to reveal a regular cell phone. His father makes entirely too much money, I thought to myself. He just spent two hundred and fifty dollars to attend this concert with his family. He gives his twelve year old son a three hundred dollar phone, and he lets him dress like s _ _ t.

ZZ Top came on stage with a theatrical flair. “Much better,” I said to myself. The three of them dressed in sequined sport coats, (I guess I wasn’t the only one.) A giant light curtain behind them changed colors as they played. The drums were lit up with the band’s logo. The microphone stands were decorated with glittery stuff, the crowd stood up and cheered. Peggy and I remained seated. Two banks of giant speakers flanked the players on stage. Ten-foot high bass speakers hung from each side. Large floodlights aimed at the audience, flashed on and off, and blinded us. (Nothing like wrecking the eyes as well as the ears for enjoyment.) I finally stood up from my sixty-dollar seat to see the spectacle. Peg remained sitting. She was the only one who did (maybe it hurt her ears less to do so.) The sounds reverberated into my chest so I could feel the pulses pressing into my heart. The ringing in my ears increased in volume with the guitars. I expected the crowd to sit down, it didn’t. Why would all these morons pay sixty bucks for a seat they don’t use, I asked myself?

During the opening act, both Peggy and I had empty seats next to us. As the people began to come in those seats filled up too. First, a very large young lady plopped into the seat next to Peggy. The armrest thrust sideways into Peggy’s side as she sat down. I laughed, then two guys the size of a mountain squeezed by us to fill the seats next to me. The armrest on my side moved toward me. The man spilled over his seat into mine. He folded his arms on his chest to keep them from crushing me.

The girl next to Peggy had a boy friend in the seat behind her. They weren’t lucky enough to get seats side by side. The girl twisted sideways to talk to him.  As she did, her jeans stressed downward revealing the crease of her butt to Peggy just short of a moon. When the band came on stage, the crowd stood up. The boyfriend eased his way forward to stand next to his girlfriend. That put him into the aisle. He felt conspicuous in the aisle so he kept pushing her sideways. Eventually, Peggy was looking directly into the ass of the girlfriend.

The ZZ Top noise was just a tad better organized than the Bang Bang Boys, but it was just as loud. The song lyrics were still unintelligible, and the standing crowd was getting rowdier. The two guys next to me politely asked to pass by to exit. Thank God, I thought, at least I lasted longer then they did.  A few minutes later they returned holding beers the size of a bucket, only to squeeze past us again.

All the while, ZZ Top did not play a single song that I recognized. I looked at my watch. We had survived forty minutes. I leaned down and told Peggy to stand up, because in five minutes we would quietly go for a beer.  In thirty seconds she asked if the five minutes were up yet.

My ears are still ringing. I have chalked it up to “been there, done that,” and now I’ll move on to the next “Wild and Crazy Thing.”


Grumpa Joe

Angel Friend

In another lifetime I had an angel friend. She was by my side everywhere I went. Her willowy white wings shielded me from harm. She connected me to God and kept me straight. In the evening light she shone so bright.  For just a few moments I spied her transfiguration. Oh how I wish she were still my angel friend. I need her more now than before, but she has retired to heaven with my love.