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.

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TEEN GANG

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.

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