While I lived at home in Bedford Park, dad was mostly unmarried. So from age eight when Marge packed a suitcase of lingerie and loose cash until age eighteen when I graduated from high school, Roy and I ate out fairly often — local restaurants and fast food from Clearing to Justice. But eateries offer so much more than food and beverage.
Those who know the southwest suburbs of Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s, the inner ones along Archer Road when it was Route #4A, will know that its heavy industries attracted large numbers of immigrants, many from Central Europe (Poles, Bohemians, Germans) and an equal number of Southern Blacks who’d come north during the 1920s and ’30s seeking an hourly wage. My grandfather (also a Roy) had done pretty much the same thing, taking a position at the Argo Plant of the Corn Products Co. and purchasing a modest home for his new family in the “company town” of Bedford Park: 7727 West 65th Place, the only house I’ve ever known as “home.” Our phone number (a two-party line) was 262-J and placing a call involved speaking with an operator who would connect you. About the time I became a teenager, we got dial service — the kind where you stuck your finger in a dial and spun it like a roulette wheel Our number got an “exchange”and several more digits because the human brain is apparently incapable of remembering seven numbers; ours was GLobe 8-3035.
The rhythm of life in Bedford Park and its neighboring ‘burbs was simpler. I walked three blocks to the W. W. Walker School for first and second grade, then was bussed to Walsh School for third through sixth. Otis P. Graves Junior High covered seventh and eighth, and Argo Community High School completed my public education. I walked there because our house was too close for bus service, and was often late. After school I pumped gas at dad’s service station, greased cars, and patched both automobile and truck tires. Five o’clock was suppertime, which I ate with Clara my widowed grandmother, then took a gift-wrapped meal to dad, and covered the pumps while he ate. My internal clock still answers to that schedule.
I read and did homework at the station, which was a teen hangout, and listened to WFMT, “Chicago’s fine arts station” with announcers like Marty Robinson and Norm Pellegrini. Those “music teachers” were my personal introduction to Serge Prokofiev, Charles Ives, Bill Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and so many other composers that are with me to this day. I also consumed enough second hand cigarette smoke to kill a coal miner; tehre was no need to smoke because others did it for me. Dad worked a seven-day week, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., until I was old enough to give him Sundays off. What he did with that time away I have no idea; let’s hope he used it well.
Some evenings we’d get in the car and drive to the Taxi Dance where Roberts Road forked off Archer, a former trolley barn adapted as a bar and dance hall; where the second floor offered services of questionable moral value. While Roy socialized, I sat on the laps of large-breasted ladies in sequined gowns who fed me french fries and Seven-Up and called me “Whitey” because I was toe-headed and very fair. Do you think Child Protective Services would have placed me in foster care if they’d known?
Now and then we’d go to a drive-in farther out on Archer Road in Justice or to another restaurant just across the Chicago city line at 63rd and Harlem. On special occasions we drove over to a steak house in Lyons; my graduations and other rites of passage were celebrated there. Downtown I’d choose Miller’s Pub on Wabash or The Berghoff on Adams between State and Dearborn. The theme here seems to be rare meat, over-cooked vegetables, cherry or apple pie and lots of milk. Encounters with more exotic fare had to wait for college.
I think often about Agincourt’s rhythms and routines. Given that there were the Bon Ton Cafe, Adams’ Restaurant and the dining room at the Blenheim Hotel (among other eateries I have neither named nor invented), how did the locals choose a place for lunch? Or for Sunday dinner after church? What system of grading or triage separated folk into social groups for the consumption of food? Was it habit or happenstance? This postcard image of the Ward & LaRose Buffet, 55 West Monroe, in Chicago brings all this back to mind. And I’m happier for the recollection.
[This is entry #780.]