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recollections

JahnGrad

Emails:
(used with permission)
 
 

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Gerhard

Gerhard Thomsen (Jan '58) wrote this letter to Claude Peters (June '51) after reading Claude's Lakeview memories:
 

Sorry this took so long to respond to your paper of life on Fletcher Street. I read it, but then set it aside and got buried for awhile.

 

I was born in January 1944 so my memories of the period only cover from maybe 1948 to 1951.

 

I was not old enough to remember the stars in the windows of homes of families that had members serving in the Armed Forces overseas. However, I do remember a memorial plaque and wreath set on a pole right at the corner of Fletcher and Hoyne. The plaque was black with white embossed lettering. I believe there was one name on it. Just below the plaque was a small wreath. Twice I remember witnessing a four man color guard march in, repair or replace the wreath, blow taps, fire a three gun salute, then march off down the street to the next memorial wreath on their appointed rounds. Presumably this ceremony occurred on Memorial Day and was performed by members of the American Legion or another veteran’s organization. By 1950 we were off on another war and I don't recall ever witnessing that ceremony again. The memorial was gone at some point.

 

Next to Jakes Butcher Shop on the southwest corner of Belmont and Hoyne was a small grocery store. We knew the proprietor as a Mrs. Veitage(?). I have no knowledge of her children. She was a very nice lady with brunette hair pulled back into a bun. We used to buy a caraway seeded rye bread with a delicious crisp tan crust from her shop regularly.

 

In regard to butcher shops, in those days we purchased all or meat from butchers, not from super markets. I think this was true for most people at the time because their used to be butchers in about every block along the main thoroughfares. For cold cuts, sausages, hot dogs, etc., these would be purchased from Kuhn's Delicatessen on the east side of Lincoln Ave. just south of Barry. In fact, sandwiches were our main meal Saturday evenings especially in summer when my brother and I would be out running around.

 

I was too young to have eaten at the diner on the northeast corner of Wolcott and Belmont. It soon disappeared. I do remember eating in the Jahn lunchroom occasionally. "Smitty" always made sure the children had a nutritious hot lunch.

 

On the southwest corner of Wolcott and Belmont was a drug store, Bangert's Drugs. Like Michael's Drugs at the southeast corner of Hoyne and Belmont, drug stores of that day were owned and staffed by a pharmacist. In addition to the prescription drug segment, drug stores of that day typically sold over the counter non prescription drugs, first aid products, sick room supplies, some medical equipment, personal hygiene products, cosmetics and featured a soda fountain. They were not the mass merchandisers of modern day. When you walked into a drugstore in that day and age, you knew exactly what you would find. For me, the main attraction was of course the soda fountain. You could get ice cream cones, sundaes, malts, shakes, cokes, cherry cokes, chocolate phosphates, and my personal favorite - chocolate sodas.

 

About two doors west of Wolcott on the north side of Belmont was a newspaper shop for lack of a better term. The name of the shop escapes me, but I don't think it carried enough of a product line to really call it a variety store, though you might. The shop was a major seller of newspapers, magazines and tobacco products, yet it was important to young boys at the time because it was also a source of some toy staples. It was here that we bought tops, marbles, yo-yo's and kites; toys a young boy of today's times would never even think about. Imagine such a shop subsisting in today's big box store mass merchandising world.

 

That same shop was also important to our family because we bought our Sunday papers there. We bought the Sunday Tribune and the Sontag Zeitung (Sunday Paper, a German weekly newspaper). Since my mother's main social contacts were German speaking relatives and friends, she always preferred to read and write in German, so she enjoyed the Sontag Zeitung. As a matter of fact, the Hamlin Park library carried a section of German language books around that time. My mother would occasionally ask my brother to select and checkout a German language book on his library card for her to read. On the other hand, my father, employed outside the home social circle, was equally at home in conversing, reading or writing in English or German.

 

The Sunday Tribune was important to me because my dad would read the funnies to me. I would sit in his lap and kind of follow along where he was reading, so I began to do some rudimentary reading at a young age. Neither my brother nor I were ever taught to read or write in German, but my parents made a point of speaking both German and English at home so that we had a conversational understanding of German. We could speak English and German by the time we started school. What better time to learn a language than when you are a young child? Of course my brother had a longer exposure to speaking German since he was four years older. By the time I started school, the emphasis on German subsided. My parents would still speak German to us occasionally when some expressions, concepts, etc. were better conveyed in German, but my brother and I would respond in English.

 

A major social event at the time was going to the "show". Every Friday night, my father, mother, brother and I would walk three blocks north to the Roscoe Theater on the north side of Roscoe just east of Hoyne, across from Hoffing's Department Store (another casualty of mass marketing). There would be a double feature playing, so we as children would be up late. No matter; I was always wide awake for the westerns! Also, a group of Fletcher Street kids would sometimes go to the Belmont Theater matinee on Saturday's and watch four or five hours of cartoons, or occasionally Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman features, or Abbot and Costello. About this same time, or possibly slightly later, we may also have gone to the Bug Theater on Damen south of Irving, or the North Center on Lincoln north of Irving Park.

 

Another social center at the time was Hamlin Park. We only lived a block away. As a preschooler, I used to walk over to Hamlin Park in my bathing suit and spend the afternoon alternating between the "pee pool", gliding on my hands in the pool, then drying myself in the sun as I played in the sand boxes. At the time, you may have been using the "big pool" for slightly older kids. The "big pool" alternated between girls and boys swim days because there was only one changing facility. My brother would later become one of the life guards at the "big pool".

 

As an anecdote to the "big pool", one day a group of us Fletcher Street kids found ourselves climbing the fence and playing on top of the bath house changing facility roof. I always seemed to be the youngest of the group by three or four years; more children on the block seemed to be my brother's age. Suddenly, a police car appeared! We all scrambled off the roof and down the fence, but the police were standing there waiting for us all as we got back down to the sidewalk. The police told us we had broken the law and warned us we could all go to jail. Then they took me into custody and put me in the back of their cruiser as my block buddies looked on haplessly! They slowly drove me along Barry toward Damen as they elicited my promise I would never break the law again. The one partner nodded to the driver and they pulled over to the curb, opened the door, and told me I could go back to my block buddies so long as I obeyed the law. I ran back down the block to my friends, happy not to be going to jail! It was a different time maybe; a time when law officers still commanded some respect - or was it that I was still a very young child?

 

I mentioned the Hamlin Park library which was located at the northeast end of the building on the main floor adjacent to the playground. Below it was the wood shop. This was where all of us got our ubiquitous German luger wooden models. The shop masters would cut the luger from a template for the kids, and then you sanded, painted and stained the luger, usually in silver paint on the barrel and bolt mechanism, and dark brown stain for the stock.

 

Age differences as a pre-teenager of even a couple of years can be a tremendous disparity. However, I remember one time in summer evenings when anyone on the block could play. This was essentially a "hide and seek" game, played after dark. On warm summer nights, the fire flies glowing in the dark (what ever happened to them?), one person closed their eyes, leaned against the lamp post across from where you used to live, and counted to thirty while everyone else scattered and hid. The boundaries for the game were designated as the end of Fletcher on the east, the Loible home on the west and you could not go beyond the back of any home fronting Fletcher Street on the north or south side of the street. You would hide behind hedges, cars, climb trees, hide in stairwells, etc.

 

Jahn School was named after a German who promoted a fellowship bond between individuals with the common goal of fitness and health. These individuals were called "turners". Given the ethnic German heritage of our neighborhood, it is not surprising that several turner organizations existed at the time. To my memory, there were Northwest Turners, Lincoln Turners and Social Turners. (Lincoln Turners were distinguished by the fact that they had a pool. Although Lincoln and the other turner organizations are gone, the natatorium still existed on Diversey just west of Sheffield as of a few years ago.)

 

My brother and I belonged to Social Turners for about three years. Social Turners was located on a second floor walk up of a stucco sided building located on the southeast corner of Belmont and Paulina. The turner hall had a full gymnasium and locker room. My brother and I would attend three days a week after school for an hour or so. Basically, fitness was the goal. Classes were run by a Dr. Stroble. Although I don't know if he was in fact a doctor, or in what degree, I do remember he was a man probably easily sixty years of age with the physical conditioning of a well conditioned twenty-five year old. The training regimen would include calisthenics, games involving cardio-vascular conditioning, tumbling and gymnastics. Gymnastics were at the most difficult top of the pyramid and included the parallel bars, rings, horse, buck (short horse without handles) and the horizontal bar. The turner organizations and the classes soon disappeared in the 1951 time frame, or soon thereafter.

 

You mentioned a number of teachers at Jahn that we both shared in common through the years. I have fond memories of many of them. They really cared about their students. One funny anecdote I would share with you; my first half day in kindergarten. I attended Mrs. Nordell's morning half day class on the first day. Recess occurred about 10:15 AM. I went outside, wondered what the HELL everybody was hanging around for, and walked back home! When I arrived back home, my mother looked at me quizzically for a moment, then began to laugh. The phone rang soon after, wondering of my whereabouts.

 

Speaking of phones, in those days we shared party lines. I remember our own phone number at the time being (Diversey) DI-8-3558. At times you might pick up the phone to make a call and you might hear other parties on the line. You would have to wait until the other parties finished before you could make your call. (This was the theme of Pillow Talk, the popular movie starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day.)

 

Finally, you referenced a classmate of yours named Becker. My knowledge of this family includes three brothers that lived on the east side of Damen just south of Barry. The eldest son was very short and muscular who was referred to as "Shotgun" Becker. He was an excellent gymnast. The second Becker son, your classmate, I don't have knowledge. The third and youngest Becker son "Jimmy" was my brother's age.

They played on the same football teams and gymnastics exhibitions together. In my recollection, Jimmy Becker was an accomplished all around athlete.

 

Claude, I appreciate your sending me a copy of your paper. It's taken me a while to respond, for which I apologize. I hope my response will be an adjunct to your already excellent memoirs of the time.

To visit Claude's Lakeview Memories, click here

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