This letter is in response to one written a few months ago about growing up on the 100 block of South Elmwood in the '80s. Maureen Kuenster grew up on that same block, 20 years earlier, in the sixties.
The alley was the lifeline of our block, with the block identity delineated by the streets. Our block, 100 South Elmwood and 100 South Scoville, was composed primarily of large middle class Irish, German and Italian/Catholic families. Our family, with 9 children, was not unlike the rest. The Collins' had 13 children, the Patush's 11, the Kirschner's 10, the Liss' three, the Monahan's four, the Romano's four, the Nelson's three, the Siemer's five boys, the Batson's three, Murphy's four, the Owens' four, the Baer's six and the Smith's had three children. The last five families were Protestant; the rest belonged to St Edmund's parish.
In the morning, at noon and after school, Pleasant Street, from Ridgeland Avenue on west, was flooded with uniformed St. Edmund students walking to and from school. On Sundays, church was packed, with children squeezing into pews with classmates and friends. Girls wore hats and white gloves. Our lives revolved around the school and parish activities, religious celebrations, Brownies, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, sports (for boys only, girls could be cheerleaders for the football team), band, and school presentations. We attended the school carnival held in the gymnasium, which had games and a cakewalk. We attended school band concerts, choir concerts, school plays, pancake breakfasts, lunches and dinners for every conceivable and seasonal reason. There was a deliberate effort by the Saint Edmund community to seek equality and inclusion at these functions. For example, everyone was expected to help clean the room and the dishes. The janitor, "Anton," held great respect with the parishioners.
Our neighborhood teemed with children whose main activities were every childhood game around at that time. We played hide and seek, "IT," "fort," capture the flag, dodge ball, kickball, softball, two square, four square, jacks, hop scotch, statue maker, jump rope, Cops and Robbers, spud and scramble. One winter, after Christmas, we gathered every discarded Christmas tree from the block and created a huge fort in an unused three car parking area. We left handwritten notes for the garbage men to "please leave our fort alone" to no avail. We put on plays on front porches and in basements to neighborhood audiences. Mrs. Nelson organized the "Alley Rally" (a block party in the alley) starting in 1967. It was at the time of the first Alley Rally that we counted 108 children under the age of eighteen on the block.
We knew the insides and outsides of every house on our block; we knew every secret passage in the old building around the neighborhood; we climbed in the apartment buildings under construction. Today, most of the houses have high wooden fences and you cannot see into the yards from the alley. In the sixties, the alley was a meeting spot for baseball, basketball and any other kind of game, nobody was excluded. Teams and captains were chosen. Summer was wonderful, no school and everybody stayed around. Ridgeland pool had just been opened; we would line up to get in on the hot summer days. Before Rehm pool was opened, Ridgeland pool was so crowded that two swim periods were necessary in the afternoon?#34;one at 1 p.m., and another at 3. There were so many children in the pool that you couldn't hope to swim more than a few strokes, you could hardly move without bumping into someone. Of course we didn't think about swimming, just went to play and cool off.
All of the families were one car families. In our family, the car was used by my father to get to and from work, for yearly family vacation trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota and for the weekly grocery shopping trip to the Jewel on Madison Street at Cuyler. The milkman delivered milk in gallon glass bottles which froze and exploded if left out on the back porch in the winter. The milk trucks were kept cool by big ice blocks, which to our delight were occasionally emptied in our alley if the milkman had finished his route. We bought bread from Minnick's bakery on the west side of the 100 block of South Ridgeland. There was also the Fruchter Brothers' butcher and grocery store, on South Boulevard, just east of Ridgeland, which had a great choice of candy. Val's record store was opened in the late '6Os on the 100 block of South Ridgeland. We walked everywhere. Just about everything was within walking distance?#34;from music lessons to sports activities.
It was an exciting time to grow up, a bunch of crazy kids from solid families Everything was possible and always worth a try.
Gregg and Mary Jo Kuenster contributed.