The view from my windows

Opinion: Columns

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By John Stranger

In the house where I grew up, my bedroom was in the northeast corner of the second floor. It was the smallest bedroom in the house, but I had a view of our backyard and six other properties.

From my north-facing window, I could see the home that belonged to our neighbors, the Grissoms. Their home was built like a Swiss chalet and had a beautiful backyard, which was tended by Dr. Grissom, who spent many hours cultivating his three flower beds.

When the Grissoms moved in 1958, the Stroths became our neighbors, and they built an above-ground swimming pool which was almost immediately below my window. They also maintained the flower gardens started by Dr. Grissom.

From the east-facing window, I could see most of our backyard, including my grandmother's vegetable and flower gardens, along with our winding driveway and two-car garage.

The garage doors had many small glass panes, and here is where I learned the art of window replacement, because I knocked out many panes batting balls.

Directly behind us and on the 500 block of North Euclid was the Bourne home, which I could see from my east window. Kids spent a lot of time playing softball in the Bournes' backyard. There was a large picture window in their dining room, which faced home plate, and during one game, Johnny Merton hit it with a line drive. Luckily, the window didn't break, but Mr. Bourne told us that we could no longer play ball in his yard.

To the north of the Bournes was the Kaska home. One June afternoon in 1961 while I was reading in my bedroom, I heard the sounds of music, and when I looked out the window, I saw many people standing in their yard. I suddenly remembered that Barbara, their eldest daughter — and my classmate (at Holmes and OPRF) — was celebrating her wedding with a backyard reception. I watched for a few minutes and then resumed reading.

To the north of the Kaskas was the Deckerts. Before they built this ranch home, the lot served as our football field. I could see only the roof and south side of their home, but I remember thinking how easy this home would be to maintain because it was only one story in height and had less lawn and driveway area than we did.

Next to the Bournes on the south was the Allbright home, which I could also see from my east window. An elderly woman and her daughter were the only people living in this huge colonial home on the northwest corner of Chicago and Euclid. The house was completely dark at night except for a dim light burning in a second-floor window. My friends didn't want to stop here on Halloween, but I did (when I was in the middle grades), and I always received two caramel apples.

Next door to us to the southeast was the Art League building. When I was growing up, it was permissible to burn papers outside, and that is how I met Al Di Giacomo, the custodian of this building. We both burned papers at the same time on Thursday afternoons. He was a friendly guy who liked to talk about sports, art and food. I could talk sports, but I was lost when it came to art and the specifics of food.

The residents I knew in our neighborhood were good people who cared for each other and took pride in their homes, their families, their village and their country. It was a pleasure to call them my friends.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 73 years.

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