My family shopped at Liska’s on Division Street, just east of Austin, during the late 1940s and into the early ’50s. The two men who owned the place, Bob and Walt Liska, were Marine Corps veterans of WWII. Bob was in charge of produce and dry goods, and Walt was the butcher.
Walt had the largest biceps of any man I had ever seen, and my dream was to have muscles like his. Well, that never happened as those of you who know me are aware. My mother wanted to shop at a larger store, so we moved on to Smithfield’s about the time I started eighth grade in 1952.
On the east side of Marion Street, two buildings north of Augusta, was Angie’s. This place was small, but it was a great place for young guys to buy baseball cards, gum, candy and pop. Once in a while I was sent there to buy milk and bread.
Across Chicago Avenue from Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop was a grocery store named Pedersen’s. Mr. Pedersen had been a fire department chief in Oak Park. The place always smelled of chicken noodle soup, which he kept on low heat all year ’round. He was a big, scary, grouchy man, so I rarely went there to buy bread (25 cents a loaf) or milk. Another thing that kept me away from the store was that he had a fox terrier with the same temperament as himself. The dog roamed the store and had an aversion to all people-especially kids.
On the corner of Garfield Street and Home Avenue was Ensweiler’s. I never bought any groceries there, but my friend, classmate and fellow Oak Parker, Dan Davidson, worked for Mr. Ensweiler during Dan’s high school years.
The following information comes from Dan:
Ensweiler’s was a Central Grocers (Certified). Mr. Ensweiler extended credit to many people in the surrounding neighborhood. His daughter and her family lived above the store, and his son worked at the store on a part-time basis. Dan got his first driving lesson on a 1947 Chevrolet panel truck in which he drove the garbage to the incinerator in Maywood. Mr. Ensweiler provided grocery delivery service to his customers in Oak Park and Forest Park, and Dan made many deliveries on foot to customers living near the store. Mr. Ensweiler had a chicken coop behind the store which he later converted to a garage.
Whatever happened to those days of great service and trust?
Since we traveled North Avenue in a previous nostalgia trip, I thought it would be nice to take a side trip on Thatcher. I remember going to the Trailside Museum on Chicago at Thatcher a number of times in the early 1950s. I was always amazed by the number of small animals that could be found in Thatcher Woods.
During the fall of my sophomore year in high school, my biology teacher, Mr. Hawk, assigned our class the task of collecting as many different leaves as we could find in order to make a scrapbook. Two trips to the woods netted me enough leaves, but it also netted me one of the worst colds I ever had.
The large parking lot on Chicago Avenue just west of Thatcher was known to many as “tail-light.” If you use your imagination, you will realize the meaning of this name. If you are puzzled, I will give you a hint: it was a place for high school boys and girls to go during dates in order to pay lip service to important issues.
On the northeast corner of Thatcher/North was a restaurant called “King Cole” (now a CVS pharmacy), which I went to about six or seven times in 10 years. Crossing North Avenue and driving north a few blocks, you come to the Oak Park Country Club. Since no one in my neighborhood played golf, swam or played tennis regularly, I have entered the gates of this place only twice-once as the dinner guest of a member and once for the OPRF High School Class of 1957 50th reunion.
It would be an adventure to live on Thatcher Road because it is the only street in Oak Park/River Forest that borders an area where the local flora and fauna come together so dramatically.