Your article on the latest re-development of Taylor Park triggered a flood of fond, old memories, all born in our parks. But first, a disclaimer: Though I have lived in Oak Park for over 40 years, I can never truly be a DOOPer (Dear Old Oak Parker). I was born on the wrong side ofAustin Boulevard. And as the poet said, that has made all the difference.
One of my earliest park recollections is of Hans Andersen Playground. When I was a toddler, my older sister would take me there to play on the swings. And, as I recall, there was a small wading pool that probably defined that old alphabet helper-P, as in swimming. I also clearly remember a summer day when a woman firmly told my sweet sister to get your fanny and your brother back where you belong.
Perhaps Hemingway was right.
I now live directly across the alley on Taylor and the calls of children playing is music to my ears.
But really, I grew up in Taylor Park. Most of my young friends lived west of Austin and from the time we had bikes, that’s where we were. No one called it Taylor Park back then. Old folks called it Skelton Park. We kids added another “e”. And Skeleton Park had a hill! (Admittedly, our definitions were generous about that vague slope.) Between summer bikes and winter sleds, we probably leveled that sucker down by a good two feet.
At the base of the hill, there was an old bandshell that, I suspect, was torn down in the late 1950s. I never recall that it was used for any purpose other than as a place for grade school buddies to smoke cigarettes they swiped from their fathers. It was wonderful!
On the north side of the park, there was a phony creek bed, usually dry and weed-choked. But there were also five or six quaint little flagstone bridges that crossed the winding creek bed. They served as launching ramps. The trick was to see how far you could jump a bike airborne. Broken arms and smashed teeth became badges of honor.
But most importantly, up along Elmwood, there was a full-fledged baseball field. Not a 16-inch diamond, so popular in the city. No, this was true baseball, 90-foot bases and a 60-foot mound. This was before the age of Little League and although we called the game League, that was simply a reference to the dimension of the ball. There wasn’t a parent around and democracy reigned. If you were good, you got picked. If not, you waited. God, those were some good games. Tough, young, strong athletes trying to find their manhood on a grassy field. Perhaps we never did, but it was sure fun searching.
One of the best athletes OPRF ever produced was a kid named Tony McNeil. Tony had everything but discipline. After high school Tony headed for Western Illinois, couldn’t get along with the football coach and ended up joining the Marines. The Corps recognized his talent, kicked his butt, taught him to toss a javelin, and sent him home on leave. I so clearly remember shagging fly balls with some buddies while Tony was on leave. Tony decided that since we were moving around the outfield catching fly balls, we also presented an excellent moving target for his javelin. Damn it, Tony, you’re coming too close!
Years later, my youngest son was baptized at a June picnic in the park. Hippie all the way! But the priest must have done his job well. My boy is a wonderful man! Or, maybe it was the park.
Today, I can’t drive by that park without loving it. It was a part of my life. And oh, what a beautiful life it has been … even if I was from the wrong side of
Oak Park, good luck on the re-development!