When I was in elementary and high school, I witnessed three events that could have turned out much worse than they did. 

Back in the ’50s, the village of Oak Park permitted home residents to burn paper trash once per week. The people on our block burned papers on Thursdays. 

On a Thursday afternoon in the late summer of 1953, I was burning papers, as was Mrs. Fitzsimmons, the 75-year-old mother of our neighbor, Mrs. Dunne. 

Suddenly, I heard screaming coming from the Dunne’s yard, and when I looked, I saw that the left side of Mrs. Fitzsimmons’ dress was on fire. Fortunately, her grandson, Gerry, was watering flowers in the yard, so he turned the hose on his grandmother. Mrs, Fitzsimmons had fainted, but Mrs. Dunne had heard the screaming. She came outside, assessed the situation and dashed into the house and called for an ambulance. 

Mr. Fitzsimmons spent several months in West Suburban Hospital undergoing skin grafts on her left leg and left arm. When she returned to her home, she told me she was almost completely healed. She also said that Gerry’s quick action undoubtedly saved her life. 

On a summer day in the mid-’50s, about 10 of us guys were playing softball in the lot on the northeast corner of Oak Park and Chicago when a large, angry dog came on the lot. The growling dog slowly advanced on Gerry Dunne who was preparing to bat. Gerry froze as did the rest of us Suddenly, however, Billy Becker ran toward the dog yelling at the top of his lungs, and when he was about 10 feet from the dog, the dog turned tail and ran north on Oak Park Avenue. 

From that day forth, Billy was looked upon as a hero. 

In the late afternoon of Nov. 12, 1951, I walked with my grandfather to Zehender’s Pharmacy at Chicago and Marion so that he could buy a pack of cigars. I remember the date because it was my grandfather’s 71st birthday. 

While we were in the store, he bought the Panatellas and even sprang for a pack of gum for me. 

Just as we were preparing to cross Marion to walk east, we heard the squeal of brakes on Chicago Avenue. When I looked in the direction of the noise, I saw a woman get hit by a car. She fell to the pavement and was motionless. 

Within a minute, two of Mr. Zehender’s employees ran out of the store carrying a stretcher. The men carefully lifted her body onto the stretcher and carried her into the store where they placed both her and the stretcher on the floor. 

When my grandfather and I looked at the woman, we recognized her as a person who lived on our block. 

Within a few minutes, an ambulance arrived to transport the woman to the hospital. The police also showed up at the same time. 

A few weeks later, I was in Zehender’s and asked Mr. Zehender if he knew how the lady was doing. He said she had been knocked unconscious and her left leg had been broken. He also said the police had arrested the driver for being drunk. 

About three weeks later, my mother called the lady at her home, and the woman said her leg was healing well and she expected to be walking without a cane within a week. 

In mid-January, I saw the lady walking without support south on Oak Park Avenue. 

Any one of these events, but for the grace of God, could have been tragic. 

But everything turned out well.

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 a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 74 years.

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