Looking out his window on a rainy February day, Warren Udelson encountered a view that he had not seen in over 50 years from the vantage point of his Clarence Avenue house. Udelson is a lifelong resident of the 1000 block of Clarence, save for college and the few years afterwards. Born in 1948, his parents brought him home to the house at 1028 Clarence, and after he married, he and his wife bought the house next door.
This week, when rehabbers across the street at 1027 Clarence removed two layers of siding, they revealed a painted message that brought back a flood of memories for Udelson. Painted in broad brushstrokes across the wooden clapboards fronting the house, the message reads: “Welcome Home!! Butchie!! Grab a Paint Brush Boy!”
Butchie was Edwin “Butch” Grottke, older brother to Don Grottke, Warren Udelson’s best friend growing up in Oak Park. Udelson recalls that Butch was eight years older than him and one of five Grottke children raised in the house. According to Udelson, the two families were like one in a time that seemed idyllic with football games in the streets, no locked doors and playing until all hours in the alleys behind houses.
“Don and I were like brothers, and his parents were like having two sets of parents.”
Butch left to join the army in 1957, eventually joining the Green Berets. Udelson recalls of that time, “It was a big deal when Butch went into the army. He was full of adventure and life.” Butch Grottke left home right around the time Udelson’s younger brother Jerry was born, and the senior Udelsons gave Jerry the middle name of Edwin after the neighbor the family was so close to.
When the painted message resurfaced, Udelson tracked down Barbara Grottke, now Barbara Tuttle, to tell her the story. She is the last of the five Grottke children.
Tuttle remembers that her parents painted the welcome home sign for her older brother Butch when he was returning from the army for a visit. “It would have been almost 60 years ago. They were going to paint the house and decided to write a message for Butch.”
Butch Grottke was killed in Vietnam in 1969.
Tuttle says Butch was a great brother and a colorful character who died far too young in Vietnam. He left behind a wife and two daughters.
When the house next door to his parents came up for sale shortly after he married in the 1970s, Udelson and his wife bought it to be near his parents and his brother, Mark, who had cerebral palsy. Of the Grottke house, he says, “I’ve been looking at that house my whole life. It brought back all those memories to see the words painted on the wall. I’m probably one of the only ones here who remembers Butch.”
Like so much of childhood, Udelson observes that much has changed even though he has remained on the same block for most of his life. He says that in 1968 you could stand on his block and see the smoke from the fires that enveloped the city’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When integration began to take hold in Oak Park, a neighborhood that was once “lily white” and habituated by working class families became home to a racially diverse group of professionals.
Don Grottke and Warren Udelson lost touch as childhood friends are wont to do, and Don passed away in the 1990s.
Barbara Tuttle says that her mother and Mrs. Udelson were the best of friends. “We were a huge part of their lives and vice versa. We were together constantly. It was wonderful growing up on Clarence Avenue.”
She and her niece and nephew plan to visit Warren and see the painting on the house for a walk down memory lane.
When Udelson travelled to Washington D.C., he found Butch’s name on the Vietnam Memorial and made a rubbing of it.
Noting that it might not be significant to most people, Udelson says the few painted words sparked a lot of memories of people and a period in his life that meant so much. “It’s really something to see this and remember all those days. Is there anybody left who will remember the Grottkes?”