During the summer months when I was a young guy, my friends and I were very active.
Before I was 16 and didn’t have a summer job — except for household chores — my afternoons were free, and when I reached 16 and had a regular summer job, I was still able to take part in many evening activities.
My friends and I liked to catch fireflies in our cupped hands and transfer them to a jar with small holes in the lid. We wanted to see how much light six or seven flies would emit. We released them when they started to dim.
We were able to go to a number of baseball games because someone’s mother was willing to take us to either Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park. I think we saw eight or nine games each summer. We even went to a couple of night games at Comiskey.
I have a great love for root beer, so three or four of us would ride our bikes to Westphal’s Red Label Root Beer Company on the southwest corner of Clinton and Lake in River Forest and buy bottles of home-brewed root beer.
It was fascinating to watch the machines as they bottled the root beer.
The Westphals belonged to our church, so Mr. Westphal would welcome us, give us a tour, and many times give us each a root beer.
My friend Ben had a huge swing on his front porch, so on many summer afternoons he and I would just swing, while discussing every topic that interested us, like sports, the future, and, of course, neighborhood action.
After our group of guys got our driver’s licenses and had jobs, we sometimes spent an evening at the miniature golf course on North Avenue.
To make the games interesting, each guy would pretend he was one of the pro golf stars of that time, but whether I was Sam Snead or Ben Hogan, I never won.
Once or twice a month, three or four of us would ride our bikes to Thatcher Woods and explore the trails and walk along the banks of the Des Plaines River. Sometimes we would see deer, raccoons, possums, and a red fox or two.
No one I knew had air conditioning in his or her home, so a respite from the evening heat was the Lake Theatre.
This theater always showed a double feature at a cost of 50 cents.
We never went to the Lamar on South Marion because only one movie was shown, and it was usually of the romance or musical type, attended by many senior citizens. If the Lamar was still in existence, I would now be seated front row center.
The most important of all of our activities was baseball. We played at Dunne’s lot or the fields at Holmes School and Ridgeland Common.
When we turned 16, we joined a softball league and played two evenings a week at Ridgeland Common.
Even with all of these activities, I never neglected to read at least one book a week. I either visited the main library to borrow a book or I read a book from the collection in my home.
Ah, those wonderful days and nights of summer spent in the time of my youth.
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 78 years.