Back in the ’60s, we called it “the buggy.” Mom would push it west on the sidewalk along 16th Street, then south along Home Avenue, with five of us riding or tagging along. As the oldest and only boy, I’d walk a bit behind her or out ahead. Kathy, the littlest, always got to ride to that special destination — Cermak Plaza — and back. Annie might get to sit with her while going, but not returning, what with four or more loaded grocery bags from Hillman’s packed in around Kathy.
When empty of non-human cargo, this four-wheeled, Mom-powered vehicle could hold two or three little sisters. They’d sit together, unbelted in the open carriage space, occasionally bouncing off one another while Mom navigated a curb.
But the trip to and from the Plaza is what I remember most vividly. It became a main event in our family for several years, at least. Covering the 1.2-mile route between home and the Plaza would take some time. Five kids, and a mom pushing a buggy, crossing streets, waving to friends who might be playing at the park on Wesley, yelling at a jerk driving too fast on 16th, keeping up a decent pace with little legs, four squeaking wheels, churning along. The round trip constituted a good day’s journey.
Mom tried to make it interesting for us, so we’d stop at GC Murphy’s or Woolworths, also at the Plaza, for ice cream or chocolate milk. When we got a little older, she’d let a couple of us hang out at Murphy’s while she shopped for the groceries. On the way back, we’d sometimes take a different route, east along Cermak Road, and buy kolaczkis at Vesecky’s Bakery.
Buggies then — strollers now — became part of the family. Over time, wear-and-tear marks them with reminders of the journeys they’ve travelled. I have pushed them filled with my kids and now my grandkids. Naturally, it’s a very hands-on trek: slow paced, with a lot of opportunity to talk about what’s going on around you. And it usually ends somewhere interesting, like a park, a store, a school, a museum — or in my case in recent years, the lakefront.
I’ve walked with my granddaughter in the stroller to many destinations along the lake and in Oak Park. She’s gotten to touch the R.R. Donnelly’s building on East Cermak Road where my dad used to work. During her orientation as a new Bears fan, I sat her at the feet of Papa Bear and Sweetness, next to Soldier Field. We took the stroller along the shore below the museums, as well as through Grant Park. When I look at her “buggy” today, getting her ready to amble through Austin Gardens in Oak Park, it evokes memories of all the places we’ve been.
Moms, dads, grandparents or caregivers pushing strollers are very much part of the walking scene in Oak Park. A couple of days ago, I trekked east on a local street when, about a half-block ahead of me, in a carriage pushed north by his parents, a little guy leaned out of his seat, looked at me, pointed, and called out, “Papa!” I waved back. When I got a little closer, his mom explained, “He thought you were his grandpa.” I replied I was indeed someone’s grandpa: “She calls me Beepa.” They responded, “OK, Beepa, have a good one.” And back we went on our different paths.
Such walks enliven a place. It’s not always easy to build community in a neighborhood or town, especially in our polarized times. But on a small scale, parents ambling attentively with kids in their strollers keep community alive. They notice and talk about the interesting things sitting in front yards and on porches. They say hi to neighbors. They play in parks.
Tiny citizens in strollers help us get along just by being with us.
Rich Kordesh is a longtime observer of the Oak Park scene.