My wife was in a “street gang” on the southwest side of Chicago near Midway Airport. The Clicky Chicks didn’t terrorize the neighborhood, but they stuck together giving each other the kind of confidence eighth-grade girls need to grow up in the city. On hot summer days, the girls would either walk around the air-conditioned Midway terminal, take the Archer Express to Oak Street Beach, or go to the home of the one Clicky Chick who had an above-ground pool.
At one time, privately owned pools were not legal in Chicago unless you were a cop, fireman, or teacher. That was one of the concessions to the unions because first responders and teachers were required to live in the city limits. Only in Chicago would that kind of deal be made.
Once a week, Rita’s little brother would sit on the fence and wait for the trash collectors to come down the alley. On one occasion, Kevin showed up at school with a pocketful of Kennedy half dollars. He told the nuns he “found them in the prairie” on his way to school. That’s what city kids called any vacant lot filled with weeds.
As was the routine, Rita had to come down to Sister Anne Marie’s office to clear up Kevin’s tall tales. The half dollars were actually an innocent birthday gift.
The reason I know these stories is that I’ve driven past the cop’s house and walked down the alley, saw the 40’ x 80’ “prairie,” and peeked in the window of St. Mary Star-of-the-Sea grammar school. I’ve even bought soda bread and corned beef from Winston’s Deli where the Clicky Chicks would stop for Irish sweets and treats.
As a high school freshman, Rita moved reluctantly out to the far west suburbs, which worked out well for me. If you married your high school sweetheart, you might think you know everything about them. But I promise you don’t. If you met after high school, there are even more mysteries to be uncovered.
You can pull out old yearbooks and ask random questions which would lead to an amusing evening. But it takes an intentional trip to the old neighborhood for the memories to really begin tumbling back. So make that happen. Drive slow and let your husband or wife whisper memories, point, and smile.
That street corner. That window. That now-empty storefront.
For some, stirring up the past uncovers swirls of memories that might have an edge of remorse or grief. If that’s true for your beloved, this journey back home may come with an unexpected dividend. Taking a devoted spouse on a nostalgia tour may be a gift of sweet release. Your life together which now includes a solid marriage built on love and trust can sweep away a dusty gathering of regrets. Hey, it turned out okay. I turned out okay. Look how far I’ve come.
It might take a Sunday afternoon drive or a cross-country expedition. You could do it with or without the kids. It might be part of spending the holiday with the in-laws. Consider scheduling your trip around a high school reunion or see if that old street gang wants to get together for one more rumble.
Make sure you carve out enough time to hold a conversation with one or two old-timers who remember the not-so-distant past. Don’t leave the neighborhood until you can picture your spouse at nine years old looking at stars out a bedroom window, jumping rope in the driveway, selling lemonade on the corner, or climbing monkey bars in the schoolyard.
Let your beloved do most of the talking that day. And, then schedule another jaunt to your old neighborhood so the two of you can retrace your old footsteps.
Question: Where will you go with your spouse?