The Suburbs

Oh, this is going to be fun…

It was inevitable.  My then-husband, The Very Important Junior Executive, decided that what we really needed was a split-level home in the suburbs.  What 22-year-old woman doesn’t dream of leaving Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood for a home in the suburbs, surrounded by . . . nothing?

And not just any suburb.  We moved to unincorporated Downers Grove.  I learned a new word! “Unincorporated.”  That meant that we lived in an area that was really and truly, completely surrounded by nothing.  And at night, in 1972, it was very, very dark.  Today, it’s a very lively location, with lots of stores and better highways.  And street lights.  I still would not want to live there.

The short time spent in this house has mostly (and gratefully) been erased from my memory. I do remember that I had my own car, which was a good thing since I had to drive miles to reach civilization and shopping.  I got lost a lot.  Drop me off in any suburb today, and in two minutes, I will be lost.  Yes, even with GPS on my phone.

One of the first meals I cooked here was a small roast for Sunday dinner.  Just like Mother made.  Every Sunday.  I placed the meat in an enormous Dutch oven, put the cover on, and placed it in a 350° oven.  Two hours later, we had a lovely grey football that could not be chewed by human teeth.  So…not at all like Mother’s. I started to watch Julia Child’s The French Chef program religiously.

Which brings me to another memorable meal.  I decided to try my hand at a cheese soufflé.  Following Julia’s instructions to the letter, I produced a perfect, beautiful, cheese soufflé.  It took me 4 hours.  It was golden, and it did not fall.  I was proud and excited.  I served it with a salad on the side.  My charming then-husband surveyed the gourmet dinner I proudly presented, and asked, “Is this all we’re having?”  (I’m not at all bitter about this.)

I also remember going to a neighbor’s house for a welcome “coffee klatch.”  The mostly 30-Somethings talked only about their children and their forthcoming children, and grilled me about my then-husband’s job.  After that stimulating social event, I never actually saw any of them again.  I didn’t mind.

[Note:  I continue to refer to my “then-husband” so as not to confuse him with my current, Practically Perfect in Every Way Husband.  Which is to be read with great humor.]

Shortly after moving into the house, my then-husband had to leave on a business trip between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  I was alone in that house, on that very, very dark street, reading a new book that I had received for Christmas – The Exorcist.  I did not sleep while he was gone.  I decided I needed a dog.

On a lovely Spring day, I met two delightful neighbor children when I was in the yard with my new puppy.  They asked me where my Dad was.  Puzzled, I imagined that my father was working, so that’s what I told them.  In true Stepford fashion, they were content with that answer.  It was two days before I realized they were talking about my then-husband.  Which meant that I was the “Mom.” Yikes.

To the children, I was a mom.  On the opposite side of the coin, a Bible salesman came to our door one day and asked me if my mother was home.  When I told him that my mother was probably at home in her own house, he laughed.  Out loud.  I did not buy a bible.

After a few months of living with a puppy who refused to do her duty outside every time, not just once in a while, my husband, emulating The Grinch before his heart grew 3 sizes, decided we had to get rid of her.  I gave her to my darling Aunt Marge, who generously offered to house her, in spite of all her shortcomings.  The puppy’s shortcomings, not Aunt Marge’s.  Aunt Marge is perfect.

Shortly afterwards, I got rid of my then-husband.  Fairy tales can come true!

Here it is, 7616 Williams Street.  I did not spend much time sketching this house, because I didn’t want to.  Notice the approaching storm.  Pencil, pen and watercolor.


Next stop, independence in Brookfield.


Living on LSD

That would be Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, the sixth place I lived, from 1970 to 1972.  I arrived here when I was 19, a young bride (too young!), and I loved living in this neighborhood. We could walk to CBS, where we both worked.  Walking to work and shops (Saks Fifth Avenue!) was a new experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In 1970, this stone building was a very dark, charcoal grey color, a result of the combined years of neglect plus car exhaust.  It was divided into several apartments.  The wide, inside stairway to the second floor was a beautiful polished wood, and the steps were covered in that ubiquitous dark red, patterned, apartment building carpet. (Today, the building’s exterior is a much lighter color – presumably having been sandblasted – and is joined to the building to the south, with the whole thing divided into a few condominium apartments. Their monthly assessments are probably a little more than our $185 monthly rent.)

We had the second floor front, which included a huge living room (on the right), a small bathroom, and, next to an air shaft, the world’s tiniest kitchen.  Which was fine, since I did not know how to cook anything other than scrambled eggs and bacon.  The bedroom, on the left side, had a door leading out to the “balcony.”  I went out on the balcony once, never to return. Filthy!  I discovered that dirt was a real problem here – the windows were not very tight, and 20 minutes after cleaning them, the inside window sills would be covered with soot.  Which was fine, since I really didn’t want to clean anyway. [Update: I found an old photo, which shows that the door to the balcony was in the living room.]

lsdscurveWhile living here, I finally learned how to drive and, most importantly (for that neighborhood), how to parallel park.  On a beautiful Sunday morning, a driving instructor picked me up and immediately put me in the driver’s seat!  We proceeded to the Outer Drive, where he actually had me navigate the terrifying “S-curve.”  My first day!  We both survived, but I had severe doubts about his sanity.  For years, I remained terrified of those two 90 degree turns, regardless of who was behind the wheel. Thankfully, it is no longer with us!  And, I passed my driver’s test with flying colors.

I wanted to sketch this building properly, so much so that, when I was finished drawing, my shoulders ached, my hand hurt, and I had a headache!  I hadn’t realized how tense I was until it was finished.  (And this is why I can’t sketch buildings when I am out and about with the Urban Sketchers!)  A few tricks helped – lots of lines using a ruler, lots of measuring, lots of erasing.  Pencil first, then pen and watercolor (three colors – Payne’s grey, cerulean blue, and I-don’t-know-green).  I referred to old and new photographs, as well as Google maps and images.  I kept picturing it in my mind as a black and white image, but I couldn’t resist adding just a little color.  Here is 1254 N. Lake Shore Drive.


Next stop…The Suburbs.  Or as I like to call it, the Beginning of the End.

Kildare Avenue

It always seemed fitting that we lived on a street with an Irish name, given that the majority of the neighborhood had Irish names – Lanigan, Joyce, Gavin, Garvey, McGuire (times two), Durkin, McElroy, Doyle, McInerney, Tyrell, Fitzgerald, Dennehy, McGowan, Morley, Fahey, Hannigan, Finneran, and O’Ryan – to name just a few.  Some foreigners did manage to slip through, however, with names like Graff, Milano, Dedo, Severino, Wargo.  (Whoever heard of a name ending in “o?”)  But I’m glad they were there, especially since my best friend for life, Carla Milano, moved in next door. Our other best friend for life, Marie Joyce, lived just a half block away.  We were inseparable – and still are.  I believe our 60th Anniversary is this year!

And what would I have done without Mrs. Graff?  She was always there for me, and she is to this day.  I still call her Mrs. Graff – I wouldn’t dream of calling her Dolores!  It would be like calling your mother or an aunt or a grandmother by her first name.  It just can’t – and shouldn’t – be done!

This is the house in which my sister, brother, and I grew up.  I lived in this house from 1956 until 1970.  A lot of “firsts” happened while we lived in this house – First Communion (I had to start by mentioning this most important event, otherwise Father Griffin would haunt me – and yes, of course, our parish priests had Irish names, too), first grade (and first encounter with a nun), first ballet lesson, first (and only) baby brother was born, first pajama party, first dog (Kelly!), first Nancy Drew book, first date, first kiss, first time [attempting] driving a car (stick shift on the column, tears of laughter running down my dad’s face), first marriage (sorry, Father G!).

It was a wonderful neighborhood, overflowing with baby-boomers, who spent all summer outside, playing games, riding bikes, roller skating (guarding our skate keys!), playing ball in the street.  Our particular block was not a through-street, so there were hardly any annoying interruptions in the ball-playing activities.  We all walked to school.  When we had an important event – like Communion, Confirmation, or graduation – it was not unusual for one of the parish priests to make an appearance at your party.  I think they were just looking for free beer.

I could go on and on (as if I haven’t been doing just that), but I’ll stop here.  Thank you for traveling down memory lane with me!

Here is 8033 South Kildare Avenue in Chicago.


Fourth place goes to…

Evergreen Park!  Definitely not fourth place in my heart, however.  I always loved my cousins’ home, and was happy to live there for a short while.  My childhood memories start to become a little clearer – we lived there from 1955 to 1956.  There were two, out of a future five, Heneghan cousins at that time (now collectively known as the “Henegirls”), and my uncle’s job took them to Baltimore for a year or so.  While they were gone, and while our neighborhood in Chicago was being built, we lived in their beautiful home in Evergreen Park.

While living in this house, I started kindergarten at the ripe old age of 4.  I had my tonsils out.  I remember when I came home from the hospital, I was allowed to sleep in the big bed on the first floor.  Someone presented me with a Jack-in-the-Box that scared the hell out of me.

The years that followed included family parties and sleepovers, running through the “prairie” when we were told to stay away from there (it was actually just a vacant lot between houses, but we thought it was wonderfully exciting and dangerous), running away from snakes (there were a lot of garden snakes in Evergreen Park!), playing all the usual outdoor games, standing outside my friend’s house yelling, “yo-o-o Maureen” in that universal sing-song voice.  At this house, we had our combined eighth-grade graduation party.

My favorite memories of this house are of my cousin’s teenage bedroom, which included the dormer in the front of the house, and a “secret passage” behind the paneling.  We sang into our rat-tailed hairbrushes, and danced to “Walk Like a Man” by the Four Seasons. I learned how to do the stroll and the cha-cha.  I learned how to smoke.  We were both in the Brother Rice High School senior class production of Oklahoma, which meant I was able to spend more time sleeping over, since they lived a few blocks from the school.

My uncle designed this home, and it was sad to leave it behind when he moved the family to Wisconsin.  But the memories never fade.


Next stop, 80th & Kildare in Chicago…

My Third Place

The third place I lived, that is.  The Charles Building at 9101 S. Ashland Avenue – I was three years old.  My Aunt Genevieve and Uncle Bob lived in an apartment here.  They moved out, and we moved in.

This is the home where my first real memories begin…my parents’ Murphy bed, my crib in the dining area, the ceiling falling on me while I was sleeping in said crib, laundry hanging in the back courtyard, walking up Ashland Avenue with my dad on a Saturday morning.  It was one of my favorite things to do. We would pass the building with the “crazy clocks,” as we called them. They may have been barometers or thermometers, and they hung out over the sidewalk, each clock face with a single hand that seemed to move in no particular direction.

The best thing that happened when we lived there was the birth of my sister.  And after a short while, of course, we would move again…but that’s another story.

Yesterday, my husband drove us to 91st and Ashland.  I sat in the car and sketched the Charles Building, first with pencil, then with my mother’s Parker fountain pen, circa 1945. I marveled at how well preserved the building is, in spite of the somewhat questionable stores that now occupy the ground level.  It is a beautiful building, with lovely details – if I were an architect, I would be better able to do justice to one of the more forgotten buildings in Chicago.  I still love it!


Next stop, Evergreen Park…