by Larry Teren
Events of the 1950’s that I recollect are experienced in Chicago’s West Garfield Park, a neighborhood on the middle part of the west side of the city. We lived on the 4400 block of Jackson Boulevard a half mile north of the new construction underway to carve out the Congress Expressway. Years later, at the beginning of 1964, it was renamed the Eisenhower after the still-living ex-president who almost a decade earlier signed into law the National Highway Act.
Back then, Ma’s parents still lived a little bit south of the new highway. Later, they moved to an apartment building on Congress Parkway (along the north side the highway) a couple of doors east of the corner at Kostner Street. One Thanksgiving Ma and Dad trudged my two sisters and me to our grandparents for the official holiday dinner.
As we exited the car one of us- I don’t remember whom- got a finger caught in the car door and was screaming bloody murder. Immediately, as was typical in our happy family, one of the kids got the blame and it became a scene of yelling, accusing and threatening and crying. When we got to the apartment upstairs, my grandparents took pleasure joining in the fracas as they seemed to enjoy having a reason to be upset either with each other or anyone else for that matter.
I quickly found out that the main course was goose and not turkey. It had been drilled into me at such a tender age from watching television that turkey was the bird of choice for Thanksgiving meals. Three thoughts were raging through my mind-
One was that I was emotionally prepared to put a piece of turkey in my mouth and now this old lady was ruining my sense of karma.
Another was wondering if my grandmother was somehow un-American- maybe even a communist? (After all, she had moved to the US from Russia)
The third lame-brained notion was how could I eat a goose when I happened to adore Garfield Goose, the ersatz King of the United States puppet who co-hosted a popular daily cartoon television show in Chicago?
Years later I visited a fancy resort in the Catskills and saw that goose was an entree on the dinner menu. I thought for a moment back to the association of a smashed finger and eating Garfield so I decided on capon instead. At the time I had no idea what it was and still don’t other than it had wings and flew (before it got cooked).
Getting back to the Congress Highway- by 1955 portions were in use. It would not be completed until 1960. As the laws of physics put it: “for every action, there was a reaction”. With the displaced real estate properties and earth, there was also an unpleasant element suffered by the local population. Many rodents were forced out of their natural habitat and took up space in some of the apartment buildings on Jackson Boulevard.
On one occasion, I was trying to impress Ma by tying my shoe laces while sitting on the kitchen floor as she listened to either Gunsmoke or Have Gun Will Travel on the radio while also yapping on the phone. All of a sudden, she startled me by screaming and then quickly running out of the room. My older sister often enjoyed reminding me that Ma left me with a rat (something about birds of a feather flock together- except this was no bird) she saw crawling behind the stove. Again, my sister said the you-know-what would not have harmed me anyway out of professional courtesy.
Ma ran to the neighbor next to us on the same floor and the lady asked if in her haste Ma had left anyone behind. That’s when she came back to escort me to safety although I had not finished tying my shoes. Nick the janitor sealed up the hole in the wall behind the stove in the kitchen.
That episode may have been the catalyst to when my parents started to think about moving. We did get away from the ‘hood as quickly as possible further west to the Austin area and had no more uninvited visitors other than a nervous bird that flew into the enclosed back porch when someone left the window open without the screen in place. No, it wasn’t a goose.