On Madison

919 Madison Street in 2011.

This house is the second place I remember living. When I talk about the 1950s this place was seminal. It was recently on the real estate market with a gallery of photos. It remains inside and out much like it was when we lived there.

My sister and brother were born at local hospitals while we lived here. I started kindergarten from here in 1957. When Father went hunting or fishing with his buddies he brought back game to process it on the back porch. I learned about television, family traditions, and had my first and only pet dog named Lassie. I kissed a girl for the first time in the backyard. It was her idea. Memories return, of doing things in every part of the yard and indoors. A few photographs of the time survived.

Our maternal grandmother lived with us for a while and her ex-husband, our grandfather, visited from time to time. He was a demonstrator at the coal mining exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. He had coal worker’s pneumoconiosis from working mines in Cherry, Illinois. When he visited he would spend long periods in the bathroom coughing up phlegm. When he died of black lung disease I recall being in LaSalle, Illinois for the funeral but staying at my aunt and uncle’s home while adults attended services. Much later, during the Carter administration, Grandmother received black lung benefits from the federal government.

Father set up a swing set for me in the basement. It collapsed, resulting in my being rushed to the hospital for 50 stitches to sew my forehead back together. There are vivid memories about being injured and the time spent in the hospital. People don’t notice the scar any more yet it seemed prominent for many years.

I remember being with neighbors, sometimes inside their homes. We developed a sense of neighborhood. Not far away there were two parks: Fejervary Park to the west and Lookout Park to the east. We sledded on snow in the former and rode inside cardboard boxes down the steep hill of the latter. Occasionally I went wandering down Madison toward downtown and my parents had to come find me and bring me home.

As I revisit these years there are more memories than expected. How to approach them for an autobiography is an open question, one I need to answer. Part of me doesn’t want to organize these memories.

There is something to learn about how this pre-consumer society impacted who I am today. In the iconography of my life, this place remains important and merits consideration.