Growing up in Evanston

I was born in Burbank, California back in 1967. My dad was a driver for Schneider Ambulance. How he landed in California, I am not absolutely sure of as he was brought up in Evanston, IL.  All I know was it was after he returned from duty during the Korean War.

When I was just under the age of two, my parents picked up everything and moved to my father's childhood hometown, where his parents still lived in a home they had rented since my father was just a boy.

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' home. That little house sitting off an alley on Florence Ave. in Evanston.  It was a small home. To get to the main living area, you had to climb a set of stairs - the main house was raised and below was a very large basement, that also included a bedroom and shower area, even though it wasn't finished like homes of today. That is where my Grandfather took his afternoon naps while Grandma and I sat in the kitchen peeling potatoes or snapping the ends off of green beans.

When I would arrive at their house, after school, Grandpa would hand me a quarter and I would walk half a block to the grocery store on the corner of Florence Avenue and Greenleaf. The name of that store was Hook's Grocery. The building still looks the same, but I doubt it still houses that grocery store where a simple quarter would purchase anything a 7-year-old girl wanted.

It was a simple life and my daily weekday routine. I would sit at their house waiting for my father to get off work from Clayton Mark where Dad was a machinist, and a damn good one - their main go-to man. If he didn't have a part to fix one of their machines, he made it.

 He would eventually be elected the president of their local UAW - my father was a leader, natural born. As a matter of fact, he was so good at it, the company tried getting him to agree to a promotion to management which would have disqualified from being an active union member -every time they made the offer, he turned it down. He would rather fight for the rights of his fellow co-workers than cash a larger check. He was a man of integrity. Oh, the stories I have from those times and his leadership.  A walking wall of a man, a powerhouse in more ways than his 6'4" 250lb muscular build. You didn't want to be a scab trying to cross my father's picket line.  They were literally fighting for humane working conditions - cancer and blood poisoning rates at the plant were out of control. They fought for their vacations and sick days.

I remember one time during contract negotiations, Dad told his men to wear their dirtiest - oiliest uniforms that they had - and to make sure they didn't shower up before leaving the plant.  They were heading down to the Loop in Chicago to meet at the company's attorney office. He wanted the pristine law office to know what true laborers looked like -he wanted the oil off their uniforms and hands to leave a mark on the white marble and overstuffed office chairs.

I remember him coming home laughing and telling me a man should never pretend to be someone he is not and there's nothing shameful about the work a hard working person does.  He chuckled quite a bit about the looks on their faces in that law office when he walked in with his men looking like they just took a grease bath. In the end, during those negotiations, they walked away with everything they wanted.  Yes, that was my Father - my example - my mentor growing up.

I used that example of my father's once when I took a bunch of parents of children with disabilities to meet with Senators. They were all worried about getting babysitters for their children, most were stay at home mothers.  I told them not to pay for someone to watch their kids, the very same kids we were fighting for the rights of - I told them to bring them with, let them see who were are and I did so as I remembered my father talking about that time in that law office. "Let them clean up after our children, let them see our world." And yes, I did chuckle when a small toddler decided to spill his drink and then puke a little bit. All I could think was that my father was laughing while watching down from Heaven and saying, "That's my Little Princess!"

Then I have the memories of being a wide-eyed girl believing in fairy tales - a distraction from some of the horrors I kept secrets of child sexual assault. I'd often get lost in my thoughts riding my bike down the streets of Evanston, taking in the beauty of some of those magnificent homes intermixed with brick apartment buildings from the Victorian era. I'd make up stories in my head of what life must be like behind the doors of those mansions. I knew them all. I had a lot of time on my hands back then.

Now when most people think of Evanston they visualize the wealth lining that lakefront and in the historic districts, but what I remember is something quite different. I remember the little ethnic neighboorhood like where my grandparents lived, nothing but Germans and Poles. The people who truly built that place into the Northshore suburb that it is.

Older and wiser now, I am firmly planted in reality and glad I grew up the way I did, with the people who had the dirty hands of building such a beautiful place. There's pride in those memories and these are the memories I enjoy the most from my childhood growing up in Evanston, a town known for the tree-lined streets, the old homes, Northwestern University and that gorgeous lakefront.

I am not sure why my thoughts are floating back to that part of my childhood lately, but I've been thinking about it quite a bit - as well as that example my father set for me. Perhaps it is because we're just past the anniversary of my father's death and his birthday. Maybe it is because of that integrity he had in standing his ground, protecting his co-workers and how he would risk all to do so. It could be because I am on the verge of making some significant changes in my life - and most are a huge risk to my own stability. Maybe it is a mixed bag of all of it - all I do know is I am grateful for the lessons I learned, growing up in Evanston.


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