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Memories Of A Pathfinder

Part 1, The Early Years (1958 - 1964) -- 07/28/03

At the age of eight, my mother remarried, and we moved to the house shown above. The year was 1958, a time of my life when new adventurous ideas stirred within me.

The south-side Chicago neighborhood was a 1950's typical middle-class white residential section of the city. It was a time when people would speak with their neighbors, when black-and-white TV was all there was, when people would sit in the front of their house on a warm summer's evening and say hello to passers-by, and, when businesses actually treated their customers with dignity.

On my street, the older boys that lived nearby had created a foreshortened baseball diamond between the curbs. That space during the warm weather marked the location of wiffleball games. Two teams made up from 5-6 players each spent many afternoons and nights playing to the neighbors sitting in lawn chairs just beyond the sidewalks. I played with them several times over the years and I can put myself back there in my mind as if it was just happening now. The last names of some of those families are: Jandeska, Anderson, Kent, Michellie, and Zoloto. Many others names I've forgotten over the years.

One of my best friends was Gerry Jandeska who lived across the street. We used to see each other almost every day during the nine years I lived in that house. His parents, brothers, and sister, were friendly and gave me comfort during those early years. In the middle 1960's, his family took me with them to trips to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I learned to appreciate the differences between a big city and a small town from those trips. The seeds were being sown then for a new perspective on life, but that new view took many more years to unfold, and decades more to achieve.

This building on 79th Street and Cornell Avenue was once the Avalon Theater. It is very ornate inside with a balcony. Between 1960 and 1965 I spent many afternoons there watching movies. Some of the movies I saw there were: The Alamo, North to Alaska, 13 Ghosts, Time Machine, Hatari, and Psycho. I remember when it cost 24¢ to watch a movie, 10¢ for a soda, and 25¢ for buttered popcorn. In those years there were often double-features so you could watch two movies for the price.

Above is the Caldwell Elementary School I attended from 1958 to 1964. It was a very good school and I made lots of friends there. Some of them, like Fred Gellman and Mitch Markovitz remain in contact with me to this day. Some of the teachers there were very friendly and actually could teach. Others should have found other careers because they seemed to only inflict their power over children. Still, they managed to pass on basic knowledge and skills I would later use every day of my life. In those terms they succeeded very well.

This was one of the many doors I would pass through during my years at Caldwell. The narrow space about the middle of the picture just left of the doors, brings to mind a recollection of danger and anxiety. One day around 1962, a group of kids I knew where trying to shimmy up between the two opposing walls to the roof. I was invited to try my luck and I got about six feet from the ground when I realized this was too scary for me. I jumped to the ground and felt the stinging tingling of meeting the concrete with the Red Ball gym shoes I wore on my feet. The other kids ridiculed me for bailing out, but I was never much for letting peer pressure affect me and I went off to do something else on the schools grounds.

A short time later, I saw some of those kids playing on the roof of the Gymnasium. They had succeeded in reaching the roof and were now reveling in their accomplishment. After about a half-hour or so, the kids decided to come back down via the same way they got up. It was about that time when one of the boys fell from near the top of the wall and landed with his feet on the cement. He broke both ankles in the fall. The police came, the ambulance came, and they took the crying boy away to the hospital. It took many months for him to recover. He was never the same afterwards and to my knowledge, never ran again.

Towards the far door in the distance is another entrance I used during my 4-6th grades. Those were the years when boys and girls started paying attention to one another. Outside of school hours the area was a place for the girls and boys to gather and hang-out. There was always one or two girls that all the boys chased after and one or two boys that all the girls chased after. The rest of us tagged along with unrealistic expectations.

The music of the Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Lesley Gore, and Neil Sedaka punctuated those times. Parties for birthdays were always anticipated and the guests were often treated to bowling alleys or perhaps a trip to Riverview as part of the festivities.

Some of the happiest years of my young life happened during those years. I was innocent then. I lost that innocence as the 1960's wore on.

I watched this part of the new addition being built during 1961 and 1962. We used to play inside during its construction. One time a group of my friends got caught by the police and they were hauled off to the police station along with their bikes in paddy wagons. It was another close-call for me, I was inside just the day before and playing right where the inside stairway behind this door is located. It was the last time any kids went into the construction site. In the Fall of 1962, this new addition opened and I was in the first 7th-grade class Caldwell ever had. This was the door I used during the 7th grade.

This is the door I used during my 8th grade at Caldwell. The fence that now surrounds the building and present in this picture didn't exist then. About ten feet from the steps is the place I learned on November 22, 1963, that President Kennedy had been shot. We were starting to enter the building after lunch when Gerry Jandeska came running up the walkways screaming the President had been shot! That moment is burned into my memory. In the years since, I have been to the place in Dallas where he was shot and to his grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The loss of his life changed America. My country would never be the same again. A huge part of my innocence was lost that day.

I graduated from Caldwell School in June 1964. I lived in the house shown at the top of this page until December 1967. In the nine years I lived in that home I learned a lot and had many good and bad times in-between. Some of those experiences would help prepare me for my high school years and early 20's. On the other hand, for many of the same reasons, I was left vulnerable to traumatic events yet to unfold. More about that in the other sections of this series.

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Don


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