Monday, February 18, 2013

Summer Vacation

When I was twelve years old, my parents arranged for me to visit my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Sylvester and sisters’ Aunt Rebecca and Cornelia, in Chicago. Uncle Sylvester was a barber and had his own barbershop on Maxwell Street, in what was then called “Jew Town.” Maxwell Street was filled with all types of merchants from every country. You could find anything that you needed or wanted. People from all over Chicago would come to Maxwell Street to shop. The street seemed to never end, as continuous stands were set up along the way to sell various merchandise. The scents of fresh food filled the air. Maxwell Street was such a wonderful and exciting place for me to visit. I looked forward everyday with anticipation wondering what new experience was in my future for that day. 

         Aunt Rebecca prepared lunch for uncle Sylvester daily, and one of my jobs was to take it to him and wait until he finished eating. While waiting, I had to sweep the barber shop floor. Then I would return home with the empty dishes from his lunch.

         I had to take two buses on my way to and from Maxwell Street.  At the bus stops and on the buses, young gang members robbed me several times. I was approach once by gang members with a policeman standing on the other side of the street. After being robbed, I told the policemen what had happen just minutes before. He did not show any concern for my situation except to tell me to stay out of trouble. He treated me as if I had provoked the robbers.

        The visit to Chicago was my first exposure to big-city life, where the doors were kept locked, and traffic sounds from the street were very loud and noisy. The newspapers were filled with stories about crime.    

       I watched television for the first time in Chicago. I would sit for hours and watch anything that was on TV, even the cooking shows. That summer vacation exposed me to a lot of new thing including a visit to the Chicago zoo.

        The one thing that stands out vivid in my memory was a visit to the Chicago Natural History Museum. I spent a whole day there looking at prehistoric animal skeletons and playing with the exhibits. It was a wonderful place to go for a kid who had a curious and open mind. I wanted to buy something to remind me of my visit. The only thing that I could afford was a rock collection with twelve different small samples in a display case. I bought that rock collection and kept it all through high school.  I believe we still have it someplace in storage.
      Uncle Sylvester owned and lived in a two-family flat on the west side of Chicago on Trumbull Street, between Fourteenth and Fifteenth. Across the street lived the mother of Dinah Washington, the very famous Blues, and Jazz singer. Her two boys lived with their grandmother. The boys were allowed to play outside, but they were never allowed to leave the yard. Dinah Washington came to visit her family while I was in Chicago. She arrived in a very large black limousine. The street was filled with reporters. I did not know who she was at the time, and I had no interest in seeing her. Looking back, I wish that, I had paid more attention to the events surrounding her visit to our street.
       At the end of summer vacation, I returned home from Chicago with all kinds of wonderful stories to tell my friends.