We moved around a lot when I was a kid, enough for me to attend five elementary schools between 1st and 8th grade. Of all the places I've lived, 616 S. Duke Street appears to be the one that sticks out the most. That one address I remember just as clear as day, probably more than some of the more recent places we stayed during my childhood. That address isn't one to be found within the great city of Chicago, but in a small town called York Pennsylvania, where we lived for a short while.
York is where I officially started school, where I skipped Kindergarten and went straight to first grade. That was the year before Duke street, I don't quite remember that place. But Duke street, oh it was something to remember. It was where I learned to walk a mile by myself to school. I was a fearless six-seven year old girl. One of the only Black kids in my class at the time, I was used to being one of the few. It's funny how I remember stories from my days in school back then. I had a best friend named Alex, I think he may have even been my first crush.
Alex would come through the alley to keep my younger sister and I company in the yard, sometimes he'd even come around to the front porch and sit with us. I have a lot of memories on Duke street, not all good memories, yet I still seem the most fond of that place. It could be because those were the days when I felt most like a child. I remember having cake for my seventh birthday with a big smile on my face. I didn't have a big party with friends over, it was just me, my mom, my younger sister and brother. Back then I was the oldest of three children, well four, but only three of us were present.
When we left Duke street, life changed as we knew it. Coming back to Chicago was a culture shock for me mainly, because I'd experience school in a much different setting. First off, we learned way more in first and second grade in Pennsylvania than I did through most of the rest of elementary school in Chicago. Second, I talked "White," as some children and even adults in Chicago would say once I returned. It was funny to me because I'd never been told that before, but then, the funniest part is that it was mainly my family who said it the most.
I was also told I wasn't a normal child because I said words like "metabolism" and knew what it meant at seven. To me, it was normal to be smart, but apparently seven year old's in Chicago weren't on the same level, or at least not the ones most people were used to. I always try to imagine what life would be like if we'd stayed on Duke Street, or at least in Pennsylvania. Like, what if my mother never moved back to tend to my grandfather, what if he'd came down to live with us instead. Would I be better off in life than I am now? I'd like to believe I've done pretty decent for myself thus far, but the Chicago Public School System couldn't compare to the schools I attended in Pennsylvania, at least not back then.
That small city, although I only lived there for a few months short of three years, set the foundation for my education. Had I started school in Chicago, I would have been held back a year because of my birthday, instead of being skipped a grade ahead because I tested beyond my age. I actually tested two grades above, but only ended up skipping one. That would have meant that I would not have attended Jones College Prep High School, or at least not been apart of the first graduating class. My entire adult life would be different had I not been a part of the class of 2002, had I not been a freshman in 1998 with all of my nearest and dearest friends and of course, Go-2-daddy. It was then and there where we first unofficially crossed paths.
Because of that, you'd think 606 S. State should be considered my favorite place ever, especially since I met a huge part of my support system at that school. But hey, I'm sticking with Duke Street because it's where I learned to be independent. It's where I learned to be tough. I remember the day my mom panicked when she couldn't find me after school. When she first learned that I was walking to school by myself, and not being accompanied by her husband, who left out with me each morning. It was the day the news was outside, apparently I'd walked pretty much past a garage where a man had killed his pregnant wife that morning, and then himself. It was the first alley I had to cross when I left our apartment. I was too young to understand the severity of what had happened, I didn't see anything, yet the memory has never left my mind. I even remember picturing the scene in my head back then, as if I'd seen it all play out. There are so many stories that may never be told from when we lived there, but they're all in my memory. So I guess I can't say that 616 Duke Street was my favorite place to live, but it's the one I choose to call most memorable address.