Here’s how I got back to Beverly where I grew up: my cousin Cheryl came to town from Florida to visit her son who has settled here. She and I, who have managed a Christmas card and more recently an email connection, actually met face to face for the first time in decades in a little restaurant on 103rd St. We found overlap in our geographically distant lives – both only children, both with a son named Ben, both wanted the same thing for lunch.
That was plenty to make it a great day, but before lunch, I also revisited my past. Come along on my tour.
Full disclosure: I didn’t actually grow up in Beverly, but in its more modest sister community Morgan Park. I lived in an apartment building across from the Walker Branch Library, sitting atop what many moons ago was the shore of Lake Michigan. In a largely flat city, planners clearly thought that drivers would be unprepared for a drop-off, so they put a stoplight right at the top. This explained why at all hours, we would hear screeching brakes from surprised drivers being asked to stop at a non-intersection.
After the light, 111th Street descends until the light at Longwood Drive, where it flattens out to go past the little business district, the high school, my piano teacher’s house, and Polka Chick where they grilled up the best garlic bread ever. It was the place to go when you were trying to learn to smoke to prove you weren’t a goody-two-shoes, even if you were. I’ve heard.
But back to Longwood where you turn north to head for the big houses of Beverly, mansions even, that sit astride the same ridge. I didn’t actually know anyone who lived in them, but I felt a sense of ownership anyway because my church-in-an-Irish-castle sat on the same ridge. Eventually Longwood leads to the Ridge Park Fieldhouse, the scene of the most terrifying piano recital of all time.
The more modest section of Longwood, if you turn the other way and head toward Blue Island, leads to the church-friends’ house where I got to stay up and watch 77 Sunset Strip and Johnny Carson while our moms were at committee meetings. We always had popcorn.
I drove past the apartment building of the nice guy in my class who became one of the best-known doctors to do the Tommy John surgery (I know this because he died and his obituary was in Time magazine); and I turned up to Seeley at 103rd to cruise the bungalow boulevard that must have every variety that exists.
I found the YMCA of my youth on Hale near 99th, now a Montessori school, and had to sit outside to recall the many Canteen dances that introduced me to the complications that boys brought into a simple life. The outside basketball court now is a playground of a different sort.
I couldn’t find The Little Book Shop by the tracks around 99th or so, where the old fashioned older woman with sensible shoes and a love of books kept us supplied. I still remember the musty book/ resident cat/ cozy feel of the place.
I ended up on Western Ave., and got there just in time to see The Plaza at 95th, one of the first shopping malls, being torn down to be replaced. Good old Carson’s is still standing though. And passed the site of Snackville Junction where they brought your burger to you on a Lionel train. I couldn’t go to Red’s Hot Dogs on 111th either because they tore it down in favor of the Beverly Art Center. The High-Low grocery store is gone too, and the roller rink, and Fran’s school store. The Christian Science Reading Room is a Starbuck’s.
I ended up at the top of the ridge where I grew up. The building looks great with new windows, and has security gates that kept me away from what’s left of my backyard, now largely filled up with two-story apartment buildings. I’m glad I got there first – we had woods all the way down the hill, and cover for throwing crabapples at the stopped cars, and a wide lawn with room to hang clothes and chat in red metal lawn chairs with white arms that rocked a little, and for the sand box and swings. At the far end was the leaf pile where Andy the janitor would pile the fall leaves and set them on fire. Once he thought they were out and left, we would sneak back in there and poke them into a roaring (we thought) fire. I remember just what that smelled like too. It might have looked like apartment living but it was so much more.
So, that’s life isn’t it? Things change but you can still inhabit them in memory, and trace some of what made you who you are. And you can grow a relationship, and look forward to more visits. A good day indeed.
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