Friday, February 22, 2013

Family History Writing Challenge Day 22 - Elmhurst the Childhood Years

Elmhurst was a wonderful place to raise a family.  In 1940 the population was 15,458,  in 1950 it had increased to 21,273, and by 1960 it had further increased to 36,991.  Houses were being built rapidly due to the demands of young families leaving the cities.  Elmhurst was a city with elm trees lining the streets providing stately arches over the streets and avenues.  Unfortunately many of the trees in Elmhurst were attacked by Dutch Elm Disease in the early 1960s and had to be destroyed.

Elmhurst had a volunteer fire department and its fire whistle blew at noon and six pm every day.  Kids knew that the six o’clock whistle meant it was time to go home for dinner and when the street lights came on it was time to go home for the night.

The house we moved into was built about 1910 and was right in the middle of town.  We lived a block from church and school, a block from the train station, and a block from the park and library.  The park provided free programs all year long for the residents.

Every year the park district mailed a list of planned activities.  Most of the activities were free but required registration.  Many of the programs were held in Wilder Park a block from our house.  In the Summer there were story hours at the Library, tennis lessons on the courts at the park, and “Music Under the Stars” concerts on the lawn in front of the library on Wednesday evenings.  Bring your own chairs or blankets.
The library was the former Wilder Mansion, a magnificent place complete with winding staircase to the second floor which was the reference area.  Walking up the stairs and entering the front door, you saw that winding staircase first, just to the right of that was the circulation desk where books were checked out.  Next to it was a lower desk for the children to check out books.  The left wing of the building was the childrens room.  The right wing was the adult fiction area which even had a fireplace with comfortable chairs for reading.

East End Park was on the east side of town and was within walking distance but we usually rode our bikes there to use the pool during the summer.  From about the age of seven almost every child in town was at the pool on summer afternoons sometimes the evenings too, if you could get a ride.  Most families got pool passes for the family rather than paying for single admissions.  Swimming lessons were taught in the mornings and Water Ballet was an early evening class taught before open swim occurred.

Fall meant raking leaves and making big piles of them to bury each other under or taking a big running leap into a pile.  The smell of burning leaves meant that Winter would soon be arriving.  As it got colder it was time to find a window with frost on the inside and use a fingernail to scratch a design into the frost.

In the winter it was back to Wilder Park for ice skating, sledding and more trips to the library.  Once the snow began the park was a great attraction for the weekend and night skating.  I often pretended that I was Sonja Henie the Olympic figure skater, just as in the summer I dreamt of being Esther Williams in the pool.  Although the park was always open, the warming house was only open during the evenings and on weekends.  If you wanted to skate at other times, you just sat in the snow to put on your skates and kept an eye on your shoes or boots.

As we got older and had more freedom to roam the York Theater was a favorite place to meet friends for the latest movie.  It was only about a three block walk up York St.  Conveniently on either side of the theater there were two places to go for a coke after the movie or even just for a coke and fries after school.  Saturday afternoons we could also walk or bike to Immaculate Conception’s football field at Alexander and West and watch a game.  One of my friends lived right across the street from the field.
Even after I had married and moved to another town I made it a point to always go back for the Memorial Day Parade.  The parade began in 1918 and has been held every year since.  Mom moved to Florida in 1971 and shortly thereafter the house was sold.  It has now been totally demolished.


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