My son Taylor called me this morning and mentioned the massive, five-alarm warehouse fire in Chicago that occurred last night. Thankfully, this fire was not as bad as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but it was one of the largest in recent years. And the scenes of firefighters battling the inferno with water freezing on their gear, their uniforms, and even large parts of the exterior of the building were quite dramatic.
While we were talking, he mentioned that it had happened on the South Side of Chicago. Now the South Side of Chicago is where Lindy and I were both born and lived until ages five and seven respectively.
I was born while my dad was working at a factory, before he had decided to attend high school, college and then law school. We lived in an apartment building two floors below my dad’s brother Uncle Harley and his wife Aunt Marge. My mother would put me in my baby buggy outside on the porch for several hours every afternoon, (for some reason, she had to get her sleep during the day) and Uncle Harley would sometimes climb down the drainpipe and “kidnap” his baby niece. When my mother woke up, I would be gone; however, I guess she always knew I was visiting up-stairs and somehow she never worried about her baby going up and down stairs by way of a drainpipe.
Later, after Lindy was born, we moved to the Barracks adjacent to the University of Chicago campus. It was while we were living here that I remember my mother waking me up in the middle of the night and walking me the two blocks up the street to observe a horrific house fire. I am not sure why she wanted me to see all of the flames and loss–perhaps she was just bored and wanted to see what all the excitement was about. Since it was at night, it made quite an impression on me. Lindy was either not yet born or perhaps left at home in the Baby Strait Jacket. Anyway, it is one of my early childhood memories and I’m not sure what its importance was.
When I was talking to Lindy about the fire Mother and I had witnessed (of which she has no memory), we shared another South Side of Chicago memory. We were six and four, and we were invited to a Halloween party. We went alone and the house where the party occurred was very festive. Rows of chairs were set up for the entertainment of the evening which turned out to be a white sheet hung across a very large doorway (possibly separating a living and dining room). Behind the sheet were the three or four players in the drama. All the lights were turned out and a bright light (possibly a lamp without a shade) shone from behind the sheet stage. Stories were acted out and as I remember, they were very good.
Today I am left wondering why two very small children were allowed to attend such a party alone. Oh wait—we were Far From Normal.