When my daughter Rachel married her husband Joel, he already owned a condominium on the north side of Chicago. They spent the first year of their marriage living there, but soon began looking for a house. They were limited by the fact that as a Chicago police officer, Joel is required to reside within the city limits. Now, I was born and bred on the Southside (notice that Southside is one word and is a proper noun) of Chicago as were my parents and grandparents. Though I became familiar with the downtown area of Chicago, known as the Loop, I never ventured north of that center of the city until I was an adult. Even then the occurrences were few and far between. Chicago’s north side was a foreign country to me and I had no inclination to visit. I never laid eyes on Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, until I was 52 yrs. old. I kid you not.
My son-in-law is a north suburban native so his desire was to remain in Cub’s territory. He made an honest attempt to consider houses on the Southside of the city, but was not content with what was available for the price. I said nothing since it was none of my business, but I have an old-fashioned belief that family members should never be more than a few blocks from one another or at most a few miles. My mother grew up at 67th and Hermitage within a few blocks of her grandparents and all of her cousins. At various times during her childhood my grandmother and her sisters had to supplement their family incomes with part-time jobs. Childcare was never an issue as long as one of the aunts was available to babysit which wasn’t really like babysitting since the cousins were always playing together anyway. My plans for being an active grandmother, always available to help my daughters, were made more difficult by the separation of a 50 minute drive
Once Joel and Rachel moved into their quaint Georgian on the northwest side of Chicago, I had to admit they made a good choice of home and neighborhood. I have been a frequent visitor of course, but this last week I camped out in their basement to help Rachel take care of newborn son Sean and 21 month old Ryan. Each day has been spent outdoors enjoying the sunshine and taking long walks with my grandson in this old but well kept neighborhood just east of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I must admit I am a little jealous of my daughter. Her neighborhood is a neighborhood in the best and most traditional sense of the word. As I strolled up and down each block, I was impressed by the well maintained homes and nicely landscaped yards. These are all small Georgians and yet it seems that each homeowner makes the most of this limited space in the most thoughtful and creative way. The warmer weather afforded many of the neighbors an opportunity to tend to their gardens and this gave me the opportunity to meet the neighbors. I watched as other moms and grandmas walked by with toddlers in strollers, stopping to talk to someone over a fence along the way. I had micro seconds of déjà vu knowing that my mind was recalling those same moments when I was a child in the Italian neighborhood on 69th street. Simple middle class folks, content with middle class homes, taking pride in maintaining their property and caring enough about their community to look after their neighbors who might be in need. Rachel has no shortage of willing neighbors always offering to help her with the kids.
After John and I had lived for 4 ½ years in Houston, we were offered a transfer back to Chicago. Apparently no one else in his company wanted to move to the frozen northland. I loved Texas and the people there, but I do not tolerate hot weather very well. Rebekah and Rachel were 2 yrs. old and could no longer fly for free which was going to limit their exposure to Grandma, Grandpa, and the extended family. This was an answer to fervent prayer on my part and within 3 months of the offer, our house was sold and we had moved in with my parents. While saving the 20% needed for a down payment, we visited suburban neighborhoods looking for our dream home. Of course my dream home was the house in which I had been raised in the city. It was a three bedroom raised ranch with a full basement and that was good enough for me. John on the other hand was more practical and worried that the Chicago neighborhood would not hold its value in the face of a changing racial makeup.
We continued driving through different suburbs, the most popular of which was Naperville. It was the up and coming town for people moving west of Chicago. I sat in the back of the realtor’s car as John fantasized about owning a bigger house in a suburb seemingly insulated from the problems of the big city. While he oohed and aahhed, I began crying. I hated the atmosphere of the suburbs. I told him I’d rather live in a Mexican neighborhood where people actually sat on their porches at night and talked to each other. His hopes were dashed and we compromised by investigating the suburbs closer to the Southside of Chicago. We discovered the best kept secret in real estate when we happened to drive through Palos Heights, only 20 minutes from my parents. We chose a simple 3 bedroom ranch in a wooded area with large oak trees everywhere.
We have been residing in Palos Heights for 26 yrs. It has been a great place to raise kids and was indeed a little more insulated from the problems facing not only inner city gangs, but all those upper income kids in Naperville with maybe a little too much money at their disposal. Our neighbors have been very good to us and we have developed good friendships. Still, it never took the place of the city in the sense that I missed sitting on my porch during the summer with all of the neighbors, listening to the Chicago White Sox and maybe being allowed to take a “midnight swim” in our above ground pool. I suspect the television has more to do with the lack of neighborly interaction than suburban living, but I do see a little more of that interaction in Rachel’s neighborhood than any other I have visited. I hope it stays that way for her family’s sake.