118 Walter Court
I grew up in a small northwest suburb of Chicago called Bloomingdale. There was nothing significant about my little corner of the universe, other than the fact that I lived there and my world fit into a small five house cul-de-sac.
The first house in the court belonged to the Fitzpatricks. They had a pool but no kids. The husband mowed their small front lawn wearing cut off jean shorts and construction boots sans shirt. He took swigs from a beer bottle on hot summer days just while walking 16 feet to their mail box. I never really knew them. At one point the wife ran for some sort of public office, but it was one of those spots that only 17 people show up for on voting day, 15 of them probably the relatives of the person running for office.
The next house was Al and his wife, I don’t remember her name, now that it’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve thought about them. They moved out about the time I went to 1st grade and the Yao’s moved in. Aaron and Steven were their children. While they lived there, they had another child, Grace, who I never really knew because she was born just before I went to college.
We lived next to the Yao’s in the farthest back lot of the cul-de-sac. The three bedroom raised ranch with beige siding sat on our diamond-shaped lot with the bulk of the quarter acre behind the house. The driveway ran along the left of the house and then went down a hill and curved toward the house, the garage sitting under the left half of the house. The front yard had a beautiful flower garden. On family vacations my mom and dad would find cantaloupe-sized rocks in campgrounds and along state highways or near rest stops that they would snag and bring home. They used those rocks to create the ring around the flower garden. But rocks were not the only thing they “borrowed.” On one trip to a state park in Wisconsin, my parents saw two small pine tree saplings, no bigger than 5 inches high on a hike at a campground. Mother unearthed these baby trees and brought them home. She planted them on the property line between our house and the house to our right. She had no idea that they would both take root and grow to over 8o feet tall. Whoops.
The right side of the house was covered in raspberry bushes from front to back. Mom found some raspberries growing wild on another vacation and took two or three plants home. In a couple of years we had over 200 plants. In the very back left of the lot there was a vegetable garden my mother tilled and maintained. On hot summer days she would go out there with the hose in floral-pattrened knee length jeans and a tank top she had most likely sown herself. She’d water the garden, take care of the weeds and make sure the bunnies weren’t beating us to our own vegetables. I’d go out there with her and eat tomatoes right off the vine while we sat in the garden’s dirt, the salt shaker our only other guest. On the back of our house mom and dad built a deck and then put a trellis on the side leading to a flower garden.
To our right was Carla. I think her family moved her to an assisted living home when I was young. When I would go over to her house (I liked to visit Both Al and his wife and Carla on a daily basis) about mid day I remember she would always sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic as she paced her tiny house. When she moved (or died- I honestly don’t know if my parents hid that from me at the time- I was very young) the house stayed vacant for a while until The Parents’ moved in. Karen had two kids, Russell and Vicky and was married to Steve, their step father. They had a cat named Spunky.
The fifth and final house was where my childhood best friend Naomi lived. Naomi and I were only six months apart in age and only a yell out the window away from playing with each other. Naomi had an older sister, Jaime, and an older brother, Franky. When I was five years old and Franky was ten, he came to my living room window once and called for me. I came to the window and there Franky proposed marriage. I said yes. As I recall, it didn’t last long. Something about the age difference. Naomi’s dad owned one of the most successful cab companies in the Chicago Metro area, so they moved to Elgin when I was 7. Shortly after, another family moved in, the Treskow’s. Mark was the son and my memory fails me as to the names of his mother and step father. I do remember that you could see a marijuana plant in the window. When the TV was on at night the light cast right on it. I didn’t even know it was a marijuana plant until I took DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in 6th grade (Cheers Officer Linda- I did learn something!).
I was lucky enough to grow up in the same house for 18 years. During those 18 years that little cul-de-sac proved to be the host for my childhood memories. Here are a few I remember.
When I was born my mom planted a maple tree in the front yard and took a picture of me every year next to the tree. I was taller than the tree for a few years but then it took root, grew, and became a good climbing tree. In the fall the leaves fell and if we raked them into a pile in just the right spot we could climb to the trees first level branches and jump.
Behind the Yao’s lot and our lot was a four acre field of unkept grass. Occasionally when it rained some of the neighbor kids and I went to the field and found a muddy patch and jumped in puddles. About the time I hit junior high a developer bought the land and planned to turn it into condos. In the process of the land being developed there were huge hills of dirt nearly the height of houses. When the winter winds came the ground froze and we used it as our own personal sledding hill. We didn’t have the money for a sled, so we reused department store bags. I would race the neighbors and win every time. Because of this, I’m a firm believer in the department store bag.
Opposite the houses on the cul-de-sac there was a forest preserve at the end of the street. When me and the neighbor kids weren’t playing basketball or dreaming of the club house we wanted to build, we made up stories of the man we saw in the woods. We never actually saw any man, but none of us ever denied his existence. Even though I knew that they knew that we made it up, I was scared to death of those woods.
There was one summer where all of us kids got pool passes for the Bloomingdale park district. It was a 1.2 mile walk there. Usually all of us would come into our front yards in the summer and wait for the rest of us to appear. This would usually happen before 9am. Some days we’d play basketball in Mark’s driveway since he had a hoop. At the beginning of the summer the guys were nice enough to give me a handicap when we played one-on-one or two-on-two. By the end of the summer I didn’t need the handicap and was convinced I’d be in the WNBA. Other days, especially if it was really hot, we’d sit at a picnic table in Russ and Vicky’s back yard and play card and board games. We’d count the minutes until 11am when we would eat a snack, throw on our swim suits, grab a towel and start walking to the pool.
I was never very good at swimming but I loved the water. Mark and Russell would go flirt with the life guards and make use of the diving area. Vicky, Aaron, and I would go down the slide about 100 times. We’d play “who can hold their breath underwater the longest” and sneak in pennies to throw in the water so we could have a scavenger hunt for them. At 5pm we’d be tired and sunburned. We’d either walk back home or hope that someone’s parents would be waiting for us.
The cul-de-sac served it’s own purposes for us too. It was the perfect shape for kickball and softball. It’s wide top also was good for fast bicycle turn arounds during races.
Childhood seems so magical. As we all grew up and our laughs and sounds from the basketball bouncing turned to vacant echoes in the sun set, Walter Court became home to new residents. My dad sold the house two years after mom died, the same year I moved across the country for college. I came home over Christmas break, laid on my empty bedroom floor, my head facing my closet, where the door was open and I could see the faint markings of the pen, under the fresh coat of paint, where my height was noted each year. The carpet was new, the baseboards were new and it no longer smelled like my house. I went into the completely remodeled kitchen and didn’t even recognize it. I went into my parents’ bedroom which was no longer yellow and then walked downstairs to see the new wall paper in the den. I walked outside and saw the new sod in the place of the vegetable garden my mother loved every year. I went to the tree line where we buried Scooter and Frosty, beloved pets along the way. I said goodbye to the house that I was raised in.
Nearly six years later, two years after I graduated college, I was in that neck of the woods to meet a friend for dinner. I took a slightly longer route to get there thinking I’d drive down Walter Court and see the old place. As I drove down the street I felt out of place. It was a place that seemed very familiar yet very strange all at once.
I saw Russell’s old car sitting in his driveway so I mustered up the guts to knock on his door. He was home, much to my surprise, and I was able to say hi. It had been 6 years since I had seen him. I asked about Mark. Mark had died a year before from an overdose and his mom and step dad separated and moved after that. The Yao’s sold their house and the Fitzpatricks moved, but another just as anonymous family had taken their place. I stared at my old house after I said goodbye to Russell and my heart sank a bit as the Maple tree that mother planted when I was born was no longer there. The flower garden had these new stones around it, looking much more “perfect” but not nearly as lovely.
As I walked solemnly to my car I looked around at Walter Court and heard the faint sounds of Mark bouncing the basketball in his driveway. I thought about his life and friendship as the news still was hitting me. I stared at the Yao’s house and imagined Aaron and Steven playing nintendo in the picture window. I could almost hear Russell teasing Vicky in the way that only a brother can. Then I saw my 8 year old self catching lightning bugs and running to my mom to have her peek between my hands to see them light up. But when I was jostled out of my memories by the screen door of my old house opening and a 7 year old girl coming out and giggling with her mom I realized it wasn’t home anymore. I had outgrown it now other people were picking up in my place.
I’m really thankful for where I grew up. It provided a lot of stability and safety as well as a natural play ground for kid adventures. But like all good things, it was good to get a change.
They say you can never go home again and I think that’s true. It’s hard to go back to a cul-de-sac existence when you now need an open road.
I hope to one day plant my own maple tree.
I came to St Louis From Chicago (GO BEARS!) to go to Covenant Seminary for her MDiv, which I completed in 2014. I love to laugh and am often known for it, love to cook for guests, and don’t do well in the heat (anything over 85) which makes going to the MUNY an arm-twisting affair. On a Saturday you can find me picking fresh veggies at the Soulard Market, having coffee at the Gelateria and then spending time with friends over dinner or a good game night. Ticket to Ride, anyone?
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