|Photo by Vivien Maier|
When I was a kid, my Mom and Dad would send me to Grandma and Grandpa's house in the city every summer. For one week I would get to experience the super fun and excitement of city life. That included the stench of the Chicago Stock Yards, going on the rounds with Grandpa to all the neighborhood bars, and hanging out with my cousins, Rich and Tim. You have to realize that I was an innocent little suburban kid. In my world we wandered all over Tinley Park, unmolested, unhindered by any worries other than the hobos by the train tracks. (I never saw the hobos, but my mom assured me that they were there.) What I found a little disturbing about my stay at Grandma's house, were the city kids. They were much harder than the kids I knew back in Tinley Park. They smoked cigarettes early in life, they cursed freely, and they could be dangerous. You could not just leave things laying around the yard in the city. They wouldn't be laying there for long. All you had to do was take your eyes off your bike for a minute and it was gone. Over at Sherman Park, at the swimming pool, I learned about not swimming over to the "colored" side of the pool. I almost got drowned by making that mistake. Segregation was (and still is) rampant in the city. Grandpa always instructed us to never, ever go past the viaduct. Of course the white kids in my grandparents neighborhood already knew this, and they also had many names for the people who lived on the other side of the viaduct. My grandparents neighborhood was called Back of the Yards. Named for being on the far side of the stock yards from downtown.
Here's the funny thing, I now live in the city, as I did for twenty years during the 1970's and 1980's, and I don't find the kids around here as hard or scary as the city kids I saw back in the 1950's. I don't think the kids are softer or less jaded and savvy. I think I've just grown up and become accustomed to harsh behavior. Seriously, I don't think the kids have changed. In fact the kids around here seem to be pretty normal to me, except for the little girl next door. She's tough. My dog Chandler barked at her through the fence when we move in here, and she walked right up to the fence and told Chandler, "I'm not afraid of you." She then proceeded to bark right back at him.