Memories of Ice Cream, Comic Books and Baseball Cards

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Nick Reiher

I’m a member of a Joliet Facebook group that discusses mostly fond memories of long-gone businesses, restaurants, stores, trips with their family after church or for school shopping or even for a rare treat.

It got me nostalgic for the old neighborhood on what the Chicago news stations now call the Far Northwest Side of Chicago. We used to say Northwest Side, but that’s Lakeview now, for some reason.

Anyway, we were only a few miles away from the border with Elmwood Park. Now and then, Dad would drive us though that village, driving past the mobster’s lush palaces. When we were done, Mom would say, “Now we can go back to our cracker box.”

We lived on the second floor of a two-story home in an Italian, Polish and later Greek neighborhood. It was a renovated attic, with Gramma and Grampa living downstairs.

It was nice. I really didn’t know any different. All of us within a mile or so were middle class. Nothing fancy. My main complaint was that the window of the bedroom I shared for 12 years with my brother Gordon was about 5 feet away from a tar roof.

The south, hot wind in the summer would hit that roof and flow right into our room. A fan, turned outward, helped a bit. The air conditioner Gordy, eight years older, bought helped a lot, until he moved into his own room downstairs. Thankfully, Mom and Dad got their own for the whole apartment a few years later.

We kids did the normal things: playing ball in the alley, or on the streetcorners using sewers for bases. We froze when we heard the jingle of the Good Humor truck, then bolted home for a quarter to get a treat. In the evening, the Mr. Frosty truck would come by, and maybe Mom would talk Dad into getting a cone or shake.

Aside from the usual baseball, football, driveway basketball or street hockey, the main sports were collecting baseball cards each week. That would mean routine trips to Peterson’s, a few blocks away, where Mr. Pete barely tolerated us, and kindly Mrs. Pete looked like George Washington.

Baseball cards, two pretzel rods and a bottle of Coke. Didn’t get the cards you wanted? Then up to a couple other small neighborhood stores that seemed to be everywhere, following gossip as to where someone found that Ron Santo card.

One year, just one, I collected that year’s whole set of Topps cards. I opened the pack, shoved the brittle slab of gum in my mouth and nearly choked when I saw the last card I needed: Rico Carty. John Greuling, former CED head, got a chuckle when I wrote about that years ago.

The other chase, at least for me, was one that spanned the entire year: comic books. I was hooked on them. Being a Marvel guy, I was into the Avengers, Daredevil, Spider Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iron Man. I followed them weekly like Gramma followed her soaps, especially “Edgeanight.”

I like to think that in addition to giving me an unrealistic, but much-appreciated ideal of the female form, those comics boosted my vocabulary, and I don’t mean, “unnnhh,” and “argggh.”

Spore. Spontaneous combustion. Suspended animation. Van Allen Radiation Belt. Gamma rays. All of these and more sent me to the massive dictionary we got as a gift from some Polk Brothers purchase. Or I asked Gordy. If he was in a good mood, he wouldn’t make up the answer.

This was an active hunt, however. Not one store had every new edition of each superhero. There was the Rexall at Diversey and Austin. Kutza’s drug store on Fullerton. There was a food store called Hillman’s for a while that offered several different superhero comics … in a vending machine. No paging through before you inserted the 25 cents into the slot.

A lot of times, there would be a note letting you know what was to come in the next edition. If it was an “origin” edition – showing how our heroes became super – it was an agonizing wait.

But then, once in hand, I found out how Daredevil could “see;” how the Fantastic Four became fantastic; how Spider Man got his powers, and, more importantly, how he was able to shoot webs from his wrists.

Those were good days before most things got too complicated. And, yes, I wish I had some of those comic books and baseball cards now.

But who doesn’t?




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