Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October Musings--Memories Of A Chicago Childhood


A good time to write a memoir or add to your family stories is when a new season arrives. Here, in the northern hemisphere, it's fall. I sometimes slip back into my childhood years and what life was like during this season. I've posted a short piece on what life was like in my Chicago suburb in the 1940's and 50's during October. 

Maybe reading it will spur a bit of inspiration for you to write your own memories, whether it be to submit to a reminiscent type of magazine or only to add to your Family Stories book so that your children and grandchildren will have a glimpse of what your childhood years were like back in "the olden days" which is what they think of our growing-up times. 

October Musings
By Nancy Julien Kopp


Do you remember when October meant burning leaves? We lived in a big suburban apartment building without many trees around it. The janitor raked the few leaves to be seen, but I’d pass homes where piles of burning leaves left a pungent odor that tickled my nose. Or I’d see kids take a flying leap into the center of a raked pile, shrieking with glee as they did so. I envied them.

Every October, our Girl Scout troop took a field trip to a local forest preserve. Country kids had nature all around them, but we city scouts journeyed to a small piece of the same, hidden from city sights and sounds. It was as if someone had gathered a piece of forest, rolled it up, and brought it to the city. Once there, they unrolled it, the trees popped upright, and city children could pretend they were far away. Pure magic!

We hiked through the woods there, identified trees and plants, were warned to watch for poison ivy. We gathered around a crackling fire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the end of a stick. Girl Scouts learned to prepare S’Mores with graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and blackened marshmallows. Sometimes we’d prepare a meal on the grated grill in one of the forest preserve shelters. My favorite was a dish called Bags Of Gold. It was a big pot of canned cream of tomato soup, and Bisquick dumplings made with a cube of Velveeta cheese in the center. That hot soup and the soft pillow-like dumplings with their golden cheese center was my favorite outdoor meal. I never had it anywhere but on the Girl Scout field trips. Somehow, that dish belonged to outside eating, not to be done in our kitchen at home. I’m sure it would never have tasted as good as it did in the crisp October air.

October also meant Halloween parties where the most popular game in the late 1940s was bobbing for apples. I really hated that game, but everyone had to try. I had long hair, curly and auburn red, and no matter what I did to avoid it, I managed to have wet curls before I captured an apple between my teeth from the tub of water. I’m sure there were other games played, but those miserable little apples floating merrily around the tub have are one of those memories better pushed into the deep recesses of my brain.

At school, our art classes concentrated on leaves and pumpkins, witches and black cats all during October. The teacher read scary stories to us and we made plans for our Halloween parade and parties. Every class in the school lined up the day of the party wearing costumes of various kinds, most of them created from things we had at home. Nobody bought a costume. We marched around the outside of the school with some of the mothers watching. Dads didn’t take off work for school events then like they often do today. We didn’t feel deprived not having our fathers see us in the parade. It was just the way it was. We’d get back to our classrooms and play games, including that awful bobbing for apples, and then have our treats. Usually frosted sugar cookies made to look like pumpkins, apple cider and a nut cup filled with candy corn and peanuts.

When darkness descended, it was Trick or Treat time. Big kids took little brothers and sisters along. Our apartment building had sixty-two apartments and we rang the doorbell of all, up and down the stairs in each vestibule. Great exercise, but we only looked at it as a means to get lots of candy. Mother put it all in a big bowl and allowed us only a piece or two each day until it was gone.


October in Chicago brought chilly mornings and evenings, but often pleasant afternoons. We had some cold, rainy days, too. It was time to bring out the flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets. October brought a blaze of color that soothed the soul, and as the leaves dropped and swirled in the winds, we knew winter waited just around the corner. 

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