I Remember Lyons….

I remember the house in Lyons, Illinois on 45th street. We lived in one of the esteemed “Charm Homes”. Not that THAT wasn’t “bragging rights” enough…but this particular structure had a big fossil embedded in the stone patio in the backyard. I would guess it probably originated from ‘The Quarry’-a place of lore and a lot of beer drinking that I have no direct knowledge of. We often spoke about that stupid fossil…and in my child’s mind, I was sure we were sitting on a goldmine…and that old bone was worth millions. However, the next home my parents bought was definitely not befitting the rich and famous. Dream dashed.

Our charming abode was was built in such a fashion, that the front yard should have been the backyard. I think it was fitting that we lived in a backwards house…as we were “Pleshas” and had a different point of view anyhoo. And that front/backyard had a home plate, first, second, and third base lovingly worn into it, making ours a frequented gathering spot for impromptu games of wiffle ball…unless the festivities were moved to the street for a vigorous kick ball session, which was another favorite pastime. Those games were frequently interrupted by the old  “coot” across the street. For in the likely event that one of our kick balls landed on his lawn (he had “good grass”), he would snatch it and disappear into his bungalow. I’m quite confident that when he died, that no less than 1000 kick balls were found in his crawlspace, covered with lye.

I have moved exactly 20 times in my life. One would think that the bill collectors would have lost my “scent” by now, but, such is not the case. I have left behind the blazing sun of Arizona…where I had been living with “My Mother, The Parrot” (My moniker for her–due to her unique ability to mimic GPS commands…then override them!) for the green and soggy existence that is Atlanta, Georgia. I am sad to report that my hair has been neither “bouncin’ OR behavin'” since my arrival…but I digress…

Some say you can’t go home again–and maybe there is some truth to that. But HOME to me will always be in the little backwards house in Lyons, IL. And in the recesses of my mind, I remember…

…running behind the mosquito sprayer truck and inhaling deeply–and later wondering if this is why I grew that tumor….

…my Second Grade nun drawing a big circle on the floor with chalk and shooting marbles with us. This only occurred when the Principal was out of the building. It was then that “Sister Cool Hand Luke” would hustle us and covet our best marbles. Even then I knew there was a profound life lesson she was imparting to our formulating minds. And it was a foreshadowing about all the disappointments that life held for us–and as I grew and evolved, I knew there was something even “deeper” in this simple act of larceny; and it was veiled in the subliminal imagery of “hanging on to our marbles”. And regarding the good Sisters of St. Joseph…I also wondered if nuns had feet and secretly admired their ability to accessorize with rosary beads…and how incredibly “slimming” the color black was (little budding fashionista that I was). Hell, I even designed a “makeover” ensemble for the nuns when I was in third grade and shared my sketches with them. Sadly, I was not as well-versed in copyright law as I am today, and didn’t take protective measures. Now I don’t want to think that any of the nuns “narcked” me out…but I also don’t think it was any coincidence that the VERY NEXT YEAR,  the Vatican ruled that they could wear modified habits. Holy plagiarism, Batman! Anyway…back to the memories…

…and gathering grass snakes in one of the three prairies that were on our block at the time. We wisely decided to store them in the silver metal milk box outside our door. You betcha it was a very distraught milkman that rang our doorbell in the VERY early morning hours…such fun! Sigh…good times.

…and my “cultivating” what was essentially a weed that I thought smelled like mint and selling it door to door to raise money to buy some candy at the corner store. I told my neighbors to put it in their tea. My horrified mother was sure I had poisoned the entire neighborhood and they would all die and I would be known as the youngest serial killer (as a Public Relations goddess, I still say that ALL publicity is GOOD publicity!) in history and bring shame upon our prestigious name. My buzzkill of a mother made me give the money back and retrieve my “product”. This was my only experience selling “weed”. Yeah, it was lame…so I have no street “cred”, in reality….

…my proud Croatian father sitting on the living room floor with a batman helmet wedged on his head…long story there, but thought you’d enjoy THAT visual (where is a tube of KY Jelly and a shoehorn when you need it?).

…the sounds of the neighbor’s ridiculously loud air conditioning unit kicking on late at night…so loud it could ALMOST drown out the sounds of the neighborhood kids we would be sneaking through our bedroom window. And I remember wondering why we couldn’t afford A/C?

…And there were the OTHER sounds…like the 9 O’Clock whistle from the Armour Plant. And why in the name of all that is holy did my sadistic older sister actually tell me when I was a little girl that, every night when the whistle blew, all the poor starving hungry children of the world would gather in that big field in McCook and hold their empty bowls to the sky and sob? For a very long time, my parents would be perplexed why, for the love of God, when that whistle blew that every night, I would burst into tears like some sort of Pavlov’s dog–but more pitiful! This was, in actuality, where the phrase “If you are going to cry, I’ll GIVE you something to cry about” was born…years of therapy with THAT one! And oh, yes…that other burning question…

…why the bejezzus was I made to kiss Father Murray on the lips when I was a very young child? That was WRONG on so many levels. Oh, the humanity of it all!

…And then, there is that one last disturbing memory that permeates the recesses of my mind…the ceremonial lining of toilet seats with paper by my Nonnie, my germ-obsessed Croatian Grandmother. No sooner had she “laid out the landing strip”, then we would plop down and totally dislodge her handiwork. This was another character-building lesson: No matter how much you prepare, with one swift movement, you can eff it up.

As to the lessons imparted me by my parental units (along with the incessant reminders to always wear attractive, fresh undergarments in case I was involved in some freakish car accident), they taught me to be considerate and always carry myself with dignity and to remember to be kind to others–and if you have something negative to say about someone, say it behind their back so as not to hurt their feelings (sorry, Thumper). For we reeked of class, dammit.

But there’s a point to this. Much has transpired in my life…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of it self-inflicted (especially in the marriage department). Some of it includes shining moments, some, not so stellar. But I will always go to a simple place in my mind (not to be confused with “simple-minded”) where the only things that were required of me were to be a member of a large dysfunctional family, a productive (yet enterprising, as I was an early “weed” pusher) member of my community, and take pride in my roots (not a hair coloring commentary…especially in my current state). And Lyons, Illinois is where I was MADE (with my apologies to my hometown) and this little Junior Miss Runner Up and Beauty School Dropout says that with a profound spirit of sentimentality, and respect.

So whether it be the “New Field” or “Old Field”, is inconsequential. Either place was a gathering of people I admired, loved, sometimes feared, and laughed with (and to be honest, sometimes AT, when they were drinking). We spent a lot of time at both fields. I remember when my Dad was coaching little league and he had this young boy that was rather unfamiliar with the game as he emigrated from Yugoslavia. This scene transpired in the “New Field”. Well, “Sehat” was put in the outfield and during the game, he would inexplicably keep running into the dugout when the inning was not over. So Dad, taking seriously the heavy job he had taken on to mold the youth of our community and make them into MEN, would firmly direct little Sehat back to the outfield. And it was one of those moments frozen in time that poor little Sehat wet his pants–as all he really had to do was pee. Dad’s look on his face was priceless as he watch the “dark spot” grow on the front of his little prodigy’s uniform. There was only one moment more humiliating to my Dad in his coaching days…that was when my mother yelled “Hey, Coach…maybe you’d get more respect if you zipped up your fly!”. Boy, my mother knew how to deliver a line! Apple/tree, y’all!

Like the time she called me at one of my many residences that I would eventually vacate and said “Today I have to ‘open wide’ twice…I’m going to both the dentist and gyno”. Challenge accepted, I replied “OMG…cancel one or the other lest you form a painful gas bubble!”. Although I couldn’t see her, I am confident my maternal unit was a-beamin’ with pride and had (maybe), for a brief second, forgotten that whole “weed” incident…

What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah…Lyons, IL.

In closing, I am a member of a FB page called “You know you are from Lyons when…” (Please readers, don’t rush for membership…this is an exclusive group and there is a big fat velvet rope). I love stopping by and seeing all the commentaries–some warm and fuzzy–and a few, not so much. But these fine folks were my neighbors and I cherish their points of view (some are as “backward” as mine) and shared memories. Yes, the old “hood” has changed and some of it is progressive and some of it has digressed. Time has been a friend and a foe to my old stomping grounds. But I have found that although places change (like my residences and husbands), people generally don’t…

And for me, I’m holding on tightly to MY marbles….thanks to my Second Grade nun, Sister Mary Pierre.

I can’t help but recall a couple of phrases written in my autograph book when I graduated from St. Hugh School (whose doors were closed long ago), and it went like this…

“2 Good, 2 Be, 4 Got 10” and “Stay as sweet as you are and don’t ever change”.

The first describes my hometown to a “t”…and the second doesn’t apply to ME at all anymore, but perfectly describes my memories of growing up in Lyons, IL…sweet and never-changing.



4 thoughts on “I Remember Lyons….

  1. Thanks for the memories , as we communicated in the past, I played on the Indians with your cousin Ken and coached by your uncle Hank. The year was 1958 and still remains as one of my fondest memories. Dennis Bulat PS I lived on Fisherman Terrace.

    1. Hello, Dennis! So great to hear from you. I have many memories of my cousin Ken and Uncle Hank…so many memories of baseball, in general. In fact, everything in our household in the summer either revolved around the “New Field” or “Old Field”. My sister Terri was state champ in softball (pitching), so I guess it’s in our blood, so to speak. I hope you are well! Thanks for saying “hello” and mentioning Ken and Hank! Means a lot.

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