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Being a Kid in the 1930s

THE conductor stomped his bell foot with authority as the electric motors accelerated the big red street car from the island stop in front of my window. I was a nine-year-old boy with a second-floor bedroom window, a box seat, on Chicago's Fullerton Avenue with all of summer ahead of me.

We lived over a store, a candy store with a soda fountain. Since the people rented the store from my grandmother, I could always count on a treat. Next door was a butcher shop with sawdust on the floor and big open barrels of pickles. It smelled good.

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The window seat had a bay with a great sill that let me look far up and down both sides of the street, vacuuming in impressions far more interesting than the "nice" neighborhood we had just moved from.

It was 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. The bank directly across the street, where Grandma lost most of her money, was now a blank facade. Dad had had two pay cuts, but he still had a job as a carpenter at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Other than eating more rice, potatoes, and cabbage, and riding a bike I had outgrown two years ago, I hardly knew what a "depression" was all about. I was caught up in my summer vacation.

Our local fire station was across the intersection of Fullerton and Central, kitty-corner from our house. Night and day, the sirens went off. First out of the firehouse would be the heavy pumper. Then the big hook and ladder roared out, the unprotected rear-end ladder driver turning and wrestling his giant steering wheel in the direction opposite to that of the driver 40 feet in front of him. He hung onto the wheel so he wouldn't be flipped off as the truck's rear end whipped around the first turn and sn aked through the cars trying to get out of the way.

When it was quiet our gang played marbles in the 8-foot-wide dirt airway between the fire station and the big dry-goods store. When things got dull on Fullerton Avenue, we headed to the alley behind our houses.

The iceman came through every day, picked up the ice with big metal tongs, and slung it over his shoulder. When he made his delivery, we boys would grab chunks of sawdust-covered ice from the back of the truck. They were really cool on a summer day.

Every couple of days, the junkman came driving his horse and wagon. People would give him things they didn't want any more, and later he would try to sell them. We stayed a little clear of him because he was unshaven and dirty and looked kind of mean. He had a yell to announce his presence. You could hear him half a block away.

One day came that was a nuisance to the merchants on Fullerton Avenue, but an exciting show for us. A great Mack truck with open chain drive came down the street hauling a trailer with a steam roller. Another big Mack pulled a trailer with a huge excavator shovel, and a new Autocar dump truck brought up the rear. The word went out, and soon my buddies and I crowded on my second-floor "box seat" windowsill and watched the action.

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WORKMEN jumped out and began taking out the red paving bricks one by one and stacking them at the side of the street. They were repairing the sewer. The steam roller and excavator shovel were unloaded and started up. The man who ran the excavator saw us watching from the open window and waved. Soon the shovel dug a big, deep hole, and when the sewer pipe came into view, you could see why the hole had to be so big. The work crew had to get both under and around it.

The huffing and chugging heavy machinery worked all that day and the next, and then left. Just a few men remained, working on their knees, carefully replacing the bricks in neat rows, one by one.

We knew summer was coming to an end when our moms took us to the shoe store to buy new shoes for school. They always X-rayed our feet in a big box that Mother could look into to see how the new shoes fit. I also got a peek before we decided which pair to buy. We then went to the dry goods store next to the fire station for a new pair of pants and a shirt or two and even some underwear.

Mom wanted to be proud of us when we went to school and met our new teacher. Our protests against school were of no avail, but we always felt better when we were given five cents to spend at the candy store by the school corner. The school bell rang, summer was over, and we were now fourth graders.

`Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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