I’ll never be a dyed-in-the-wool Forest Parker, because I didn’t grow up here. I’ve met many Forest Park lifers, a surprising number of whom are still living in their childhood houses. Talk about enjoying your surroundings.
I recently had an opportunity to visit my old surroundings, when I toured my childhood home in Oak Park, after a thirty-year absence. I never expected the strong emotions that ambushed me”negative and positive.
Even before I entered the house, I felt overwhelmed. I saw the view from the front stairs and it was an archetypal scene etched on my brain, like a favorite old painting: the tree on the parkway, the lawn, houses across the street, the streetlights.
The view may have been familiar but the enclosed front porch was now completely open. We didn’t know what we were missing, because the present owners spend six months a year out there, visiting with neighbors.
Inside, the home has been beautifully restored, with hardwood floors, woodwork and a beamed ceiling in the dining room. When we owned the house, we were busy “modernizing” it with wall-to-wall carpeting, painted woodwork and acoustic tile ceilings.
I saw the kitchen had been enlarged, but actually the rooms all looked smaller to me. This must happen to many adults who visit their childhood homes. In your mind, it’s a mansion of glory but now that you’re older the house seems to have shrunk.
It had its old familiar Gunderson layout, with a hallway joining the front parlor, living room and dining room. This was our “racing oval” with the hallway serving as a straightway. We ran endless laps around this circuit for some reason and the children who live there now are also running laps.
The stairs leading to the second floor still creaked, which had prevented us from sneaking around at night. The bathroom had the original full-size tub. The unheated sleeping porch still had the same ceiling but it was being more wisely used as a toy room. When I slept out there on winter nights, it had been my personal “Siberia.”
The biggest treat was seeing the attic, which had been constructed as a separate living space. The oldest child at home got to ascend to this heaven of privacy and I cherished the years I had it.
Good and bad memories alike, it’s valuable to tour your childhood home, so I don’t think we should tear down Mayor Calderone’s childhood home on Elgin Ave. A proposal to tear down 504 and 508 Elgin to make way for townhouses was turned down by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The ZBA ruling is only advisory, though and could be overturned by the village council. However, a large number of residents oppose the project because it will increase traffic and destroy the character of the community. I agree with them. I also know there’s nothing like the view from your old front stairs to trigger a flood of childhood memories.