This summer marks 24 years since my family moved from a two-flat in St. Louis into a house on the south side of Oak Park. I was almost eight and my brother, Dan, was nearly six. A family from Kansas, with a girl a year older than me, and a boy a year older than Dan, moved into our new neighborhood around the same time as us. This provided both of us with instant friends for the summer, but once we got to school we were on our own because our new friends were in different grades.
I didn’t fit in with my classmates and longed for the summers when I could spend my time with the neighborhood kids who weren’t in my classes. Even though I eventually made some amazing school friends and traded my St. Louis Cardinals hat for a Chicago White Sox hat, Chicagoland never felt like home. So, I opted to graduate high school early and move to Madison, Wis. to escape.
I can’t speak for Dan’s experience, but I think his attachment to the city we left when he was five says a lot. Unlike me, his loyalty to the Cardinals never wavered and he moved back to St. Louis for college and law school. After a few years in Wisconsin, I ended up living with my mom in Oak Park again while attending Columbia College in Chicago. I only did this because of school. I wasn’t happy to be back in Oak Park and had basically written off the whole area because of the sour feelings I’d developed while growing up there.
However, my best friend had moved to Forest Park and she lived around the corner from The Beacon Pub, which became our regular Thursday night hangout. I got to know the owner and when he offered me a job there in 2004, my feelings started to change.
Much like the neighborhoods I lived in as a child, The Beacon was a place where I met people, both older and younger than me, whom I might never have gotten a chance to know elsewhere. These folks quickly progressed from acquaintances to friends, and some eventually became more like family members. They showed me what a diverse and inviting community Forest Park is, and are a large reason why I bought my first home here seven years ago.
With every street festival I’ve attended and every neighbor and local business owner I’ve gotten to know, my love for Forest Park has grown. I’m proud of this village and the home I live in, and I’m also glad that my brother is nearby again.
When Dan found a job in Chicago, he seemed as uncomfortable about moving back to the area as I’d felt. Once again, The Beacon Pub came to the rescue. A customer asked me if I knew of anyone looking to rent an apartment, so I put her and Dan in touch. And last month, Dan moved into his new place, a couple blocks off of Madison Street.
On July 30, I took him to lunch at my new favorite restaurant, Saigon Pho. Then we roamed Madison Street and took advantage of the sidewalk sale. He told me that he already appreciated how walkable Forest Park is, and he was especially enthusiastic about all of Madison Street’s independent businesses.
I’m confident that the longer he stays, the more at home he’ll feel, because we are such a friendly community. Welcome to my big neighborhood, little brother. You’re gonna love it.
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.