When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in Davis Square Park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The park is located between Marshfield Avenue and Hermitage Avenue, 44th and 45th Streets. There are larger parks in the city, but when I was five, the park was huge. My mother always took my brothers and me there to play whenever it was nice out. Basically, if it wasn’t raining, my mother took us to the park to play no matter how cold it was. I loved going down the slide, which was the biggest slide I had ever seen! All the kids said it was the world’s biggest slide and I believed them. Come on, I was only five years old at the time. One day, I fell of the top of the slide because one of the kids told me to slide down one of the supporting poles instead of sliding down the slide.
When I was too afraid to go down the pole, he demonstrated how I should go down by doing it himself. Well, my legs didn’t wrap around the pole just right and I fell for what seemed an eternity and landed on my right arm. I cried because I was in so much pain! My mother came running over to see what had happened to me. She took my brothers and me home immediately. She massaged my shoulder, but I kept crying. She called a friend of hers who immediately came over. She looked at my arm and shoulder, and then, boiled some herbs on the stove. She then rubbed this pungent concoction on my shoulder and arm that made me gag and massaged me forcefully. I remember crying even more while she did this. Actually, I remember feeling much worse after her “cure.”
Davis Square Park had a field house where we would go after school in the fall to play floor hockey and in the winter to play basketball. In the winter, they would hose down the baseball fields so would could play ice hockey. Everyday after school, I would play hockey all afternoon and evening long. I just loved playing hockey. I would have been a great hockey player if it weren’t for my one weakness: I couldn’t skate very well! However, I was fearless. I turned out to be a very good goalie. As long as I was standing in front of the net, I could block slapshots with my stick or chest, and I could catch the puck and give it to one of my teammates. My team usually won because hardly anyone ever scored on me.
The park had a swimming pool where we spent as time as possible, although that was very limited because of their schedule. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the schedule alternated between a boys day and a girls day when we could go swim without an adult. In the afternoon and evening, families could go swimming together. I could never go because you needed an adult to take you. My mother never took us because she refused to wear a bathing suit. In fact, I never saw her go in the water when we went to the beach.
Our time at Davis Square Park just flew by. When it was time to go home, my brothers and I would want to stay. It seemed like it wasn’t until we were really having fun that my mother would decide we had to go home. But we had to go home, my mother told us, because they let lions loose at the park at night. She told us this every time it was time to go home. At first, we went home without questioning her. Then, I started thinking about the logistics and safety of maintaining lions at Davis Square Park. But my mother always had an answer for every question I posed. “Where do they keep the lions?” “In the basement of the fieldhouse.” “How do they let them out?” “Through the steel plates that cover the basement windows.” “How come the lions don’t run away if there’s no fence all the way around the park?” “Because the love the park.” “What’ll happen if I don’t go home with you?” “Fine! Stay! But don’t come home crying to me when the lions eat you!” “Wait for me!”
I met Mayor Richard J. Daley at Davis Square Park for the first time. Our neighborhood had a slight gang problem, so Da Mayor decided to start up his own rival gang called the Centurions. In theory, the Centurions would provide an alternative to street gangs. All my friends and I joined even though we never even thought of joining a gang in the first place. But we had a lot of fun! We played all kinds of organized sports and sometimes we even won a trophy. I really loved when they would load us up on a school bus and take us the the White Sox games for free!