in my 1950’s neighborhood.
This was the East side Five Points of Waukesha, as opposed to the larger downtown Five Points. The city was, and remains, a maze to navigate, but my neighborhood was a microcosm; a small village connected to the whole by streetcar tracks, intersections, the bus line to Milwaukee and the Soo Line Railroad. The streetcar ran a sidewalk away from my bedroom window, and I could hear the bell that signaled the zinging hum as it accelerated from the corner stop. Only once did it come to a screeching halt as my terrified mom scooped my toddler sister, Duff, from the tracks.
In those days it was safe to play kick the can way past dark. I could walk where ever and when ever I wanted to or needed to. First, to Hadfield Elementary three blocks east, having to walk the day I got my first period wearing what felt like a giant marshmallow; followed by middle and high school about a mile away, waving to the old men who sat on the wide porch watching traffic. We ran errands for our mom just doors away – to Cody’s meat market, Klein’s bakery and the corner grocery store. In her beauty shop Ethel turned my pigtails into a duck tail. And I walked to Rode’s Drug Store on the corner where Fred hired me when I turned 14, and left to begin my freshman year at Madison. From my front porch I watched Mr. Kinne make out in his car with Irene who managed the Custard Cup he owned across the alley. Peter Larson kissed me for the first time in Silurian Park, and I remember the coat I was wearing. My Latin teacher, Grace Fardy, lived across the street with her sister and parents, and next to them our friends, Emmy and Martin Frings, who were proud Polish immigrants. She was a beautiful seamstress, and he was a barber just steps away from their apartment. Our next door neighbors, the Sheild’s, were like extended family. Lefty was a cop, and Mary was the epitome of a loving Catholic mother. Good people who raised good kids, and who I’m certain, kept a few of our misdeeds to themselves.
My sisters, Jud and Duff and I, were fortunate to live in a time and a place where ‘most everyone knew our name’ – and where it was safe enough to walk a few blocks to Jimmy’s Grotto on Main Street at midnight to get an Italian Sausage that simmered in their big Nesco.