Editor’s Note: Joe Russo is a “Nortsider,” a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”
I remember moving to a two family house on Mary Street as though it were an adventure. It was the summer before I started Kindergarten at Our Lady of Pompei School. My Mom and Dad and I lived in a small rented apartment on Highland Street. The apartment was mid-way between both Grandparents. My mother’s parents lived on Grumbach Ave and my father’s parents lived on Butternut Street. So everybody was happy. However, moving to our own house was exciting.
My Aunt Jenny and Uncle Harold Seib were buying the house together with my parents. I think it was a time when families were closer together and pooling their resources was a way to move up the economic ladder. It was a two family house but everyone was going to live on the first floor. They rented out the second floor to another family. It helped pay the mortgage. They had a plan and it worked.
As we were packing up and getting ready to move I was full of questions. Was the school close to our new house? Were there other kids in the neighborhood my age? I’m sure I drove my mom to distraction. I was not disappointed. It was a “dream come true location”. North High School was directly across the street. This was without question the coolest high school in the city. If you are not from the Northside but are familiar with the movie Grease, you’ll catch my drift it was coolsville. I was amazed just to see the guys wearing their white t-shirts backwards with the rolled up sleeves and the greased back hair. I was just an ankle biter but couldn’t wait to be a Greaser.
My mom of course wanted me to be an Ivy Leaguer. I guess college guys didn’t grease back their hair. I really wished those college types would just chillout. The greasers had to work in the car repair shops and factories whereas the Ivy Leaguers had it made in the shade. They got the downtown office gig and the white collar jobs.
All of my dreams came true on Mary Street. There were lots of kids my age and we all walked to school together, in the rain the sun or the snow. We played 3 on 3 baseball games on the lawn at North High. Of course there was always an imaginary man on one of the bases. My mom became the official pitcher. She was a good sport.
I believed Mary Street was the epicenter of the Northside. An entire world existed within walking distance from my house. The Cozy Retreat sold double dip ice cream cones for 12 cents. A loaf of bread cost 24 cents at DiLauro’s Bakery. I didn’t have a key to our house because we never locked the door. At Fisher’s Five and Dime things actually sold for 5 or 10 cents. We had less money but it seemed like we had more choices.
Our lives in that two family house can never be replicated. It was a different era. It was also a foundation. I remember the wonderful supper time chaos with everyone talking at once, loudly. I remember the humor, the stories, and how it all came together to shape an outlook on life. It nurtured a can do spirit. A spirit I believe still lives on the Northside.