“With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.”


Journalism, Commentary and Stories

— From The Southern Illinoisan and Good Living 
THE LONG STORY — Long-form journalism and creative nonfiction  

— Scratchings in
the prairie soil   

The Seeds of Memory

NOTE: This story appears as the capstone piece

in “Winds of Time,” the book published in 2014 to mark

the centennial celebration of the village of Schiller Park, Illinois.

I’ve revisited this memory so many times I no
longer believe all the details. Every time I remember it, it’s slightly different — the time of day, the sequence of events, the things I saw. But no matter what, there is an essential truth to this memory that has never changed.

We’d just moved into the house my father built in Frogtown, an area without municipal services and still a few years away from annexation. There were a few scattered homes here and there, and the streets — if you could call them that — were rutted and full of potholes. There were no sewers or city water. We had a septic tank and a well.

When it rained heavily, water would overflow the ditches and pool across vast areas, inundating the roads and essentially isolating us on a low rise of ground. We had no basement, and at times like those, we were happy to not have one.  This was 1957, and our home was on a half acre at the southeast corner of Wehrman and Ivanhoe. I was five years old.

There were a few other families in our immediate vicinity. There were the Kawas, the Benedettos, Giglios, Nardinis and Famalis. Many of these folks were transplants from the city, sometimes from the same urban neighborhoods. It wasn’t uncommon for entire extended families from Bucktown and Little Italy to settle close to each other in the suburbs, which became a melting pot of ethnic flavors.

The differences in ethnicity were never barriers to friendship, because the raw conditions that existed in Frogtown at the time fostered a sense of community. Everyone was blue collar, common and hard-working, and we knew we were all in the same boat. We were all pioneers who settled the suburbs, sinking roots and tilling garden soil, planting trees and building homes in an unincorporated area of Cook County.

The memory I have — which comes back to me even when I least expect it — is from that time, when the land was open and I was a boy, when my world was small but huge, and it was full of wonder and discovery. Life was pregnant with promise. There were streams to ford, bridges to cross.

We’d just moved into the house, and our lot was a field of mud and weeds. All of the yards in Frogtown were like that. But there was already talk of annexation, and although the earthmovers hadn’t yet rumbled into view, wide tracts of land were being purchased and rights of way ceded. Change was coming, and it was coming quickly.

Not far from our home was an old nine-hole golf course that was about to give way to a new highway, the Tri-State, or what’s called Interstate 294 today. The course had been abandoned and the fairways and greens had gone to seed. This was a harvest of green gold for those families in my neighborhood.

It was in the late summer that my mother and grandmother, and a few other women from our neighborhood, took all of us children to that course, and with paper sacks in hand we stripped the seeds from the tops of the grasses to spread on our fledgling lawns back home. I remember pulling a clump of grass through my fist to scrape the seeds into a sack, its edged rolled down to keep it open and make it easier to carry. I remember the heft of that bag.

And I remember being bored and walking away from the task. I remember the grass being so high, and me being so tiny. I remember running and spreading my arms, and I can still feel the tickle of seed tops skimming under the palms of my hands. I remember falling face-first onto the cushioned earth and rolling in the smell of earth, root and weed. I smell it still.

I remember rising and looking down a gentle hill. There was a winding creek down there with a bridge flanked by willows, and all of it illuminated by the setting sun. It was an idyllic vision. It still is ... I see it now … I want to go down there, but I’m transfixed, I can’t move. I hear my mother’s voice. I feel her hand on my shoulder, pulling me back. And the scene slips away, fading now … becoming the stuff of dreams.

Childhood memories are not at all reliable, and that has bothered me some. I know for a fact that that golf course existed. I know we gathered seeds from that place. But was the bridge really there? Or was it conjured in some early version of this memory? I may never know, and I guess it really doesn’t matter.

But what does matter is the underlying truth.  What’s real in this memory lies in my heart and in my mind and soul. It hasn’t changed in all these years, not a bit since I was five years old. It is the realization that there are entire worlds just waiting to be explored. And that those worlds won’t be there forever.


Collected written works  |  Gary Marx


On the Edge of the City