The Basleys: Grandma, Bernie, Daddy, Mama, and me. No, Mama and Daddy were not ventriloquists!
I grew up on Chicago’s Southside. The streets that now lie desolate were once vibrant and held a concert for kids like me. ‘No worry about gangs or gunshots; just the freedom of playing long and strong! I wrote a memoir on what it felt like to be prepared by love. This is an excerpt from 57th Street.
I spent my childhood, in the 50-60s, living on 57th and Normal, in a lower middle class, African American neighborhood in Chicago. Our shingled house was a two-family dwelling, which we owned. We lived upstairs, and our household included my daddy, Bernard, my mama, Irene, (affectionately called Irene the Bowling Queen by the neighborhood kids,) my brother, Bernie, and occasionally, my grandmother, (on my father’s side,) Mary. If you knocked on the pipe, (used a spoon to hit the steel banister, which led downstairs,) you could conjure up mama’s sister, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Will who lived downstairs with my younger cousin, Jo-Ellyn, (JoJo). I remember Mama asking me to fetch Aunt Ruth:
“Vicki, go downstairs to get Ruth.” I answer, “Can’t I knock on the pipe?” I grab a spoon to knock on the pipe. No answer. I put the spoon back and ready to run downstairs, when I hear the glorious sound, “Skeeoweee!!” Ruth is calling Mama; she can’t knock on the pipe to get us. It only works from upstairs to downstairs. She has to do her famous call, “Skeeowee!!” I go running, saved by the call once again. “Mama, Ruth is calling you!” Mission accomplished.
My dad owned and operated Basley Shoe Repair, which meant the Bowling Queen was married to Geppetto. My mom worked for Social Security, and although offered promotions, she always said “No”. She wanted to be home with us when it counted and didn’t want to work Supervisor hours. She was with us those Ben Gay and Vicks Vapor Rub days when we were nursed back to health from a cold. Magically, a tongue of flannel was pinned to our pajama tops to cover our chests, and we were rocked out of sniffles. When Mama couldn’t be there for us, Aunt Ruth was downstairs calling us for her Kool-Aid with lemons; or her home fried potatoes, or to lick the cake batter off the spoon or the bowl. We would also dance.
All the females, upstairs and downstairs, could sing and dance, which led to merriment and fun almost every day and certainly on holidays, when a show of talent was a must. Every Christmas, Bernie and I sang Silent Night; I sang alto, and Bernie sang soprano. (Mama thought this was cute). Jojo danced like nobody’s business, and Ruth and Mama both danced and sang. Talent extended to the bowling lanes. Even though Mom was crowned the queen, both she and Aunt Ruth loved to bowl, and we were right there with them at the bowling alley every Saturday night:
Mama rings the doorbell cautioning, “Hurry up, Ruth. We’ll be late.” I’m not that crazy about the bowling alley. It smells like grownups. But I love watching Mama bowl. She is what they call a southpaw, bowling with her left hand, with a back-up ball. We also love going to White Castles to get those little onion burgers with mustard. Who needs fries? The burgers are the thing. Two of them. And now, Jo Jo and I get to dance. Somebody turns on the jukebox. “There’s a Thrill on a Hill..and Jo Jo and I cut a rug. “Clap, push back. Clap, push back. Now, crazy-leg up 8 times.” Oh, how the people clap and laugh. “Look at those little girls go!”
We went fishing with Uncle Will in Kankakee, but we never fished. We walked a railroad bridge that treacherously covered the river. We watched Uncle Will fish, but our thing was picking worms, especially night crawlers and looking at the fish dance in the bucket. We could travel with Uncle Will, but Daddy loved the pool room, so we couldn’t hang out with him there. However, Daddy had the best car for Riverview, the largest amusement park in Chicago. After Daddy’s baseball game with the countless Pabst Blue Ribbon commercials, we would all pile into his car for Riverview.
Riverview. After a lonnnng 30 minute drive, we could see the park by spotting the parachute ride. There was nothing like Riverview! We rode the perilous roller coaster, The Bobs; went through Aladdin’s Castle fun house, and made our way through everything scary, ridable, hittable, and floatable. There were adult things to do there, but when we went, it was all about us kids. After Riverview, we hit Rainbow Ice Cream on the way home. Because our first visit to Rainbow was on JoJo’s birthday, the owner would always give JoJo a free cone. The rainbow flavors were piled high, but lowered with each delicious lick, as we made our way home. We went to Riverview maybe two times a year. A daily encounter and weekly requirement was church.
With the exception of my father and grandmother, our family was Catholic, and we kids attended parochial school. I felt I could work miracles. I knew this to be true because my childhood was heavenly — not Beaver Cleaver heavenly, with white picket fences, but the kind where Mama and Daddy went out every once in awhile on Saturday night, and if it rained too hard, you got scared they might not make it home, and you were scared because you liked them being at home.
On 57th Street we were jammin’! Some of us had more than others, but we all played together and knew better than to step on Mr. Anderson’s newly manicured grass. We were village-raised children who played by seasons – a season for tops; yo yos; bolo bats; hopscotch; marbles; wall ball; step games; hand games; Red Rover; Double-Dutch; sledding, snowball fights, rock school, Eenie Meenie Gypsaleenie, and the infamous Fast-as-Two. Kids from all over the neighborhood would assemble on 57th Street to play Fast-as-Two, the treacherous rope game, which required vigorous jumping in and out of the turning rope. The object was to stay in the game. The games were also creative.
One summer, there was construction in our area, and the buses were rerouted to pass down our street. Hula Hoops were the rage. We decided the passengers on the buses needed some entertainment. So we would have someone at the corner on lookout for the buses, and we would wait with hula-hoops in position… and just as the bus would pass, we would hula-hoop, as if we were on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. There we were in our array of colorful hoops, making them do things the advertising world never envisioned – dancing the cha cha in a hoop; singing while hooping, doing the twist while hooping – all to the delight of the bus passengers. We couldn’t wait for each day to begin.
Every now and then, there would be a fight, and the whole neighborhood would gather to watch the two kids duke it out. Kids yelled and screamed, but usually either somebody’s mama, daddy or big brother would break up the ruckus. Other than scrapes and maybe a black eye, a kid survived to tell the tale.
The pinnacle of our daily summer sessions of play on 57th Street was in the evening, when we played Hide‘n Seek. As the crescent of the moon found its way to us, parents sat on porches to clear the heat inside, and we gathered for our final surge of play before the symphony started. From every porch, we would hear our names, “Berrrrnie!” “Viiiiicki!” and we knew it was time to come out from hiding and retreat to our homes. Home found us eating meals like Porcupines, (Mama’s wonderful concoction of ground beef and rice with tomato sauce.) After settling down for The Mickey Mouse Club on TV and our role-play of Spin and Marty, (Bernie was always Spin,) we met the place where we had fervent discussions about our day — our bunk beds.
Originally from Chicago, Vicki Goldston, (Victorine), now calls the Shoals area home. She has three children, (including a son-in-love), and 3 grand children, all who add texture to the fabric of her life.
Teaching Conscious Living through God Within You, Vicki is the Pastor Emeritus of Living Spirit Church, an Independent, New Thought ministry, in Florence, AL. Minister Vicki is an Inspirational Speaker; a Contributing Author of a Chicken Soup book, The Miracle of Tithing, by Mark Victor Hansen; and the author of her own book, Be S.A.F.E. (Still, Aware, Faithful, and Excellent). She is CEO of Camp Goldston Publishing, LLC. and the founder of Garden Spices Magazine and her blog, Spicy…She is also a member of the CORE Drummers and of the former African dance troupe, POZA.
Her slogan is: “It’s all good/God” and Minister Vicki believes “love has the final word.” (slogan from Rickie Byars Beckwith)