Barbecue, butter cookies and more cherished memories of West Side

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A street sign marks the block where columnist John Fountain grew up on the West Side. | John Fountain/For the Sun-Times

This is the second in an occasional series about Chicago’s West Side, where columnist John Fountain grew up.

I remember the way the West Side used to be and I am not alone.

“I remember the Amerson’s newspaper stand on 16th and Kostner. Mr. Amerson was always a welcome sight at 6:30 a.m., while I waited for the 16th Street bus to get to high school,” Pam McCain, a former classmate and friend writes of my recent column on the West Side.

“…He had a warm fire in the winter time and always a “Good Morning,” and a crisp, folded Chicago Sun-Times or Defender for his patrons,” she recalls of the neighborhood newspaperman.

OPINION

Writes my first cousin, Cheryl Sconiers: “PLEASE let us not forget the BLOCK CLUB PARTY!!! Always the HOTTEST event of the summer in the HOOD!!!”

Ahhh, yes, the block club party. Barbecue smoke billowing. The scent of watermelon filling our nostrils. The heavenly taste of homemade ice cream. Soul music drifting on a summer’s breeze, children dancing in the street, grownups slapping cards on folding tables.

It was “the best,” writes Ricky Morris, a friend and former fellow West Sider who has since moved away, making a life with his wife and children in Oregon. “I also remember them lunchroom cookies, they were so big…”

Mmm mmm good. Butter cookies with ridges. I later learned that those ridges — baked golden brown at the tip — were formed by the lunch ladies pressing their fingers in the dough before baking.

“I remember the smell of those cookies and how I could be having the worse day ever, and eating that warm cookie could make me smile…” recalled Julia F. Chillers of her days of cookies with chocolate milk at Roswell B. Mason School.

Memories…

“I remember walking to the Toman (Branch) Library on Saturday afternoons, catching the Cermak bus to Central Park, catching the (bus) to Jackson, and walking to Providence-St. Mel,” writes Bridget Powell, a high school classmate. She remembers “long summer days and nights with snow cones, grape Bub’s Daddy (bubble gum), nutchews, pickles with peppermint sticks…”

Mmm, sweet and sour…

Dwayne Jones remembers, “Waking up Saturday mornings to the slapping sound of a ball being thrown against a brick wall with an ‘X’ written on it.

We called it fastball or speedball. You can still see on some of the older buildings an X inside a square drawn on it. I remember my Hispanic friends who had parents that would blow their car horn just to hear the music it would play.”

Some things, like our memories, stay the same. Some things, like the harsh realities of urban decline and decimation, stand in stark contrast to our memories. They remind us how much some things change.

“We had corner stores owned by people in the neighborhood. I lived on 13th and Tripp. We made mud pies in front of that building,” a reader writes. “The milkman delivered milk. Salesmen came selling vacuum cleaners and good old Encyclopedia Britannica.”

“Who doesn’t remember Goldblatt’s, dressing up with can-can slips and  gloves to shop on Madison,” the reader continues. “I moved from the West Side after college and marriage but ended up back over on the West Side, and have been here the last 20 years. Nothing is the same.”

It can surely seem that way.

“…I was born in K-Town,” writes another reader. “I really miss those days. I have very fond memories. Your article put me in a better place and reminded me how to pray for those communities where we grew up.”

I pray for them — for us — while cherishing and also guarding my memories of the best of the way we were.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

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