A Chicago Childhood, Aspie-Style


This post is long? Too many words? Good bet your pals aren’t Aspie nerds!
😀

When I am almost three, we move to Chicago, to a cozy brick house on a corner with a front stoop, and back wooden stairs.

Brick Stoop

In the summer, the tall hedge between our back yard and the neighbors’ looks like a fairyland. It is covered in lightning bugs lighting up and turning off their rear ends. It’s very, very pretty to see every summer night.

Coke Bottle Fireflies Animated Gif

Our Hedge Had This Many, All Over It

I am sitting out on the front stoop one day when a bird lands next to me. I have never seen such a bird before! It is a very bright red, and it has the most unusual head I have ever seen. I am so excited, I run inside to tell my mommy about it:

“Mommy! There’s a red bird outside, and it has a point on its head!”

Smiling Cardinal on Berry Branch

See him grin at how photogenic he is?

She says that it is a “cardinal”. From then on, I always like to see cardinals. They have very cute pointy heads, and I will forever think they are special.

Our back yard has violets that grow among the grass. They’re beautiful and if you pick them, they smell nice.

Violets

Dime-Sized or Smaller Blooms

There are also some pea plants growing in the grass. That is because we enjoy having big pea-shooter wars with the boys who live down the street. We duck under the back wooden stairs to shoot our peas from a safe place.

The hard dried peas really sting when they hit you, but the wars are fun. It costs a nickel to buy a shooting straw with a small paper bag of peas.

Pea Shooter and Peas

Fun!

The boys we war with are Stewie and Howie. They’re the same boys who put on puppet shows on some Saturdays. All the kids go to them. They are pretty good. A lot of times, they make us laugh.

The shows are free, but the bags of popcorn cost a nickel. Since everyone buys popcorn, I guess Stewie and Howie do all right for themselves.

My best friend Sharon lives kitty-corner [diagonally] from us. Her big sister is my big sister Joe’s best friend, so that is nice.

Some wild kids live next to Sharon’s house. They are all boys, and there are a lot of them. Sometimes, they take things that don’t belong to them. One day, one of them takes my Blue Fairy book and runs into his house with it. I am really sad and mad. It is my favorite book, and I want it back.

I tell my daddy, and he tells the boys’ daddy. The boys’ daddy goes into their house and comes out with a book he thinks is the right one. He gives it to me. It is not the Blue Fairy book. It is the Green Fairy book. I want my own book back, but I’m too embarrassed to tell him that he got the wrong book. At least the Green Fairy book is a good book, too.

Next door to our house is Jimmy Nothnagel. Jimmy is the luckiest kid ever, because he has a real set of playground monkey bars in his own back yard. They’re the kind that are shaped like a standing-up tube with the bars rounding off at the top.

That is our perfect rocket ship when we play Rocky Jones. Jimmy plays Rocky, and Joe always gets to play Rocky’s girlfriend, Venus*. It isn’t fair. I want to be Venus sometimes.

Rocky Jones and Vena

Dang, Venus! 😮 Good Thing There’s No Wind in Space!

Joe and I watch Rocky Jones and Buck Rogers and Commando Cody on television, and we also watch some Westerns. One day, while we are watching Wyatt Earp**, the phone rings and I answer it. The man asks to talk to our mommy.

I ask him who he is, because I have been taught how to answer a phone the right way. He says his name is Wyatt Earp! I tell Joe, and we both go running into the kitchen.

“Mommy! Wyatt Earp is on the phone!! He’s calling us!!”

It is pretty disappointing when our mommy tells us later that it wasn’t the real Wyatt Earp. It was just an insurance salesman who had Wyatt Earp’s name.

Do you think he tried to call people during that show’s time on purpose, so they would talk to him because they thought it was the TV man?

Joe and I go to the bakery by ourselves when our mommy needs a loaf of bread. It is safe for little girls to walk by themselves through the city and go to the bakery.

Every time we go to buy the bread, the baker gives us a big bag of broken cookie pieces, and we get to eat some on the way home. We love going to the bakery.

Whenever it rains outside, we get very excited, and run to our mommy. She gives us our bathing suits, and a bar of soap. We go outside in our bathing suits and have a soapy shower in the rain. It’s a lot of fun.

Sometimes, we sail our soap boats down the river that the rain makes on the side of the road.

Ivory Snow Soap Boats

One day, we’re playing in that river. We’re making a dam of leaves and pieces of wood stuck in the sewer opening, so that the river starts to turn into a lake. When the cars drive through it, very slowly, they make big waves.

A grown-up comes outside and tells us that we’d better not do that, because the sewers are very important to take the rain water away, and if we dam them up, and other kids do that, the city will flood!

We get very worried, and take apart our dam. We never make that bad thing again.

One summer night, my mommy and daddy are going to have a backyard party. My mommy makes some special food for the party. One plate has little flowers on it that you can eat! Mommy says they are “radish roses”. She lets me taste one, and it is delicious.

Mommy goes inside to make more special food. When she comes back outside, the flower plate is empty. I ate all the roses. Every one of them was just as delicious.

During the party, I watch the lightning bugs decorate the twinkling hedge all night.

On Saturdays, we can go to school if we want to. I can go, too, even before I’m old enough yet for school. Saturdays they have play time at the school.

One time, when Joe takes me, they are playing the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The children make a line, and take turns being the goats, and climb over a school desk—that is the bridge. I get my turn to be the troll underneath.

I am sitting under the desk, and the first little billy goat comes trip-trap trip-trap over the bridge. As she trip-traps across the desk, her little goat leg comes hanging down in front of the mean troll. The tender goat flesh looks delicious, and I am a mean troll who is going to eat her.

After I bite her hard on the calf, the teacher won’t let me be the troll any more, even though I thought I was doing a very good job.

It's Called ACTing, Lady.

It’s Called ACTing, Lady.

Sometimes, a tired man comes up our backyard wooden steps and knocks on our back kitchen door. It’s a different man every time, but he always has old clothes on. My mommy makes a big meat sandwich for him and gives him something to drink. I know this is my mommy being nice.

One day, my daddy is outside. He is feeding peanuts to the squirrels, because he likes to do that. When he comes inside this time, his thumb is bleeding a lot. The squirrel thought his thumb was a peanut, and he bit it.

Apology Squirrel

One time, my daddy is gone for a long time. When he comes home, I don’t remember him. A big man with shiny teeth and shiny glasses tries to bend over and hug me, and I am scared of him. It takes me a long time to remember my daddy again.

Joe and I have a lot of fun inside our house, not just outside. We do two things that are fun:

We can stand up on the big padded rocker and hold onto the back, facing it, and rock really hard. Sometimes, the rocker tips over. That is scary, but the next time we still rock on it again.

Another thing we do is on the stairs. The stairs to the upstairs have blue carpet on them. We sit on a mattress and slide on it down the stairs all the way to the bottom, like we’re riding a sled. We do it over and over.

One time at night, I am very sick. I can’t get any breath, and I am feeling scared. My mommy takes me out of bed and carries me downstairs, and rocks me and rocks me in that big padded rocker until we see the sun rise.

She sings “Turra-Lurra-Lurra” to me. I like that song.

One day, I am out on the front sidewalk, riding my red tricycle.
I am leaning low over the handlebars, peddling and peddling as hard as I can. I want to see how fast I can go. I am happy. I can go very fast!

Happy Child on Red Tricycle

Look At ME!!!

The tricycle hits a bump, and I tip over forward. My chin hits the sidewalk.

It happens in front of the Nothnagels’ house, and that is where my mommy is. I go up their stairs and into their living room. Blood is coming out of my chin.

My mommy is sitting talking with Mrs. Nothnagel, and she is also sewing some red corduroy overalls that are small. Maybe they are for my little brother. When she sees me come in, she takes the needle out and pushes the red pants onto my red chin. I think that is pretty interesting.

I don’t remember hurting. I have a nice scar now.

Another time I get cut is when I am chasing my big sister. She is escaping, and I don’t want her to. She runs out the kitchen door.

I put my hand out to push it open and chase after her. My hand goes through the door glass.

I remember sitting in the kitchen chair afterward with the sun shining in the window and my mommy doing something with a cloth. After that, we are at the doctor.

I get to see the inside of my wrist before he sews it shut. I like to see what the inside looks like. I didn’t know it looked like that!

One thing I really like about Chicago is getting to go to the fires.

Whenever there is an old, run-down house, the firefighters drive around the neighborhood and pick us kids up. We get to ride on their big firetruck and watch them burn the house down!

There is nothing better than that, I think!

Happy Girl At House Fire

🐻

Footnotes

* Venus’s correct name was Vena, but we thought it was Venus. Our name makes more sense for a space-explorer.

** Wyatt Earp was a real person

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The Home I Used To Have, The Me I Used To Be


“I am very happy, but I am acting sad…”
 
I am living in a small white wooden house in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
 
I am sitting across the street from that house, on the grass in the sunshine on a beautiful day. Three other children are sitting in a small circle around me. I am very happy, but I am acting sad while I rub my eyes and the children sing. They are singing about me:
 
“Little Sally Sau-cer,
Sitting in the wa-ter,
Cry, Sally, cry…
Cry out your eyes…”
 
I stand up, eyes closed, one arm out straight with finger pointing, and turn slowly, pivoting back and forth while they finish singing:
 
“Turn to the East,
And turn to the West,
And turn to the one
That you love best!”
 
I stop, and open my eyes. The child I point at will take my place in the circle.
 
I am two years old.
 
I love that happy memory.
 
***
 
We have a large weeping willow on the front lawn. Its long, trailing branches reach down to the ground all around. I can go inside this curtain and sit on the soft grass floor underneath. I’m surrounded by green, and no one can see me. I spend a lot of time inside this friendly tree.
 
Inside a Weeping Willow
 
I remember the day my sister Joe’s friend, an older boy, set our roof on fire. (Some of you better know Joe now as Macy Girl.)
 
Joe’s friend was playing with a firecracker, and threw it up there. The fire was burning almost over the front door. Joe went inside our house. I stayed outside and watched the fire burn. It was very interesting, to see our house on fire! I sat down on the grass to watch some more. My daddy came outside in a hurry with a big metal bucket, and told me to move back. He threw water on the roof to put out the fire. He hit it with the water the very first time, and the whole fire went out, just like that. It left a burned-looking spot.
 
I’m glad I got to see that.
 
***
 
I have one memory when I was a tiny bit sad and another one when I was mad.
 
I am still two years old, and I have pneumonia. My mommy won’t let me go outside to play. I remember not breathing well, but I don’t remember thinking I was sick. I’m standing by the front screen door, looking out at the outside and the other kids playing, and I want to go outside, too. I’m wearing my footsie pajamas, which are nice and cuddly, but I wish I could go outside in them!
 
The mad time is when I see my daddy way up the big, big, wide stairs that go to the attic. He is very far away, and he is looking down at me through a square hole. His head looks little, and his smiling teeth and his glasses are shining. Joe is up there looking at me, too. I hate to see them looking down at me. My daddy won’t let me come up. I say “How come Joe gets to go up?” He says “You’re too little.”
 
That makes me mad.
 
***
 
My most exciting Oak Lawn memory is about a bug.
 
Joe and I are in the living room. I’m sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. I’m watching a narrow brown bug crawling across the bricks on the hearth. All of a sudden, its rear end lights up!
 
“Joe! Joe! This bug has a light!”
 
She comes running over. We both watch the bug walking. Its rear end lights up, and then turns off, and then lights up again. What an amazing bug that is! I am so very happy to see a bug like that!
 
Firefly on Finger
 
I learned to how to read in Oak Lawn. I could already read, but I didn’t know how to read.
 
One day, I am sitting in the back seat of the car. (It is a black-and-white De Soto the same age that I am.)
 
1956 Black and White De Soto
 
We are waiting to go somewhere, and the car is nice and warm, and I am reading my favorite book. It is a board book, and it is about Mrs. Squirrel. I like the story, and I like the pictures a lot. They show real squirrels with clothes on. (They might not be really real, but the pictures are photographs, not drawings, and Mrs. Squirrel has fur, and shiny eyes.)

In one part of the story, a friend of Mrs. Squirrel’s compliments her new hat. I can see why. It is a lovely straw hat with a wide brim and colored flowers. The friend says to Mrs. Squirrel:

“That is a be-a-u-ti-ful hat!”

That is when I learn how to read. I can hear the voice of Mrs. Squirrel’s friend, and now I understand that bigger words have pieces. You can read them by reading all the pieces.

Today, every time I write the word beautiful, I always remember that discovery. In my head, I still hear each word piece, and I see again Mrs. Squirrel wearing her nice new hat.
 
She looks very pretty!
 

A Lovely Hat But Not Mrs Squirrel

Not My Mrs. Squirrel, But Another Lovely Hat/Squirrel Combination


 
SADDENDUM
 
Revisiting the Oak Lawn house when older, I learn that the wide, wide attic stairs are a tiny pull-down ladder barely a foot wide, with each step only four inches deep. To a two-year-old, objects may be bigger than they appear in later life.
 
Attempting to revisit the Oak Lawn house when even older, I fail. A tornado has left the houses on either side untouched, but removed all evidence of my home. The front-yard well that provided water to the family of my early memories is now an empty dry hole.
 

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