A Prairie By Any Other Name…

Moving to the suburbs did not prove to be as difficult as I’d feared.  In fact, I have to admit, it’s been quite nice.  Of course, I’ve had twenty-five years to get used to it.  When my older sister (from whom I’ve learned most of the important things in life) moved out to the boonies, she’d had a completely different experience.  She had moved from an apartment above a pharmacy (a really nice apartment, though) to a beautiful home in a very desirable western suburb.  It seemed a dream come true.  But, it didn’t come without reservations.  The biggest being, what’s the water going to be like?  That was always the question.  That was the question from our parents and five brothers left behind.  Because, we knew that outside the city limits, existed the wild frontier, unknown, unchartered and definitely without Chicago water.

We were quite bold to leave the security of the South Side of Chicago and venture into the perfectly planned communities of which we’d heard, that lay west of Cicero Avenue (and, let’s be honest, even that was pushing the boundaries – Kedzie Avenue was more like it).   Our experiences differed, though, because many of my sister’s neighbors were corporate transferees from all over the country.  They seemed eager to become best friends with their new subdivision neighbors and were almost scary in how quickly their homes were completely decorated to their taste.  It was hard to put her finger on it, but something just didn’t feel right.  Everything was too perfect.  She missed the haphazardness of the city, where a house sat yards away from a car dealer which was situated next to a dime store, located conveniently near the bus terminal.  No one would understand.  Instead, she was surrounded by Stepford Wives.  She stressed over her appearance when dropping her kids off at school.

My move, on the other hand, was much easier.  And, the irony is that I moved even further west.  I mean, my single, city-dwelling brothers swear they’re about to fall off the edge of the earth as they keep driving and driving…  But what made my move a smoother transition, I think, was the fact that, instead of being surrounded by transferee-perfect people, I found myself in the midst of a lot of other South Siders.  In other words, normal people.  It seemed everyone I met was from the South Side.  I was home!  And, on top of that, much to the chagrin of my in-laws I sometimes think, several of my husband’s sisters married South Siders!  So, I never felt far from home.

But the one thing that separates us from the rest of humanity is our distinct colloquialisms (yes, I used spell-check).  Of course, when you’re surrounded by others who speak in the same tongue, your language seems perfectly acceptable.  It’s when strangers start giving you that look – those of you from Chicago (I’m extending this to all Chicagoans, not just South Siders)  You know the look.  It clearly says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  It starts with a slight furrow in the brow when you mention the “frunchroom” and travels a little further south, to the eyes, as they squint, trying to appear as though they’re comprehending your words when you refer to the gangway and ends with a “Hmmm…that’s really interesting” when you discuss the prairie down the block.

I learned the hard way.  One evening during a pleasant drive, I casually uttered the word “frunchroom” to my husband (who, by the way, grew up in the town in which we now reside) and he kinda lost it.  He said, and I quote, “First of all, it’s NOT a frunchroom.  It’s a FRONT ROOM.  And, it’s not even a front room.  It’s a living room.  That room you walk into when you enter a house is a LIVING ROOM.”  I was taken aback at his hysterical outburst.  I mean, I knew some people called that room a living room.  I guess I just hadn’t realized that I’d married into a “living room” kind of family.  I learned at that moment that I had to make some changes.  I have to admit, though, that I still feel a little funny when I refer to the living room or the family room (it’s really the TV room – we all know that) to my brothers.  But, those are the kinds of concessions you make when you enter into marriage.

There are many more of these lovable phrases that I ask anyone who has lived in Chicago or has the great fortune to know a Chicagoan, to add to your list of favorites.  I will leave you with one of my favorite stories.  Whenever a Chicagoan meets another, no matter where in the world the meeting takes place, the first question is ALWAYS, “What parish are you from?”  ALWAYS.  So, in closing, I’d like to share an amusing anecdote.  Several years ago I was introduced to a fellow South Sider, and when I popped the inevitable question, she responded, “I’m Jewish…but I’m from St. Denis.”  I always thought that line perfectly defined our Chicago experience.  A prairie by any other name is really just a vacant lot under which a lot of family pets are buried.  A lot


Filed under Uncategorized

7 responses to “A Prairie By Any Other Name…

  1. Marian

    Ah, somebody that knows what a gangway is!

    • Haha, yes Marian!!! I remember when Pat & I were dating, we were outside at my house one day & I asked him to put something in the gangway. He just stared at me. I asked again, thinking maybe he hadn’t heard me. When he still stared, I said, “What’s wrong?” and he replied, “What’s a gangway?” I couldn’t believe it!

  2. Ed

    Mayo, you’ve outdone yourself. Great post. Not bad for someone from St. Ethelreda parish. I love reading your thoughts and perspectives. “Frunchroom” – Ha! Funny. Gangway. Yeah. Southside Chicago experiences were the best.

    I remember when I would walk down to the Toner gangway, stand outside the door, and yell “Yo, Paaauul!…Yo, Mayooooo!” to see who was home who could play….not knock, mind you….not ring the bell…an adult might come to the door…I wanted you or Paul, and at 7 years old wasnt shy about calling out your names.

    I learned to ride a two-wheel bike in the alley. The alley was as vital as the gangway in the Chicago neighborhood.

    And, I brought a 16 inch softball on vacation once, and people treated it like it was an alien from another planet…the Clincher is a Chicago-only tradition…everyone else wanted to use a glove to catch it….rookies.

    The band Chicago captured some of the uniquely Chicago experiences growing up in their song “Old Days”…love it…”good times I remember”.

    • Great comments, Ed! I’ve told my kids about yelling outside other kids houses to see if they could play! What a riot! They just look at me like, “You did what?” I’d say,”We’d yell out (or actually, we kind of sang it out)e: Yooooooo Eddieeeeee, Yooooo Biiiiillyyyyyy (remember Billy Maguire?) or Yoooooo Daviiiiiiid (Dilling!) They just laugh and shake their heads. And, of course, the alley – where our life was lived. And 16″ softball – the real way to play! Such great times. What a great place to grow up.

  3. Kathy

    During the 1980’s, my husband was selling real estate. At the closing, for a house in the Marquette park area, someone mentioned the gangway. Well….that almost blew the deal (the buyers were not from the South Side) and they were not buying a house that had gangs around it! We always laugh hysterically when he retells that story.

    • That is so funny! Our world was so insulated and we just thought everyone lived the way we did! How many people thought you knew Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown personally when they heard you were from he South Side, haha! (Of course, it WAS the baddest part of town!) My south side youth was filled with playing 16″ softball in our alley during the day (I was always the “unofficial catcher”, a title my brothers created for me) and summer nights spent playing “Kick the Can” until the street lights came on! Great memories. The world of the south side is truly unique!! Thank you for your comment, Kathy. I love when readers share their stories.

  4. I wonder if former South Side Jews greet each other with, “What parish you from?” Speaking of frunchrooms: http://www.kilianf.net/archives/1101

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s