Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kedvale Avenue

14526 Kedvale Avenue, Midlothian, Illinois
The street is newly paved; a combination of house styles lines the street. There are a few smaller ranch style homes, several raised ranches, a miniature Georgian Colonial and several split-level homes where the garage is actually underneath the house and the driveway slopes downwards. There are twelve houses on either side of the 145th block of Kedvale Avenue. Although in 1964, not all of the houses are completed yet. Several of the homes are mere wood frames surrounded by dirt, the future still to come…
There are 3 split-level homes, one is on the west side of the street and the other two are on the east side of Kedvale Avenue. Above the garage area there are 2 large windows laid into the brightly colored aluminum siding of each home. Vinyl siding was still years away. These houses were built in baby blue, stark white and olive green siding, each house competing to outdo each other in their gaudiness which was wildly popular at the time. Two of the homes have grass in the front yards; one of them is still fresh dirt. Next to the baby blue house is a raised ranch, no siding here but rather a multi-color display of salmon, apricot, white and faded orange brick, it was going to be a family home,  four young kids, they didn’t want to worry about cleaning the siding every spring. This house has a one front door while the others have two. This house has a large living room window under a steeped roof and awning, while the other houses have windows that seem to just be stuck in the front room; there are no awnings and the roof butts right up to the house edge.
There is a gold car in the driveway of the baby blue house. A recently purchased Buick, it is big and bulky and will take up the entire under the house garage. The owner will build a flat train display that attached to movable braces that will let him raise and lower the train yard so that he can put the car in the garage on rainy and snow filled nights. A middle aged woman stands on the porch of her recently built home; a home in the suburbs. A suburb that was growing in population, accommodating the influx of people wanting to leave the big city for quieter neighborhoods and cleaner streets. The woman is wearing a navy blue dress, nothing fancy, it comes to just above her knee line, it is cut strait from shoulder to skirt and has a square neck across the front. The waist is tiny for this woman weighs a mere 101 lbs. and is barely 5’ tall. She is wearing a yellow synthetic scarf, to protect her coifed blond bouffant from the wind. She gets her hair done every Saturday by the same hair dresser that has been doing it for twenty years now. She will continue to get her hair done at the same salon for thirty more years.
Today, she is happy. She looks out towards the street where her sister and brother have bought homes. She knows that their homes are slightly larger; they have more money than she does but her Gino took care of her well and provided for their children. Their oldest child was recently married and just bought the property next door. Their house would be ready to move in soon. Gino splurged on the double back yard lot and at night when she looked out of the kitchen window all she saw was a long yard full of freshly planted grass and small trees.
The trees lining the street were tiny. The barely had limbs and weren’t yet sprouting leaves. These trees would grow to be fully developed oaks, maples and birch trees. They would one day provide the street with a glorious site of spring blooms, summer greens and fall reds and oranges. The trees would give shade to the kids that would grow up here but right now they were mere sticks…
This street was special. It was a dead end, right into the Midlothian creek that ran through the streets separating 145th from 146th, traveling from Kostner to Pulaski. The dead end would keep cars from venturing down the street and when the creek ran dry in the summers it would provide easy access to the church and summer carnival where 145th and Kedvale Avenue stopped…
14526 Kedvale Avenue, Midlothian, Illinois
It is a warm summer evening; it is Thursday for the grandchildren are over. Caroline has let the phone ring twice to her sister Marion’s house and they will be here for dinner soon, the grandchildren will eat over as they do every Thursday night. After dinner her and Marion will sit on the porch and watch the “kiddies” play in the yard. The block is full of people now, a young couple just moved in with two little girls, the Henderson’s down the street have their grandson living with them, while the Edgars, the Martino’s and the Wills all have kids in the same age groups as the “kiddies”… some people have moved away. Their kids grew up and left the state so they followed. The Jones’ twins were getting married soon but Caroline’s grandkids, she had 9, ranged in age from 21 at the oldest to a baby about to be born… were all nearby. The trees were full grown now, the depths of their green leaves settled against the blue of the summer sky, the limbs reaching high into the air, providing shade on a hot suburban, Chicago day. She knew those trees were going to be dropping bright red, orange and yellow speckled leaves but not for many months. She was lucky to have her grandkids next door, the boys would rake those leaves, well maybe not Jimmy now, he was too old but his brothers would and she knew the girls were getting old enough to help at 11 and 13, they would enjoy helping the boys and their friends. The boys would have to trim the bushes too. Their red, scratchy leaves were starting to hit the bottom of the front window in uneven lengths, creating weird shadows and noises at night that she didn’t want to admit sometimes frightened her.  It hadn’t been the same since Gino died suddenly in 1977 but her daughters were there for her, Marion helped her figure out her finances… she was happy she’d been able to stay in this last home Gino had given her. The blue aluminum siding had been replaced with brown, vinyl siding. It was the newest in home improvements and didn’t require painting or cleaning ever. The concrete walkway on the side edge of the driveway was starting to crumble. The kids could fall on it. It wasn’t the smooth slab of concrete it’d once been and the girls loved to sit there and “gossip.” She’d have to ask Fred for help. She was grateful for the family… She would be able to manage many more years here….
The creek was dry this summer; she would take the “kiddie’s” to the festival tonight. It was a good night, it was a good life.
14526 Kedvale Avenue, Midlothian, Illinois
I am one of Caroline’s granddaughters. I did not live in the house next door. That home belonged to my Aunt Carol and Uncle Fred and their four children, my cousins, Jimmy, Todd, Jeff and Cindy. I may as well have though, for I visited almost every day. I was exactly in the middle of Caroline’s grandchildren. I was number 5, I was the oldest of the children in my family and I didn’t have older siblings but I had my cousins. I lived one and half blocks away on 144th and Tripp Street, just 2 houses from 145th Street and it took me all of 6 minutes to walk to my Nana’s house. I did it quite often.
 I felt as though I was meant to live on Kedvale Avenue. When I would come to the start of the block I knew I had seven houses to pass before getting to Nana’s. I could name every family between 14500 and Nana’s house and I could name every family to the edge of the creek. It was a block of families, of people that were connected, who sat on their porches at night, waved to each other as they were mowing the lawn on Saturdays. It was a community that watched over the two elderly families on the block, the Bopp’s and the O’Hara’s, shoveling driveways for them, bringing over food when they were too ill to go out for their nightly senior meal, bringing in newspapers and mail after hip surgeries.
The people on Kedvale Avenue never needed to have a block party to be together because every week was a block party. Someone would start barbequing, usually my uncle and then the boys would start playing whiffle ball in the street and Mr. Casey would come over with a beer, while Mrs. Dudley came down to see how Aunt Carol’s strawberries were faring in the summer heat. Within a few hours, Mr. and Mrs. Martino would be setting up the card tables and a fun game of poker, gin rummy or even Uno would start. The Henderson’s, Lubek's and Wills' would be over soon and much too soon the sun would be setting and my cousin Jimmy would start lighting fire crackers and sparklers. This was the essence of my summer and I never thought anything of the fact that I spent more time on Kedvale Street than I did my own.
My grandmother’s entire family lived on Kedvale Avenue, Nana, Aunt Mario, Uncle Lenny, Aunt Carol and my great-grandparents all bought houses on Kedvale Avenue in 1964.  Two houses on the west side and three houses on the east, all of them next door or across the street from each other.
By 2004, Aunt Marion and Uncle Lenny had passed away, at ages 71 and 75 respectively, they had led wonderful lives full of love and good deeds but they were still too young, they were missed especially by Nana who at age 85 was outliving her family and friends. Most of the families I’d grown up with had moved away. Midlothian wasn’t the suburban paradise my family once believed in.  Kedvale Avenue now had big pot holes lining the street. The one in front of my aunt’s house was enough to damage your rims if you hit it. There was a large street light in the middle of street now. It was necessary because far too many people had recently been attacked walking down the dark, dead end street. The street light cast a bright, garish gleam across practically the entire street. It hit my Nana’s most unpleasantly, causing the now over grown bush limbs to creep stealthily up the front window…
The trees were starting to die. The once strong trunks that provided necessary shade and sparkled with the winter snows were forty years old… wicked, weather patterns over the years, pollution, lack of proper care and extreme growth were causing them to simply die. They died slowly, starting at the top, less and less buds appearing in the springtime until finally none appeared at all. This happened over many years so that you didn’t notice it right away, until one day it seemed there were no leaves on the tree… however the trunks were still there. Not everyone could afford to remove the trees and they would remain leafless for several more years.
The depression of 2001 had hit Kedvale Avenue hard. Houses weren’t selling well in the area and trying to keep them up was proving difficult. Erosion was causing my aunt’s driveway to crumble and the shifting of the land (Midlothian was once a swamp) was causing it to rise up at the same time, it made for a strange sight.
My Nana’s house was the hardest one to look at. My cousin Jimmy had ‘bought’ it from her in 1989. She left it after he talked her into trading her house for his condo on the other side of town. He used the argument that she was getting older and it was harder to maintain. The boys were all grown up and getting the girls to rake leaves would only work for so long. The boys were off at college and working full time jobs and couldn’t help with painting or fixing gutters. He also alluded to the fact that the driveway needed a major repair. The sloped driving was splitting down the middle. There was no drainage in the original design of the houses and it had caused all of the sloped driveways to split, and start to break away from the garage. It was thousands of dollars to repair. My grandfather had left my Nana with a decent savings account and while it wasn’t ideal she could have afforded to fix the driveway with a contractor that had done everyone else on the block and solved the drainage problem. However, my scheming cousin talked Nana into selling her house to him for a fraction of what it was worth. To make matters worse, she was forced to take out a mortgage on the condo he owned, paying him an over inflated price and then being tied to the mortgage for THIRTY years, she was 70 years old when he did this.
By 2004 the house was in a many year foreclosure. Jimmy who didn’t originally have a mortgage on my Nana and Grandpa Gino’s house had thrice mortgaged the house and lost it. The house was literally falling apart. The gutters were falling off in some points, the roof was damaged, the driveway had never been fixed and now was a giant, concrete, shattered cookie crumb, the siding had been replaced with some faux wood material that was discolored in several places, while other places had a long, stream of what looked like moldy streaks of rain dripping down it. The windows above the garage area had been replaced but somehow they had managed to become damaged so that they appeared to have a permanent, white funk etched into them. The concrete side stoop that we used to spend hours talking on as children had been removed and a patch of dirt sat in its place… there was no grass or flowers growing, just a big, fat, pile of mud!
It was devastating to witness this block, this house, this place where my grandparents and their family picked to settle in because their own neighborhoods in Chicago were starting to decline. Five families found a place to call home where they would all grow old together and be a family and forty years later only my Aunt Carol remained. Uncle Lenny’s house was still in the family; his kids owned it and his widow had lived there for a few years after his death but no one lived there now…it was closed up. My Aunt Carol had been divorced in 1992 and with the loss of my Uncle Fred to manage the upkeep, her house was just hanging on. She had ripped out all the front bushes so that there was less yard work for her to do but now you just looked at a big brick wall with a large empty window above it…
I rarely visited Kedvale Avenue anymore. It hurt me to my very core. I couldn’t stand to see my grandparents’ home, it wasn’t just that it was falling apart but it also looked so different. My Nana was suffering too. She was now 85 years old and saddled with a $400 a month mortgage.  A mortgage that my cousin Jimmy assured her he would pay for the rest of her life, while he lived in her house and she had the ease of condo living. He didn’t pay that mortgage but for one year, then in years after that he also managed to con her out of her savings. By 2004, she was barely managing every month. The era of the Ciferri-Kutshce-Wagner-Struebing family legacy on Kedvale Avenue, Midlothian Illinois was over…
14526 Kedvale Avenue, Midlothian, Illinois
My uncle’s house sold this week. Yes, this very week, the last of my family has sold their Midlothian history. While no one has lived there in ten years it has been cared for by his children. My Aunt Carol left Midlothian three years ago and we sadly helped her pack up her house. Both of their houses were sold to families with young children. Another house on the block was bought by a friend of mine who now has young kids.
A few years back every single one of the trees on the block was removed. A nasty tree virus that spread like wildfire throughout the area caused the city to uproot every last tree on Kedvale Avenue. This was a sight to see because although I wasn’t around in 1964, I saw the photographs. My grandfather photographed every detail of their moving to Midlothian, of their house being built, of the trees and grasses being planted of the neighbors meeting each other. I know what that street looked like without trees, with little baby trees, with teenage, full grown and dying trees.  When I saw the block devoid of trees it was a shock to my system. It was as if I’d just learned Santa Claus wasn’t real again…
My grandmother’s house was bought as a rehab special. One of those houses you see on HGTV show where the contractor has to go in wearing a mask for fear of the mold, asbestos and rot growing there. The house is beautiful once again. The vinyl siding was replaced in a basic tan shade that will last for many years and in which the young family there won’t have to worry too much about. The windows were all taken out and replaced with a basic style that is reminiscent of those first windows my grandparents chose together. The driveway has finally been fixed with proper drainage; the garage door is now a sturdy aluminum and fiberglass design that won’t suffer from the constant opening and closing. Our lovely concrete gossip spot is gone forever but a thick, lush grass grows there now and flower beds took over the front area where my grandmother’s crazy red bushes once grew. Yes, the house looks different than I remember. Of course it isn’t the house my grandparents built but it’s livable once again, it’s inhabited by people that respect it as their home, that are making their own memories.
My Aunt Carol’s house had small facelift before she sold it and it looked surprisingly similar to the day they moved in, back in 1964. The railing was replaced on the stairs leading to the front door and small bushes were added under the front window. The driveway was built up along the sides it no longer appeared to rise out of nowhere and my cousins were able to repair the cracking issues. The garage door that literally had been jammed in the open position for the past 15 years was fixed and now a simple door stood at the end of the driveway. Her grass was green, freshly cut and the new family moving in was excited to start over, away from their Chicago neighborhood where crime had been steadily increasing.
There is new life on Kedvale Avenue. Yes there are new trees planted. Those trees are about two years old and look so tiny where once a 30-foot maple commanded the attention of every passerby… usually because there was a kid hiding behind it, now stands sketchy miniatures!
These trees which once defined a block, which connected each house to the other because every house on the block had one tree located right in the middle of the causeway, are growing once again. In ten years perhaps they will begin to resemble the Kedvale Avenue of my youth. While the seasons will change, styles of home improvement will differ, the families will grow, and new ones will take their place. Although I will never once again visit Kedvale Avenue, as my legacy, spanning fifty years is complete, I will always know it’s there, growing, breathing, becoming new once what was old…
“But now as we note the bold outline of the basin, and watch the lines worked by the waters ages and ages since, still as distinct as though made last year, we see with our own eyes fresh proofs that we are in a new country, that the meadows about us, cleared by our fathers, are the first that have lain on the lap of the old earth…” (Finch 168)

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