I was a child born in the early 1970's. I lived the first five years of my life in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, until my parents decided a move to the country would be good for the family and we moved to southwest Missouri. My parents were born in Chicago and as their families gradually moved into the burbs, became Cicero, Berwyn, Stickney area residents. The neighborhood of the Bohemians. 22nd Street. The Czech Bakeries, Butchers, stores. They lived in a time when grandma and grandpa lived across the alley. When children were allowed to play in the street and the parents didn't need to worry about them. A time when the families would get together often for meals, music, laughter. A time when the grandmas were always baking yummy kolacky, houska, and other goodies for the family. Where dumplings, roast pork and sauerkraut were common meals in the Czech house. No, I didn't live in this neighborhood as a child, but I was fortunate enough to experience some of it because my grandmother's lived in this neighborhood. And, I had my parents, aunts, and uncles, to tell me lots of stories about growing up in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood is about Cicero, Berwyn, Stickney in the 1940's to the late 1980's. In Blei's book you will read about the old 22nd Street/Cermak Road. You will read about games the children used to play; learn about the Sokol; the Houby Hunt; and playing the horses. You will meet people like Shorty the Locksmith; Doc Cermak; and the Polka King: Frankie Yankovic. If you lived in this neighborhood or visited often enough, you just might recognize many of the people, places and things, Blei describes in his book.
I moved back to the Chicago area in 1999 and lived in Riverside for a year. One of the first things I did upon my return was to go to Home Run Inn Pizza on 31st for my favorite sausage and mushroom pizza, and of course, bring bakery home from Vesecky's. Salty horns, rye bread, and kolacky. Delicious. Just thinking about the bakery now, I can almost taste it. If you read Neighborhood by Norbert Blei and the chapter called The Bakery, you will be able to smell and taste the bakery as you read. I smiled and felt so full of life and fortunate to be living where I was, as I read that chapter, sitting outside the library in Riverside, eating my kolacky the first week I was back. Happy times.
Many of the places Blei describes in his book are long gone, but the memories remain for those who lived there and those who were fortunate enough to visit and experience the Czech Neighborhood. If you want a taste of what this neighborhood was like between the 1940's and 1980's, please read Neighborhood.