Atlantic Avenue Gang

I grew up in the mid-fifties and sixties in a small town northwest of Chicago. It was a carefree time when we played outside all day and knew to be home when the streetlights came on. Sure we came home to eat, but basically my Mom didn’t know where we were at all times of the day. She knew we were safe. We rarely left the block. Why would we? There were over 50 kids on our block alone, Atlantic Avenue, ranging in all the ages of me and my five siblings.

There were no complaints that we were bored. We didn’t have video games or computers. We amused ourselves by drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. We’d play hopscotch, or “A” my name is Alice. We’d draw a large rectangle on the sidewalk and divide it evenly into squares. Then we would bounce a ball in each square and say, “A my name is Alice, my husband’s name is Aaron, we live in Alabama, and we make anchors.” “B my name is Barbara, my husband’s name is Bob,” etc, and keep bouncing the ball in each square until we’d either miss catching the ball or we couldn’t come up with something to fill in the blank. (We never COULD fill in the X!)

Sometimes we’d play Red Light/Green Light, or Mother May I? Statue Maker was another favorite. One person would be the “Statue Maker” grabbing a kid’s hand, and twirl them real fast till they got dizzy then let go of their hand. The person would stop in a crazy position like a “statue” and stay there as long as they could without falling.

We loved to jump rope and had favorite jump rope songs like,

“Not last night but the night before”

Not last night but the night before
Twenty Six men came knocking at my door
I ran out, they ran in
Hit me on the head with a rolling pin
Asked them what they wanted
And this is what they said:

Turn around, touch the ground,
Do the splits

- OR -

“Down in the Valley”

Down in the valley
Where the green grass grows
There sat ______(girl's name)
Sweet as a rose
She sang, she sang
She sang so sweet
Along came ______(boy's name)
And kissed her cheek
How many kisses did she receive
{count until someone misses}

Reiland’s store was located on the corner and sold penny candy. You could buy all different flavors of bubble gum – sour apple, grape, sputnik (a light blue with sugar sparkles on the outside), sour cherry and hot dog shaped gum. You could buy pixie sticks, flying saucers, Pez, pumpkin seeds, red hots, any kind of candy bar, and Cracker Jacks. Who could forget buying a pretzel stick out of the round plastic container with the metal lid?

The majority of the kids attended the Catholic school across the street; the rest of the kids went to the public school on the corner. The nuns were strict, but fair, and I believe helped shape us to be upstanding citizens.

Time passes, as it does, and we all grew up. But I will never forget my childhood years on Atlantic Avenue. That era, and location, was a great place to raise kids.
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