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For my Oral History interview, I decided to interview my mother Denise Zagorski , 44 years old, who grew up in Chicago during the 60s-80s.
Q: So where did you live as a child?
Well, as a child I grew up in Chicago Illinois, in a neighborhood called avendale and the reason it was called avendale was because there was a park nearby. The park had a swimming pool, a very small little baseball field section, and a playground area. The neighborhood I grew up in was almost all polish and had a very well-known church in a neighborhood nearby called Saint Hyacinth’s church. It is one of the most recognizable polish churches in the city. My address was 330 n Drake Avenue. It actually was a street that dead ended into where the express way was. The Kennedy expressway. I remember as a child watching the cars drive by on the expressway and I even remember when the pope came to Chicago to visit. My sisters and I and all of my friends sat along the highway and watched for the pope and his motorcage to drive down the highway. They were going to downtown from O’Hare airport and we all sat there and waved to the pope. He had the whole highway closed for his motorcage. Another time I remember being a kid growing up and when it would snow, the snow plows would push all the snow up along the highway. It made it like a slide. So we would all crawl up to the top of the snow piles and slide down on our sleds into the street. Because it was dead end, we didn’t get much traffic. All of us kids would play there and then in the summer we would use the back corner as a baseball field. We used the sewers because they were almost lined up as a diamond. There would be one sewer on one side as first base and the middle one would be second base. Third base was the other sewer and we would put something in the middle like a piece of bored or something. My friends and I, there would be like ten of us or fifteen and we’d all go out there and play baseball in the street. When cars would drive down the street, we would all start yelling what do you think this is a street or something we’re playing a game hear[laughter].
Q: Living near a Highway, did you ever witness any bad car crashes?
Oh my god did I witness car crashes! One car crash we witnessed the car literally flew from the lanes going downtown into the lanes going towards O’Hare. It flew through four lanes of traffic and was airborne. Another time before barriers were put up a truck came through the fencing off the highway missed the exit ramps and smashed into the corner house. The whole back of the corner house across from us. Actually the guy who lived there was a retired police officer. Thank god no one was hurt; actually I don’t think they were home at the time which was good. The whole back of their house was a shambled.
Q: You said you played baseball with your friends a lot, can you tell me who your friends were and what they were like?
one of my best friends name was Tammy. She was a year younger than me and we both went to the same school, Saint Wencenlaus, and then there was her brother max. Also, another guy across the street whose name was Harry and he went to the public school Riley. Then he went to Lane tech, which I also attended. Then there was Marty and Jason who lived on the other side of the street and they use to play with us. Oh, and Deedee that use to live next door with us, she also played. Then a few kids from the other end of the block would come down and play also. We always just use to play together and get really good games going.
Q: So as a child would you say you were more of a tomboy?
Oh yea, I played sports. Lots and Lots of sports. I played baseball, basketball, football, and basically all sport you can think of we played. I swam, on swim team so I would swim. We would play hide and seek all the time. I remember we use to, I was such a tomboy that we would crawl up on peoples garages and hide from our friends and watch them walkin by.
Q: And what schools did you attend as a child?
I attended Riley for kindergarten which was a Chicago public School. Then I went to Saint Wencenlaus which was a catholic school. I went there through first grade to 8th grade. And then when I graduated I went to Lane tech. I did like all my High school years at Lane tech. After Lane Tech I attended north eastern college.
Q: You’ve told me a little bit about playing with your friends as a child but what was your school life like homework?
We got homework and everything like that. I remember one time when I was in school we had an open house at night time in which we all had to go to our classrooms. You went to each one of your classes and as you went to your classes your parents could come in and find you and watch your teachers teaching you and everything. Well in 3rd grade, I was in a 5th grade class because I had advanced enough for math. So my mom could not find where I was because she thought I was with the third graders. She went to the principal’s office and told her I was missing from school and she couldn’t find me. The principal asked her if she checked my classroom. My mom then told him I wasn’t with the third graders. The principal said “no she’s not with the third graders, she’s with the fifth graders,” [laughter]. SO the principal took my mom to the fifth grade math class so she could find me. It was so funny [laughter]. [Smiling]Third grade was the year I got my classes. I thought I looked like the biggest dork on the earth wearing glasses. In third grade one of the cutest boys came up to me in class and said your glasses look nice I really like them. This made me feel a lot better [laughter]. Oh and in fifth grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Prang. My whole class had gotten the chicken pox. I had never had the chicken pox before. So my sister caught the chicken pox and her best friend did too. They were at my house all the time so they would try and rub up against me and try to give me the chicken pox. I never caught them. My teacher finally got to the point where her whole class, except for five kids, were out with chicken pox. The entire class accept 5 kids. So she sent me home from school because she thought I was the one giving all the kids the chicken pox in the classroom [laughter].
Q: Have you ever had the chicken pox?
Yes, I was 22 years old when I caught the chicken pox it was very painful. I felt like the elephant woman. You know the elephant man; well I was the elephant woman. I actually had caught the chicken pox from your older brother David. He was only a year old and he caught the chicken pox and gave them to me.
Q: Can you tell me what your average day was like?
Well we’d wake up at like 8 o’clock and we’d go to school. Then you know, we’d have classes all day long.
After classes we would come home from school. The first thing we had to do was our chores. So each one of my sisters and I had chores to do at home. So my older sister cleaned the kitchen, my younger sister had to clean the bathrooms, and I had to clean the living room and dining room before my mom and dad got home. After we were done with our chores and of course my older sister who was 5 years older than me, she was my babysitter. She watched me and made sure that I got the chores done and if I didn’t she’d yell and scream and throw things at me.
Oh yea she was good at throwing things. She was good at throwing hairbrushes, silverware because she was cleaning the kitchen. SO forks spoons, and knifes would all come flying my way when she got mad at me. Then one time she threw a broom at me. I remember this particular time because she threw the broom and it missed me. SO as I started laughing it hit the curtain rod above my window and the curtain rod fell and it split my head open [laughter].As I was laughing at her she missed me. After that I was like oh you are in trouble now, wait 'til mom sees this one [more laughter]. SO then after we’d do our chores we’d get to go outside and play or go to the park which was across the street.
Q: So what was your stance on religion?
We were brought up as Catholics. We went to catholic grammar schools. My older sister and I both went to public high school. My younger sister went to a catholic high school. She went to Notre Dame for girls. Near Belmont and central, it might be closed but I’m not sure. If it isn’t it is very small now. So we would go to church on the holidays because we were in catholic school we would go to church on Sundays. And of course since we were in catholic school our teachers would make sure we would go to church. We would always have to bring the church bulletin Monday morning to school to show them that you had went to church. The only way you got out of not getting in trouble for not going to church was if you had a family emergency and then your parents had to write you a note. I remember boys in my class coming in and picking up a church bulletin running out the church door. They would just grab the bulletin and leave [Giggle]. So they wouldn’t get in trouble with their teachers.
Q :What was your relationship with your siblings like?
Yea, my older sister was very bossy, and we didn’t really hangout at all. She was 5 years older than me too. I really don’t remember too much about us hanging out. We had separate groups of friends. My younger sister was a year and a half younger than me. Me and her hung out all the time. Anywhere I went she had to go with my mother always made sure of it. My friends were her friends and her friends were my friends. One time me and my friend Tammy who lived across the street. My younger sister was always a whiny, whiny one. She always threatened to tell on us. SO we were folding laundry and she said something and my sister threatened to tell on us [laughs]. So Tammy and I grabbed her and pinned her down and stuffed a sock in her mouth so she couldn’t go tell on us. It was too funny [laughing]. We used to do mean things to her because her birthday was Aprils fool’s day. We use to play practical jokes on her all the time and she would get so mad. One time we took 20 boxes and wrapped them inside each other. She got down to last box and it was a little ring box. Tammy and I had put an egg in it. She thought we had actually got her something [laughed]. When she opened it she saw the egg and was furious. She hated us [laughing].
Q: how did you usually celebrate your holidays?
Christmas we always went to my grandma and grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve. When I was old enough I could walk to their house. I had to cross a busy street. That was my polish grandparents. We would go there on Christmas Eve. Christmas day people would come to our house. My parents would make ham and polish sausage and sour croute. My mom would sometimes make some Italian foods. A lot of our aunts came over on Christmas. A lot of them didn’t have children so they came to our house. My mom’s brother lived out of state. We would have a little family get together. We just kind of hanged out ate dinner and opened gifts.
Q: How was your relationship with your family?
We were sort of close. As we got older we drifted apart but that’s with every family. My parents were very strict. We could not have sleepovers. They hated sleepovers. They always had to know where they were and at this time there were no such things as cellphones A: Oh yea, you couldn’t reach anybody and there was no such thing as caller id either. When you missed a call, unless you had an answering machine which a lot of people didn’t at that time, you couldn’t get ahold of people. You could call back and there is nothing to tell you who had called. You would just have to ring their phone. Sometimes you would hear the phone ringing as you were coming in the house and you couldn’t get it in time. You wouldn’t know who called until they called you back. So if you went by somebody’s house, you had to call them from the house to tell them where you were. They had high expectations of us. You couldn’t get into trouble. Get good grades in school. Make sure you finish school. Finishing school was the most important.
Q: What is the earliest childhood memory you can remember?
There was time when I was visiting my grandparents in Wisconsin and we were visiting them one summer. My cousins lived up there. SO I would bring my bike with. I was probably in 1st or 2nd grade. My cousins would all say “c’mon lets go ride our bikes over to the parking lot and we can ride in circles around the parking lot. “ So I remember doing this and as I rode in circles I must have hit a rock. I was going really fast, I must have hit a rock or something. Well I fell and I blacked out. The next thing I remember was waking up in my grandpa’s bed with a big bandage on my head and my leg. That was my first wipeout. Then I did that again. I wiped out turning a corner near my house into a gravel alley. When I wiped out I split my knee open and had to have stitches in my knee, it was right on the bone. So I couldn’t bend my knee for like a week and half. It was during spring break. I was confined to keeping my leg perfectly straight for all of spring break [Laughter].
Q: What were your plans for college?
I wanted to get my degree in accounting because I was very good with numbers. At the time, my parents didn’t have a lot of money. I had to pay for half my tuition on my own. My first job was at the Montgomery wards during holiday season. I was a cashier who stalked shelves during Christmas. It was a pretty fun job. I got a lot of hour’s in. at the time; it was in the brickyard mall. So I would take the bus to the mall to go to work. That lasted about 3 months. My second job was at Boris Smoler and sons. It was my sophomore year in high school. I balanced books. They were a dress manufacturer. They made dressers. At the time they had designers who would make dresses to ship to sears and Jenny’s. When I started manufacturing was being done overseas. The dresses would come into the factory and be sorted and shipped out. Once a year or twice a year there would be a big dress sale, I could go pick out whatever I wanted before the sale. The owners were older. I worked their until the business was sold to one of the designers who moved the business
Q:Did you have a lot of material things back then?
Not at all. That’s probably why we played so many sports because it was one of the only ways to have fun. There were certain ages we could get things. We couldn’t get a ten speed bikeun6til we were fourteen. You could get your ears pierced when we were twelve. Different things and different ages. There were no such things as IPods. We may have had a stereo but it was probably given to us by a relative. There were no cds. We listened to records. Parents couldn’t buy all our clothes we had to use our own money to buy something if we wanted it.
Denise now lives in Park Ridge and currently has three children and a grandchild on the way. She is happily married to her husband David. She works as a financial analysis at Oli-Dri and couldn’t have a better life.