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A Mosaic of the Childhood Experiences of Debby Scheck
Debra Rose Scheck, Debby, was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1954. She spent most of her childhood in Norridge. She went to St. Eugene Grade School and Ridgewood High School.
Did you move a lot in your childhood?
No. We lived in one house until I started kindergarten, and then we moved to the house that my dad built and stayed there until college. My parents didn’t move from there until I was in my twenties.
Were you close with your family like you are now? Who were you the closest with?
Yes. Growing up, my oldest brother was terrific, and I didn’t get along with my second oldest brother, he was a bully and he was mean to me. I had a sister [Trish] four years younger, who I slept in the same room with, and we were very close. We had a baby sister [Diane] born when I was nine. So I wasn’t quite as close to her because she was a lot younger.
Tell me about your adventures with Trish.
We played together a lot, we had a lot of families on our block and her friends were siblings of my friends, so we often were at the same house playing, that kind of thing. Sharing a room, we went to bed at the same time every night, said our prayers together, talked before falling asleep, we held hands across the twin beds. She was that much younger than me so she was a follower, I had the upper hand all the time, which probably made me kind of bossy.
What kind of games did you guys play?
We were really big into word games, Boggle and Scrabble, and we played with Barbies all the time.
How old were you when your dad built the walk in dollhouse with running water and things?
I think I was ten, but I remember playing in it for years. And we would rearrange the furniture in there like it was some giant house, and it was only like 5 by 5, but we had a little couch. We had a complete little kitchen. We would arrange the rooms and Trish and I played together in there all the time, it was excellent.
Did you ever break a bone?
Never! Never, knock on wood! My sister broke a couple of bones, she was the only one in the whole family! My brothers never broke anything either.
Were your parents overprotective?
Not at all, no. They were young, they had a lot of friends, they had parties on Saturday nights all the time, or they were with the neighbors. No, they were not restrictive.
So you were really close with your neighbors?
Yeah, and my parents were friends with the adults. There were probably fifty kids on the block, and it was a safe little side street, there wasn’t a lot of traffic so we’d play in the--the boys would play baseball in the street. We could ride our bikes up and down the street all the time. We were in and out of each others houses all the time.
Your family was really close, were you close with your parents?
Yes, my parents were the best! My parents were big into music, they were very social. They were well dressed, good looking, lots of fun, big on parties, outgoing. [looks at picture] They’re in their twenties here, I think. Maybe even a little younger, teenagers?
Holidays were a big deal in the Scheck family. How did you guys celebrate?
Oh my. Well, we had lots of traditions. My parents were a lot of fun, they liked to stay up all night. So our Christmas tradition was, we had the family over on Christmas Eve and we’d have a big party and lots of food, and then everybody would go home and then we’d start opening presents! And we’d stay up all night, and we’d eat Christmas cookies, and then at the crack of dawn, we’d get in the car and drive to some all-night restaurant and have a big breakfast. And then we’d come home and go to bed, my mother would put the turkey in the oven and then [pauses] I’m sure we used to go to church too, but it seems like we would all go back to bed. We always had Grandma and Grandpa over, Grandma and Grandpa were so generous with their food and presents and attention. And then there was always the extended family going to somebody’s house or them coming over. All the holidays were celebrated big.
Were these your dad’s parents?
My dad’s parents and my mother’s aunts. My dad’s family was very small, it was my grandparents and my uncle Chuck, who was much much younger, and he was single for most of my childhood. And then on the other side of the family, my mother had lots and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins.
Was the big Italian family good or bad?
It was excellent. My aunts and uncles came over all the time, and we always went to their house, and we always had fun. I only had one girl cousin, but she and I were very close, and we enjoyed being together. And a lot of the other cousins were teenagers when I was a kid, so I loved listening to their music, and they would dance. That was kind of the thing back then, they would play rock’n’roll music and they would dance with each other! The Italians, everybody would entertain in their basement, and so there was always a kitchen and a living room and all big open space, and they often had Italian lights strung up all over the ceiling. The food was always fantastic, and there was always lots of hugging and kissing, and laughing. The men played poker and the ladies chatted.
Were there any wars or important things going while you were growing up? Did they affect you? How?
The Vietnam war was in the late 60s. Yes. I felt [pause] very scared that all the boys I knew would have to go fight in the war, and there were bloody images of fighting on television every night. And for some stupid reason, we all watched it. We were sort of riveted to the news. [pause] The body counts, they talked about how many people died. It was a very powerful, sad thing to hear about Vietnam.
Did anyone you know go into the war?
My cousin did. And he came back [pause] pretty disturbed. And never had a normal life afterwards.
When you were a teenager, did you have a job?
I had a lot of jobs when I was a teenager. I think my very first job was washing hair at a beauty shop, Richard’s Pearl of a Curl. [laughs] I think I worked there for tips. And I also worked at a dress shop at the Harling Irving Plaza. I worked for my dentist, I was an assistant for him. I did a lot of babysitting, and I worked full time over the summers. I worked at Montgomery Wards in the customer service department, taking complaints. [laughs] And that was a full time job, and I drove there every morning and drove home every night with Mrs. Barell, who was a big head honcho at Montgomery Wards, and her son was dating my sister.
Did you ever have your own car?
When I graduated from college my dad bought me a car, but up until then, no.
What did you want to be when you were older?
An actress. I was in the musicals and a couple of plays. There was always a show every year. My favorite was Oklahoma, I had a great part. I was Ado Annie. The last two years I was a lead.
How was high school for you?
High school was phenomenal. There were so many kids that talked to each other, [and] even though there were cliques, all the cliques kind of blended so that the smart kids and the theater kids and the music kids and the student council kids and the cheerleaders, the football players [were all together]. When I was in high school, we did a lot of dances in school. And so there weren’t so many parties at people’s houses, where you had to be invited, it was more sock hops with live bands. Everybody went, and that’s one of the reasons why all the different cliques could interact. We also were really into sports. We went to all the football games, all the basketball games. I was on the pom pom squad, but even before then, it was just kind of a social thing to do. We were very much into our class. So, the freshmen class built homecoming floats, and we’d compete against the other classes. That was a big deal every year, so our class would build our homecoming float and we would be in somebody’s garage and it was a huge effort and we really had strong school spirit. So high school was very much fun.
Were you popular?
Yeah. [laughs] It was a good place to be, and yeah, I was very popular.
Did you have any serious boyfriends?
Yeah, I had boyfriends all through high school, probably starting sophomore year with Bobby Cowwa, and then junior year, Michael Burke. And I dated each of them for a long time, and then in my senior year, Mike Godula, and I dated him into college. I didn’t have a lot of dates, I’d have like one boyfriend at a time.
Were there any hot date spots, like ice cream shops or something?
You would just go to the dances, and to the football games, and go to the high school activities. And we used to go out for coffee! That sounds so silly now, but we used to go to the Marriott and go to the coffee shop, that was a big hang out! Then we would discover new coffee shops, usually like some big hotel lobbies that we would meet in, and stuff. Kinda weird.
What kind of music did you listen to?
Well, the Beatles got famous when I was ten, and I was a crazy, crazy, crazy Beatles fan, and there were lots of bands emerging at the time. Bands you wouldn’t even know now, but the Birds, and the Loving Spoonfuls, and the Turtles. Not crazy music, more pretty. There were a lot of live bands that played all around, because we used to have live bands at all the high school events, so we heard lots of bands that started in Chicago, that became nationally famous.
Your dad listened to Frank Sinatra, right?
Yes! I have lots of good memories of my dad singing, and we would turn on the music while we cleaned the house! We would all sing and clean together. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, and I dunno, people you’ve never heard up. We grew up singing. [My parents had] lots of albums, and [were] big on playing music.
Did you ever talk to Grandpa Bill?
Hardly. He was a shadow character throughout my whole childhood. My grandma died when I was six, and he moved in with us for a little while after she died. I guess he drank too much and started carrying on with one of the neighborhood women. [laughs] My father kicked him out, and then I didn’t see him for years. The next time I remember seeing him was at my uncle Jim’s funeral, and he was still kind of a black sheep. My father wasn’t crazy about him. My parents only talked about him to say that he was bad news.
Would you like to back off on this topic?
Debby wouldn’t like to explain her grandfather’s history, and she doesn’t want to elaborate on the subject.
Alright. Well, thank you! Sounds like you had a great childhood.
Yes, I really did. Thank you!
Debby went to Northwestern University for college, and was a therapist for twelve years before becoming a stay at home mom to six children. She went back to work as a substitute teacher before becoming an education coordinator at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. She currently resides in Park Ridge, Illinois with her husband and two of her children.