How I became Grandpa Don

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Chapter 1
Back of the Yards
1931- 1939

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) January, 2001

Some of this chapter was remembered but a lot of it was my memory of things told to me later. I must have had a happy childhood because if asked what I want to be when I grow up, I always replied, "I don't want to grow up"

Go make a salad with poppy seed dressing. When you return the photos will be loaded Relax and enjoy.

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Back of the Yards

I was  born on May 6, 1931 but my earliest recollections were of a time when we lived in the "Back of the Yards" neighborhood near 50th St. and Winchester Ave. When the wind was from the Northeast you could smell the Stock Yards. 

I was Baptized on June 7, 1931 at St Clare of Montefalco by the Rev. N. L. Egan, O.S.A. The church is located at 55th at Washtenaw and so we must have lived in that parish at the time. I also now know that my God Parents were Belmont  J. and Irene Harrison. I remember my mother mentioning an old friend and neighbor, Irene Harrison, but I have never heard the name "Belmont" before. But wait, this had to be the "Bell" that rings a bell in my mind. Yes, "Bell & Irene". I wonder what ever happened to them. But then that was a question I heard my Mom and Dad pose many long years ago. 

(Added Aug. 9, 2004)


Donald James Plefka

 My parents had a home previously but Dad lost his job during the depression and they were not able to make the interest payments on the mortgage so they lost the house. We shared this house with the family of my mom's half-brother. It had been their parents home. Uncle George, Aunt Ella, Richard and George lived upstairs and we were on the first floor. My aunt and Uncle were great and like a second Mom and Dad. I don't remember any grandparents except my Dad's mother. More about her later. I was an only child.

Mom had kept a newspaper clipping from 1932 with a photo of her pushing a buggy with me in it on Ashland Avenue. The reason it was newsworthy is that it was so unbelievably cold. We were both bundled up with only our eyes showing. The clipping has been lost but I was reminded of it because I recently read that the winter of 1932 was so cold that Niagara Falls froze solid. 
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Almost everything we needed was within walking distance. The church was 4 blocks away and we walked there every Sunday. I started 1st grade at St. Cyril and Methodius when I was 5 and walked the 4 blocks with some older children. 

 Cornel Park was a block away and I spent a lot of time there. The movie theater, a small store-front movie house named the Cornel but called "The Dumps",  was a block and a half away on 51st Street. My favorites were cowboy pictures.

Cowboy Don was in control

There was a play area near the garage, just dirt and a pile of bricks. The bricks were used to build a fort for all my lead soldiers. We often heard the "rags-o-lion" man with his horse and wagon in the ally shouting "Rags - Old Iron". (Recycling in the 1930's) Inside the house I built forts of Lincoln Logs and at Christmas time there was my Lionel train set. Most of these toys were gifts from Dad's fellow workers as the Gas company. They were very generous. I was too young to question why these people chipped in to buy toys for me.

We sometimes took the street car downtown or to the doctor but I would get motion sick and sometimes we would need to get off and wait till my stomach settled before continuing. Mom, Dad and I would often take a walk to Ashland Ave and go "window shopping". We didn't have the money to buy, but enjoyed looking. We always stopped at the Soda Fountain and had an ice cream soda or a black cow. Besides getting sick on the street car, I was sent home from school a lot. If I had to recite, I threw up! 

I was told that feeding me was a problem too. If I had to chew it, I wouldn't eat it. As a result, I was a skinny kid. I learned to stay out of the way of the bigger kids.

I was really proud of my 3 wheeler with the "balloon" tires.

We lived in a Bohemian section of the neighborhood and didn't stray into other areas where we were not welcome. Bohemian was spoken in the local store as well as English. There was an Ice Cream store on the next block and I can still remember the smell of vanilla ice cream. They also sold candy and I remember hording a nickel to buy Mom a box of Black Crows for Mother's Day. (I liked them, why wouldn't she?) 

When I was 6 my stomach upsets were so bad that the doctor decided to take out my appendix. Then when I came out of the operating room, he told mom and Dad that the appendix seemed to be OK but he removed it anyway and took out my tonsils and adenoids too since they would all need to be removed sooner or later. Soon after, we had to move. Mom's  half-brothers, step-brothers and sisters wanted their share of the house so it was sold. 

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What was happening in the world during this time?

1931
1932 - 1933
1934 - 1935
1936
1937
1938
1939