Franklin Park woman has lived in interesting times
Mary Young works on her scrapbooks filled with family photos at her home in Franklin Park . Young celebrated her 86th birthday on Jan. 26. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:25AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Mary Young, who celebrated her 86th birthday last week, has lived in Franklin Park all her life.
She spoke with us about a downtown full of businesses, working during WWII, prairie where houses now stand and an elephant that escaped the circus.
Q: Where were your parents from?
A: They were immigrants from Italy. My father started his own business. He bought a truck and sold fruits and vegetables from the truck. He did that until WWII, then he went to work in a factory.
Q: Any memories from your youth?
A: Our garage caught on fire, on the 4th of July, while the firemen were at their (annual) picnic where the new police station is being built. I was young. It could have been 1933 or 1934. My father was able to get his truck and car out of the garage. We think it was started by firecracker that landed on the roof. My mother was in the yard plucking feathers off a chicken when they noticed something was smoldering out there.
Q: Plucking a chicken?
A: It was cheaper to buy chicken and take the feather off yourself. My parents did.
Q: What was it like growing up in Franklin Park in the 1920s and 1930s?
A: This was all vacant on this side of the street. When we played games I could look west on Schiller Boulevard and see weeds and prairie.
Q: What did you play at?
A: My mother made a net out of a wire coat hanger and we caught butterflies. Sometimes the boys caught snakes to scare the girls. There were a lot of them because of the open fields. Hopscotch, jump rope, kick-the-can. Not many people had cars so the street was our playground.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: St Gertrude’s. They no longer have a school there. It was very few kids. My graduating class had 17 kids. The nuns taught classrooms with two grades (each). High school at East Leyden. Nothing like it is today. They had a dress code and they were very strict. We just had pencils and paper. They all have computers now.
Q: What did you do after high school?
A: I worked in two different defense plants. The Buick plant over on Mannheim. I worked putting spark plugs in. I worked there until they laid me off when the war in Europe was over in 1945. Then I went to work at Douglas, where O’Hare Airport is now. These big sheets of metal would come by and I would stick rivets in it. The day the war was over, that was the end of my job at the Douglas plant.
Q: What next?
A: I went to work for Illinois Bell as a telephone operator in River Grove. It was a manual switchboard. You had to say, “number please” and plug in. I worked until I was expecting my first child, from 1945 to 1950.
Q: What did downtown Franklin Park look like then?
A: When I was young, there were two grocery stores. Another person opened a grocery store. Kenwisher. We had butcher shops, bakeries, a men’s store on Franklin Avenue. Two actually. J&S which (also) sold Boy Scout clothing. A children’s shop, and two shoe stores. They had a bank. Every storefront was open.
Q: How else have things changed?
A: When I moved (to this house), all of my friends were stay-at-home mothers. Only the men worked. We were home with the kids. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhoods. Kids played outdoors. The ice cream man made a fortune in this neighborhood. Now I never see kids playing.
Q: Have the residents changed ethnically?
A: (Today) there’s a lot of Polish and a lot of Mexicans. When I was young it was all made up of immigrants. Neighbors who were German, Irish, Swedish.
Q: When were you done raising your eight children, did you go back to work?
A: In 1978. I did office work for La Leche (breast feeding organization). I worked there for 25 years and retired in 2003.
Q: How do you spend your days now?
A: I go to line dancing at Leyden Township. I knit. I put pictures in the albums. I’ve got a postcard collection. The family keeps me busy. I write letters, actual letters. I put one in the mail today to my son. For the last nine years I’ve been a member of the Red Hat Society.
Q: Anything to add?
A: The time the two elephants got loose in 1966. The one that came through my father’s yard was named Barbara. My father was up early and saw that all the fence bent over where the elephant went through the front gate and out the back gate. The elephant also left a deposit in the backyard. Everyone came out to see the yard.