Can food trigger memories? You bet! It all started with the Puckerd Pickle neon green relish we spotted at World Market. My husband and I have been looking for it for a long time. Of course we could have ordered it online, but when we stumbled across it, I knew we would be making the famous hometown dogs I used to eat while growing up in Chicago. These Chicago dogs are the best darn dogs around. As a warning if you make these dogs DO NOT I repeat DO NOT put ketchup on them. It’s a cardinal sin! Any Chicagoan would tell you that. You don’t want to commit the cardinal sin, do you? So we more than happily made our purchase for the neon relish. We had the tomatoes, dill spears, white onions, mustard, all beef wieners and celery salt. All we needed were poppy-seed buns and those little teeny peppers that go on top. We had no luck with the poppy-seed buns and we skipped the little peppers. We steamed the buns cause that’s how you do it up right and let me tell you this was about 95% like what I remember. I’ll leave off 5% accuracy because hey, no poppy-seed buns, no little peppers and no Chicago. Being in Chicago adds to the enjoyment! My husband said he had to admit it, but Chicago has some darn good dogs! We really don’t eat hot dogs or red meat very often this was a change for us. We try to eat the not so good for you food once a week and usually that’s a Saturday, our family now calls it Faturday! Honestly though this didn’t seem so bad after all it was ran through the garden! The onion rings…umm those probably clogged an artery or two.
The strangest thing has happened to me since eating those darn dogs. I have been so nostalgic. Tidal waves of memories have been washing over me. Memories of things I haven’t thought of in a long time. Memories of my time growing up and coming of age (we moved when I was 15). Yes, it’s been a long time, but Chicago and my time there hold a special place in my heart. It was there where I experienced a lot of firsts. It was there that I met my first best friend in the whole world. It was also there when I had my first boyfriend and started to blossom into a young lady.
My first best friend’s name was Debbie. She and I were like peanut butter and jelly. You didn’t see the one without the other. I think we were about 12 when we became friends. I met Debbie when I was playing hopscotch it front of the apartment building I lived in. Since I was raised as an only child, hopscotch was something I could play alone. Debbie and her sister spotted me and somehow we just started talking and hanging around together. She only lived one block over from me. Debbie and I both had some things in common, we were the same age and It was cool because she was of German descent as well as I. The ancestors on the German side of my family came over in the 1700’s, while her’s probably immigrated three generations back. Debbie’s mom had a German accent and I loved hearing her talk. It wasn’t long before I was part of the family. Debbie had two sisters and a brother and both parents. It was different as it was just me and Mom in the big city with all of my relatives living down south. I sure appreciate all the times Debbies mom let me come over. I practically lived at her house. We played tons of board games.
Debbie and I talked about everything. We talked about God, the meaning of life, music, makeup and eventually our conversation turned to boys. As our slightly pudgy figures started taking on curves things got interesting. Everything was new and thrilling at that time. Wearing makeup, and catching the attention of a boy! Who knew we’d ever want to do that!
It wasn’t long before we ended up with boyfriends. We were going “Steady”. That was what they called it then. I landed my first boyfriend by playing spin the bottle. My first kiss was quick and tasted like potato chips. He was eating them at the time. I’m sure I tasted like my lip gloss, probably strawberry or one of flavors Maybelline offered. The ones pictured are just what we used. School was getting ready to start again, this would be an interesting year. So many changes.
This was where I went to school. Not sure when this photo was taken, but this is how I remember Joyce Kilmer Elementary. I only attended this school about 3 years. I used to have dreams of showing up at school in front of two big doors and it was the wrong day? Hum….see those doors in the front. Don’t have those dreams anymore?
I hung around with about a dozen or so kids and we called ourselves “The Gang”. I had other really close girlfriends like Jamie and Jennifer that I have many memories of. Jamie and all of her gymnastics! Jamie was a great dancer and we danced together in a Gong Show competition at her church. I think we won! Jennifer fell down at one of our parties and got her braces caught on my pantyhose. That sent us into an hour-long laughing fit. Yes, she was hooked to my ankle by her teeth! We were always going somewhere and doing something. Anytime Mom would ask me where I was going I would always say “I’m just going to hang out with “The Gang”. We’d all meet up at the school grounds and skateboard, play tennis against the side of the school building, tackle football on the small grassy area behind the school or softball. The boys loved that! For the most part the guys were really nice to us girls. They’d look out for us and walk us home and stuff. After all, it was a big city and there was crime. It goes hand in hand. I don’t think we thought too much about it. I know I didn’t.
I was an apartment dweller like all the other kids in our “Gang.” A typical apartment in my area looked a lot like this I lived on the 3rd floor and the El Train was right outside our window. At first the noise was awful, but after a while Mom and I got used to it. My cousins down south used to ask me if there were trees in Chicago. I’d laugh and say, “of course.” They plant them in rows up and down each street. There’s not a lot of grass though unless you go to one of the parks. This is how the Rogers Park area looks.
To be in with the “In” crowd during the late 70’s you had to have a few things that made you look cool. I remember the disco craze and our “Gang” was always finding a reason to have a party. Even though we were just becoming teens around 13 or 14 years old I loved to disco- we all did! All our parties were supervised by parents, so nothing to crazy would happen. Just some fun disco dancing and a few slow dances thrown in every now and again. Our school also had Soc Hops regularly which were supervised by the PE teacher Mr. Benson. I think he enjoyed watching us all. The boys would stand on one side of the gym with the girls on the other. Slowly the boys would sheepishly walk across to the girls side and ask one of us to dance. Fashion was very important. I had a black disco dress similar to this and denim platform shoes that looked almost exactly like these.
There were some pretty funky trends back in the late 70’s. In our area if you didn’t have a matching comb sticking out of your Levis back pocket you were definitely not cool. You had to keep your hair feathered at all times, so you could look like Farrah Fawcett. By the way, this poster was in my boyfriends bedroom. I know because he told me. I think every boy had Farrah’s poster.
Debbie and I had a lot of fun! As we started to wear more makeup, I showed her how my Mom applied her eyeliner by lighting the end of the red Maybelline pencil with a match to soften the tip. I was a genius! Makeup has come a long way since then! I should own stock in Maybelline! I’ve certainly purchased a lot of their products through the years!
One of my favorite stores was Woolworths. You could buy anything there- makeup, magazines or even records. I had a collection of 45’s and I think they cost a dollar each. There were two sides to the 45’s, side A and side B. Side A the hit song and B something else the artist had recorded. Music became very important to us then. I think it becomes important to all kids around 12 or so. I noticed even with my two boys that’s when they really start getting into it. For me personally I loved music from the age 3 and up. Music and dancing. I sang all the time. I remember sleeping with a radio under my pillow. I was thrilled when I got this really cool cute radio for a birthday gift. You could swing it backwards and forwards as you walked down the street, it had a metal chain hanging from it. It was so portable and modernistic looking, I had the radio in white. It ended up breaking because the chain gave out. The radio crashed to the ground! I was probably swinging it way too much!
We used to go to 7-eleven a lot, too. Bubble Yum and the Big Gulp were top picks. The Big Gulp seemed enormous. We’d always share our drinks. I know now with all the germ phobia in our society, and I’m with you on that a big “Yuck” is in order.
We were always walking everywhere in the city. That was how it was you would either walk or take the El train or the bus. The loop was the train route that looped around the city. I still remember going into the dark tunnel as you’d get closer to the downtown area.
Another big part of living in the Midwest were the cold and windy winters! That’s why it’s called the Windy City! We would freeze to death walking to school. There wasn’t a school bus service in the uptown area of Chicago so everyone walked to school. Mom owned a car at times and other times she didn’t. A lot of people didn’t use their cars that much if they did have one. It was a totally different type of environment than the rural country life that I live today. You could walk two or three blocks and pick up a bus or train or get your groceries or whatever. I remember The Chicago Blizzard of 1979! It was so bad they made a shirt saying “I survived the blizzard of ’79”. I was happy because we didn’t have school. People were skiing down the streets of the city. Snow drifts were huge. We played King of the mountain a lot. If you’re not familiar with it, someone assumes position at the top of a mountain of snow making them King, all the kids would then try to knock them down and take over. Here’s a picture of a snowy Rodgers Park area! Burr….
It wasn’t always cold. I had sunburns in the summer and where I lived we were only about 4 or 5 blocks from Lake Michigan which had a sandy lake front and endless views of the enormous lake! I lived on Wayne Ave. shown on the map and the beach front was pretty close as you can see.
Tons of memories have been flooding back. All because of a hot dog! I don’t know, maybe it’s really because my youngest son is about the age I was when I lived there. Maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged and wish I could go back to a time of innocence about life and all the responsibilities that go along with being a grownup. It’s not that I want to live in the city again, but when I look back now I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything- especially the last 4 years when I was coming into my own. I’m much more comfortable with the small town, rural type of lifestyle I currently live. I do plan on going back one day, but it almost seems like I have. My advice to you is watch what you eat because you too may become nostalgic. I’m more of a forward thinking person so I don’t linger in the past long. That is my husband’s job. I guess I won’t tease him anymore when he gets nostalgic. Nostalgia has it’s place and serves a purpose. I close this blog with some things you might remember too. I’ve heard it said you don’t know where your going unless you know where you’ve been. Not sure if it’s true.
- Best Hot Dog Places in Chicago (apartmentguide.com)
- WATCH: World’s Longest Chicago-Style Hot Dog Revealed (huffingtonpost.com)
Hot Dog Nostalgia by Melissa Jo Elliott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.