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My parents’ flight from Chicago represented another type of asylum seeking that even in the mind of a boy my age seemed the sort of thing able to get people committed to another form of asylum. In the era of “seen but not heard” I kept mouth shut. With no help from me the family cavalcade quick marched from the security of a home on the Chicago south side to our new asylum on the North Shore; from one pole to another.
We didn’t add greatly to any local lunacy, but we didn’t detract from it either. I can comfortably say we did out fair shore. With father unemployed we ran broke in six months. I’m sure not a record but a notable score no less. Part of this was father’s doing. He was a solid machinist, die maker, and technical engineer. He was dead good at those things, but the jump from that to buying a dozen chainsaws to start a dealership on the Shore was a leap too far. Dad picked the brand of saw to sell based on its solid quality. Never having cut a tree in his life he had no other basis, so to him a two cylinder saw near heavy as a small car was the ideal woods workhorse. He was part right because you needed a horse to move one. They were anything but light. The result was that ten years later we still had two of the boxed behemoths (by then true antiques) in our basement. If memory serves me some of the other saws sold as ore boat anchors. They were more than enough for that job.
Dad dutifully made the rounds to every logger and sawyer he could find in order to show them the superior features of his saws. He should probably not have done this in slacks and loafers that made him look like he better belonged as a clerk in a soda fountain. (He was similarly twitchy on our uranium prospecting trips. I’d be suitably dressed plus armed with hatchet and sheath knife. Dad would wear a sport shirt with ever present pack of Pall Mall. With all the cockiness of a boy in pubescent idiocy I’d blaze trail until suddenly realizing I was alone. Where was dad? He’d be back in the car waiting with a smoke. Ten feet in the bush was far enough for him. The result was we found no uranium in on any of the roadsides we tested in Cook and Lake Counties. Burned up a lot of gas though.) I suppose the loggers had a speck of vague curiosity about those monster saws, but the highlight had to be seeing my bandy rooster dad struggle one of those beasts to and from our custom painted Fairlane wagon. That was a sight.
As a boy I could not compete with dad’s ability to do hugely zany things such as move to the North Shore where none of his skills had much use. The one thing I could do was grow. It drove dad crazy because every time he turned around it seemed mother was telling him I needed something. I went through pants, socks, shoes like a tornado crossing a corn field. Dad would have solved this sending me out barefoot wearing a towel until I quit growing. At an age when I lacked hips this meant constantly keeping one hand on the towel. Any hope of stepping up to the plate swinging a bat with both hands was doomed. Just as well far as I was concerned. But with the money pinch getting tighter conserving on the cost of clothing a growing boy had some odd results. Mother latched onto four pair of pants I could grow into. They were inexpensive because they were decades out of date. It was the first time I saw flies done in a row of small buttons. It was humbling to think we were too poor to afford zippers. However, I didn’t find the flaw in that row of buttons until the first time I HAD to take a leak and undoing those buttons on time became a religious event with one “Oh God” as disaster loomed and another of relief when it was avoided. The quickest form of evacuation was also the easiest. With the physique of a pencil I could damn the buttons and slide those pants down as if they were a towel around my waist. A boy had to be careful where he did that, however, very careful. I’m reminded, I really hated those pants.
It turned out that as novices to the North Shore we helped clear out old stock that no seasoned resident would have fallen for, bargain or not. The less expensive but “sturdy” shoes dad pounced on for me to wear to school had, he pointed out proudly, all leather bottoms. I had the bottoms half worn out in weeks and walked either on the heels or tiptoe. This made some impression starting Grade Seven. But there is little doubt a store owner went home whistling having got rid of shoes no one else would buy. The crispy condition of the paperboard shoe box should have been a clue. A similarly monster clue was missed when mom bought my first jock for Seventh Grade P. E. That little gem sat on a store shelf I’d guess since the twenties when mom snapped it up as a “deal.” It came with instructions (another ill sign) that were hard to read because the paper was so yellowed at every fold it looked like a brown outline checkerboard with a few words stuffed between the lines. I wore it. I had to, but I never wore it correctly. Four yards of age-stretched elastic was well above my abilities. Near tears I told mother my confusion and sorrow over that jock. She offered to help. I declined and never spoke of it again.
Some of the same stores still exist, but of course with merchandise much changed. In those days tourists were offered souvenirs made in Japan. Today we favor crafts from the US. The rest is from China.