This May I turn 50 years old.
I spent ages 9 through 18 growing up in Palatine’s Winston Park subdivision and attending Palatine High School, Class of 1981.
Between now and my birthday I will do a weekly blog that will give you a glance into the life of a Palatinian from the 1970s. I’m doing this solely for sharing the laughter and joy at the silliness of growing up in Palatine.
We moved to 663 N. Whitcomb Drive on June 15, 1971. I had spent the first nine years of my life on Chicago’s far north side near Milwaukee and Devon Avenues, over by Superdawg, a popular hot dog joint.. When people asked where we lived, we replied, “Superdawg,” and they understood.
I would be entering third grade that September at Jane Addams Elementary School and I walked around like a tough 9-year-old acting as if I grew up in a tough south Chicago neighborhood: “I’m from CHICAGO!!” and I fully expected all the kids to cower in fear over this 9-year-old chick from the Superdawg neighborhood.
Thus, I began third grade as a quiet, conservative girl, the *new* kid in school. My brothers went to Winston Park Junior High, you know, the days before it became a “campus.” Seriously, a “campus”??? It’s not a college, Winston Park educators….it’s a junior high school. What…is the word “campus” your weak attempt to lure in the home buyers because their kids would be attending a “campus” as opposed to a junior high school? Lipstick on a pig, comes to mind.
That first summer revealed to my father a horrific detail he was oblivious to when he bought the house: it flooded.
When he bought the house, built in the late 1960s, he believed the seven-year-old home would be problem free.
And then it rained.
The first major thunderstorm of the season found our family looking out the living room window wondering why all our neighbors were scrambling furiously in their front yards. They were dragging what looked like a long board and placing it so it stood in its 24-inch side at the top of the driveway.
Our two-car driveway sloped steeply to the attached garage that was located directly underneath our living room and adjacent to our basement family room.
“Get your board!!” one of the sopping wet neighbors shouted at my dad.
For the next 19 years that board they were yelling about would be the bane of Dad’s existence as it met only one thing: If we didn’t use it, our house would flood.
We discovered that day the board that was leaning up one of the garage walls was to be placed at the top of the driveway. On both ends of the board was a piece of upright pipe screwed on for support. The two end pipes would fit into the bigger pipes on each of the driveway. This would secure the board to stop the water from seeping down the driveway and into this style of homes.
Only we discovered this too late and sure enough, we flooded.
The sewer pipes in these neighborhoods couldn’t handle the heavy amounts of rain when it stormed. The creeks the sewers led to quickly would fill up, thus, the sewers backed up, thus the streets would flood, thus, if you lived in a house with a sloped driveway, the water would water spill down into your house.
A board with sandbags on top on plastic sheets alongside the grassy slopes of the driveway would save your garage and basement from flooding. All the cars were parked far up on the lawns away from the floodwater.
Parents hated the floods. Kids loved them! We would think it was just so cool to be swimming in our streets in dark colored floodwater. Though, today as adults, we know darn way that water was dark-colored and the word sewage comes to mind.
As years went by we became experienced flooders. Each family member would pitch in so the whole setting up the board and sandbags were handled with efficiency. We even kept a ping-pong table in the family room for the sole purpose to have a place to put our basement belongings on top of when water would seep in.
As we grew older, the floods didn’t bother us much because we knew how to keep the water out. Even the ping-pong table was gone. But being older also meant that during the day everyone was at work or school.
Sure enough, one afternoon one heckava storm came barreling through Palatine and nobody was home. By the time we could all rush home in an attempt to get the board out, it was too late. Water had poured down the driveway and into the family room. Years earlier we added two extra bedrooms downstairs believing we’d always be able to keep them dry from the storms.
The water reached the third step in the basement. Those were my brothers’ bedrooms down there. They were swearing up their own storm when they discovered all their albums were ruined. I still recall them trying to salvage their Led Zeppelin records by leaning them up against an upstairs wall to dry. They dried all right, and they also warped.
I had my own tragedy to whine about that day: My entire collection of every single Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys’ books were all destroyed. Nooo! Not my Nancy Drew books!! Somebody had stored them all in that little cubbyhole in the garage.
The memories of a loaded up ping-pong table, cars parked on the front lawn and Led Zeppelin albums lining the hallway to dry out almost seem cartoonish now compared to the present-day tragedies of what other states and countries have endured in recent memory.
In 2004, when I was moving out of state, I took a ride through the old neighborhood and discovered that the streets were tore up as they underwent a much needed transformation to alleviate the flooding issues. 2004? Where was all this much needed help back in the 70s?? Why, my brothers would still have their Zeppelin records for crisakes!
When my father finally sold the house around 1990 he had a solution as to what to do with the board: He propped it sideways on some hinges in the garage to make it look like it was a shelf.
When prospective homebuyers saw it, he recalled one of their comments: “Why, look at that! That’s a mighty sturdy shelf!”
A sturdy shelf, indeed.
Wonder how long it took the new residents of 663 N. Whitcomb Drive to realize they needed that shelf to protect their albums?