Donna C. Terrell

I Was Just Thinkin'

On Laflin Street

on May 17, 2012

Paradise Lost

I cut my teeth and skinned my knees in a time long ago on the far southern fringes of Chicago. Maple Park—yes, Maple, not Morgan, or West Pullman, or even Calumet Park—was a fresh off-the-press neighborhood marketed exclusively for blacks in the early 60s. We’re bordered by Halsted Street to the east, Ashland Ave. to the west, and 115th and 119th streets to the north and south. We still don’t get any props, but it was a nice place to grow up then. It’s still pretty quiet. Maple Park was actually built over swamp land, and the vestiges of that swamp would rear their ugly heads every now and then in the forms of grass snakes and crawfish, sending little girls like me screaming into the house.

My friends and I lived idyllic lives on 117th and Laflin, back in the days when there were standard 2-parent homes and the moms were home all day cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. We got called in from playing outside to eat lunch. Soon after lunch, the smell of chicken frying and cakes baking permeated the air, all for dinner and the return of hungry fathers from work.

We had lemonade stands and built clubhouses and tents in the backyard. We played the standard games of Red Light, Red Rover and Hide-n-Seek. We drew hopscotch grids on the sidewalk and played many variations of jump rope. My best friend Linda and I were really excited about our new bikes with the banana seats, and we would go on “bike hikes”, which consisted of riding around the bike 14 times. What significance the number 14 had, I have no idea.

I was an only child, so all the older kids on the block looked out for me. My mother was well-liked by the Laflin kids, so there was always somebody on our porch either playing with me or talking to her. Having all these surrogate brothers and sisters came in handy the summer Derrick Cruthers terrorized me.

Derrick Cruthers was a goofy boy from my third grade class whose elevator didn’t reach the top floor. He never did his work; he would just sit at his desk and draw pictures of 45 rpm records. He would talk out in class and basically just exist in his own little world in whatever galaxy that was. Then came the day Derrick decided to put my name on one of his drawings. He also included Linda’s name, as well as our friend Carla’s. I don’t know if we were the singers or the songs on his stupid 45s, but we didn’t like it one bit. Derrick also knew the way the three of us walked home, and he would hide behind one of the garages and jump out at us as we walked by. Why we were his targets of choice is beyond me.

There was a class field trip coming up, and Mrs. Shayfer, our teacher, said that the only way Derrick could go on the trip was if his mother accompanied him.  My mother, social butterfly that she was, actually befriended Mrs. Cruthers while on the trip. They got along like two old college roommates. So in turn, Mommy was nice to Derrick. My mother, in her sweet, non-offensive manner, straight up asked Derrick why he looked so ugly on the class picture. On that picture amongst all of our smiling 8-year-old faces was Derrick, fists clenched and facial expression contorted. He told my mother that he was pretending to be a fireman. Oh, mystery solved. Mommy also told Derrick that he could come over to play or have lunch sometime. This was not new to my mother; she always extended hospitality.

But Derrick Cruthers?! Who, this side of wacko-ville, would want to break bread with him?? I was mortified, and more than a little annoyed.

Now it was because of this little love fest with Mrs. and goofball Cruthers that a door probably was opened for Derrick to feel that he could venture over to our side of Maple Park and dare set foot on Laflin. This boy lived closer to Halsted, yet he would get on his orange banana seat bike and come way over west to our block, ride past my house and yell out strange babblings at me.  He started doing this a few times a week.

Enough was enough. I told a few of my friends and also some of the “big kids.” We lay in wait for ol’ Derrick to come breezing by. Derrick and his orange bike soon showed up. As soon as he rode past my house and turned the corner to ride down the alley, we cut through my backyard to catch him. The big kids pushed Derrick off his bike and threw rocks at him, and probably got in a few well-placed jabs too. I didn’t lift a finger; I just ordered the job. Needless to say, we never saw crazy Derrick Cruthers again. Laflin and my world returned back to its idyllic state.

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7 responses to “On Laflin Street

  1. Nice story, Donna. I remember Chicago as being very “territorial”. Poor Derrick. But I’m sure he learned from this experience. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. If anything, he learned not to bring his tail back to Laflin! So glad you liked it! I can tell by your posts that you have that Chicago connection.

  3. Clotele says:

    I am proud to say that I grew up in Maple Park. This story brings back so many memories. Truth be told I was one of those girls that ran in the house after seeing a garden snake. I can remember raking the yard and seeing a snake pop out. Thank God my grandmother was visiting from the country and she sprang into action. Donna your are a wonderful writer. Your words stirred up so many thoughts of my childhood. Although, we lived blocks apart God brought us together as teenagers. Thank God for the memories we have to share.

  4. Clotele says:

    I know Your should be you’re. I was kind of sleepy when I wrote the reply.

  5. Lewis Bush says:

    Nice story Donna.

  6. Pat Fiene says:

    Well, I grew up in the western suburbs (when they were blue collar, not overpriced and pretentious, like now), but my experiences were much the same. I even had a Derrick in my
    life–mine was named Joe O’Reilly–and my mom, like yours with Derrick, was kind to Joe when many people weren’t. Joe moved away fairly quickly, though.

    Very much enjoyed your story, Donna. Funny, sweet, and evocative. And Clotele, you cracked me up. Typos slip through. I make ’em all the time, and I’m an editor and am never supposed to!

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