Jerry Davich's childhood home in the 4500 block of Miller Avenue in the Miller section of Gary. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2013 7:06AM
The house looks much smaller than I remember, as if it shrunk since my childhood.
Yet it still resembles the home where I was raised, on the 4500 block of Miller Avenue in the Glen Ryan Subdivision in Gary. The small but heavily populated neighborhood is nestled on the west side of the city’s Miller section near where U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 become one.
From my parked car, I sat for a few minutes in front of my old home, staring a hole through it while my memories came back. It didn’t matter that the home is not kept up as neatly as it used to be, or that one of the bedroom windows is now boarded up.
I seemed to overlook such cosmetic flaws as my mind raced back to the late ’60s and early ’70s, when that property served as ground zero for most of my childhood memories. Playing “war” in the back alleyway. Learning to ride a bike on the front sidewalk. Shooting baskets in the hoop on the detached garage.
It took a car horn from behind my vehicle — BEEP! BEEP! — to snap me out of my sweet daydreams of yesteryear. On Memorial Day, my fiancé, Karen Walker, and I literally drove down memory lane by visiting our childhood homes, former neighborhoods and old stomping grounds. Admittedly, it was a bittersweet trek for me, unearthing many memories that were killed in combat by both time and forgetfulness.
We didn’t plan on doing this. It just sort of happened as we cruised west along Ridge Road through Gary. The dreary weather offered a perfect backdrop for a rare return to our region roots.
Our first stop was at my great-grandmother’s shoebox of a home in Glen Park, just off Georgia Street, where the former Sander’s Ready-Mix once stood. When I first drove past her now abandoned house, I almost missed it, buried by trees, weeds and neglect.
Only its sad rooftop peeked over the treetops to offer me a wink of its whereabouts and the family memories it once housed. The front yard was gone. The driveway, too. Only my scattered recollections remained.
My other grandmother’s house on the west side of Broadway is still standing, inhabited by new tenants, and looking pretty much as I remember it. Yet again, it also looks much smaller, like it was somehow shrink-wrapped for posterity sake.
Inside those duplex walls, I learned how to make Croatian apple strudel and enjoyed watching countless “Charlie Chan” movies on the weekends. I also once picked up my petrified grandma for a ride on my motorcycle. She never forgave me, I think.
My aunt’s former home, on Harrison Street near 45th Avenue, looks intact and instantly took me back to Sunday morning breakfasts, tinkering in my uncle Lou’s garage, and running amok with my cousins.
Our next stop was Karen’s childhood home in Merrillville, in the 5700 block of Roosevelt Place. She, too, seemed to overlook any brick-and-mortar changes to instead remember what it used to be.
Reality, she told me, will never measure up to the timeless magic of memories. Yet it’s still satisfying to know that certain structures remain standing to either reinforce or reignite our reminiscences.
I wondered, though, what’s worse — a trip down memory lane to view decay and neglect, or to see nothing there at all? Possibly an empty field or a new parking lot paved over our past.
At my old Miller home, I slowly drove around the subdivision looking more at ghosts from my youth than the kids playing there that day. Those ghosts include The Lure hamburger joint and Frankenstein hot dog stand across the South Shore railroad tracks to the south. They’re both gone, but somehow I still saw them.
It’s a weird sensation to look at one thing and think another, like I’m cheating the present to glamorize the past. Shame on me, I guess.
It’s not a practice I do often, and I truly detest the notion of living in the past or reliving our glory days. Plus, I believe I’m living my glory days now, and I hope to keep it that way until my golden years.
As I left my old neighborhood, a telling song came on the radio, “The Boys are Back in Town,” by Thin Lizzy, circa 1976.
In my case, only one boy was back in town, albeit briefly, before returning to 2013 to make new memories for a future Memorial Day drive.
Our holiday jaunt down memory lane helped to resurrect feelings and emotions I’ve long forgotten. I soon wondered if anyone else has done this, too? If so, let me know your thoughts, feelings and remembrances. I’ll note them in a future column.
Prayers at meetings
My recent column exploring whether prayers should be included at government meetings attracted so much reader feedback that I will be writing a follow-up column for Monday.
The controversial topic also will be the focus of my Casual Fridays radio show today between noon and 1 p.m. on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at lakeshorepublicmedia.org.
Call in with your opinion, at (219) 769-9577, to win free movie tickets to the Portage 16 Imax theater.