This is the story of three fathers in my life and the neighborhood that connected them. It is the story of a typical southside Chicago neighborhood where city blocks of various-styled houses marched along, occasionally interrupted by a cluster of stores–commerce that arose because of the presence of a Rock Island Railroad station at 95th, 99th, 103rd etc.
The neighborhood grew around access to the train and the city north. Sidewalks lined every block, slicing between the lawns of the houses and the lawns of the parkway where elm trees grew and short streetlights supplied only pools of light, because that was all that was needed. These were neighborhoods that encouraged walking and friendliness.
My father lived on the street with the simple name Wood. In the middle of my father’s block, three houses with three very different families lived side-by-side, fruit trees or a driveway marking off property lines. Of course each block had a house on either end—the proverbial corner house that had a certain cache. But if you turned the southern corner and walked past three other houses, you’d come to my father-in-law’s house that sat back from the sidewalk.
That’s how close these two men’s lives were geographically in the quiet neighborhood of Beverly Hills in Chicago. My father, Albert Pfordresher, was eight years older than Edward Havey, so they never attended either grade or high school together. They did go to the same church. And ironically, after each was married, they lived in those same houses, the ones where they had previously lived with their parents.
But my father died suddenly at the age of 45 when I was just a child, and thus would not be there when I rode my tricycle and then my two-wheeler around the block, past the house where Edward Havey was now living with his growing family—which included his first son, John—my future husband.
So you see, this is a story that can be repeated over and over in the lives of many folks in this country, folks living in farm towns or small cities, or living in the suburban areas of huge cities. It’s a story of bumping into people, of knowing them and connecting with them and finally NOT being surprised when the connection becomes deeper, becomes family. It’s a story that echoes with the phrase—it’s a small world. Because then, when I was growing up—it was smaller. People grew up and stayed—like my maternal grandmother who moved from a big Victorian home with her many brothers and sisters to a smaller house—again just blocks away. And lived there for over 65 years—content.
But Readers, you know all about change and far-flung relationships. You know all about the positives and negatives of insular living versus spreading your wings. It’s history, often family history. It’s life. It’s all very fascinating.
In 1931, a news article appeared in the neighborhood newspaper, the Southtown Economist. It was a review of a recent musical that occurred at the local church, St. Barnabus. Albert Pfordresher was the co-producer and Edward Havey took part in the performance. The article also mentioned Bob Singler, whose father was my grandmother’s brother. All families who would be intertwined.
But in 1931, my mother was only fifteen. I guess I wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at that point in time. But so fascinating to imagine my father putting his hand on Edward Havey’s shoulder and saying,
“Wow, thanks for all that you did to make this performance go so well. It was great. We should get together more often.”
And my father-in-law responding,
“We should. Why you’re just around the corner from me. Maybe we could sit on your porch and talk about life and our futures.”
Imaging and wondering about conversations that could have taken place works for me. After all, I’m thinking about fathers today and want to say thanks to my father. Even though his untimely death took him, he left me with an amazing mother and my two loving brothers. And thanks to my father-in-law, whose courage and strength got him through WWII so he could come home and with my mother-in-law bring my future husband into the world. And thanks to my husband, my best friend, my advocate, my partner in all things.
To quote a writer whose words truly touched me: There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. ~John Gregory Brown
Credit: Family photos and www.bapa.org Part of an ongoing Family History Project