Front Porch, Back of the Yards

Image Source: Library of Congress

“So they call this all Back of the Yards neighborhood now. Know what they called it when I was your age? Union Stockyard, was called. Where we sittin’ right now, would have been ankle deep in hog blood or suddenly caught between two locomotive cars!”

Joe Lutkowski and his grandson-to-be Rich Goldman were sitting on Joe’s porch drinking Old Style and thumbing through photo albums. Except for a few Sox games, Rich had never been to the South Side, and Joe didn’t get out too far too often lately. But the two families had spent a wonderful day together gallivanting around Chicago and getting to know each other. It was a beautiful night and the Goldman’s had gathered at the Lutkowski’s for cake and ice cream. Rich flipped to a picture of train tracks and industrial buildings.

“Tell me about this one,” Rich said.

“Ah!” Joe said. “This is where I worked! Was brakeman for Chicago & North Western Railroad. Lined switches and made sure signals worked. Twenty years, worked at 40th Street yards, until they shut whole thing down in early 70s. Trains I worked on carried pigs away from slaughterhouses. Was stink like you wouldn’t believe!”

“I can’t imagine!” Rich said. “So this entire neighborhood was train tracks and slaughterhouses?”

“Ja, was all train yard and stock yard,” Joe said. “Hog butcher of world, Chicago was! Hard to imagine now, but was all different. You know Millennium Park downtown?”

“Yeah, with the Frank Gehry bandstand and the Cloud Gate statue!” Rich said.

“Ja,” Joe said. “Was Illinois Central tracks for years, then nothing. Abandoned tracks. Big change all over Chicago!”

“I barely remember the tracks being there,” Rich said. “I can’t picture trains actually going back and forth through the park!”

“Was different time!” Joe said. “I don’t mean bad now, but was different.”

“Hi, grandpa!” Joe’s granddaughter Casey came out on the porch and gave him a big kiss. “Have you scared my man away yet?”

“We get along just fine, ha?!” Joe said, holding up his beer for a clink with Rich’s. “Am showing Chicago I knew when I was young. Is boring story from crazy old man, ja?!”

“I’m loving it,” Rich said, holding up his beer for a clink with Joe’s. “Tell me more…”

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  1. Hey Brian. Not sure what accent you had intended to give to Joe, but I hear Russian! Good story. 🙂

    • Hey, thanks! I wasn’t quite sure myself, but I was definitely hearing Eastern Block. I’ll take Russian.

  2. Lisa said:

    Oh, so kind. I love this little story. It takes a certain type of person to sit and listen to the elderly tell their stories. It requires a special sense of knowing what questions to ask and the patience to listen intently. Very sweet.

    Since I’m from the Chicago area, which makes me a bit of an expert, I’m gonna go with Polish, ja?

    • Pole works for me. 😉

  3. Spaces certainly do change over time, you catch that notion well here. Generations can clink glasses as old moments are relived and shared with others. I sent out on Twitter today. Good piece!

    • Thank you so much! I really appreciate your support.

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