This month I am participating in NaBloPoMo. All my posts will be related to my mom, Mary, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1996. I'm enlisting the help of family and friends to make this project a reality. Enjoy.
My earliest memory involves Sunday Mass and Mickey Mouse pancakes. My mother was born and raised Catholic. My dad wasn't so he would stay home with my brother Chris and I while my mom and older brother Casey would go to church. You see, at four years old, I wouldn't behave in the pew and my little brother was just a toddler. Sometimes my mom would take us in the cry room but it was more work than anything for her since my dad didn't go with us. To bribe us, she would say "be good in church" or "be good for daddy" followed by "and "you'll get Mickey Mouse pancakes."
I don't remember the name of the little diner but it was located on South 21st and Q streets. I'd sit patiently through church in the cry room awaiting the glorious joys of those pancakes. We'd pull up to the diner and my dad would be waiting inside drinking his coffee, smoking a cigarette with my brother Chris. Without hesitation, I'd order my Mickey Mouse pancakes for breakfast. Those pancakes were worth being good for.
My parents divorced when I was five years old. I don't remember the unpleasantness of their marriage which is a good thing. I remember walking 20th street with my mom and brother Chris so she could get a haircut at a salon on S Street. (I can't remember if this was because we only had one car or because we needed exercise. I think we had two cars? My mom drove a silver '76 Ponitac and my dad always drove a truck but for some reason we walked a lot of places in South Omaha). That day after the haircuts, my dad picked us up and we went home. Each day on my way to Catholic School for many years later, I pointed out that day to my mom when we saw the old abandoned building on 20th & S streets.
You see, South Omaha and my mom go hand and hand. Some see South Omaha as the poor part of town. The way I see it, it's a lifestyle choice rich with the history of the Polish and Czech. My mother was both. Her parents raise her at what was then the edge of South Omaha -- 42nd street. She attended Catholic school at St. Stans and high school at Ryan High. She bought two houses in South Omaha and chose to raise her family there. It was her choice to be from South Omaha. It wasn't because we were poor (though at times we probably were) but we were close to all of the history of her life.
When my parents were married, my mom worked part time at Phillips store in the lingerie department. I remember walking and driving with her to get groceries during the day when she wasn't working with my brother Chris. "Be good and maybe you'll get some candy" was often the bribe (you know see where I developed my sweet tooth). It was never in and out at Phillips for groceries because they also had clothes and electronics and of course, it was my part of my mom's social life because she worked there and she spent most of the day with a 2, 4 and 9 year old -- she needed to talk to adults. We were usually good and after went by the grade school to pick my older brother up.
I don't remember our first house in South Omaha on Q street. Most of what I have are photos of the inside. I do remember my mom taking me to Hitchcock Park by our first house to swing and burn some energy off. I also have a reoccurring memory of driving through the alley to get to that house but nothing more. My vivid childhood memories always involved our big house on 16th street where we lived in from the time I was four until I was 21 years old. I remember taking photos on the first stoop with my brothers and the silly photos my dad posed in with us. When we moved in, the floors were hardwood and what ended up being our TV room used to be two rooms -- one that was painted red with mirrors on the wall. There was also a walk in pantry which was knocked out years later when they made the TV room into two rooms. The good thing about the 16th street house was we each had our own room. In our old house, I remember my mom telling me she had us all sleeping in the master bed room while she and dad slept in the smaller room. Our 16th street house was where all the South Omaha memories come to play. South Omaha was my mom. It was her choice.
When I went to college in 1993 at the University of Nebraska, kids would ask me "what high school did you go to?" I would say "South" and they would assume "Millard South." For some reason kids from "South" didn't go to college though that is a common misconception, the majority of my classmates did go to attend and graduate from college.
South Omaha is still the same and is even being revitalized. It still holds the cultural heritage of the Polish and Czech but now with a little bit of Mexico mixed in. The old diners are now replaced with Mexican restaurants and grocery stores. The Old Packers Bank was demoed and is now a Walgreens. The Stockyards Building is not renovated into condos, office and green space. Omaha South High went through a major renovation in the 1990s while I attended high school there. This year, "The Hole" just blocks from my old 16th Street house, was transformed into a state of the art stadium for the high school. When I was visiting last month, just seeing it gave me South Omaha pride and wanted to attend a football game and proud that I was in the Packer Band (something I don't like telling people because I played the flute and everyone always refers to the movie American Pie when I mention it).
I leave you with the dedication of Collins Stadium in South Omaha. It made me tear up and wish I wouldn't have sold my flute on eBay. I will try to dig up photos and scan them in. I just have not had time!