Claude, about 1945
Jim and Ed Innis, about 1946
Claude, Jim, and Ed
Hamlin Park Field House, 2004
George and Bertha Barutzke
Maybe it’s just nostalgia and the gilding of memories. But it sure seemed like a good time and a good place to be a kid. Fletcher Street on a Chicago map stretches for miles. Fletcher Street for me was one block, the 2100 West block between Hoyne and Leavitt Streets. It was the street on which I spent my earliest years. For ten of those it was the center of my world.
A number of factors have converged to encourage me to sit down and write this account. Early in 2004 I completed writing a history of my maternal family, the Barutzkes. The family homestead was 2119 West Fletcher Street, and the narrative led me to revisit the street and experiences of my earliest childhood. I recalled memories I didn’t realize I had. Writing about them was like going back in time.
Then late in the year, through the magic of the internet I made contact with Jim Innis, a childhood Fletcher Street friend. In December of 2004, he, his younger brother Ed, and I reunited and walked again through that neighborhood, recalling and refreshing each other’s memories about people, customs, events, and the myriad of daily details that made up life then. The weather was cold and dreary on that day, but for us the afternoon was warm and sunny as we returned to a time that to us seemed simpler and more secure. On the left are photos of Claude, Jim and Ed in 1946. Below these is a photo of the three of us at the Hamlin Park field house in 2004
The third factor that has impelled me to write this account are several articles I have read, encouraging people of my generation and my parents’ generation to write down their memories as a historical bequest to those who follow. Our lives are, by and large, a collection and progression of trivial details. Professional historians do not usually include those mundane daily details that would give the reader the intimate sense of what life was really like. In this account, I will attempt to do so.
Who will read it? Certainly Jim and Ed to whom I will send it. My wife and sons said they would. Who else? I don’t know. But I will print it out and save it, and, perhaps, someone else will at some time pick it up and be helped to understand and experience vicariously what life was like for a boy during those ten years on the 2100 West block of Fletcher Street in Chicago.
The following will be my memories and experiences. Therefore they will be flawed with the distortions and gaps of most memories, and the experiences will be colored by the particulars of my situation. I grew up in a home that was different from that of any of my friends. My German immigrant grandparents were raising me. Some of my friends had German immigrant parents, but I was the only one raised by grandparents. This no doubt made my home life a bit different and influenced, I am sure, some of my neighborhood experiences. To the left is a photograph of my grandparents taken probably in the mid 1940’s. It was taken in our back yard at 2119 Fletcher. My grandfather was then in his early 70’s, and my grandmother in her early 60’s. Certainly not old by today’s standards, but in their generation those ages were considered old, and as the reader can see, they looked old.
My name then was Claude Rudolph Barutzke. The first name is that of my biological father, the middle my Uncle Rudy, and the last was my grandparents’ last name. I was born Claude Phillips Kidder Jr.. My biological mother died shortly after my birth, and my biological father eventually surrendered me to the custody of my grandparents and left my life. When I was adopted by them my name was changed. Despite the fact that my grandparents did not like my father, they kept the name “Claude” because it was the wish of my mother. A strange mixture of French and German names. Neither my family nor I ever liked the name “Claude”. Therefore, all through my childhood on Fletcher Street I went by the nickname of “Butch”.
One other circumstance of my life made my situation unique in that neighborhood. My grandmother died in 1948 and my grandfather in 1949. At that time I moved in with my Aunt Evie and Uncle Roy, the couple who would eventually adopt me and give me my present last name. They lived in the Northcenter area, about two miles from Fletcher Street. However, I did not want to leave the old neighborhood or change schools. So from 1949 to 1951, my Uncle Roy would drop me off in the mornings at the old homestead, which my Uncle Gerhardt had bought. I would leave from there for school, return, play in the neighborhood until 5:00 p.m., at which time I would be picked up by my uncle on his way home from work. When the weather was decent I would on some nights ride my bike back over to Fletcher Street after supper, and remain there until 8:00 or 8:30, and then ride back home. I would also ride over there on many Saturdays. These two circumstances made my situation different from that of my friends. Nevertheless, I trust that most of my experiences are typical for boys in that neighborhood at that time