When we’re young, our universes are only a few blocks square. The center of these little spaces is our home, and sometimes within these centers there’s an inner core of a bedroom or kitchen. My epicenter was at 1413 East 57th, on Chicago’s southside, a three story redbrick building with western exposure and university-related inhabitants. My elementary school was two blocks away; my piano lessons only one. The grocery store that my father would ride his bike to—with me sitting in the plastic child’s seat behind him, or uncomfortably in the wire panniers—was five blocks away. I liked to go with him; I’d get samples from the deli counter and one of the men who worked there used to ask, in somewhat spotty English, if he could trade his brown eyeballs for my blue ones.
We had large Chicago-style porches. Chicago adores its fire- escapes (wooden ones, no less) for being a consecrated space of pine and bolts where families and friends and our seasons meet. Our porches were home to grills, bird nests, hanging plants, gyshoes, and all of the other little things that people put (or forget) outside to stake their claims. Light blue-gray, those carefully matched beams and planks were the exterior bones of our big, solid, redbrick. I imagined the building to be a great giant, and the porches like its hands; holding us while we clamored up and around its body; lifting me into the treetops so that I could spy on the birds and the neighbors.