George Street, Our Street: A Poor Family's Richest Years in Chicago

George Street, Our Street:
A Poor Family's Richest Years in Chicago

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Publisher Comments
Reviews by the Critics
Customer Reviews
Read an Excerpt
ISBN: 0965636402
Format: Hardcover, 362 pages
Publish Date: November 1997
Publisher: Oakdale Press
New Low Price: $19.95
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Publisher Comments

After years of writing poetry and short stories, several of which had been published, Melvin Giles wrote his first full length novel based on the true life experiences of his family. His account of these experiences will cause cherished memories to be recalled by others who lived and endured, through the hard times of the Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the Korean War.

His nostalgic first novel opens on graduation night at Chicago's Lane Tech High School in June, 1952. It paints a retrospective picture of life, as it follows the trials of a needy family living on the North Side of Chicago, from 1937 until 1952. The story introduces Kathleen, the mother of three young sons, who is estranged from her drunken husband whom she left behind in East Texas. Within a year, Kathleen is forced to split her boys up into different homes. The Great Depression is over but the war in Europe soon becomes World War II and its home front is seen and described through the eyes of Kathleen's youngest son.

After six lonely years of keeping faith in God and each other, the family is reunited in one home, on George Street. There the boys encounter the dog bites and fist fights of boyhood, on their way to becoming young men, while learning that even poor people can possess pride and self-esteem.

After five years of peace, the specter of war looms again, this time in far-off Korea, and Kathleen's two older sons enlist in answer to their nation's call, as their kid brother watches each of them leave. Once again their family's faith is to be tested by the trials of long separation.

Paradoxically, while many Americans must once again endure war's dangers and separation, the story describes how it is also a sweet time, for it is the early 1950s, when life and love moved at a slower pace, into a more certain future.

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Reviews by the Critics

Daily Herald

The book revolves around a young woman and her three sons who leave their Texas farm and move to Chicago's North Side . . . The boys get into some scrapes of their own as they find ways to entertain themselves on a limited budget, such as leaping from one rooftop to another or chasing stray chickens around the neighborhood. The hardships that face this close-knit group are endured with a sense of honor as the family pulls together through war and peacetime . . . As a slice of life in the 1940's and 1950's, the novel may provide an insight for younger people into the generation of their parents or grandparents. - Shaheen Ahmed

Press Publications Spotlight

Subtitled "A Poor Family's Richest Years in Chicago", the book meticulously details the life and times of the Ryan family, from the arrival in Chicago of a struggling single mother from Texas in 1937 to the graduation of the author's alter ego from Lane Technical High School in 1952. - Dan Pearson

Sun Publications

He just wants to tell the story of what one poor family went through to survive . . . The book tells of this close-knit group which migrated to the Windy City to find a better life. Set on Chicago's North and Northwest sides, the tale is about growing up on 1200 George Street in the meat packing area. It spans the years between the mid-Depression and 1952. Beginning and ending at a high school graduation, it follows a young boy through his young life. - Lois Michel

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Customer Reviews

Number of Reviews: 5 Average Rating:

Kris Gray - Lombard, Illinois (, A reviewer, December 5, 2002,
A family's heart warming story
This is an extremely heartwarming story about how a family made it through some very difficult times and somehow found a way to stay together. It is too bad that some of the same values that were important back in the 1940s and 1950s aren't still as important in families today, both in good times and in difficult ones. The author did a wonderful job telling the story and it makes the reader not want to put the book down. It can be reread many times and enjoyed just as much each time. I'd love to read a sequel!

Harold Blesy of Hinsdale, a retired police officer., May 2, 2000,
A walk down memory lane!
What a thrill! Although Mel graduated from Lane ten years before me, I enjoyed his book immensely. Some of that thrill was because I grew up six blocks west of where Mel did. He mentions many familiar landmarks: Hamlin Park, swimming at the Belmont Rocks, local movie theaters, the Lindbergh Beacon atop the Palmolive Building, Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln-Belmont YMCA, and of course Riverview Park and the roller rink. I, as he, used to listen to Randy Blake on WJJD, and rode the Green Hornet streetcars. Much of the book is devoted to Lane Tech. I thought I was reading about myself, as Mel took me to Riesz's and McGovern's stores. As a 'freshie' he learns as all of us did, about the sacred campus lawn, being subjected to a penny attack, how the room numbering system can get you lost, and a trip to the discipline office. He uses terminology which was part of our experience at Lane such as: socials, course book, rovers, division rooms, and, of course, the Myrtle and the Gold! Thanks Mel! I recommend his book for all alumni who would like to take a walk down memory Lane (Tech).

David V. Radcliffe, a collector from Kirkwood, Missouri, February 25, 2000,
'George Street, Our Street' a time machine!
'George Street, Our Street' is not a book, it's a time machine. It took me back through the 30's, 40's, and 50's. By page 39, along with sneaking peeks further on, I was traumatized. I couldn't talk around the lump in my throat ... I walked through old neighborhoods, I walked the halls of Lane, I went to the 'Fog Bowl' football game at Soldier Field with Mt. Carmel. I froze, once again, watching Lane's football team beat Fenwick. I was back at the corner of Damen and Diversey selling newspapers again. What a trip...quite a trip. I would urge all Laneites from all classes, past, present, and future to read this book. Those from the 40's and 50's will be instantly transported back to those times. The alumni from the 30's and before will very much identify with it. All others who came after will have purchased a window to the past and will more fully understand: 'Wherever you go, what ever you do, remember the honor of Lane'. David V. Radcliffe Lane Tech Class of January, 1950.

Ruby Marley, A reviewer, August 12, 1999,
Wonderful account of loving family during hard times
I really enjoyed this book. This writer has such a way with words. I understand this is his first novel. In that case, I'm looking forward to the next one. You can just feel the love this family had for each other to go through such hardships to be together.

Norm Marley, A reviewer, August 12, 1999,
Great account of difficult period in our history.
Superbly written account of a family's determination in overcoming great adversity to retain a strong, cohesive relationship. Very believable especially to those of us who have lived through those difficult periods in our history.

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Excerpts from the book

Chapter 1 - The Edge of Manhood

Strains of Sibelius' magnificent "Finlandia" waxed and waned on the undulating breeze of a balmy, late June evening. Lane Tech High School's orchestra was playing superbly, as the long awaited commencement exercises of June, 1952 were well under way, outdoors. The weather bureau's prediction of a chance of showers was beginning to look like "no chance" and the 600 graduating seniors of the all-boys school were relieved. At the Senior Rally their principal had decreed, "If the ceremony begins outdoors, we'll complete it outdoors!" to the cheers of the same 600 seniors. If it had been raining when the ceremonies began, only forty percent of the attending relatives and guests who filled all of the seats in the football stadium would have been admitted to their indoor Auditorium.

Of all those candidates for graduation, sitting in formations of a block "L" and " T" on the football field, one of the happiest was a seventeen-year-old named Gene Ryan. Even as he sat through the interminable speeches that had been customary and expected at these occasions, he was overjoyed because he had survived four arduous years at this school. Gratified also, that at least his mom, Kathleen, was in the crowd and he knew that she was pleased with him. How much more joyful the occasion would have been, if only his two older brothers, Bob and Dave, the remaining members of his immediate family could have been there.

As the speakers droned on, his youthful, active mind sought diversion, busying itself intermittently, with concerns about the future that young men of their day had, then with nostalgic memories of times and events gone by.

In addition to the usual anxieties of continuing their education or going into a trade or directly to other work, a major concern to Gene and to most of the graduation seniors was the bitter war in Korea. Graduation Day had fallen on the eve of the second anniversary of its outbreak, half a world away. Many of Gene's classmates had older brothers or friends from their neighborhoods, who had shipped out to Korea and had been wounded, suffered frostbite, or had returned in government-issued caskets.

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