Growing Up Chico: Gery Describes A Lifetime Of Living In Chicago

Sunday, November 11, 2018

AT SPOTS ALONG THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, GERY TALKS WITH VOTERS ABOUT GROWING UP CHICO IN CHICAGO – AND WHAT MAKES OUR CITY SPECIAL 

EATS

The place we’re at today is the Palace Grill. It’s one of my favorites, and I’ve known its owner, George Lamparis, for many years. He’s been running this restaurant for decades – and I’ve been coming here for decades! I almost know the whole menu. And the food is damn good and the people are nice.

Gery visits the Palace Grill in the West Loop.

If you want a slice of Chicago, come to this place. You’ll meet so many people from different walks of life. Whether they’re from the 911 center across the street, whether they’re going to a ball game or a hockey game at the stadium, this is a quick view of Chicago.  

I’ve lived all over the city. From Brighton Park to Back of the Yards to Edgebrook to Rogers Park to University Village – there are many more.  

And I remember spots from all of these do remember lots of spots. They’re all part of the fabric of the city. I remember eating at Archview restaurant at 35th and Archer. I remember eating at Lindy’s chili right across from McKinley Park. I remember we’d go to Falco’s pizza on California and Archer. Damen Avenue Snack Shop on 35th and Damen. Jeffy’s Pizza on 35th and Wood. 

I remember, I remember, I remember! I could keep going. Look, this is part of the culture of Chicago. The food. The people. The particulars of those neighborhoods are the richness of this city. That’s why I made it a point to visit as many restaurants as I could. And I enjoyed every one of them. Still do. 

EARLY DAYS IN MCKINLEY PARK  

My brother Craig and I grew up at 33rd and Ashland Avenue in a two-flat with a basement apartment. We shared a bedroom on the middle flat.

Gery’s childhood home in McKinley Park.

When we finally got a bunk bed, you’d have thought we’d won the lottery! Simple stuff like that seemed like a big deal back in those days.  

We’d play ball at McKinley Park and the 33rd Street playground. We’d play anything and everything. Baseball, hockey, basketball, football – anything with a ball. And on the way home, we’d stop at the fire station on 33rd street to get a soda. We’d visit with the firemen for a little while, and then we’d hustle home to get started on our homework. 

My mom and dad both worked. My Dad, Jess Chico, owned a garage and my Mom Jackie was a secretary. They’d both went to Gage Park High School, but they met at the Mary McDowell Settlement House. My mom and dad were the first of four generations of our family that would attend the Chicago Public Schools. My grandkids will be the fourth – as soon as they’re old enough!

Gery (left) and his brother Craig growing up in McKinley Park.

On Saturdays back then, Craig and I would take the Ashland bus to meet my grandmother at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. We’d do chores around the rectory, whatever my mom and grandma needed help with.  

When we got a little older, Craig and I worked at our Dad’s business – the Town of Lake garage. We did repairs, oil jobs, towed cars, pumped gas, whatever Dad wanted us to help out with.

This was pretty much the life that my brother and I knew growing up. I think that we both felt like we had a pretty happy childhood. It wasn’t luxurious or lavish, but that’s not something that we expected as kids. I’d say it was very similar to most of the other families we knew on the South Side. It was just a good childhood.

EVERY CHALLENGE IS AN OPPORTUNITY  

The one thing that was really difficult for me as a teenage was when I injured my hips. This was just before my freshman year of high school. I couldn’t physically attend Kelly High that year, but there was this wonderful woman who would come to the house and tutor me. She made sure that I really kept at it and stayed on track so I didn’t fall behind.

I think that’s when my life kind of changed. I wasn’t able to play sports anymore – to compete in that arena – so I had a lot of time on my hands! I  started to get more into achievement through academics, and I think I also became a lot more serious about the road ahead. I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life – what my future was going to look like. 

So I’d say that getting knocked down in that way forced me to find a different route. I learned that you have to keep pushing ahead, no matter what kind of curve balls come whizzing in at ya. That’s the lesson. And to this day, no matter what mistakes I make or what unfortunate things may happen to me or my family, I just keep pushin.’ And I’d say that attitude has served me very well. 

COMING SOON: Gery talks about the “quilt of experiences” that best qualifies him to serve as mayor of Chicago.

[Gery’s remarks above are excerpted and edited from campaign visits at the Palace Grill, the City Club of Chicago, Mi Tierra and The Dawson]