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Naperville
Sunday, March 3, 2024

Growing up in Naperville – Victory gardens, war bonds and clinkers

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When I was in kindergarten in 1944, I would take a dime to school every Friday. I would buy a stamp at the principal’s office to paste in a booklet. When the booklet was full, I turned it into a bank for a war bond. They were not called savings bonds until well after the World War II.

One day the principal was at the door of his office and asked me what I was going to do when the booklet was full and I answered that I was going to buy a bomber! We lived in East Park Addition (north of the tracks and east of Washington Street). There was an alley behind all the houses and the garages faced the alleys!

Almost every house had vegetable gardens that were called Victory Gardens. Victory Gardens were planted during world wars in order to ensure an adequate food supply for civilians and troops. Our garden was 12 by 20, a pretty good size, and when I turned 10, I was assigned garden work; helping to plant beans, radishes, carrots, red beets, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. As I got older, my job was hoeing and pulling weeds!

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We had asparagus back by the alley, a raspberry patch and strawberries. We had two apple trees and a cherry tree. We never tried to grow sweet corn, pumpkins or melons, as my dad said our garden was too small for those vines. We also had rhubarb plants. My grandfather called it “pie plant” and rhubarb pie became my very favorite pie.

Now on to clinkers…

After I turned 10, I was involved in more and more duties around the house. We had a coal-burning furnace and my job was to fill the stoker (that fed the coal into the firebox of the furnace) and it usually took two to six shovels of coal to fill. We had two coal bins. One was put in just before the war and that was the insurance in case coal became scarce. The other bin was for everyday use.

After the coal burned up there was a lumpy residue which I had to remove from the firebox with clamping tongs. This residue was called “clinkers.” I would put the clinkers in a big can and when they cooled, I’d take them out to the alley. Twice a year Grandpa Keller would come to town and take the stony clinkers to the farm and dump them in the lane leading to the pasture. It was free and as good as gravel!

Also, there was a big steel barrel to burn scraps and we had to haul the garbage to the dump that was located on the edge of town on Chicago Avenue about a block east of the one of three Naperville fire stations.

More next time!

Editor’s Note / Keep in mind that from a very young age when Ron Keller was growing up in Naperville, he was learning to play the tuba, developing an incessant love for music that dated back to origins of the Naperville Municipal Band in 1859, and later becoming the leader of the band in 1966. After this 2023 summer season of Thursday evening concerts in Central Park, Keller will assume the role as “Director Emeritus.” Until then, the band plays on and on.

What’s more, an exhibit titled “Marches, Melodies and Music,” a tribute to Keller and the NMB, is now featured at Naperville Bank and Trust, Washington Street at Benton Avenue. The exhibit by local historian Bryan Ogg will be at the bank through September 2023.

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Ron Keller
Ron Keller
Ron Keller is a lifelong Naperville resident, tuba enthusiast and has been conducting the Naperville Municipal Band for over 50 years.

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