– The Cabbage Patch –

The Cabbage Patch was a neighborhood bar/package store on the west side of Chicago. It was owned and run by a middle aged Polish couple, Wally and Marie Kaputska. Wally would watch the bar and serve those that came through the door while Marie would tend to the liquor store side and do the cooking and wash the dirty glasses and dishes. They would repeat this day after day, week after week, seven days a week all year long. They lived right upstairs and liked giving everything and everyone that personal touch. You weren’t just a customer, they considered everyone a friend.

Wally was a happy little bald fellow with a coffee cup in one hand and big ear to ear perpetual smile on his round face. Marie was a jolly person as well but she was always scurrying around like a chicken with her head cut off. That woman hardly ever stood still.

This place had been a favorite watering hole of my dad’s for several years. It was just around the corner from Schwinn Bicycles where dad was the plant manager. After work, he and Ed Sherlock, dad’s foreman, would stop in for a couple. Dad would have his usual, a shot and beer back. The beer was usually Hamms or Pabst Blue Ribbon but the shot varied from Rye Whiskey to Straight Bourbon to a Canadian Blend. Whatever the mood of the day dictated.

I would travel from California, where I lived with my mother, to visit my dad for summer vacation nearly every year. Dad would have to work most of the time I spent there except for the two weeks he would take off so we could spend time in Colorado or Wisconsin or, later on, in Indiana when he married my stepmother, Mickey.

For the most part I was on my own during the day. I would walk the railroad tracks and go all around the downtown area exploring it’s many sites and sounds. I’d ride the old steam locomotive powered commuter trains or, for a change of pace, I would bus it and then switch to the El or the elevated trains (or subways) which ran all over and under the city proper.

One of my favorite destinations was always the Museum of Science and Industry out on Lake Shore Drive. You would walk through the main entrance and hanging from the ceiling were real airplanes. A reproduction of the Spirit of St. Louis, a German fighter from World War II, the Wright Brothers Flyer (replica) and many more. Turn either right or left and go up the stairs to the balcony which would put you almost level with those beautiful planes and directly above one of the biggest train layouts in the world.

There was a stamp press on the right hand side where, for a dime I think, you could have a metal ashtray stamped out right there and dropped into a slot and into your hands. Or you could go down a shaft into a real coal mine or out the side of the building and into a captured  World War II German Submarine, the U-505. The place was and is magical and I spent days and days there every visit to Chicago and still haven’t seen it all. I can only imagine what the Smithsonian must be like. Maybe someday, huh?

After my wanderings, I would meet my dad  after work either at his car or at the Cabbage Patch. There weren’t any restrictions about under age kids in bars as long as we weren’t drinking alcohol. And, even that was kind of a gray area depending on where you were, when and with whom. After all, this was Chicago you know.

Years earlier, when my mom and dad were still married, my dad was supposed to take me for a haircut and then come right home. The haircut happened but the going right home afterwords, not so much. Dad had to stop off at his then favorite watering hole, Vic’s Tavern and show off his three year old sons new quaff. A couple hours and several drinks later, my mom came storming through the front door. She promptly snatched me off the bar stool, said a few choice words to my dad and stormed back out the door with me in tow. More than likely bouncing me off the floor like a stone skimming across the water.

Dad didn’t follow right away but when he did get home, the fireworks started and went on for quite some time afterwords. Mom was a good woman and put up with dads drinking for another two years or so and then she had had enough. She divorced dad and we move to Southern California where she had family and she could get a new start.

Back a the Cabbage Patch, this one day I decided to go directly to the bar. Wally and Marie were my unofficial babysitters until my dad arrived and they really didn’t seem to mind any. Wally would give me cokes and quarters for the little pool table while Marie would make me a hamburger or a cold cut sandwich to tide me over until dinner. No charge.

The guys that knew my dad would shoot pool with me and, since I’ve never been any good at pool, would let me win more times than not. Two of these guys were trash collectors or sanitary engineers, if you will. They were always bring me treasures they discovered during their days of collecting. Some things were kinda neat while most just ended up in our trash can the next week.

It was on one of these days that the biggest of the two brought in a cardboard box that looked quite heavy and, in fact, was. He slammed the box on the bar ignoring the protests of good natured Wally. He motioned for me to come over and told me that he had something special for me. He said, “Now Eddie, these here are for you and don’t you let that dad of yours take ’em from you, hear?” He looked at Wally who was still behind the bar smiled and winked.

Then he said, “Well, don’t you want to see what’s inside?” As he started to open the large box. I said, “Sure, let’s see.”

When I looked inside, there before my young eyes were about three years of Playboy magazines. Right from the very first up to the current issue. I was kind of excited but I was sure my dad wouldn’t be. The big guy set the box in one of the booths and we waited for my dad to arrive which wouldn’t be long.

When dad got there, no one mentioned the magazines right away. They figured one or two drinks would probably make him a bit more sympathetic to my case or, in this instance, box. When they felt the time was right, the big guy brought the box back to the bar and showed my dad the magazines. Dad didn’t understand the significance at first, he just said something like “Oh yeah, Playboys. Where’d you find those?”

It was only after that did the big guy say he had brought them in for my reading enjoyment. There was a moment of silence and then the trash men, Wally and whoever else was there started laughing. Dad just sat there not knowing quite what to do. The big man said something like, “Hell Walt, the kids gotta learn about the birds and the bees someday, don’t he?” Renewed laughter.

Dad thought about it some more and though he wasn’t totally convinced this was the right way of learning this particular subject, he relented and allowed me to keep the Playboy’s. I started my birds and bees studies that very evening.

I kept those magazines for thirty years or more until, after one of our moves, they just weren’t there anymore. I think my wife had something to do with that but, who knows, maybe it was just their time to go.

Dad continued going into the Cabbage Patch until he retired in 1968 when he and my stepmother moved to their farm in southern Indiana. I never saw the Kaputska’s after that and don’t know the fate of the Cabbage Patch. I imagine, like so many other things, it too just faded into the past only to be remembered by me, some of the old customers and now you. Cheers!

Have a nice day!

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