Back Then, It Mattered

“So these are things that I kind of learned that I didn’t realize I was learning.”

Transcript for Back Then, It Mattered

I’m Croatian. And when I was a kid, it mattered. My dad was Croatian, my grandfather, George Davich, he was a city worker for the city of Gary. Street Department. And he was a typical Croatian guy: shirt off in the summertime, loud Croatian music and tamburitzans going on, barbecuing a lamb spit in the front yard and being proud of it so your neighbors see you’re doing this lamb kind of thing, and you know, very charismatic, and gregarious. I didn’t realize it mattered so much, but when I was a kid and I’d go to places with my dad, they would always ask, “Are you Croatian, or are you Serbian?” You know? And I’d go, “Croatian.” You know, it’s either you get embraced with a hug, or you go, “Bah. I’m Serbian.” That kind of stuff. And then that trails away with a, I don’t know, maybe homogenization of America? The whitewashing of America? It doesn’t matter at all now. Now I ask people if they’re Croatian or Serbian just out of kicks. I’m just kind of curious if they even know or if they care. Generally, people don’t care. But back then, it mattered. My mom was a Protestant. She married my dad who was a Catholic. It was a big deal. You know, it was like a biracial marriage, I’m thinking. Nobody liked that at all. So, they had to deal with those kind of ethnic, you know, problems. Which I don’t even recognize these days. But yeah, back then, it mattered. It mattered very much.

I was the baby of the family. We all grew up in this small, little cracker box of a house that I didn’t realize was so small until I went back as an adult. And we were just fine. We lived in the Miller section of Gary at 4513 Miller Avenue. It was called Ryan Subdivision. It was built by a guy named, I think, Glen Ryan who built a subdivision called Glen Ryan subdivision. It’s across the tracks from Aetna. It’s near the steel mills. I didn’t realize till I was maybe in middle school or older that I was on the wrong side of the tracks. I thought I was on the right side of the tracks, but apparently I was on the wrong side of the tracks. It was the poor side of the tracks. Well, you know, when you go to school in Wirt—Wirt High School in Miller, it’s located near the lakefront, and the lakeshore, and that’s where all the swell houses are, and the bigger buildings, and houses, and kids who had money, and affluence, and cars, stuff like that—they all kind of lived around there by the lake. Glen Ryan subdivision was two or three miles or more away, and I’d walk to school occasionally when I missed the bus, and you’d realize that walking: things are getting progressively better, you know what I mean? And then I had to walk past what was called back then a ghetto off of Lake Street in Miller, which is still kind of there. I don’t think they call it a ghetto anymore, but it was. So, I got to see these different neighborhoods along the way to school.

I remember there’s a lot of black kids back in middle school and high school who were—they were on welfare. And that’s what we called it—we called it “on welfare.” And they had welfare tickets, and free lunches, and they would sell those welfare free lunches so they can get money so they can buy drugs or other things they wanted, just fun things or whatever. And that was kind of an early economic lesson for me of how things work in the real world: they sell their free lunches everyday to me, this, you know, stupid-ass white kid who would buy a forty-cent lunch for like, a quarter or a dollar lunch for fifty cents. I’d get the discount. And he’d get a discount. We thought we were the brilliant—two brilliant kids in the whole school. There’s one guy, he would just sell his—all these lunch tickets, or welfare tickets as we call them, over and over, and I thought he was the smartest guy in the whole world. He’s going to be like, a genius businessman some day. He might be; I don’t even know. So these are things that I kind of learned that I didn’t realize I was learning. I just thought it was—I thought every kid just did this in every school until I got older and I realized, “Hey, this is kind of different. This is kind of cool.” And I wouldn’t replace that, you know? I wouldn’t want to give that back.

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