I Was a Serial Butterfly Killer
We called it “The Prairie,” I didn’t name it. It was just our little green space to escape into. It was only a short walk from our backyard, through the alley, and into that green space that somebody dubbed, The Prarie.
It was nothing more than a small overgrown lot. It was just large enough space to squeeze an A&P grocery store onto it in future years.
To an eleven-year-old kid living in Chicago’s northwest side during the late 1960s and not having any other frame of reference, it was Our Prarie.
During those months, when the days are long and summertime seemed endless, that place was full of adventures and mystery.
Tall grasses, prickly weeds, and wildflowers claimed the spot — It welcomed us as much as the annual influx of natural wonders that come to life there every summer.
It’s buzzing with wildlife. There are snakes, rodents, hopping things, and critters that flutter and fly. We played there often; we left ownership marks.
Our proprietary trails cut through over time. An abstract design of bicycle treads, footprints, and Red Ryder wagon wheel tracks created our unique signature on that patch of land.
My friends lived just down the block — Donald, a few doors away, and Larry, a few houses further on. When we weren’t messing around in the prairie, you might find us poking about the alleyways, picking up discarded trinkets from the factory docks, or hunting snakes at the always-forbidden freight yards.
This was especially adventurous despite a strict warning from our parents about the hoboes who hung out there and might unleash unspeakable terror on kids our age and size.
I recall a dark tunnel that was under a rise in the tracks. We called it “Hoboes Cave.” We dared each other to go into it. I don’t believe any of us ever mustered up the nerve. Why tempt fate?
If the hoboes didn’t get us, there was always the threat of railroad workers who were said to have rifles loaded with pepper pellets.
In all the years we sneaked around those tracks, I never saw a hobo or was assaulted with pepper shot.