All of the homes were the same Queen Anne style on the short 6400 block of North Newland Avenue in Chicago in the 1950s. It was the towering catalpa tree in our tiny backyard that set our house apart from the others and attracted some of the 50-plus children who lived on our street.
Its large, unusually shaped leaves made fabulous hats and—strung together with twine—could resemble primitive island-style skirts. Most popular were the aromatic white flowers that fell in the spring. We would sit on the grass (what little there was) and gather the blossoms around us, creating a glorious skirt.
Equally fun—but taboo to parents today—were the long, narrow seedpods that flooded the yard in the summer. Those became our pretend cigars—perfect for our gangster adventures!