Tommy Reinart had a club footJerry Lewis died. He was 91. I used to laugh at him and Dean Martin when I was a kid. We saw them at the movies, at the Teatro del Lago as it was called. This was in Wilmette, Illinois, a leafy suburb of Chicago. And the movie palace was called Teatro del Lago because it was right across Sheridan Road from Lake Michigan. The Teatro was a faux-Spanish-Baroque masterpiece. I especially remember the plush carpet, so thick. You could walk to your seat and feel your sneakers sink into the plushness. The pattern was ornate Persian.
The movies cost 25 cents. It surprised me to learn that grownups had to pay fifty cents just to get a ticket – that was too much, and it wasn’t fair. Why would anyone want to be a grownup if they had to pay twice as much just to see the movies?
I went with other kids in the neighborhood --- Al Versino, Billy Anderson and Cary Ross. Someone would drive us – down Forest Avenue, which had fired red brick for pavement and had cast iron hexagonal light poles painted green – painted thick green like they put on a coat of Rustoleum every year or so -- down Forest Avenue and cross the Northwestern railroad tracks, then five more blocks to Wilmette Avenue and then turn left six more blocks to the Teatro Del Lago Plaza.
Crossing the Northwestern RR tracks meant leaving the parish of St. Joe’s and getting into St. Francis where the rich kids lived. We were a long way from poor ourselves in St. Joe’s with our parish kids having new sweaters and our Dads buying new cars, but St. Francis parish had even bigger houses, country clubs and skiing trips to Colorado.
We were ten. This was 1956. Country clubs didn’t matter too much. We just knew there was a difference when you crossed the tracks. Past the tracks and right there, too close to the tracks was Tommy Reinart’s house. It was so much smaller than all the others. So lonely, like no one would ever go there and knock on the door. We would drive by, maybe all four of us – Al, Billy, Cary and me sitting in the back seat of my Dad’s Buick—and not even notice that brown wooden house. It was only one story with a small attic.
Tommy Reinart lived there. He had a club foot and wore a special leather shoe. He limped when he walked. Nobody else did that. Nobody else was different that way. His shoes were specially made with leather soles two inches thick and he never wore sneakers and he sure never went barefoot like I did.
Al, Billy, and Cary, they hardly lived a block away, and Tommy was three blocks away and across Green Bay Road and across the RR tracks and into the other territory – St. Francis territory, so the distance and the boundary saved us from actually including Tommy. We weren’t against him. We never made fun of him.
In fact, it was a puzzle – if he lived in St. Francis territory, how come he went to St. Joe’s with us?
I pondered questions like that because I was a kid with a brain and the ability to think. They said I was absent-minded. I was. I had this blank, vacant stare, staring into space with my mouth open, mouth breathing, wondering why Tommy went to the other parish, and why we didn’t play with him and why grownups had to pay fifty cents for the same movie we saw.
In eight years of grade school, not counting kindergarten, and in all that time I never asked Tommy about his foot. You didn’t talk about things like that. And he lived only three blocks away but we never played with him after school . All the kids were nice to him, but nobody played with him. I felt a little guilty about that. I mean, I was ten, but I knew better and felt a little guilty. Like we could have done something.
Anyway, to give him honor, in the status that really mattered in my life at the time, Tommy Reinart was a good hitter. His club foot and tilted posture transferred into a graceful corkscrew batting stance like Stan Musial. You could see that. And he hit that softball into the cemetery for a home run as often as the best of us. That gave him respect.
After eighth grade, Tommy went to New Trier, the public high school, and I went to Loyola, the Catholic high school. I never saw him after that.
thanks for reading all of this. I hope you liked it.