For the past 17 years, “home” for Patrick Creevy has been a house near Lake Michigan in Evanston and a 100-acre farm in Mississippi.
But Creevy’s boyhood home is in Beverly, on the 8800 block of South Hamilton Avenue, and it’s where some of his fondest memories were made.
Front and center among those memories, Creevy said, are the Dan Ryan Woods, the setting for many of his childhood adventures and also the setting for his new novel, “Ryan’s Woods.”
The book, written from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Kevin Collins, is the story, more or less, of Creevy’s childhood before his family moved from Beverly to the North Shore suburb of Wilmette in 1962. Creevy had recently graduated from Christ the King Elementary School, he said, and was just a couple of months into high school at St. Ignatius College Prep when his family moved and he transferred to Loyola Academy.
“It was a white-flight thing,” Creevy said. “The move tore me apart from my childhood, and that severance put all those memories in a special box.”
So Creevy took all those memories and put them on paper, using real-life experiences from his childhood to chronicle Collins’ adolescent life from the spring of sixth grade through the fall of eighth grade. Most of the characters in the novel are based on real-life people, too, Creevy said.
“The villains are pretty much made up, but every one of Kevin’s friends who play a major role in the book are based on my school friends,” Creevy said.
Chief among them is Jackie Leonard, whose character is based on a friend who died from injuries he sustained by running into the fin of a 1950s Cadillac during a game of touch football played on the street.
“Michael’s death haunted me for a half century,” Creevy said. “I wasn’t there that day; but it stuck with me, and I wrote about it as a tribute to him. I still struggle when I read those pages.”
According to Creevy, he can remember many of the events of his childhood with almost complete detail. While there were plenty of significant events, his fondest memories are of hanging out in “Ryan’s Woods,” he said, sledding and tobogganing in the winter, exploring the ravines at the south end, talking about body parts and practicing swear words with his friends.
“There are no alleys in that part of Beverly, and my friend Frankie and I would get where we were going by climbing through backyards, scaling fences and dodging dogs. Trespassing was the name of the game,” Creevy said. “I wrote this book laughing and crying. I loved reliving the goof-ball humor, the boys-will-be-boys moments. Inside every man, no matter how old he might be, is a 13-year-old boy. When you get together with old friends, remembering those goofy times breaks the ice.”
After moving to Wilmette and graduating from Loyola Academy, Creevy earned a bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross College and a doctorate from Harvard University. More than 50 years after he moved away, he is enjoying reestablishing contact with old friends, many of whom he contacted when “Ryan’s Woods” was published.
“How fast time flies—five decades seems like a snap of a finger,” he said. “But there’s something about a Catholic grammar school that keeps you connected—everything we did was done spiritually and together.”
Creevy said he is also looking forward to seeing many of his classmates again when he visits for a book signing and reading on Oct. 25 at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church. The event will take place in the parish center, 92nd Street and Hamilton Avenue, at 7:30 p.m., and is free and open to the public.
Creevy is the published author of two other books, “Lake Shore Drive” (1992) and “Tyrus,” (2002) a fictional account of a young Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, who began his major league career in 1905 as a center fielder with the Detroit Tigers. Creevy is semi-retired as a professor of English at Mississippi State University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1976 and the reason for his dual residency in Evanston and Mississippi.
Although Beverly will never be home again, Creevy said, it will forever be a part of who he is. A half-century after moving away, Creevy said, he is happy he unlocked the memories he has been holding onto all these years.
“The act of writing engages the entirety of your memory; it’s immediate and powerful—it all comes back, all the affection, the fear, the triumphs,” he said. “This book makes me feel so very, very happy.”
The book is available at The Bookies Paperbacks & More, 2419 W. 103rd St.