Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chewing the fat with Aunt Nora

My Great Aunt Nora Corr lived in a large bungalow on the corner of Argyle and Kilbourn, fewer than three blocks from my house.  I always passed her place on my way to and from Palmer School.  If she was outside as I happened by, I'd wave and yell, "Hi, Aunt Nora!"  She invariably responded with a friendly wave and a question or comment about the family.

Aunt Nora was my Grandma Lucas' sister-in-law.  Both of them were widows.  They were also good friends.  Grandma Lucas lived upstairs from my family.  In fact, the house in which we lived belonged to Grandma.  It was not uncommon for me to walk upstairs to visit with Grandma and find her with Aunt Nora "chewing the fat," a term they commonly used to describe that they were talking at length about this 'n' that.  I would just sit quietly and listen.

Occasionally I would stop at Aunt Nora's house on my way home from school.  She welcomed me, offered a cookie and some milk, and we chewed the fat for awhile.

On the wall in her living room Aunt Nora kept a small square-framed photo of her daughter Mary, who, when just 5 years old, was hit and killed by a car.  She had chased her ball out into the street without looking.  When I stared at the sepia-colored photo, which showed just the head and shoulders of Mary, it reminded me to be careful and to look both ways before crossing the street.

Although the incident had happened decades before I was born, I asked Aunt Nora if she missed Mary, and did she feel sad.  I no longer remember exactly what she said, but I sensed that keeping that little photo in a prominent place was a comfort to her.  I also learned that people in Aunt Nora's generation had an attitude that I'll call resignation or acceptance when it came to suffering and disappointment.  They were able to tolerate life's hardships with dignity and carry on.

Maybe the way they were able to do this was by spending time "chewing the fat" with their friends and loved ones.

I found this old family photo with Aunt Nora in the center.  On the right is my Aunt Pat Lucas.  I don't recognize the woman on the left.  My best guess, judging from the cards in the background, is that this was taken at Christmas time a long time ago, probably when I was a baby or before I was born.  I think it is Aunt Nora's house, because I don't think she would be wearing an apron if she were a guest at someone else's home.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mi escuela secundaria

1961: segundo año de secundaria
Mi primera escuela secundaria era un internado Católico se llama La Academia de la Corazón Sagrada.  Esta era una escuela sólo para chicas.  Estaba en la capital estatal, Springfield, Illinois, que era aproximadamente 200 millas de mi casa en Chicago.

Esta escuela tenía tres caminos de cursos:  1) preparación para la universidad, 2) preparación para negocios, y 3) preparación para economías domesticas.  Yo era matriculada en los cursos de preparación para la universidad, porque quería ser una maestra o una médica.  Entonces, yo estudiaba cursos como Inglés, Latín, matemáticas, historia, educación cívica, ciencia, arte y teología.

Porque era una escuela católica, actividades religiosas eran una parte de nuestras vidas diarias.  Cada día comenzaba con asistir a la misa en la capilla.  Antes de y después de cada clase, las estudiantes orábamos juntas.  También, después de la cena y la hora a estudiar la tarea, nos reuníamos en la capilla para rezar el rosario.

La Academia de la Corazón Sagrada
Había muchas cosas me gustaban de mis experiencias de la escuela secundaria.  Me encantaban las Hermanas de Santo Domingo que eran santas mujeres y maestras maravillosas!  También me encantaban mis compañeras de clase, algunas de ellas aún son mis buenas amigas.  El plan de estudios era riguroso y me daba una buena base para estudios futuros.  Los ejemplos de las maestras y mis amigas me inspiraban esforzarme para la excelencia. Por fin, y mayor importante, mi fe en Dios era reforzada y era profundizaba.

Muchas cosas han cambiado desde mis días de escuela secundaria.  Por ejemplo, en esa época yo siempre usaba una máquina de escribir, pero ahora nunca usa una. Ahora uso un programa de procesador de textos.  Prefiero la nueva tecnología.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My Cousin Bill

I was closer to my Keller cousins, Ricky, Jimmy, Billy, and Maureen, than any of my other cousins just because they lived in my neighborhood near Gramma and Grampa Keller's house. It was a long walk to get to their house or a modest bike ride. So, I had many opportunities to see them outside the major family events and get-togethers. Maureen and Bill were also at St. Edward School when I began going there in 5th grade. When I was really young I remember Ricky, Jimmy and Billy coming over to our house sometimes to see Dad. All I remember is Dad showed them how to do things on our back porch. I think maybe it was relating to Boy Scouts, but I'm not sure.

I have an affinity for people who make me laugh. Bill was my funny cousin. All my Keller cousins, especially the boys, were great teasers---not mean teasing, although it could get a little out of hand sometimes. I had a great solution for that though. I'd say, "I'm gonna tell Aunt Marge on you!!" It worked. I felt sorry for Maureen being the only girl and the youngest of the four. But Bill had a way of teasing and being funny at the same time. I knew he didn't mean it and he was trying to make me laugh.

Bill taught me how to ride the elevated train from our neighborhood to downtown. When he was 13 he received a scholarship to take art lessons at the Junior School of the Art Institute. He was very artistically talented. My mother wanted me to go there too, so she enrolled me. Bill and I and one of the Gleason boys from across the street from Aunt Marge would go together to the Art Institute every Saturday morning for a year. We rode the Lawrence bus to Kimball Avenue. There we transferred to the Ravenswood "El." That was a long, slow elevated train. It took at least 45 minutes to get to Adams and Wabash. Then we walked from there to the Art Institute.

It was a lot of fun going with Bill. He had me laughing all the time. Bill's drawings were amazing. I think he and the Gleason boy were taking the figure drawing class. I was taking still life. During those Saturdays we learned so much about drawing and painting. Also, the instructors would take us to the galleries to see the art displays and to explain about the art techniques and the artists. Sometimes we went to the Museum of Natural History which was just a walk through Grant Park from one museum to the other. There we drew the animals in the dioramas.

These were fun times. No pressure. For me, art helped me express my emotions. I also had a chance to meet children from all over Chicago. These were amazingly gifted kids. I was good, but some of them were astronomically good!

Bill, if I remember correctly, didn't continue after that year. He was in high school and maybe that was enough. I did continue, though. By then I could ride there myself. But, I---and my mother---talked two of my friends into going. One, Kathy O'Donnell, was very talented. Those were fun times. We never worried about getting mugged or anything like that.

Photos: Top, right: My Keller Cousins: Ricky, Maureen, Billy, and Jimmy
Below: Billy and Jimmy
Bottom: Another cousin, Bobbie and Bill at our grandparents house

Friday, February 26, 2016

Two Grandmas a Broken Arm and Hot Fudge Sundaes

One balmy day I was practicing acrobatics on the small patch of grass we called our front yard on Kolmar Avenue in Chicago. I was "flying" around doing cartwheels when Grandma Lucas stepped onto our front porch. "Grandma," I shouted. "Watch me!" I demonstrated my acrobatic prowess. I could see Grandma was impressed.

Then I insisted she watch me do my new trick, a back bend. I raised my arms overhead and leaned backwards, but in my excitement to show Grandma what I could do, I lost my balance slightly and fell. I could hear the bones of my right arm breaking as I landed awkwardly on the ground. Screaming in fear and pain I yelled to Grandma, "I broke my arm!" Looking at it I could actually see it was severely broken. The whole shape between my wrist and elbow was misshapen and actually looked grotesque. The sight threw me into a panic and tears of hysteria.

Grandma looked at it and said it would be okay so come in the house and lie down for awhile. I wanted to believe her. I lay in my bed writhing in pain and crying nonstop. Grandma Lucas put a compress on my head. I guess she thought it would make me feel better. When dad and mother got home I was still bawling. Neither of them thought my arm was broken. Honestly, my little seven-year-old mind began to lose confidence in the common sense of grown-ups. I had heard it break. It looked broken. And the pain was unbearable! My only recourse was to keep on crying and yelling.

At last mother and dad relented and drove me to St. Anne's Hospital to have it looked at. X-rays showed each bone was broken in two places about three inches apart. Soon I was on the operating table and the doctor was telling me I would be put to sleep with ether. When he put the mask over my nose and mouth I should count to ten, and then I would be asleep. Before I could start counting he asked, do you feel sleepy? "No-oo-oo-oo..., I answered. The last thing I remember hearing were three bongs. Next time I was conscious I was in a hospital bed with a white plaster cast on my arm. The nurse said I would vomit, and sure enough I did. That was the after effects of the ether.

Eventually I went home, my right arm in a sling. The pain was gone and now I could show off my cast. My friends could sign their names to it. At school I was excused from writing 'cause it was my writing arm. I really milked this, because, in fact, I noticed that I could hold a pencil and write. At home I wasn't allowed to get the cast wet when I bathed.

In the course of the several weeks of healing I had to report to the hospital about three times so that the doctors could monitor the healing of the bones.

My other Grandma, Grandma Keller, always took me to these appointments, which were weekdays when my parents were working. We went by street car. This was exciting for me. Back then streetcars ran on rails that crisscrossed the city streets of Chicago, and they were powered by electricity from a trolley attached to a pole that touched current from wires overhead. The first step up and onto the streetcar was very tall for a little girl. Grandma stood behind me to give me a boost. It was a long ride from where we lived to the hospital, which was near the intersection of Cicero and Division Streets.

After my checkups Grandma Keller always took me for a hot fudge sundae. Each of us had this most delicious treat: a tulip-shaped glass containing several scoops of vanilla ice cream drenched in real hot fudge and topped with peanuts, whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, and three vanilla wafers. We nursed our sundaes and had delightful conversations before boarding the street car to go home. I sort of hated the end when my cast was removed and life returned to normal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How My Grandparents Survived THE Depression and the Silver Lining

The Great Depression happened when the stock market crashed in October 1929. From then until WWII the economy was depressed. There were emergencies like bank failures, heavy unemployment, business stagnation, decline in farm income, and more. My mother and her parents, that is, my grandparents, were hit hard. I heard some stories from my Gramma Lucas and my mother throughout my youth about the effects the Depression had on them. What they didn't talk about I surmised.

Gramma and Grampa Lucas owned two homes before the crash. The one on Kolmar was where they lived. They owned another home, which they rented out, in the Edison Park neighborhood. My mother, oldest of three children, would have been 11 in 1929. Uncle Ed was a year or so younger, while Uncle Jim was a little guy, maybe 3 years of age.

Life was reasonably good for Gramma and Grampa Lucas before the crash, all things considered. Neither had much formal education. Gramma, who was from a family with 11 children, went only to the 3rd grade in school. But she always told me she went to "the school of hard knocks."

I have no idea about Grampa's educational attainment. Grampa died when I was 6 months old, so I never really knew him. But I do know that he and my great Aunt Nora were sent to live in an orphanage because their parents were too poor to support them. This would have been around the turn of the century. Orphanages were not nice places to live then, and I don't know the duration of their stay. I knew Aunt Nora very well. She lived two blocks from our house and she visited Gramma Lucas frequently and vice-versa.

Gramma Lucas' parents died before all the children in the family were grown. Gramma took on the maternal role in the home, cooking, cleaning and raising her younger brothers and sisters, while the boys old enough went out to work or already had jobs to help put food on the table. To hear Gramma tell it, being the surrogate mother was hard work for her. She was at an age that she might have preferred to socialize with young people her age. Gramma was definitely a fun-loving person. One thing I noted when I was little is that Gramma was well-loved by her siblings, in particular Uncle Matt and Uncle Patty. Uncle Patty visited often. Uncle Matt actually lived upstairs with Gramma during his final years.

But despite such disadvantages Gramma and Grampa worked hard and made some sensible decisions. Grampa Lucas, according to my mother, was a mild-mannered, quiet and very kind man. I could tell she was very fond of him. He worked in construction until he developed heart problems. Then he became a bridge-tender, a less physical type of work.

Like all families my mother's family struggled when the depression hit. I don't know the exact time line for when all the following events happened. Grampa Lucas, a city worker, eventually lost his job. Unable to make the mortgage payments on both homes, they lost the one in Edison Park. Maybe it was foreclosed. Maybe they were able to sell it. I know this was a huge disappoint for them as I heard this story told many times in my childhood. They didn't want to lose the house on Kolmar. The solution seemed to be to rent out both flats and use the income to make the mortgage payments. But where would they live?

Uncle Bill Lawler came to the rescue. Who was Uncle Bill? He was the youngest of Gramma Lucas' siblings. He is an example of how family helps one another. The older siblings didn't have much education, but they pooled their resources to get Uncle Bill an education. Uncle Bill not only completed high school, he went to college with his family's support and of course with his own efforts.

Uncle Bill was a scientist and among the first chemists hired to work at The Johnson Wax facility in Racine, Wisconsin. (I think it's now called S.C. Johnson.) He developed one of the formulas for the wax. Needless to say he was doing well and apparently was not too negatively affected by the depression. Uncle Bill invited my grandparents and the whole family to come and live with him and his wife Aunt Irene and their children. By this time I believe that my mother was out of high school. So this move may have happened the summer after she graduated from Alvernia, the mid 1930s.

Through Uncle Bill's infuence my grandfather got a job working at Johnson Wax. In addition there was income from the house on Kolmar.

I know that the Racine years were, for my mother, very happy years. Mother met a lot of people whom she liked. One woman who influenced her was a professional golfer, and she taught that sport to my mother. Mother also played tennis. She made a lot of friends and did things that for her were fun.

More important Aunt Irene and Uncle Bill were very kind to my mother and took a great interest in her. Both of them recognized qualities of intelligence and interest in learning. Mother was an avid reader. So Uncle Bill encouraged mother to go to college and he helped her get in to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I think that was his alma mater. Mother did go to the University and majored in English literature and minored in chemistry. Mother worked in chemistry after college.
My mother, Mary Alice, working in a lab.

Gramma and Grampa were eventually able to return to Chicago with Uncle Ed and Jim. The house on Kolmar remained in the family. Mother bought the house from her brothers after Gramma Lucas died. She sold the house to my cousin Danny Lucas, and he lives there now.

When I think of how everything turned out well for my grandparents and mother, it inspires me to believe all will be well and that we will survive this current economic crisis in our country. It may take a long time. There may be disappointments, sacrifices, and surprises. But we will survive. And, yes, all WILL be well!!!

Top: Our Family Home on Kolmar c. 1940s.

Middle: My Grandparents, Mary and Michael Lucas, c. mid 1940s, about a year before Grampa died.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bishop Sheen, Early Televangelist, Preacher

In my childhood our family would gather around the television to watch a popular TV program called "Life Is Worth Living" that featured Fulton J. Sheen, a Catholic preacher.   Because I was young, I didn't understand his talks at their deepest level, but it was clear to me that he was a riveting speaker.  He was a good story-teller and told amusing jokes.  Everyone I knew respected him.  Not only did I see the program at home, but we watched it at family gatherings at Grandma Keller's house.

I think Bishop Sheen could be considered the first televangelist.  The cause for his canonization is in process, and recently he was declared "venerable."

Today I came across this You Tube video of a talk, "The Devil and the Diabolical," given by Bishop Sheen.  It is in color, but the programs I remember were in black and white like the photo above, because we didn't have a color television.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Growing Up Catholic: The Playground Fight

Elba, two years ahead of me in school, picked on me mercilessly. Today we would call it bullying. She teased me, for example, about my shoes and how ugly they looked. (I wore orthopedic shoes for a few years and they were not at all stylish.) This was embarrassing, and I wished my cousin, Maureen, who was in Elba's class, would stick up for me. But she didn't. I think Maureen was afraid of Elba, and I can't say I'd blame her.

Elba always crossed over the 6th grade girls' playground when she arrived at school after lunch. One day we were playing softball behind the convent. I was at bat. Elba walked right up to me, stood toe-to-toe with me and began harassing me. She went so far as to shove me. I stepped back. She repeatedly shoved me and I repeatedly stepped back. My friends yelled at her to leave me alone. I was not looking behind me and didn't notice that she was backing me up to a short retaining wall at the edge of the playground. I tripped backwards and fell against a chain link fence. The fence caused me to spring forward. It gave me the impetus to go on the attack. With all my might I clobbered Elba with my fists and kicked her, too!

Sister Mary Innocent saw us. She was angry! She approached and grabbed both of us by our collars and marched us to the principal's office. Sister said it was shameful for two girls to be fighting like that. I dreaded what would happen in the office. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart beat wildly.

Sister Mary Ruth, the principal took over. She was angry after Sr. M. Innocent explained what had transpired. First she dealt with Elba and scolded her because she was the older one and should have set a better example. She also told Elba that her mother, who was a veteran school volunteer, would be so ashamed of her.

As I listened, I expected and feared to get a worse scolding, because my mother, who worked, never helped at school. I was mentally asking myself, "Why can't my mother help once in a while? Then maybe I wouldn't get into so much trouble." Sister sent Elba out of the office and then she turned her attention to me. I trembled.

I cried profusely and shook for fear of what might happen next. To my surprise Sister was calm. She looked somewhat severe, but her eyes looked gentle and kind. Then she asked, "How's your Dad?" The question startled me. Then Sister told me how she had been my dad's teacher when he was a boy at St. Edward School. She said he was a wonderful altar boy and a very good student. That was it. She let me go and urged me to behave better in the future. Deep down I was glad I hit Elba. Moreover, I was grateful that Dad had been a boy that the teachers liked.

As I reflect on this incident I suspect that Sister Mary Ruth may have know that Elba was a troublemaker.