17 october 2020

Family. Chapter Two.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. 1930-1932. The farm in Walkerton Indiana. Jordan School. South Chicago YMCA, The French fry burn.

I started school in the fall of 1930 while living on the farm, attending a two room school house which was called the Jordan School. Grades one through five were in one room taught by a Mrs. Steele, while grades six, seven and eight were in the other room. Four of us cousins were in one room, myself, Florence, and Norm and Eugene Jordan. Tom Jordan, while younger than Norm, was in the sixth grade. Norm was my favorite cousin, six years my senior, but a little on the slow learner side. Let me say here and now that I hated school, but even at that young age I had an ability to absorb knowledge without effort. I now trace that hatred of school back to Mrs. Steele and my rude introduction to learning at the Jordan School.

Mrs. Steele was to say the very least a martinet, and I had never before in my life been subject to such harsh discipline. She no doubt had her hands full trying to maintain some sense of order and teach five grades the different subjects required while still retaining her sanity, but I was 6 years old and my mind had a desire to wander and I would apply myself more to what was being said to the other grades then to my assigned tasks and for this lackadaisical attention to studies I spent much time in tears, in the corner with sore fingers from the slashing pointer, and I also had to face the jeers of my peers or betters.

I didn't finish the first year there, as I was always in trouble, defiant of any authority, and whether my grandparents were asked to pull me out of school I cannot say, but I found myself back in Chicago and enrolled in kindergarten at the Oliver Hazard Perry Grammar school. I still didn't like it. I never did go back to Jordan school, although I spent my summers on the farm, I was always back home for the start of the school year. And so I spent and repeated another first grade at Perry school. At this time we were living on 91st and Chauncey Avenue. This Avenue is now called Avalon, and we were renting a small brick cottage. My mother's cousin Alice Jackson lived three doors up the street, so it was pretty good to be with the family group again. Mom and Alice had been close from the start, being about the same age, marrying about the same time and having children in like years. I had cousins to play with, Bob, who is my age, Ted a year younger, and the girls Dolores and Dorothy. It was still just Florence and I but we were at an age where we still liked each other and the continuing feuds had not yet begun.

This was one of my favorite homes and some of my fondest memories are of living there. Mom was working at the South Chicago YMCA as a salad girl, and my aunt Bernice was there as the pastry chef. Our greatest thrill as children of that age was to be able to ride the streetcar over to South Chicago and meet Mom at the Y where she would always feed us some of Aunt Bernice's cake and ice cream. Dad was odd-jobbing and doing anything he could to make some sort of a living, and between getting our boxes of relief foods and Dad jumping the electrical boxes to keep the power on, we managed to keep body and soul together. Mom and Alice would have their toot's, and it was during this period that I saw mom plastered for the first and last time. Dad had brought home some gallon jugs of homemade wine from some of his Croatian cronies, and had hid them in the basement, or so he thought. Alice came over and we formed a search party and the stuff was located, at which time the two of them proceeded to get blotto. I remember Dad coming home, madder than hell, but he soon saw just how funny a sight it was and he spent the rest of the evening trying to get them sober. From then on Mom would take an occasional drink, but never again did I ever see her under the weather. I think my Dad had the hots for Alice and would not be a bit surprised if there had been an affair between the two of them. I must say they were both very attractive people. More about Alice later on.

At this time I was 7 years old and Florence between 9 and 10. One day while Mom and Dad were out Florence decided we were going to do some cooking and make some french fried potatoes. We got the potatoes peeled and lard on the gas range heating and smoking and put in a mess of the potatoes when Florence looked out the window and saw Mom and Dad walking up the street, at which time like fools we tried to get rid of the evidence. Florence grabbed for the pan of oil, and the handle was hot she dropped it and hot oil was pouring down my left arm from my shoulders to my hand. Dad grabbed me and rushed me up to 92nd Street to a Croatian doctor friend who proceeded to do everything he could to ease the pain and treat the burn. He did one hell of a job, as some weeks later when the final dressings were removed I was without scars and never had a mark to show for the experience. I do know it was painful.