27 october 2020

Family. Chapter Three

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Russian neighbors. Young Pioneers. Photo shows Misko center in tank top and Myrtle behind him. Others are brothers, sister, in-laws, and grandmas.

Our next door neighbors were a Russian family named Gizetsky, and they were Communists from the old school. The old people had emigrated from Czarest Russia and told stories of hardship and cruelty under the Czars, and felt the Communist takeover of the country was a blessing and in the troubled times of the depression felt the same was needed in the United States. I liked these people, and they were good to me. I never went into their house that Mrs Gizetsky did not offer me food to eat and I learned to love the Russian cooking, the borst, the cucumbers with sour cream and the stuffed cabbages, just to name a few of the treats I enjoyed in that house. They had kids too, and the boy Theodore was my age and we played together. I had a crush on the youngest daughter Olga but she was much too old for me. At the time she was 13 or 14. It was during this period in 1931 that I found myself a member of the Young Pioneers, or at least I would go to the meetings with the Gizetskys and I learned to sing the International and would mouth all of the slogans without really knowing what I was saying, but it was lively and it was fun, and the friendship ran rife, and we all wore red bandanas, and the slogans all spoke of enough food, and jobs for everyone and in those days it was a big deal. Dad was a member, or perhaps a hanger-on, of the party in those days and espoused the cause. Mom was always anti and it was a cause of friction between them for the rest of their lives. Oh yes we went to the picnics and we marched in the parade, and we sang the International. It was, if nothing else, an outlet from the constant of being poor and on relief. We were kids and it was our country club.

Another of Mom's cousins, Hank Synes was also a part of our lives in those days, as was my Dad's brother, Uncle Ivan. Hank was Alice's brother and at the time was working a butter and egg route for Lambert Dairies and almost weekly we could count on a dozen eggs and some butter which was chalked up to his breakage and spoilage. Uncle Ivan who had emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 1920’s worked at a Croatian Tavern (say speakeasy as it was still prohibition) and could be counted on for occasional donations to the family coffers. And he often showed up on Saturday morning with whatever was left over from the Friday night fish frys at the tavern. He once gave me a dollar bill and I thought it was rich as Croesus. I had never before had so much money. I took off as fast as my feet could carry me to a little corner store and bought a penny candy and insisted the storekeeper give me my change in pennies. I envisioned myself as a candy mogul, who would be able to afford the luxury of jaw breakers and Mary Jane's on a daily basis. My glee was short-lived for when I got home with my pocket full of pennies, I found my uncle had gone and my wonderful dollar was confiscated to become a part of the family income. As an aside, I might add I never have had a talent for holding onto a buck.

Florence and I went to Walkerton in the spring of 1932 and the house on Chauncy was history. Mom and Dad came together in the fall in a car with some people I had never seen, and after staying a day or two at the farm, Dad and the man went on to Michigan to find work in the sugar beet harvest. Mom took us kids back to Chicago and it was to a new house on East 92nd Street, a couple of blocks west of Cottage Grove Avenue. We were enrolled in a new school, I can't recall the name of it today, but it was close to what was to become my favorite haunt, Tuley Park. It was here that I obtained my first library card, and in the park pool I learned to swim.

Dad finally arrived home in October from the beet fields of Michigan, and to show for his almost two months on the road, and for his labors, he had the total of fifty cents and a half box of pears. The rent was due, the gas and electric were disconnected, and we were as close to abject poverty as I have ever known. The bit of history I relate now, I didn't know of until many years later. Refusing to admit defeat and willing to do anything to provide for us, my father actually went on the street and begged. He went from store to store asking for work and if not that, for enough food to feed his family. He stole coal to keep us warm and somehow convinced the landlord not to evict us, and that somehow he would be able to pay the rent. I recall coming home from school during that dark period, hungry as always and walking into the house to the grand aroma of cooking food. There was Dad sitting in front of the pot-bellied stove, door open, with a great rag around his hand holding a frying pan full of kidneys over the flame. Never was there a finer meal, and that's all it was, just fried kidneys. I don't know how, but things got better, not good, but better. It was here we lived when Roosevelt was elected for the first time, and thinking back it was also here that I received my first pair of long pants. Both of these happenings were momentous events. Out of knickers at last.