Tuesday, December 21, 2010

3rd Grade 1935-36

After the grocery store experience we were back living  near the grandparents on Highland Ave. and I was in 3rd grade. My mother said to me,” MaryKay, it’s just doesn’t seem right. We are always moving into another home when it is your birthday.” BUT, you know what? I loved this. My birthdays were always so exciting. New place, new windows to look out from, new doors to open and look into new rooms, new floors to squeak around on, new sounds and echos of voices in empty rooms, so I loved these days and days following were very special for me. Especially, during a depression who could top this for a small child? Only this time we lived in an apartment on Highland Avenue, same street as the grandparents but just across 12th Street from their 2 story Victorian 2-flat. To go any further on down towards downtown the neighborhood was almost totally black. Because of this fact we never did go further towards downtown on Highland Avenue. Though I know St. Rose Church was down there somewhere, that trip would be with my Uncle Tim.  Always, especially afternoons, the smell from the breweries was very strong. Personally, I didn't like the smell. It's aroma covered up everything else. I believe I wouldn't be able to smell a fragrant rose if I found one. 

Mother was very pregnant, well I think I knew we were to have a new sibling. She had a young girl help her out in the kitchen, etc. The girl was learning the French language in her High School classes and would share phrases with us kids. This was our introduction to foreign language. Which was such fun. Our Aunt Mary [Maime] and Uncle Mike were with us for a time. My suspicion is they were helping my folks pay the apartment rent. They added lots of mirth in the family circle. I remember hating the kidney beans in my bowls of chili and I would pick them out. That’s why I most always mash them. 
For a time we had a male roomer in the front bedroom, for extra cash and wow did his feet stink. In the apartment’s bathroom hung a single light bulb from the ceiling with no shade, and with a pull chain to turn it on and off. I discovered that if I stared even a moment at that singular bulb I would see hearts in my eyes. I thought perhaps something was going wrong in my head. Scared me yet I wouldn't tell my parents. I must have felt they had enough of problems without mine. I learned this from my Raggedy Ann book to always wear a smile. Hers was sewn on. She could be my model. I surely could be her imitator. 
We were reenrolled at Gesu Grade School. Billy was now in the first grade classroom with same Sr. Mary Jean Allen as his instructor. In first grade Billy was wearing this leg brace and needed help lacing up his high-top boots he wore in the winter. Each day in winter I'd come over from 3rd grade classroom to get him ready for his walk home. The brace went through holes in each side of the heel of his right boot.
Boys all wore knickers. I found this bit when I Googled ’knickers’. "Boys usually wore their knickers buckled above the knees in the 1920s. Younger boys especially wore them above the knees. Boys would often prefer the more manly style of buckling them below the knee. Some mothers would insist that their son buckle his knickers above the knee. The boy, however, after leaving the house would rebuckle his knickers in the preferred below the knee position. This mother/son struggle of the 1920s was immortalized in the Music Man. By the 1930s the problem was resolved and below knees accepted.”  The knickers Billy wore were always below the knees and I recall cuffs, not buttons.
I was allowed to be in the boys play at Gesu because they needed more children. I was to  play Little Boy Blue. Mother was upset that I had volunteered for my costume rental cost was 35 cents. One lunchtime she did put exactly 35 cents into my hand. I held that money tightly while I was waiting patiently in the hall line outside the 3rd grade classroom. When I went inside the classroom the money was gone. Best scenario would be I lost the money in the cloakroom at the back of the classroom, a narrow room jumbled with coats and book bags, lunch bags, galoshes. Now I would need to explain my carelessness to mother. This was a very, very big problem. Problem was finally resolved and  I wore a costume of beautiful blue satin. When the girls turn arrived to put on a show I played Little Miss Muffet. 
My third grade teacher, Sr. Mary Cuthbert,  was not a pleasant [happy?] woman. I have come to believe all nuns were not happy because there were only 2 places for women in the Religious, well 3 if I count cloister. These were in schools teaching or in hospitals as nurses and suppose neither of these were her forte. And did you realize the nunnery in bygone times was that place where a young girls could live so she wouldn’t have to marry that man parents would choose? Some unhappy women taught in schools. I loved math in third grade, especially the pass-out papers. Until one day sister came by my desk and yanked my hair hard for some math reason. I wet my panties. I was uninterested from that point on. And hated her. I loved reading. I had learned to read so well. And I loved to read aloud, I suppose to exhibit my skill. One day sister went almost totally around the classroom because no one was able to read a particular word. My turn came and I read proudly the word, 'mosquito' , and kept right on reading. I was fluent in the flow of words yet I recall that I often did not comprehend what I read.
During Lent we went to morning Mass as one class with our classroom nun sitting behind all my classmates. Now I would need to prepare a double sandwich-- one for breakfast and one for lunch. We were to fast from midnight, no food and no drinks and eat our sack breakfast after Mass.  One morning as I prepared my 2 sandwiches I licked the knife which had grape jam on it, or was it apple butter.  Remember my awful nun? I was afraid not to go to Communion. I weighed the problem, procrastinating, but  I ended up receiving Communion. And the possible mortal sin haunted me for years.  I wouldn't talk about it in the Confessional.
We 3 small siblings would often walk together down 12th Street to the Public Library on Wisconsin Avenue and check out books.

Building as it looked in 1990 from TREK RV

There was a special smell in that book building, paper and ink, old book covers. Occasionally we would visit the museum which was connected. In these rooms we would see these great historical displays, behind windows, of early American history, Indians, barely clothed and beautiful feathered head-dresses and teepees around fires all in natural settings. There were battleground windows with soldiers in blue and gray aiming their rifles toward the enemy, the Redcoats, and some being shot or lying bloody wounded and dead on the earth. We never tired of these trips together to the museum and library. 

Early photo of museum/library

We were often at the grandparents Morris with all the family about. I remember puzzling why my Aunt Florence and Aunt Alice, would let themselves get so fat. Then the next time I would see them they had nice slim, beautiful female figures. They were pregnant obviously yet no one talked about that. There were many new babies, Florence and Jack Collins, Judy Dobeus, Barbara, Karen and Doug Morris. These homes had these huge sliding oak doors. We, cousins, would sometimes plan out a show-time. Elayne would be the manager and I assist. After some short rehearsals the adults would gather in the adjacent living room . We would roll back the sliding doors and perform. Much clapping and oohs and ahs. Most every Sunday we were extended family all together. Time would come when some of us kids would be sent down 12th street near Wimpy's hamburger shop, to purchase a brick or bricks of ice cream. We had to hurry back as fast as our legs would carry us. The adults would open the cardboard box and cut slices from the brick or bricks. Grandmother had an ice box and a window box cooler. No such thing as a refrigerator, much less a freezer compartment in one. So we needed to serve the ice cream before it melted. We kids often tried to hang onto our ice cream so we'd be the last one with some when the other plates were empty. Must be there weren't  2nds to be had. The day arrived when my grandmother had a brand new Norge refrigerator. Height about 5 ft.

How I loved to roller skate! I loved athletics, save swimming. I didn't have as much attention from my grandaddy as my big sister did. I already told you that special grandfather story. The Irish, or at any rate this family, gave special attention to the first born. Elayne and he had a warm and loving relationship, often talking or doing something together and a dollar for her birthday.  My mother  complained about this when she was growing up. She said her brother John and sister Florence got preferential treatment. She thought this the reason her talents were not encouraged. My parents made an effort to treat each of us children equally. That ended favoritism as they knew it. 

Little brother, Jimmy, was born on just about as cold a day as Milwaukee ever has, Dec. 21, 1935. I believe it was -20 degrees and wind [wind chill??]. It was so cold. We had early dismissal at noon from Gesu elementary school due to the dropping temperature.  My parents, involved with little brother Jim's birth, were unaware of any changed school day schedule. There was no one to pick us up.  I, 8 years old, had to stop in doorways, out of the wind, and then into the tunnel which ran under Wisconsin Avenue at 13th street providing safe crossing of Wisconsin Avenue for us school children. In the tunnel I warmed up a bit, my tingling fingers and toes, yet I was a long way from home. I must have been walking home with Elayne and Billy.


We were very proud of our new little brother so the freezing walk home proved well worth our inconvenience. A number of times I was sent around the corner down 12th street to a small grocery and purchased cans of Pet milk for mother to make a formula. I marveled at the way my baby brother moved his legs, as if riding a bicycle. He was dressed always in flannel kimonos, diaper, rubber panties [no such thing as plastic] , and long cotton stockings pinned to the diaper. These would get wet constantly and needed changing, along with diaper. 
Times sure must have been hard. After missing our toys for a few weeks suddenly they turned up again on that Christmas morning, '35. A bit like a survival mode. My daddy had painted all our old toys, green and black, very practical. As I recall the green paint he used wasn't that great. There was a wicker doll carriage, a dump truck, kiddie car, doll crib,a steam shovel [he didn't paint that ]. We possibly received no new presents as best I remember, though possibly clothing.   Mother must have been in the hospital for Christmas. I have a hunch our Christmas in '35 was the day our parents brought our baby home. 
Seems to me as a child there was no real hardship. I am certain my parents felt as all other parents the lack of goods and ability to purchase what the family needed. Yet we were fortunate because we had each other and the larger family circle all about us. Those make really the best of times after all. I thought of my mother expecting a child so near to Christmas. She must have lived the first Christmas Story, tough times, poor accommodations. And then she did give birth to her baby boy. We sort of lived the real thing that year.
Just about this time my father landed his job, employed permanently as a chemist  at American Printing Ink Company in Chicago. We would move from this intimate extended family circle never again to come so close together. Morris, Bergin, Collins, Dobeus. 


  1. Interesting the way "city folk" and "country folk" had such a variety of ways of dealing with economic catastrophe. That's what happens when a "country boy" marries a "city girl."

  2. This looks wonderful! Looking forward to reading more!


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