Diggings: Level 3




Margot and Renee, of course, used the 2nd double bed – or when we enjoyed the luxury of 3 bedrooms – they shared a room. There was never more than one bathroom, white tile with black design floors. Shiny enameled walls and tubs with claw feet. A pedestal sink of heavy porcelain and a built-in medicine cabinet. The medicine chest held: Ipana or Pepsodent tooth powder (or baking soda mixed with salt in emergencies – this also was an aid to digestion), Bromo-Seltzer in a blue bottle, a double-edged razor and a package of Gillette razor blades, Burma Shave cream, hairpins in a dish, combs, Bayer Aspirin, Alka-Seltzer, mercurochrome, iodine, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, a roll of bandage (no Band Aids yet), a styptic pencil, Noxzema lotion, camphor ice, Vick’s Vaporub (also in a blue glass jar) and other mysterious medicines. All of our living rooms had fake fireplaces flanked by glassed-in bookshelves. These bookcases were filled with Daddy’s books. Many of them were books from Shaw Publishing company where he worked as a Production Manager and then Editor.

Our furnishings were: oriental rugs (purchased at the Century of Progress World’s Fair, Chicago 1933), two wing-back chairs, a sofa, barely remembered tables and lamps (all of this furniture, including the dining room set, was to be rained upon and ruined after having been set out in the back yard by irrational relatives in 1949 or thereabouts), dining room table and 8 walnut chairs, an enormous console radio which we listened to with great regularity and enormous enjoyment. We would lie on our stomachs in front of the set and listen to Little Orphan Annie, Don Winslow of the Navy, the Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong- All American Boy, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum, One Man’s Family and I Love a Mystery (my all time favorite).

Our kitchens were linoleum covered. The walls were painted with shiny enamel paint. These were painted yearly – a pantheon of colors: red, green, blue, yellow, white, and combinations of all of them. The dog nutcracker was painted each time – always my job – very important! The wooden kitchen table and chairs were also painted at a moment’s notice. Perhaps (I think in retrospect) Mother was frustrated by a lack of $$$ to refurnish and was instead forced to refurbish. Whenever something broke down, Mother would magically repair it, each time reciting a little poem called “Ma’s Tools” which, as I vaguely remember, praised the capacity for mothers to fix little things more cheaply, quickly and surely than fathers. This, in our family, was quite true. Daddy fixed emotional and self-image breakdowns; he repaired our heart-breaks and childhood crises with a kindliness and understanding which I have found rarely in others.

In most families there exists the role of one parent as disciplinarian and worrier. Mother was (unfairly perhaps) placed in this stereotypical role. She was the worrier of money matters, our morals and behavior. Daddy was as well but less overtly. In this era the family structure was quite strong. Fathers were the appointed heads of the family. But in ours (although lip service was paid to the cultural norm), I always sensed that this was not the case. I believe that my father (18 years older than mother) granted mother all the sovereignty that woman today are struggling for (in many cases). Mother always said, “Daddy is the head of the family, but Mother is the heart.” Mother often had to take the lead. Was this encouragement for her independence on my father’s part, a presaging of her early widowhood and need to cope with difficulties we never imagined at the time?

There were always books about the house for us to read. The library was a few blocks away and in those innocent days our neighborhood (Marquette Manor) was crime free. We were warned by mother about strangers who stole little girls for nefarious reasons. White Slavery!!! However, we ran daily to 63rd Street, the miles-long prototype of shopping malls. The delights of shop windows reached a stunning climax at the candy store which was next to an empty “prairie” (or “lot” in today’s vernacular), and one could buy with 5 pennies a glorious assortment of candies. Bulls eyes, snaps, jelly beans, long paper strips with globs of pink candy on them, mints and jawbreakers. One day when I was about three or four years old, Margot, holding my hand, ran with me through the prairie to the candy story. On our way I tripped and fell on a large piece of glass which caused copious bleeding and a 2 inch scar which I still enjoy showing off. Margot was desolated and gave me her pennies.

Another big favorite was IAMA’s Magic Trick and Party Favor Store on 63rd and Kedzie. There one could buy hot pepper gum and all sorts of hideous things. There were two movie theatres, The Highway and The Marquette, where, for 10 cents, we would see a double feature, several serials and many, many cartoons. On Wednesday nights if you went with your parent(s) they gave away dishes. Popcorn was a nickel. I saw “Under Two Flags” and “Seventh Heaven” with Daddy and remember crying and being quite miserable about life’s tragedies.

I remember trying to bite the cornerstone of the Wrigley Building because Daddy told us that it was made of chewing gum. He stopped me from this foolhardy caper and I caught him in his first fib. It wasn’t until later when I realized that he had never been stolen by Pirates or stumbled by accident on a cave where an old Indian told him stories of Manchester, N.H. long ago. I also realized that he was not an intimate friend of Peter Rabbit and the Gypsies had not kidnapped him as well as his brother Noel when they were small. But intermingled with his fantasies (which were sheer heaven to listen to) were tales taken from the truth. He did live in a small town with a mother and father and 11 brothers and sisters. His father owned a store and ran successfully for public office. Andre did play hookey and play in Nuts Pond and explore the countryside with Bruce his collie and Nanny, his goat. And he did become an orphan at the age of 12 or thereabouts when his mother and father (my grandparents) died of pneumonia in 1892. His Uncle Andre sent him to boarding school in Canada where he was lonely and then finally adjusted to life away from siblings and pets. His oldest sister, Dorilda (Delia), was 20 so she was able to care for the family and Daddy went home for the summers.

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