Coming to America

 

“Far

We’ve been traveling far

Without a home

But not without a star

Free

Only want to be free

We huddle close

Hang on to a dream.” — Lyrics to “America”; Neil Diamond

Grandpa W and me   G and G Wolf and me (My grandparents and me)

Let me brag a little bit about my grandparents, Jacob and Lena Wolf. My grandfather died when I was two, but, according to my grandmother, he and I were crazy about each other. His photos reveal a bald, chubby man with a warm smile and a bit of a twinkle in his eye. He liked rich food, beer, and cigarettes, and he collapsed at age fifty-four of a stroke. My grandmother, widowed at age fifty-one, raised her two youngest children, ages seven and eleven, alone. She was a strong-willed woman who loved her family fiercely but could ladle on guilt like gravy on mashed potatoes. She seldom spoke about life in the “old days”, or if she did, we weren’t listening. Mostly she spoke about her vegetable garden, her aches and pains, and the price of groceries. I guess because I was absorbed in my own life, I never bothered to ask her much about hers before she died in 1979. I wish I had.

My grandparents Jacob and Magdalena (Foelker) Wolf set out for the United States in 1923. He was twenty-six; she, twenty-three. Like so many immigrants then and now, they left their home for a better life. Jacob was one of eleven brothers and two sisters living on the family farm in Neu Banat, a German region in Romania. (A bit of history: Germans from the Black Forest were invited to immigrate to this region, then a part of Austria-Hungary, in the 1700’s, a situation somewhat similar to the Homestead Act in the United States.) The farm was not large enough to sustain this large family. One of Jacob’s older brothers, Andrew, departed for America, and when Jacob was about twelve, Andrew returned home for a visit. A family photograph, taken during Andrew’s visit, shows a handsome, maybe a bit cocky, young man with a rakish hair style and a well-tailored American suit, surrounded by his work-weary family, all wearing sturdy, somber clothes and grim expressions. One can only imagine what Andrew might have told his little brother about life in Chicago, but the picture Andrew painted must have stuck with Jacob as he grew up.

With few prospects in his homeland, Jacob convinced his young wife Lena, as she was called, to leave her family and start anew in Chicago, reassuring her that this was a temporary move. Their passport picture shows the young couple and their two little girls Elizabeth and baby Magdalena, but an X hides Magdalena’s little face. Several months before the journey, the little girl died of pneumonia and never crossed the ocean. Jacob and Lena set out with few possessions and almost no money, their sixth grade educations, but with a keen intelligence, a robust work ethic, and a determination to prosper.

When Jacob, Lena, and Elizabeth arrived on Ellis Island, they were separated – men in one hall, women in another. There, Jacob was told that the family didn’t have enough money to enter the country. Instead of two hundred dollars for the entire family, they needed two hundred each. Jacob sent a telegram to his brother in Chicago, but it took a week or two for the money to arrive, for the family to be reunited, and for them to continue their trip, this time by train, the City of Big Shoulders. Although Elizabeth was only three and a half at the time, she recalled her mother crying as they tried to sleep in the women and children’s quarters. One can only imagine the loneliness, fear, and isolation this young wife and mother felt along with the grief of losing her baby daughter only a few months before. Throughout the rest of her life, Lena rarely spoke of this time.

When the family arrived in Chicago, they rented an apartment, heated by a wood stove, on Burling Street, near North Avenue and Halsted, and Jacob went to work in a butcher shop. Lena cleaned houses, including the home of the wealthy Mrs. O’Malley, who helped her learn English. While Lena worked, Lizzie went to a day care facility run by the white-winged Daughters of Charity. In 1925, Mary was born and she too was cared for by the sisters.

The Wolf family didn’t stay in the Burling Street apartment for long. Jacob, not content to stay in one place, moved his family to a stove-heated apartment on Larabee followed by one on Melrose, where they lived when Jack was born in 1929. From there, the family moved to a two-flat only a half a block from St. Matthias School. Each place was a little nicer than the last, one more step up the ladder. This home on Giddings Street was near the butcher shop on Lincoln and Leland that Jacob owned. He no longer worked for someone else.

Wolfs 1937  (The home on Drake — Grandpa with Liz, my mother Mary, and Jack)

Next, the family moved to 4607 North Drake, their first single-family house. Jacob ‘s store was near St. Matthias School that Mary and her little brother attended, so their father took them to school on his way to the store in the morning. After school, the children rode home on the Lawrence Avenue streetcar. The Drake home had a front porch with a swing, a pretty garden where Lena could grow flowers, and three bedrooms. Liz’s room was the best – it had its own closed-in porch where Liz could escape the family and read in solitude. Mary shared a bedroom with her little brother Jack for a while, and eventually she was allowed to move in with Liz. Mary liked sharing a room with her big sister, except for Liz’s penchant for crunching on apples while she read into the wee hours of the night.

Jacob and Lena’s limited education didn’t keep them from learning English. With no formal instruction in English, they read a German newspaper along with Chicago papers, and spoke English and German at home. Soon they learned the workings of city life. Jacob figured out that acquiring and selling real estate was the way to wealth. The ladder to success had many rungs and he was on his way up, one building at a time.

The family moved to a five-flat on Leavitt Street in 1940, when their son Bobby was born. It was the first multi-family property that Jacob bought. Soon after Mary graduated from Alvernia High School, Jacob and Lena bought their home on Mozart Street, a classic brick bungalow on a tree-lined street, just a few blocks from Our Lady of Mercy Church. They lived in this home when the youngest child, Kathryn, was born in 1944.

Wolf Mozart house (Grandma and Grandpa with Bobby at the Mozart house)

For the first fifteen years or so of living in Chicago, the family had little money. The Great Depression made life difficult, but there was always food to eat and the rent was paid. Lena sewed clothes for her children, and they even managed to afford the one dollar a month tuition at St. Matthias as well as the fifty dollar a year Alvernia High School tuition for Liz.

In the late thirties, the Wolfs managed to have enough money for the family to rent a summer cottage on Gage’s Lake, northwest of the city. It was heaven for Mary and her older sister Liz, now a career girl working as a secretary on South Wabash Street. Lots of teenagers and young adults congregated on the raft in the middle of the lake on hot summer afternoons. A little store sold candy and popcorn and at night, Mary and her friends, including her crush Matty Rill, sat on blankets to watch free movies under the stars.

Sand Lake windmill Mom (My mother Mary at Sand Lake, next to Grandpa’s windmill)

But, Jacob and Lena weren’t settling for renting a cottage. They wanted to own one, so in 1941, they bought a summer house on Sand Lake in Lake Villa. No, their daughters didn’t like it. But it was theirs, and they poured their energy it. Lena planted gardens, one for flowers and one for vegetables. Jacob made a brick fireplace, a decorative wishing well and windmill out of stone. The two were always working – cutting the lawn, trimming bushes, painting something. Lena and the younger children stayed at the lake all summer, and Jacob often drove out in the evenings to escape the city heat.

In the city, Jacob bought a seventeen-unit building on Glenwood Avenue. By the late forties, they were somewhat well-off, a long way from the couple who waited for Andrew to wire money so they could leave Ellis Island.

Then, Jacob died and Lena’s life changed. She sold the Glenwood building, and with the profits and with the social security benefits her two children received, she forged on. She returned to cleaning houses, but maintained her city house and her lake house.

When she remarried in the 60’s, she and her new husband Peter Heinrich, a landsleit – a man from the old country –, she sold her Mozart home to move with Pete to a smaller home on Belle Plaine Avenue. Later, she sold her lake home to her daughter Kathryn and her husband, and Kay lived there year-round until 2015.

My cousin Maureen once said that when she pictured our grandmother, she only saw her as stooped, reaching down to pull weeds or to pluck beans off a vine. Grandma cooked, scrubbed, mopped, wiped, worked, worked, worked. I suppose my grandfather was much the same, a man who did little to relax.

Did they ever regret their decision to come to Chicago? What was the hardest part about leaving their family? What drove their decisions once they settled in to life here? What made them most proud? I wish I knew their answers to these questions. So, I guess, and I pick the brain of my mother whose intelligence, work ethic, and love of family is a strong reflection of her mom and dad.

 

 

 

 

 

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Forever Home

“May the roof above us never fall it

And may we good companions never fall out.” — Irish blessing

 

First, a little history: the neighborhood where my family home sat was once the site of the Ashburn Flying Field, established in 1916, Chicago’s first air field. When the Chicago Municipal Airport (renamed Midway in 1949 to honor the Battle of Midway) was established in 1927, the Ashburn Field was abandoned. This area, miles from the city, lay empty. Then in the early 40’s, one of the world’s largest defense plants was built between Cicero and Pulaski, just north of 77th Street, where Dodge assembled airplanes for the war effort. After the war, Ford bought the property and continued to make airplane engines used in military planes during the Korean War. These plants employed thousands of people who needed to live near their jobs, and the Southwest Side of Chicago grew.

After World War II, the returning vets got married, started families, and needed places to live. In 1952, Raymond Lutgert turned the old Ashburn Flying Field into our neighborhood, Scottsdale, named after his son Scott.

Today’s first-time homebuyers are looking for it all – a master suite with his-and-hers walk-in closets, hardwood floors, kitchen islands swathed in granite, and kids’ bedrooms with jack-and-jill baths. Such was not the case when my parents moved from their cramped Andersonville apartment to their home on South Kolmar Avenue. (Here’s the house today. Looks about the same, but new owners installed the bay window, a bit too upscale for my parents.)

Kolmar

Mary and Ted visited the Lutgert model homes on 79th Place and were attracted to all of the modern features as well as to the affordable price. Lutgert had two models, both with basically the same floor plans but one set horizontally on the lot, the other vertically. A vertical could come with a basement, but my parents couldn’t afford that one. They chose their ranch-style home with a crawlspace at 8007 Kolmar, priced at   $13,400. My mother recently mentioned, “I refused to pay more for a car than I did for our house, and I never did. My 2004 Hyundai Accent was $12,500.”

Because this was new construction, my parents had a few choices to make. Did they want white, black, or brown asphalt tile flooring?

tile

It looked like this.

They chose white for the kitchen, black for the rest of the house. For the only bathroom, they settled on gray plastic wall tile and a pinkish toilet, tub and sink. Some of the homes had a built-in flagstone flower box in front, but my parents didn’t opt for that expensive frill.

The home was equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen featuring white metal cabinets, a Formica countertop, and a built-in top-loading dishwasher, which broke about ten years later when one of us (I blame my brother Tim) used liquid dish soap when we’d run out of dishwasher detergent. Bubbles frothed out, and then it sat mortally wounded and useless for another couple of decades until new owners presumably ripped it out. A Lutgert kitchen also came with a washing machine and a dryer – no more clothes lines required, although my mother continued to hang clothes outside on warm sunny days.

The front door opened right into our living room—no foyer. We had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a utility room off the kitchen that was first a play room and then later, when a wall was removed, it became part of the kitchen. A dining room was just beyond the living room, and tucked into its closet was a gray vinyl accordion-style “wall’ that could be closed so that the dining room could be turned into a bedroom. As our family grew from four to seven, the wall came out. Then after my parents added on two more bedrooms and a bath in 1957, the “wall” returned to its hiding place and the dining room was reinstated.

Kolmar moving day

July 4, 1952 was moving day for Mary and Ted, Ellen, almost three, and Tim, almost two. (Here we are in the alley, next to the truck. No idea who the woman is in the background.) A couple of friends helped Ted load a truck and the family transitioned from Northsiders to Southsiders. At first, they were surrounded by not-quite-finished homes, but one by one the other homes were completed and new neighbors joined them. Next door were the Steinbergs, Irving and Ida, who moved in soon after the Dineens. Mary’s first encounter with Irving and Ida was when she asked them for two dollars. Before move-in day, Mary was at the house awaiting delivery of a new stove and a refrigerator. The deliverers threatened to take back the appliances unless she paid the delivery fee, something she hadn’t expected. Mary had no money and no phone – quite a dilemma. Fortunately, the Steinbergs happened to be working in their new home, so Mary headed through the muddy yard, knocked on their door, and asked if they could float her a loan until Ted picked her up at the end of the day. They gave it to her, and Ted repaid them later that evening.

Throughout the summer, the Dineens were surrounded by the rumble of bulldozers and the pounding of hammers as homes sprung up around them. Their yard was a sea of dusty yellow clay that floated through the open windows and settled on every surface. When it rained, the clay became gooey muck that sucked the kids’ shoes off their feet. By the fall, black dirt had been spread, and they planted grass seed. Neighbors moved in – Harold and Lorraine next door, Gene and Ardel, Jack and Ruth, Dolores and Jim across the street. A neighborhood was born.

The homes didn’t come with driveways or garages, so the neighbor guys pitched in and set forms for everyone’s driveways. Harold, who worked for a cement company, got them a deal on leftover concrete, and before long, everyone was able to park off the street. Mary and Ted had the Danley Company build their garage in ’53 or ’54.

The young couples on the block, most of them in their twenties or early thirties, knew how to have a good time. On summer evenings, Ted, or Gene, or Jack, or Jim would sit outside on his front step. This was a signal for the other couples to come on over for a beer or two and some laughs. Once in a while they’d order a pizza, after all the kids were in bed. One evening, the kids were playing in the Andrews’ utility room and found a hedge clipper. While the parents yukked it up on the front stoop, the kids decided to play barber shop, giving a trim to the youngest girls, about two or three years old. Two new hairdos were created before any parents came in to check on the goings-on.

Every house on the block was loaded with kids. Ours eventually had five, a rather unremarkable quantity by Scottsdale standards. As kids got more plentiful and a little older, we entertained themselves, catching lightning bugs or playing hide-and-seek or Red Rover, and we learned never to tattle or cry about some injury. Once a parent was forced to become involved, it was bedtime for everyone, and we were rounded up and sent into our perspective houses. Fun over.

None of the women on the block had a car; my mother didn’t even get her driver’s license until 1955. So, they established a Tuesday morning coffee klatch, then a birthday lunch club, a canasta club, and a poker club and took turns hosting. On club day, every kid on the street knew not to open the bag of bridge mix or the can of cashews tucked away in the cabinets. These were for club, not kids!

No one had money for nights on the town, so the neighbors took turns hosting garage parties, New Year’s Eve bashes and Halloween parties. One Halloween party became legendary. Danny and Goldie came as cannibals, Ted and Mary were scarecrows, and one guy dressed up as a pregnant lady and gave birth to a doll right in the middle of the party. One jokester named Tom lay down in the bathtub, startling the women as they came in to use the toilet, just before they sat down. A good time was had by all!

Throughout the fifties, many of the homes expanded, with rooms tacked on to accommodate the additional kids. Gene, a millworker, installed wood paneling in every room in their house, and an air conditioner, a luxury no one else had. Dolores and Jim got rid of the folding wall in the living room and put up a real one, then covered it with a mural – a photograph of a tranquil beach. Their family’s four foot deep above-ground pool in their back yard made them the luckiest six kids on the block. Our addition went out the back – two bedrooms and a bath up, a basement underneath it. It was the talk of the neighborhood.

My mother lived on Kolmar until 1989, four years after my father died. It was hard to leave the place where she’d raised her kids, but taking care of it was getting tough as well. Besides, she’d found the perfect place – a brand new first floor condo in Palos Hills, with a functioning dishwasher, an AC system that actually cooled, and fresh carpet. Others were moving too, or already had. Friendships didn’t end though. Just this week, my mother played cards with two of her first neighbors, Ardel and Lorraine. In many ways, they haven’t changed much since they were young moms sitting on our front stoop on hot summer nights in the 50’s.

 

 

 

 

Feathering Their Nest

Feathering the Nest

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mary with a baby carriage.” – jump rope rhyme

Everyone was getting married in 1948. The war was over, and the guys came home, met girls, proposed and walked down the aisle. Getting an apartment was tough, but Mary and Ted had an in. Mary’s parents owned a seventeen-unit blond brick building on Glenwood Avenue in the Andersonville neighborhood, and one of the units became available when a renter passed away. They even got a break on the rent, paying fifty dollars a month instead of the non-family rate of fifty-five dollars.

The second-floor apartment was on a tree-lined street of brownstones and other brick apartment buildings and overlooked a grassy little courtyard with pretty shrubs. When they moved in, Mary spent an entire day scrubbing the oven in the tiny kitchen. She thought the oven’s interior was black, but after lots of elbow grease she discovered it was blue with white speckles. The kitchen was just big enough to tuck a rolling cart in between the stove and the sink to serve as a breakfast table. A small refrigerator featured a freezer that could store a couple of ice cube trays and a pint or two of ice cream. Behind the fridge was an opening in the wall, a leftover from earlier days when an iceman would come down the alley and deliver ice to anyone who displayed a sign requesting a twenty-five, fifty, or even one hundred pound supply to keep their food cold.

The dining room was on one side of the little foyer, the living room on the other. Down a hallway with creaky floors was their bedroom and bath. In the living room a Murphy bed was hidden away in a large closet with a crank-out window. By July 1949, the Murphy bed was removed and my crib took its place. The following summer, my brother Tim’s crib was tucked in there too.

Mary and Ted headed to the Fred B. Smythe Furniture Store on Lincoln Avenue to purchase their frizze sofa and easy chair — one green, the other a deep red–, a tufted hassock, and leather inlaid step end tables and coffee table. They drove north to Haeger Pottery in Dundee to find a pair of chartreuse antelope head table lamps, and then Mary made draperies in a trendy chartreuse, black, and white print. Ted created a wooden cornice to finish off the contemporary look. Ted’s cousin Mary Wade worked for Bigelow Carpets in the Merchandise Mart, so they got a good deal on two wool rugs, a sculpted gray for the living room and a green one for the dining room.

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( #1 — Dad and Tim are posing at the front door of the building. #2 — Tim and I on the big chair. Note the snazzy drapes and the Christmas tree in the play pen. #3 — Tim and I on the couch next to the end table and the antelope lamp.)

Their bedroom set, banged up but still in use today, was a wedding gift from Mary’s parents, the dining room set from Ted’s. Mary’s cedar hope chest sat in the bedroom, packed with pillowcases, sheets, and towels that her mother had been collecting for her since she was a teenager. As for laundry, Mary had her own washing machine, a new spin dry model that didn’t require the tedious wringing of soggy clothes. The washer stood in the basement of the building, accessible by heading outside, down the back stairs to the gangway, to the cement basement steps. After washing the clothes, Mary hung everything on the basement clothesline to dry.

Mary and Ted splurged on a Philco television set, with an eleven inch screen and a wood cabinet that was about twice as deep as its width. Since their friend Austin White worked for Philco, they were able to buy at a discount, but the TV still cost about three hundred dollars, a hefty sum for a couple who lived off Ted’s fifty-nine dollars a week salary. Mary and Ted justified the extravagance, knowing that with a new baby, their frequent evenings out at the movies were over. With a TV, they could be entertained at home, even though programming – mostly just boxing, wrestling, and Milton Berle — was limited. On one of the first nights of TV ownership, Mary set up the card table in the living room so they could eat dinner while watching a big boxing match that Ted was dying to see. Just as the fight was about to begin, the TV went black. What had happened? Was the TV broken? Had they wasted their money on a dud? Later they learned that viewers across the country faced the same blackout when someone in Cleveland cut a cable that ended reception for everyone. Over the years, the TV occasionally needed some tubes replaced, and the rabbit ears on top often needed tweaking, but it kept the family entertained until it conked out for good when I was a sixth grader.

Living at 5310 Glenwood was pleasant. They were only a block or two from Clark Street, a bustling street with a grocery store, a deli, the Swedish Bakery, clothing and shoe stores, a movie theater, and several taverns. Mary’s best friend Pat lived in one of the building’s basement apartments with her father, a loveable ne’-er-do-well, and when Pat married Bill Harvey in 1950, they kept the apartment. With Pat and Bill as neighbors, there was always someone to share a laugh or a beer.

When Ted’s father died in December of 1950, his mother moved into another apartment, and having a grandmother so close was a godsend. She especially liked taking Ellen to the grocery store on Clark Street so that the grocer could ooh and aah over her pretty little granddaughter. Grandma Dineen could be counted on to take the little ones to a nearby playground on laundry days, and an often-told story of hers describes the day when they were caught in a summer thunderstorm. Both children were screaming as she hustled them along the street, finally taking refuge in a vestibule of a building around the corner until the worst of the storm passed.

But there were some downsides, too. In a span of twenty-two months, the newlyweds had expanded into a family of four, and the two little ones were crammed into an oversized closet. Then, there was the laundry. Mary had to leave the babies in their beds while she hurried down to the basement to wash and hang to dry the endless piles of diapers. The final straw was Ted’s commute. He worked on the South Side at 63rd and Narragansett, and every morning he rode the el into the Loop, transferred to the Archer Avenue bus, then to the 63rd Street bus — a trip of about ninety minutes in good weather. In the evening, exhausted from a day’s work and a long commute, he sometimes fell asleep on the el, waking to find himself at the end of the line on Howard Avenue in Evanston.

Something had to give. Ted looked at some new Lutgert-built homes popping up in the St. Denis Parish not far from his job at B.T. Babbitt, but the down payment was a non-starter. Then, when Mary’s father died in 1951, Mary’s mother gave the couple $1500, part of the life insurance benefits she received, and she asked Ted’s mother to do the same. The $3000 provided the couple with the necessary down payment for a new home in another Lutgert development, Scottsdale, on the site of the Auburn Flying Field, a pilot training field and Chicago’s first airport, established after World War I.

In July, Mary and Ted packed up their belongings along with their two little kids and headed south.

 

The Honeymooners

 

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” — Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

My parents Mary and Ted’s two-week honeymoon turned out to be the longest vacation of their lives. During their marriage, vacations consisted of jaunts to Grandma’s lake house in Lake Villa and a trek to Worcester, Mass in 1959 with five kids packed into a ‘56 Mercury. There were other family getaways – the Wisconsin Dells, Springfield, Illinois, and St. Louis, and a trip around Lake Michigan. Their horizons widened a bit when they became empty nesters, but a Caribbean cruise for their twenty-fifth anniversary and one California vacay were their only other big trips.

The opulent LaSalle Hotel at the corner of LaSalle and Madison had been the site of a devastating fire that took place on June 5, 1946. On that terrible night, a fire started in an elevator shaft and raced up the staircases, trapping guests in the 886 rooms and killing 61 people. The hotel reopened in the summer of ’47, equipped with new safety features.

On their wedding night, honeymooners Ted and Mary checked into the newly refurbished LaSalle Hotel for a three night stay. Their bill, taped in Mary’s scrapbook and captioned ”the bad news”, included the room, three restaurant charges and a twelve cent phone call. Total: $49. 96. While in Chicago, Mary and Ted took in a performance of Mister Roberts at the Erlanger Theater on Clark near Randolph. Mary included the ticket stubs for $3.10 balcony seats and a Stagebill in her scrapbook.

Then, it was on to Missouri. Back in the days before Trip Advisor and Google Maps, people had to figure out their vacation destinations by browsing ads in the newspaper and sending for brochures. This is how Ted and Mary discovered The Elms in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, described as “An All-Year Health and Pleasure Resort: The Most Famous Mineral Waters in the World.”

With their wedding money, mostly five dollar gifts but one whoppingly generous twenty dollar bill from Ted’s wealthy cousins Joan and Helen McGillicudy, the couple rented a car. To plan the trip, Ted joined Conoco Touraide and received a hand-prepared book of maps with the best routes highlighted, along with detailed information on what to see and do along the way to the Show Me State. The guidebook included a spot to record gas purchases and Mary, ever the bookkeeper and tracker of funds, logged in fill-ups, like the 8.9 gallons in Newton, Iowa that set them back $2.31.

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Perhaps it was their inexperience with vacation travel or their love-struck state of mind, but the tip-off that The Elms was an old-folks resort where the elderly came for restorative waters passed them by, until they arrived at their destination. Sure, the setting was pretty – picturesque hills decked out in fall colors – but there wasn’t much excitement for a couple in their twenties. In the entire resort, there were only three young couples, including Dolly and Bob, bearers of the unfortunate surname Klod and senders of an annual Christmas card later to be mocked by the Dineen offspring.

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On Sunday night, the Dineens, the Klods and another young couple barely old enough to drink went to Kansas City and then brought beer back to enjoy in their room. Ted smuggled the bottles through the lobby by packing them into his golf bag, but the “clink-clink-clink” revealed his subversive actions to everyone he passed by. The younger guy bragged about how well he could hold his liquor right up until he went to the bathroom and fell into the tub. The next day, that couple never appeared outside of their room, surely nursing a hangover. Ted and Mary’s one-week stay included a bit of golf, a side trip to see the home of President Truman, some romantic walks, and a bill for $157.21.

After the Elms, the happy couple headed for the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, where two nights cost $22.57 and included parking. While in the Gateway City, they boarded a yacht owned by Mary’s boss Harold Miles and cruised along the Missouri and Illinois Rivers.

Honeymoon over, they headed back to begin their married life in their apartment on Glenwood, but not before they collected some souvenirs. They “forgot” to turn in hotel keys so they could keep them in the scrapbook along with plenty of black-and-white photos.

And one more souvenir came home with them as well – me. I was born nine months later.

 

Here Comes Our Bride

“I love you truly, truly, my dear,

Life with its sorrow, life with its tear,

Fades into dreams whenever I feel you are near

For I love you truly

Truly, dear.” —– Words and music written by Carrie Jacobs Bond

 

After my parents Mary and Ted were engaged on Valentine’s Day, 1948, and they set their wedding date for October 16, less than one year from their first date.

Mary chose a simple, elegant satin gown with a long train and decided that her bridesmaids, best pals Pat Hennelly and Peggy Tennereli, and her cousin Margaret Bushbacker, would wear hunter green gowns and carry bouquets of rust and gold chrysanthemums. The wedding would take place at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church at ten a.m., followed by an evening reception at a local banquet hall. Just before the wedding invitations were sent in the mail, however, plans changed.

One Sunday in August, Mary and Ted invited friends out to Grandma and Grandpa Wolf’s summer home on Sand Lake in Lake Villa. After a day of fun in the lake, the group grilled hotdogs and hamburgers on the stone fireplace that Grandpa had built down near the lake shore. After dinner, while Mary and Ted were up at the road saying goodbyes to their friends, they heard screaming from the lakeside yard. They hurried around to see Mary’s little brother Bobby, eight years old, running around the yard, the leg of his jeans in flames. Grandpa ran after him to try to tackle him to the ground, but he couldn’t catch up with him. Everyone was screaming — Bobby, Grandma, Grandpa. “Jump in the lake, Bobby! Jump in the lake!”

Finally, Bobby did just that, and the flames went out. How had he become engulfed in fire? He’d wanted to cook one more hot dog for himself, and when he saw that that the fire was only embers, he impulsively picked up a gasoline can used to fuel the motor boat’s engine and doused the ashes. The gasoline burst into flames that traveled up his pants leg where he’d dripped gasoline.

The little boy was in terrible pain. His parents rushed him into Lake Villa to see a doctor. There, the doctor looked at his burns and inexplicably coved his leg with a cast, and sent him home.

The family returned to Chicago, and days went by with Bobby reeling in agony. By the end of the week, his parents realized that he was not healing and took him to their physician in the city, Dr. Rose. This doctor removed the cast and recoiled at what he saw. The leg was infected, on the brink of gangrene. Bobby was immediately admitted to the hospital, where Dr. Rose performed a skin graft, saving the little boy’s leg and probably his life. Of course, the excitement of planning a wedding was overshadowed by Bobby’s accident and his recovery.

Mary and Ted cancelled the reservation at the banquet hall and scaled back on their list of invitees. Instead, the wedding would go on as planned, but the reception would be at the Wolf home.

On October 16, Bobby was well on his way to a full recovery, and was even able to wear a pair of pant for the first time since the accident.

Bobby Wolf

The wedding was beautiful… a pretty bride, a handsome groom, surrounded by friends and family.

Dineen wedding          Mary and Ted wedding

 

Wolf Grandparents  Dineen Grandparents

 

After the traditional throwing of the rice, the wedding party headed to the photographer’s studio for formal pictures. That evening, about one hundred people celebrated in the Wolf family basement.

Grandma Wolf’s lady friends from the old country made the dinner, as was the tradition for any wedding. The main course was turkey followed by plates and plates of homemade sweets, kipfuls, apple slices, and plum cake.

Jack Wolf's band

After dinner, the tables were pushed back so that the dancing could begin. Mary’s younger brother Jack, who played the guitar as well as the accordion with his band, provided the tunes – everything from country-western, to polkas, to popular songs. Grandpa Dineen surprised everyone by hiring a concertina player to arrive and play some Irish tunes as well. Grandma Wolf was less than enthused, since she’d been at a wedding where the Irish music had “taken over” and left the polkas aside. But this didn’t happen. Music from both cultures, German and Irish, blended together in a great American melting pot so that everyone were pleased. After the traditional cake cutting, the throwing of the bouquet, the tossing of the garter, Mary and Ted changed out of their formal wedding clothes and said goodbye to one and all. Their married life was about to begin.

But first, they had to appease Mary’s little sister Kathryn, her four-year-old flower girl.

Kathryn Wolf

Kay adored her new big brother-in-law Ted, who showered her with attention. He had even promised her that she could go on the honeymoon, too. But now, Mary and Ted were leaving her behind. His “I was only kidding” made no sense to her. Why couldn’t she go along? He’d promised! The newlyweds left the forlorn little girl sitting on the basement steps weeping as they made their exit.

Not so fast, though. “Could you give Mrs. Rice a ride home on your way?” asked my grandmother. After all, they were going right past Mrs. Rice’s home on Damen on their way downtown, and she would have had to take a bus otherwise.

So, Mary and Ted and Mrs. Rice climbed into the car Ted had rented for their honeymoon, and on their way to the LaSalle Hotel, they dropped off Mrs. Rice, saving her bus fare.

 

 

 

 

Our Girl Friday

M. Wolf 1 M. Wolf 2

 

“Accomplishing the impossible means only that the boss will add it to your regular duties.” – Doug Larson

My grandparents didn’t believe that girls had any need for college, so when my Aunt Liz won a four-year scholarship to Mundelein College, she turned it down and went to a secretarial school instead. Liz, a bookish and bright young woman, was unable to buck her parents’ edicts, and lost the opportunity to further her education. My mother Mary, five years younger, had no college aspirations, but even if she did, she knew that it would be a losing battle.

After high school, Mary, a strong student if not as academically minded as her sister, attended the Stenotype School of Chicago where she learned bookkeeping, typing, and stenotype — machine shorthand. Armed with the ability to stenotype at 200 words per minute and type eighth words per minute, she began her secretarial career.

Mary’s first job was at a downtown law firm where she earned $140 dollars a month, a good salary for a young woman in 1944. With a big chunk of her earnings, Mary splurged on two suits, one gray and one tan, which she bought at a little dress shop on Devon Avenue. The suits each cost about sixty dollars – quite a large sum—but Mary loved their quality and classic style and wore them for years.

Mary didn’t stay long at the law firm, however. She was expected to balance operating a switchboard while typing legal documents with no errors from dictation, a very difficult task. Besides, she’d never wanted to work a switchboard. She was a secretary. Mary’s boss was a nice guy, but when she submitted her resignation to the head lawyer, an “arrogant, hoity-toity SOB” who belonged to the Union League Club, he told her, “I can’t give you a good recommendation.” So be it. She quit anyway.

Mary’s next position was at the Hire’s Root beer Company in a warehouse at Illinois and Grand, right next to Nay Pier and where Lake Point Tower stands today. The warehouse building held lots of single offices of a variety of companies, like Life Savers and a cosmetic company, along with warehouse space for each. Her little office handled orders of the root beer syrup sold to drug stores’ soda fountains. Mary was the only woman in the Hires’ three person office. Still, she didn’t lack for friends. She and the other young women working in the building became friends and sometimes fit in card games during the lunch hour. Another perk was the warehouse’s location next to Navy Pier, teeming with good-looking sailors and coasties at the end of the war. She and her friend Emily often hung out the windows to flirt with the cute military men passing below.

Mary liked working at Hires. When there was some down time in the office, she and the office manager sometimes worked together on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Then one day, while Mary sat next to him working on a puzzle, he reached over, grabbed her and kissed her firmly on the lips. Mary was horrified. She jumped up, sputtering her indignation and shock. Why had he done that? He was a married man! He apologized profusely, but Mary couldn’t face him. Soon, even though she didn’t have another job lined up, she told the boss that she was quitting. Did she tell anyone what the office manager’d done? No, not until she recalled the episode just this week. Like so many victims of sexual harassment, Mary herself was embarrassed about the incident, as if she were to blame. Certainly, her parents must have been questioned her about what appeared to be a rash decision. Still, Mary kept the story to herself.

The Illinois Bankers Association on the thirty-fifth floor of the LaSalle Building was next. Mary loved working there. As a secretary, she had the opportunity to attend a convention in St. Louis. She and another secretary traveled there by train, and on the trip home, they drank whiskey sours for breakfast. Another convention in downtown Chicago gave her the opportunity to stay in the luxurious Palmer House for three days. Her fiancé Ted joined her and her bosses at a dinner one evening, and when they talked about their honeymoon plans, the guys invited them to take a ride on their yacht docked in St. Louis.

Mary continued at Illinois Bankers until February 1949, just a few months after her wedding. Pregnant women didn’t work back in those days, and besides, she couldn’t bear the bouts of morning sickness that kept her running from the el into her office so she could throw up every morning.