One day in 1937, after we were all working or in high school, ma’s friend, Mrs. Powers, went for a ride on the Jackson Boulevard bus. It was a Sunday, and it was pouring rain. She saw a For Rent sign, and she got off the bus and went to a phone and called ma. She said, “There’s a big house for rent on Jackson. Don’t worry about the rain. There’s a sign on the house. Go get on that bus and get out there now.”
We had wanted to move our of Arthington Street for a long time. The house was always too small. There were six of us living in a five-room house–two bedrooms, so some people had to sleep in the dining room. So ma and pa went right out and they rented the house. It was $35 a month and heat it yourself.
So we moved from 3024 Arthington St. to 5342 Jackson, out in Austin. That was the biggest deal. God, I was thrilled to death. Austin was beautiful. You would get off the Madison streetcar at Lockwood adn you would see this beautiful, clean street. I mean, shiny windows on all the stores. And the air smelled different, because there was so much green stuff growing out there. Trees and flowers–and the buildings weren’t so close together. We loved it there. Austin was the best part of the west side.
But the house was two stories, and after a while my mother was getting a little tired walking up and down the steps. My father wasn’t too happy with the neighbor next door. He was having arguments with him. They just were two different kinds of people.
My timekeeper at Sears kept saying to me, “Well, it’s all right for you to want to live in that big house. But what about your poor mother and all those steps?”
So my friend Margaret and I would go out walking on Saturdays. We’d go up and down the streets of Austin, and anything that was for rent we’d go in and ask. Usually the rent was too high. We’d just say, well, we’ll tell our mother about it.
So we came to this apartment on Menard. These Greek people lived there. They owned the house. They said the flat was for rent because they were going to move to Berwyn. They were opening a grocery store—or they already had one—and they were going to live behind it.
So the rent was $60, heated. I really liked this place. So for the first time, instead of just saying, we’ll tell our mother, I said “Well, we like the apartment, and I know my mother would too. But the rent is too high. We couldn’t pay that much.”
She said, “Well what does your father do?”
I said, “He’s retired.”
She said, “Well, what we really need is someone to take care of the furnace, cut the grass, and shovel the snow. And for that we would pay 15 dollars a month.” So $45, heated.
I said, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll love it.” So I went home, and my mother and father went over there that night. And of course, they loved it, and they rented the place–101 S. Menard, the first floor of a two-flat.
We all loved it. Madison Street was at one end of the block and Columbus Park at the other.
Madison Street was just a beautiful street. Beautiful shops. I remember you could see the State theater from our front porch. There was a little delicatessan where they made doughnuts. Vince would walk me home from Austin High School, and we’d stop in there and buy a few. Then we’d go over to Columbus Park and sit on a bench and eat ’em. They were delicious. I haven’t had doughnuts that good since.
We used to spend a lot of time in Columbus Park. You could rent a rowboat for 25 cents and go rowing for an hour. We could play tennis. My mother gave me two tennis rackets and a net for my birthday. So we would do that.
There was ice-skating on the lagoon. We had a lot of good times at 101. We did a lot of things from there. We’d rent a bike for a quarter an hour–two hours for 50 cents–from this shop on Madison Street. Then we’d ride into Oak Park and River Forest and look at all the venetian blinds and say, “How nice. When I get married I’m gonna have venetian blinds.” Nobody had them back then–just the fancy houses.