Mother: An Oral History

May 30, 2011
By , Park Ridge, IL
My mom grew up in Chicago for most of her life. She has one sister and twenty-six first cousins on just her mother’s side of the family. In her words, “My childhood was a nice time!”

Okay. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in various parts of Chicago; we moved a lot; but I lived in New York for maybe about two years, and that’s where my sister was born, and then we moved back to Chicago here.

Can you tell me when you lived where, and when you moved?
Well, I was born here in Chicago, and then when I was about three years old, we moved to New York—Long Island—where my dad’s family lived, and that’s where my dad was born. So we lived there about two years, my sister was born there, and shortly after she was born, we came back to Chicago. When we first came back, we lived with my grandmother for a couple of months ‘til we could find a place. She had a huge house, and, um, what’s that called now? That area, like, Southport and… Fullerton? Six bedrooms, ‘cause she had such a big family. And then after that, we got a we got a place, and then we moved, and moved again…

How well did you get along with your sister and parents?
Oh yeah, we were very close. I got along with my parents very well, and my sister, she is four years younger, and we had kind of a strange relationship, because it was – sisterly, and I was also kind of motherly to her. I don’t know why, I just felt like she was my little kid. So, I took care of her a lot, and we really had a very close relationship and still do today.

Did she annoy you at all?
She annoyed me once she was – once we were teenagers, because the only thing we really fought about was the fact that I was a neat freak and she was a total mess, and we shared a room. And then, the other thing was, she would wear my clothes without asking me, and instead of putting them in the laundry, she would ball ‘em up and throw ‘em someplace where I couldn’t find it, so I’d be looking for it for weeks. [laughter]

Why did you move so much?
You know what? I think there were a few reasons. My dad was always bored. He wanted something new, something different, something in a different part of the city... Plus, you know, we didn’t have a lot of money, so he was always looking for something maybe cheaper but better, or in a better area, but not as expensive. So I think that was more or less the reasons.

What were your pastimes and hobbies? What did you do besides school and homework?
Well, when I was real little, oh, I loved comic books. I would read comic books all day long during the summer. That was a favorite thing of mine. And, you know, we, we played outside all the time, like kick-the-can. And, you know, all the kids outside, it didn’t matter what age you were. Everybody played together. So I spent a lot of time outside. And we used to go swimming a lot; we used to like to swim, so we would always get a pool pass and go swimming throughout the whole summer.

What was school like?
Nothing like today. [laughter] School was very easy. It was fun; basically, no homework. Little, very, very little homework. If I worked on homework more than a half an hour, that was a lot. But, I did go to Catholic school a lot. So, I had gone to Catholic school, like, you know, a year or two, then if we moved, I might have gone to public school, and then back to Catholic schools… Catholic school, there was more homework; there was definitely more homework in Catholic school. But still, it was nothing like today – it was very easy, nothing to get stressed out about. [laughter]

Did your parents care if you did your homework?
My parents never questioned homework, ever. If I didn’t have homework a few days, they never even questioned it. If I did, it was totally my responsibility, starting in second grade. I remember first grade I did ask my mom a few times for help with math, and I was in Catholic school then. But basically, never did the words “homework” ever come to their mind. [laughter]

Were your parents strict? How did they influence you?
They were not strict at all. Not in any way. They did influence me – a strange thing, like you were asking about homework, like, you know, a lot of parents will say, “Well, do your homework before you go out and play!” I never had that. But my dad used to say, “Make sure you exercise before you go out and play!” And, of course, all I did was exercise when I was out playing, ‘cause we were running around the block, and riding our bike... So, my dad thought exercise was extremely important, so I had to exercise every single day. And, you know, I was a very skinny kid to begin with, you know. But I think his side of the family always struggled with weight, so maybe that was a reason, or he just knew the health benefits.

You mentioned earlier that you went to Catholic school some times and public school some times. When did you go to each one?
Well, kindergarten I was in public school; first grade I was in Catholic school; second grade, public school; third and fourth grade, I was in Catholic school; and then fifth through eighth, public. Freshman year, Catholic; and then ‘til the end of my senior year I was in public.

Tell me about a particular memory that exemplified initiation.
Okay, so… if I understand this correctly… You know, like I said, we had a huge family, and – on my mother’s side, ‘cause my dad’s side was all in New York, and it wasn’t as big – but we used to get together every single Sunday at my grandmother’s house. She had a huge house, and she would make dinner, and everyone would come over. And we were a very close family, we had a lot of fun, and we always seen each other on holidays, but my favorite one was Christmas Eve. And on Christmas Eve, we would take turns at different people’s – you know, aunts and uncles – whoever had the biggest house, of course, since we had a lot of people, would take turns having Christmas Eve. And one year, my father had had a fight during the year with my mother’s brother-in-law. And at Christmastime, when it was time to get together for the holidays, we only got an invitation for my mother and my sister and myself to go to their house for Christmas Eve, where everyone was gonna be. And of course we didn’t go without my dad, so that was really disappointing as a kid used to having these big family Christmases that were the highlight of our year, and then we were stuck home on our own. So, that really changed how I thought about him. [laughter] So, yeah, that was –

How you thought about who, your mother’s brother?
Brother-in-law, yes.

Who were some of your good friends?
Yeah, that was the thing, you know, we moved a lot, and – you know, I guess there was a good friend I had, Barbie. She was, like, in third and fourth grade. And before that, I really don’t remember much. And then, fifth through eighth, there was a few kids that I hung around with – Jolene, Nick, Chuckie, Alice – and we used to all hang out together; we used to have a lot of fun. And then highschool, I had Kim, Cindy, Lisa…

This is just from stories you told me before, but what about that girl that punched you in the nose?
Oh, she ended up being one of my closest friends! That was Jolene. When I first came to – when I first moved to that neighborhood in fifth grade… You know, I was really a shy kid, though. But for some reason, this girl did not like me, and one day I was at the park with my cousins, and she was there with some friends, and just decided that she didn’t like me. So, her friend said, “Jolene wants to fight you,” and I was like, “Huh? Who’s that?” [laughter] I really don’t even think I knew who she was, really; I mean, I had seen her, but I didn’t know her well. And I was like, “What? That’s crazy!” and I was like, “Fight?” I’d never fought before, and what’s the reason? Anyways, she came up to me and punched me in the nose, and it was bleeding, and then I had to go home. [laughter] And, a week later, we became very good friends. [laughter]

Wow, irony. [laughter] Overall, was your childhood a happy time when you look back on it?
Yeah, it really was. My parents were very loving, and we spent a lot of time with our families, and no matter what happened, you know, my parents always knew how much they loved us; they always said how much they loved us. We always did things together, and, yeah, it was pretty fun. We had some hard times, but it was overall very, very good.

Also – anything else that you would like to say?
Lemme think… I don’t know, it seems like kids today are a lot different. There’s lots more homework, there’s so much more to do, so many more things that they’re involved in… But I hope that we still – and we do – always have our family time, which really helps.

Okay, thank you, Mom!
Okay, you’re welcome!

My mom enjoys photography, nature, and spending time with her family. She often tells stories about her childhood to family and friends, indicating that it was a fun part of her life.

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