The Perfect Mother: Mary Kay

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I decided to do an oral history on my mom, Mary Kathleen for many reasons. One of which was she also went to this high school, so it was interesting for me to see her perspective on the same place, which is a rare occurrence. Another reason is just that she’s my mother and helps me through everything, so I wanted to see what part of her childhood made her so tough. Here she is.

Where and when were you born?
I was born at Lutheran General hospital on February 21st, 1965 in Park Ridge, Illinois.
What was school like for you? Where did you go?
I went to preschool in Edison Park; they had some preschool there. It’s still there, kitty-corner from Don Juan’s. But it’s more like a community center or activity center now. So I went there I think one year. And then I went to field school. I went to kindergarten there, had Mrs. Johnson. And then I went to St. Paul of the Cross-for years one through eight. After that I went to Maine south and after that I went to Tulane for just a semester and then after that I worked for a semester and then went back to school at Loyola University in Chicago. Tulane was a lot of fun. It was a great experience leaving the home and going somewhere new and different. New Orleans is much different than Chicago. It’s southern and things are, just the architecture’s different, people speak differently with their southern dialect. The food is different and the weather’s certainly different; it’s hot and humid most everyday.
What were your conditions like at home before leaving for school?
Well I lived in a ranch house on East Avenue. We had three bedrooms, I had a bathroom I shared with my sister, and it was fine. I went to school, I did my things, and I studied and I had my friends.
What were some things about your childhood that you disliked?
My least favorite thing to do as a kid was, in terms of chores, we used to have to do the dishes and I used to get a rash on my hands or on my arms from doing the dishes. I don’t know what I was allergic to, it might have been like the food or the grease from something, but I used to get a rash and it got me out of doing the dishes. It was probably my least favorite thing to do as a kid. I would say that my mother was sick when I was a kid so that wasn’t easy to deal with "cause she was, she had had pneumonia when she was a child and it really scarred her lungs so she would get sick and have pneumonia and have to go to the hospital. So I think I didn’t like that. And she’d cough a lot. She coughed and coughed and coughed and it was hard for her to walk long distances 'cause she had bad lungs. So that was hard.
What was your favorite thing to do as a kid?
(Laughs)… Well in my teenage years I suppose when I got to drive we’d go to the beach and I really liked to go to the beach.


We’d go and we’d get sandwiches from Thomson’s Grocery store, my friend worked in the deli, and then my other friend worked as a cashier at Thomson’s, so we got off pretty cheap by the time we were done filling up the car with food and drinks to go to the beach (Laughing). That was my favorite thing to do. Thomson’s was where Walgreen’s is on Touhy and Cumberland, then I think they ripped down the building maybe or maybe they converted it into the Walgreen’s, but it was a nice grocery store and they had the best bakery around. My favorite had to be the pecan cinnamon rolls. They were yeasty and gooey and super yummy.
Who were your idols, heroes, and influences as a child?
My idols and heroes? Hmmm, I guess I didn’t have too many influences. I liked Dorothy Hamel 'cause she was a great ice skater. And I was into ice-skating then. And she was you know and American sweetheart I suppose and you know she danced so beautifully on the ice. I guess that’s about it.
Did you have any hobbies when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, well I liked to do art, and I liked to draw, so I would draw, and I babysat a lot for the neighbors down the street. I always babysat a lot and made some money. I guess that’s more of a job then a hobby but that’s how I spent my time. And I taught myself how to play the guitar in my spare time. That’s what I did. And I was a cheerleader.
Were you a cheer fanatic?
No, but we did cheer competitions though. And so we’d go and it was a catholic school that I went to so each team was from a different catholic school and they’d all sit around in between rounds of competition and they would hold hands and pray. And they’d yell “St. Paul pray for us.” It was crazy and we did win first place. There was this one team that always won first place and we finally unseated them and won first place. You know it was pretty good for our little school and we didn’t have a gym or anything so we did well.
Did you have any hobbies that continued into adulthood?
Well, I still play the guitar a little bit, and well I haven’t painted in a while but I can still draw pretty well. I suppose that’s it.
What was your plan comin' out of high school?
Well I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer before I went to college. So I knew I was gonna major in something for law school and there really isn’t a pre-law program, and had I done it again I would have majored in English in undergraduate school. However, I chose political science because other people, I had heard, were going to go to law school and they were gonna major in political science, so that’s what I did. So I declared my major before I went to college and I stuck with it and that’s what I did.
Did you know about any kids or when you wanted to get married?
Well I kinda figured that if I got married, that would happen on its own and I wouldn’t have to work at that, it would just kinda happen, so I thought I would just improve myself and become a lawyer, so that I always had something for myself, because I learned that the only person you really can count on is yourself. You need to, you know your friends will falter, they wont hold up their end of the bargain sometimes, and to be happy you need to be able to rely only on you. So I decided to do something where I felt I could make a living at and support my family if my husband left me, or there’s a lot of bad stories out there so I felt that I would just maintain independence by having a great career, besides having a husband and children because you just never know. You really just have to go through life. You can love people and depend on people but in the long run it’s all about you. You need to depend on yourself first.
Were there any experiences that made you learn this hard lesson?
(Tearing up) Well yes, my mother died when I was young. (Crying)
Do you have any fun or interesting stories out of high school or college that you’d like to share?
Fun or interesting stories? (Laughing) Yes, but I don’t think I’d share them with my son. (Cracking up)
You need to share ‘em; you need to share ‘em. 'Cause I mean, I’m coming of age so you gotta share some of ‘em.
Ahhhh, what are some things that I did that were fun and interesting? Hmmm, well I suppose when I was, was I done with college? Or was I in college? I think I was in college. And my sister went, decided to go away to school for gemology. She was at trade school, which is a different path you can take; you don’t have to go to a 4-year university. But she went to trade school for gemology in California. She went to the Gemology Institute of America; I think it was in Santa Monica. And so I flew out there and drove back with her. So we drove all the way back from California to Chicago ourselves and that was fun. It was just a neat drive, I think we drove to the Redwood Forest up north in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, and we went to lake Tahoe. And we took a river boat cruise or a dinner cruise on a boat on Lake Tahoe, and it turned out that we were like the only two people not in a wedding party. And so we were kinda like part of this wedding party (laughing). And these guys were from the Netherlands and they were the groom’s men and they were trying to pick me up and my sister up at the same time.
Was it like Wedding Crashers?
We were like the wedding crashers but we really didn’t intend to do that. But it was a lot of fun. And then we went to Tahoe and that was fun.
How was law school?
Law school was a good time. Law school I left home, you know 'cause I went back home after Tulane. I lived at home during college, and I went to Loyola and I drove everyday. So when it came time to go to law school I said you know I’m gonna live out in an apartment on my own, so I did. And I paid for my apartment on my own and I worked. I worked as a bartender at a place called Carlucci’s in Lincoln Park at that time. And then I also worked at café Baba Reba as a waitress and sometimes bartender. It was a Spanish Tapas restaurant. I also worked at…I worked at a lot of different restaurants. I worked at Gibson’s when it first opened up on Rush Street and Oak Street I think. And I worked there and was a cocktail waitress in the bar area and it’s kinda funny too 'cause I met a guy named Jay Gustafson and later I found out that he was my, not yet, I didn’t yet meet my husband at that point in time, but it was his, my soon to be husband’s, best friend and college roommate, so that was interesting.
How were your grades in school?
My grades were good, my grades were very good. I was in some accelerated classes. I’m not sure how many they offered or if I missed the boat of some of ‘em but I remember moving up in English. I think that the high school talked more with the public schools than they did with the private schools about what the requirements were and what you would need for the accelerated classes, because my regular English class or my accelerated English, I was like ‘I already did this in Catholic school,’ where I don’t know that the public schools did. Some other classes were overlapping with a little bit of what I had done in eighth grade, but by and large I got A’s and B’s. I don’t think I ever got a C in high school, no.
What did you and your friends do during your free time?
Let’s see, we would go to games, we would hang out at my friend Nancy’s house or my house, we would watch soap operas, we would braid hair, play pool, go up to my friend’s summer house in Door County, go to the beach, go shopping, cook. At Nancy Howard’s house we would pretty much go over there everyday after school and we’d make backed beans with cheese melted in it; that’s what she liked to eat (chuckles). So that was our staple.
Could you give me an overview of Uptown Park Ridge back in the day and also Maine South High School?
Uptown Park Ridge, let’s see, when I was in high school it didn’t have as many lunch places. They had, I think Yankee Doodle Dandy was still there where Oberweis is now, Panera wasn’t there; it was a drug store at Panera. The bank has been there forever. It was Citizen’s bank when I was a kid. They’d give you suckers when you went in there. Then it became Bank 1, and then it became Chase I think, so it’s changed a few times, maybe even more than that. There was a jewelry store Uptown where Venus is. It was called Randall’s; it was a very nice store. There was also a grocery store way back when, also by Venus, I think a Dominick’s. No, it was a Jewel, a little Jewel store right Uptown. And then the Pickwick has been there forever, but they didn’t have the back theaters open. Going down Prospect Street there were a couple of female clothiers. And Pines has been there since I was a kid. I worked at Pines for a short period of time. One summer I worked the stock room. Fannie May has been there forever. Let’s see, the library changed a little bit and grew, and it’s still a nice library. They never had concerts in the park. And that new development wasn’t there. There was no “Taste of Park Ridge.” There used to be an ice skating rink Uptown across from Hodges’ Park, right across from city hall. It was called Michael Kirby. So ice skating was pretty big, I mean there were two places where you could ice skate in Park ridge: Michael Kirby and Oakton. Oakton, oh that was another thing that we did. Like I ice skated, but every, every Friday and Saturday night we’d get a bunch of kids to go to Oakton to ice skate. They used to sell lots of food there, there was a concession stand there, and we’d go there all the time; every Friday and Saturday.
What’s the biggest difference between Uptown when you were a kid and now?
There’s just a lot more stores and eateries and cafes and there was never a table on the sidewalk to eat at. It’s more happening and buzzing. I guess the cafes keep the people there all the time and I think that’s a big difference. And when I was a kid, Park Ridge was a dry town. Meaning no restaurants sold any alcohol, and none of the stores sold any alcohol. No that changes a town because people don’t wanna eat there if you can’t get a drink with your dinner. The adults would rather go somewhere where they could have a cocktail with your dinner and you couldn’t do that in Park Ridge. So Park Ridge is finally catching up with the times and keeping the tax dollars there and people goin’ to eat there if they can get a drink.
What about your high school?
It is pretty much that same, especially from the outside. Inside the lockers have changed. My locker isn’t where it was, but my homeroom is where it was and the art wing is still where that is, the music is where it was, A wing is pretty much the same. The cafeteria is similar. I heard the food’s better though, it wasn’t very good when I was there. They added a back parking lot. That’s about it. And it’s doing very well academically so that’s awesome. When I went though, they used to have a big bonfire and the field house was a little different. They used to have a couple of double doors that opened up but now I think the bikes are there. They also used to have a car smashing thing where they’d get an old beater and people would just buy chances to hit the car with a sledge hammer and you know, it was kinda like something out of “Grease” or something like that. Then they’d drive around this nasty car; it was fun.
Did you go to the football games when you went there?
When I was a student I worked. I shampooed hair when I was a sophomore, junior and senior. And you know the games were at noon on a Saturday, so I didn’t really go to too many games. Every once in a while I’d go to a game but they weren’t very good back then. (Laughing) So I didn’t really go. I would have gone, but I was working.
How was studying without computers?
I studied by writing and rewriting stuff. I guess you’d have to type papers once in a while but I didn’t own a typewriter in high school. I owned a typewriter in college. I remember specifically getting money from my mom to buy a typewriter because I had to have one in college. But wed write them out and study at the library sometimes. I think I didn’t have too many study groups in high school. I did it by myself with my textbook, and you couldn’t go online, go to the library, didn’t go in early very often. I don’t think I used to go in early very often. And you know what else, I used to sing. I was in girls’ glee and concert choir and that type of thing. And I would do that and we would go sing downtown at Christmas time and sing all throughout the year.
What was Uncle David like?
Oh, my brother. He was a good guy; he was a lot older than me so I didn’t know him so well. He was nine years older than me. I guess I had one sister and a brother. My sister is still alive her name is Lynne and she is three years older than me, and my brother was nine years older than me. He was a good guy. He went through Maine South, graduated from Maine South. I think he was going to Oakton for a little while and stuff. But he had some issues going on so he had a hard time in life. Quite honestly, I don’t think they had any real good diagnosis for him. But he had something that was wrong with his brain chemicals and he couldn’t focus after a while. So he had some issues and he was in the hospital for a long time.
Was it tough growing up with him?
Oh yeah. With anybody with a disability it’s hard, 'cause you didn’t know how they would act or how they would react to whatever you did. He was on different medicines and stuff to try to equalize the chemical imbalance but nothing really ever worked so it was hard. I really don’t know what it would be like to be him. I don’t know what was hard for him; it was just he wasn’t stupid or anything. He was just depressed or, his reactions were odd sometimes. He would always tease me and stuff so I would try and get away from him so I wouldn’t be teased and I remember once him coming at me and I was trying to close the door to my room and he ripped the door off the hinges and smashed me between the door and the wall. So I was kind of scared of him too. He would just overreact to some things and I don’t know. He was a good guy, loved him, but you just didn’t know how he would react to certain things so you just didn’t take your chances 'cause it was unpredictable. I’m sorry, I wish that would have been different.
How did you like grandpa as your dad when you were a kid?
He was a good guy. You know, he grew up in different circumstances where he was a foster child because of the depression. His parents were immigrants from Hungary and his father… his father I think was making wine in the attic of their house in the 20s during prohibition. And my dad, they didn’t have electricity, so my dad was looking for apples, he says, in the cellar and he went to light a lantern, because you had to light a lantern to get light because there was not electricity. He went to light the lantern and he burned his father’s pants and he burnt down the house. And because he burnt down the house, they took the kids into state custody. And they were raised in the Chicago Orphan Asylum, and he was really raised in foster homes for many years.
Ok, but what about him as a father?
Sorry, I guess I’m getting off the track. He wasn’t raised in a normal home. There really is no such thing as normal, but he was raised without a real father and without a real mother, so he didn’t know how to act like a real father. He wasn’t the most loving man in the world but you know he provided for his family and he stayed with his family despite problems with his son and all that so you know, a lot of guys might have just left. But he stuck around a tried to help. He was always there for me. You know, made my college tuition got paid and kept a roof over my head if I wanted to and gave me money for rent if I was short. So he was a pretty good guy. He loves my kids.


My mom laughed and cried at various points throughout the interview. She reminisced the good times with her friends and some of the hard times with her family. She is a great mother to my brother and I, and we couldn’t wish for a better woman in our lives. She tells us her best childhood is the one she lives through us, and we feel special to be able to provide that for her, as she provides so much opportunity for us.





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