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City Girl: An Oral History of Jean Buckley

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Jean Francis Buckley, today Jean Francis Welter, is my maternal grandmother. She was born at the very end of the Great Depression, right as World War II was beginning. Jean grew up in downtown Chicago before it was the huge metropolitan city it is today. This is her story:

My full maiden name is Jean Francis Buckley and I was born on July 25, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois at the Swedish Covenant Hospital on California Avenue. I had an older sister Mary; she was five years older than me. I have a few memories of her, but not a whole lot. We were five years apart, so we were not that close. She was out of high school by the time I was still in eighth grade, so I didn’t spend a lot of time with her. My father, John, was an insurance adjuster and my mother, Mary, always taught school. We lived in an apartment at 4718 North Paulina in Chicago. We were certainly not rich, but nobody in the neighborhood was really rich. We had a fine school, and you were not aware that you were not… We were happy, happy middle class.

I went to Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school, which was just a block and a half away on the corner of Ashland and Leland. We walked there every day. It was a big Catholic grammar school; we probably had 50 to 55 children in a room. It was taught by nuns and they were so very strict! We wore these uniforms, too. Oh, I can still see the uniforms: little navy blue jumpers and red tams. Whenever I run into people--still to this day--who went to Lourdes, we laugh about those days and the uniforms.

When I was little, I also spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s. When I was in kindergarten my mother taught, so I went to kindergarten near my grandma’s. We went half a day, and I remember my cousin, who also lived with my grandma, would walk me home at lunch time and I would go and spend the afternoon with my grandma. I do have a lot of good memories of that; that was very special.

I was also in kindergarten when the war ended; I was five when it ended. I remember that butter was rationed. You would buy this fake white stuff that came with some gel in a package. Then, you would mix in the gel and squeeze so it would turn yellow. Oh, it was positively vile! But one night, I forget why, we had a priest over to our home for dinner, and we had a real stick of butter for the special occasion. So we are all sitting at the table and we had these potatoes for dinner. And the priest took this huge chunk of butter and spread it on his potatoes. Oh, I was horrified! [Laughter] Here we actually had some real butter, and he went and put half the stick on his potatoes!
I can also remember my Aunt Peggy--who lived with my grandma at that time--her husband, Uncle George, was in the army. He was in Patton’s army. He marched through Italy and then they went up to--where did they go to--up in Belgium and wherever Patton finished up. But I remember my aunt had a victory garden, people had a victory garden in those days. Hers was right near Foster and a little west of Lincoln Avenue. There were a lot of vacant lots in Chicago at the time; it was much more empty, much more empty than it is now. So everybody would have their little victory garden and you would grow your own vegetables so that the food that the big farms were producing could go to the troops. It was a very patriotic thing to do. I can remember going over there with her to work at the victory garden, weed and things like that. And I remember how excited she was when he was coming home; that was wonderful.

I also remember--this is funny--when I was five I wanted a bike, a two wheeler. And there was this little bike store about a quarter of a mile from my house. And they had this adorable little red bike in the window, a two wheeler. But in those days you couldn’t buy anything metal because all the metal, and all the rubber, and all the things like that were going to support the army, their tanks and things. But finally my father was able to buy this little red bike, used, for me. Oh, it was wonderful, I loved that bike!

For fun, my friends and I, every day of the winter when it was cold enough we went ice skating. There was a park right across the street from the grammar school. We’d go home, change clothes, put on our skates, and go out ice skating. And in the summer, we lived not too far from the lake so we went to the beach a lot. We also went to the show--when I was in seventh or eighth grade--I think every Sunday. Oh, it was a big deal. We would go see a double feature, if you can imagine sitting through all that. I’m sure my mother gave me a dollar and that covered two tickets and popcorn back then.

Then after Our Lady of Lourdes you went to boys’ high schools or girls’ high schools. I went to Immaculata High School, which was on Irving Park Road. It was a great big Catholic high school. I can remember this girl I met on the very first day of school. We got to this high school--we were these little scared eighth graders--and we sat in this huge auditorium. There would have been about 200 girls in a class at that time, so there’s about 200 people in the room from all grammar schools, all over. So we’re sitting there--I can remember it so vividly--and they would call you by name. They would call 30 people or so, and they would go off to this homeroom, and then they’d call another 30, and then another 30. And pretty soon this girl and I--she was way down at the end of the row--were the only ones left. So we came and sat together; we were afraid they had forgotten us or something. That was Dolores; I met her the very first day of school. And then Bonnie, I met her during the first gym class of school. And oh yeah, I do still see some of them around. We had a lot of fun, a lot of memories, and a wonderful scholastic experience. Immaculata was very, very strong academically. Very strict, too, oh, those nuns! They ran a tight ship in those days.

In school, I always liked history, and probably English. I took a couple years of math and that was fine. I was not wild about the sciences. I can still remember biology, dissecting frogs, ugh. That was not my bag. And I think in those days, probably, the math and the science weren’t as stressed for girls and women. It was mostly English and history. I took Latin, too, and that was a horrendous experience. Oh, just dreadful. It was painful. [Laughter]

Then after high school, I went away for a year to Marquette University in Milwaukee, and then I came back and I went to Mundelein College in Chicago. Jim and I met in college and then dated when he was in law school. Oh, I remember when he was in college and he was doing a thesis paper, and I typed it for him! The whole thing! I can still remember it – What Are the Economic Consequences of Automation in the Steel Industry. [Laughter] If you can imagine anything more boring! And that was before computers, before electric typewriters, I typed this thing for him. I mean it was 40-50 pages long. Boring--ugh! [Laughter] If you made a mistake, you had this paper you had to put in and white out, to correct the mistake. Then you’d go back and retype over it. It took months, months. [Laughter] I think that was why he wanted a girlfriend, to type his paper.

Jean and Jim married on December 30, 1961 and bought a little apartment in Rogers Park. They later moved to a home in Sauganash, where they still live today. The couple has six children: Danny, Kathy, Maureen (my mother), Bridget, Susie, and Julie. Danny is not married, but all five girls are, and there are 15 grandchildren. Jean is as fun as ever and most definitely not slowing down. She is still working (at age 72) as the Director of Research and Planning for the Archdiocese of Chicago and she spends her weekends attending her grandkids’ sporting events, concerts, and parties.





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