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Thomas George-His Story
Thomas George, my grandfather, was born on December 20, 1931 in Waterloo, Iowa to Thomas and Margaret. He lived through the Depression, World War Two, and experienced the North and the South. This is his story.
“I was the oldest of five. Number two was Eleanor Louise. She was born March, 23 1933. Then came Richard Charles. He was born in 1937. And then were the twins, John Arthur and Judith Ann-our Japs. We called them our Japs because they were born just before the war-World War Two-and their initials were both JAP. Eleanor and I were born in Waterloo, Richard was born in Kankakee, Illinois, and the twins were born in Chicago. We moved so much because my father worked for the Illinois Central Railroad; he worked there for his whole life from 1919 when he was sixteen years old until two years before he died in the ‘70s. That’s why some of us were born in Waterloo and some in Chicago.
For my first five years of school I went to Our Lady of Peace at 79th and Jeffery, and then my last three years I went to St. Dorothy at 78th and Eberhart. They were both in Chicago on the southeast side. I walked to school because it would have only been one or two blocks on the street car. When I started at Our Lady of Peace we lived at 77th so we had to go two blocks south and over a couple of blocks and then south again so it was just a matter of juggling around. We lived in five different apartments in Chicago; every time we had more kids we needed a bigger apartment. When I started grammar school we lived at 7820 Constance, then 7730 Ridgeland, 8037 Champlain, and 8200 Champlain.
We didn’t have many sports going on and a good percentage of the time I was in school was during the war. We did know how to stop a street car on 79th street though. A street car looks like one car on the trains you see today except it’s smaller and they had tracks down the street so the cars drove over ‘em all the time. They go down the middle of the street and there’d be two tracks with street cars going both ways and there’d be cars going in the same direction as the street cars. In winter you’d take two newspapers, like you get them rolled up, and you tie it with a piece of clothesline rope about eighteen inches apart then you twirl them and when they get up to the wire the streetcar would hit it and jump of the wire, so the street car’d stop. The conductor would come out to put the rope back on and we’d all get out and throw snowballs at him.
We did go on a lot of vacations in those days because my grandfather, my mother’s dad, was a retired mailman and he bought a place up in Door County, Wisconsin on Kangaroo Lake, the only sand beach on the lake. He bought this way back in the ‘30s and he built a summer resort there. When he retired he use to go up there for the summer and then he’d come back to Chicago to his house at 55 and 57 Merrill where he built a three story house and when his kids all packed up he turned the top two floors into apartments and rented them out. I visited his resort often. When I was only five my parents took me over and sent me on a train in Chicago and the train let me off in Green Bay and the conductor’d give me to the bus driver to take me up to Door County because my grandfather on the other end would tell the bus driver to look for me. So they’d give me to him and then I’d go up to my grandfather’s place. All of this when I was five. Today you wouldn’t even think of doing that
When I was thirteen I got my social security card and got a job at the National Tea Company as a stock boy. A stock boy is the one who puts all the pots and pans on the shelf and stuff. I made forty five cents an hour and that was good money because a private in the army made thirty dollars a month and he could get killed. I worked one hundred sixty hours and got about eighty dollars a month, fifty dollars more than in the army. The reason I got the job is because I had started being a delivery boy there. I’d line up outside the store and I’d take people’s groceries home in my wagon for fifteen cents for the first two blocks and anywhere farther than that I got a quarter.
There were restrictions on kid employment, but see this was during the war and they were looking for people. The war didn’t really have an effect on my family it was just routine work. I had one cousin in the war. He graduated high school in 1943 at Mt. Caramel and then went right into the army. He was sent to Europe and was captured in the Battle of the Bulge around 1944 and at the end of the war when he was released from the POW camp he had lost one hundred pounds. That was my cousin Dick; he was the subject of a book called The Good War by Studs Terkel.
Then in 1945 at the end of the war after I graduated from St. Dorothy in Chicago we moved to New Orleans. The weather was 100% different; you never saw any snow. I went to high school at Jesuit High School in Jefferson Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana. And that’s not the religious parish. In New Orleans and still today in Louisiana they are called parishes and not counties. From our house to Jesuit I had to walk over and catch a street car and take it several more miles down Canal Street in New Orleans then get off at Carrolton Ave and then walk two more blocks more to the high school. That was a long commute and it’d be half hour to forty five minute. I had to pay for the street car and bus, four cents for kids and eight cents for adults. They were segregated the blacks were in the back and the whites in the front and if there were more white people they moved the divider back and when there were more black people they moved it up.
When I was fifteen I was able to get my driver’s license in Louisiana. What I did was I went up to the place where they gave me the driver’s licenses and I had to have a copy of my birth certificate to show I was fifteen and then they gave me a driver’s license. It was a little different then. Granted it was a parish license not a state license.
I finished high school at Jesuit in 1950 and then I went to LSU [Louisiana State University] in Baton Rouge. My dad was in the process of getting transferred back to Chicago so I stayed there to go to school. It was cheaper-my tuition, room, and fees for one semester were fifty five dollars in ‘55. My sister for one semester in ’56 at Illinois in Champagne paid two hundred fifty dollars. Since my dad worked for the railroad I could ride the Illinois Central Train all the way to Chicago for free; the only train I had to pay for was from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
My favorite childhood memory just was the family. We had a good family with my grandfather and my parents. We managed to get around and see each other.”
Thomas married Mildred Cecilia Flynn and together they raised three children Lynn Marie, Thomas John, and Jean Marie. He worked as an engineer specifically in the construction of water towers. He and his wife now live in Flossmoor, Illinois and have seven grandchildren: Claire, Paige, Ryan, Evie, Anna, Erin, and Aidan.