An Oral History of My Grandfather

May 29, 2014
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James Allen Sveinsson born on September 23, 1933, was born at Columbus Hospital in downtown Chicago. Throughout the interview he taught me a lot about his childhood, and his adulthood so far.

What Nationality are you?

I am 100% icelandic, my grandparents emigrated from iceland to Hecla Island, in Canada, north of Winnipeg, my parents came from that area, in the late 20’s they left that area and came to chicago.

Who were your childhood friends?
My friends lived across the street from me, they were a year younger than me, one was inducted to the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago just recently, and the other wrote a book about the neighborhood, I’m not sure on the book title though.

Where did you grow up?
Norwood park Township which is now Norridge, on Ottawa Ave.

Do you have any siblings?
I have one sibling, my brother Marvin, he is two years older than me, we didn't get along too well when we were young, but we get along pretty well today. As we grew up we played golf together, and now we play poker together. We play with other guys that we went to grade school with, we have been playing poker together for close to 50 years, and no one has died... but one has Alzheimers...he takes all of our money.

What did you do for fun growing up, did you play sports?
When I was growing up.. No i didn't play any sports, we played sports but I wasn’t involved in anything organized. but later on I got involved in gymnastics and when I got older I was on the high school swimming team for a while.

What types of jobs/careers did you have, did you go to college?
No I didn't, I went to Wright Junior College for one semester. I didn't have a job until i was in high school when i worked for my father in the plumbing business, and I worked for my mother in a card shop.

What kind of education did you receive?

I received a high school diploma, and upon exiting high school, I went to Wright Junior College for a semester then continued into the very exciting world of plumbing [sarcasm], at first plumbing seemed like it was a little bit boring, but after finishing my apprenticeship and started work at bishop plumbing, I got more and more into it. So as time went on I got more and more experience I began to do jobs quicker and with higher quality. The majority of the things I had to do became routine, and came with ease.

Were your parents strict?
My father was pretty hard on us, but we didn’t know any different and we lived with it, and we look back on it now and it made us stronger, my mother was easy going, she knew how to handle my father, she was very argumentative, and critical, but she knew how to get back at him in her own pleasant way.

What is your fondest childhood memory?
The one that comes to mind is when [pause] my friends and I [short pause] I don’t know if I should tell you this, [chuckle] we snuck in to see a movie for the fun of it. I guess its not really a “childhood” memory but that is one of my favorite memories. I think the movie was Fantasia, I was about 13 when the movie came out and just like any other kids growing up at the time, grew up with Mickey Mouse and his friends.

What branch of the military were you in?

When I was 28, I was drafted into the army in 1956, i took my basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was then sent to Fort Lee, Virginia, for oil storage, and then after that I was sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the signal core facility, and after a few weeks i was put into a company where I did clerical work, after that I became a company clerk, and that was my job during my stay with the military, right after the korean war.

As a Cubs fan I imagine you have some great memories, what comes to mind?
The first thing that really comes to mind is going to the ballpark for the first time, it was a fairly nice day, a little chilly, but overall nice weather. They played the Cincinnati Reds that day and ended up winning by a slim margin. That was around 1940 so by that time there weren't many ballplayers still playing because of the war, but the ones that were still playing lead us to a win. Another memory was when the cubs were in the 2003 play-offs against the marlins, [laugh] they were five outs away from making to the world series for the first time in almost a century, but Steve Bartman had to lean over the field and interfere with Moises Alou. They were so close that year, but that with a couple other errors by the players lead to the Cubs losing that game and the next.

Do we have any famous relatives?
Well we are supposed to be... our ancestors were Leif Ericsson, and Eric the Red, the vikings, I have a scroll, a family tree, that seems to indicate that they were part of our family, my uncle, one of my dads brothers, wrote a book, and part of the book is our family tree, its called “Identity”, (by Edward L. Stephanson), very well written book, it talks about himself and his four brothers.

After interviewing my grandfather I learned a lot about how it was like growing up in the suburbs of Chicago with no T.V. and little to do, but play outside. I did not just learn about him, but I also learned about my family history. My grandfather taught me to do what I want, and to not give up.

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