A Simple Life of Service

By , Park Ridge, IL
My name is Chloretta Culp. We grew up in Chicago. Back of the Yards District. It was a flat, I remember, it was the way all people were living. Well, if you had a home, and, you lived in it but you had, let me think, you had one floor and some other family was living on the first floor, that was what we called a flat. It was Ma, Pa, Grace, and Evelyn. Ma passed away when I was eleven years old and my father had only one arm and didn’t do too much with us. Evelyn was the oldest and Grace was the youngest. I was really close to Grace and Evelyn. We were sisters.
My older sister, Evelyn was adopted. You know, funny thing the way that happened. Pa never told her, but he loved her. He loved all of us. We were all his daughters. The landlady told her that he wasn’t her real father, because, you know, we rented a flat. Between us sisters, we never talked about it. She was our sister. It broke her heart though. When she was little, she was being reprimanded, she said, “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re not my father.” And it broke his heart to hear that. He asked, “Who told you?” And she said “The landlady.”
It was very hard during the depression. Not many people had jobs and they were living in- what did they call it- not social security, relief. That’s what most of my friends’ families lived off. We were lucky because, well not lucky, but Pa lost his arm on the rail road and so he got compensation for the rest of his life. [Pause] We had things that some of my friends didn’t have. He made it do. He was a good saver. We never owned a house, we always rented, but we never owed anyone. I remember times when it got cold; we would build a fire outside and put potatoes in the fire. After a while, we’d take them out and hold them to keep our hands warm and later we’d eat them. Well, I think we also grew up kind of fast because Pa needed us to do things because Ma was no longer living. And we started to learn how to cook. Like me and that pot of beef, whatever it was. [Pause] I don’t think we were worried about how old we were, it was more, how long is this gonna last.
I went to catholic school for three years at the beginning. They didn’t have gym in Catholic school, but I did when I got to the public school. I really liked public school. Grade school, we went to the public Robert Fulton School. And it was named after the man who invented the steamboat. That’s the school I went to and it was the best school. The school focused on English because it was very important. We took a diagramming class and that taught most of us good English. In high school, I fell in love with a teacher. [Don’t worry, it’s not what you think, it was a woman and I looked up to her.] I felt like she was looking after me. And then I started skipping to do curtains and stuff like this, thinking the teacher knew and she’d ok it. She didn’t and she called Pa. “Oh, so we’re doing curtains now, huh?” said Pa. My response was “How did you expect me to get the work done, Pa?” It was just the way things were back then. [Pause] In my high school years we had social dancing, but I didn’t go to the football games or nothing like that because I had to go home and cook for Pa. At some point during high school, I wanted to be a nurse. I used to be impressed with the articles that they used to have. We used to have the paper, you know. And that’s actually what got me interested in nursing.
I didn’t play any sports. No, not at that time. They taught us how to dance. We had school and we played volleyball, not for competition, just in gym class. We just did the dancing, not competitive. We didn’t have many hobbies. But, I remember one time when I was supposed to be cooking a meal for Pa. I had a hunk of meat in a pot, and I went outside to play. Now, I’m running bases out there, having a gay old time. Pa came and he says, “What’s the fire department doing there?” Fire department? I didn’t know there was one, ‘cuz we were playing baseball. But any way I learned about the fire department when we got upstairs. Biggest thing that I remember, though, was us playing outside and the fire department being there. That’s kids for you. He got real angry, but he never touched us, he never hit us. Sometimes he could even be real funny when kids would ask, “Hey mister, what happened to your arm?” Pa would answer, “Oh, a cow bit it off.” That was his way to dismiss it and not linger on something that could make you feel bad. He actually lost his arm in a train accident while at work in the train yards. We also always went to the park and I learned how to stitch and things like that. There were classes and we learned to do things like that. We spent hours there and then we‘d go home. In the winter we had our sleds and in the summer we had our bicycles. We went to the park a lot.
In those days we didn’t live with the rest of the family- my grandma and them. We didn’t do too much with them. It was just Pa, Grace, Evelyn, and me. We always had a tree and stuff like that for Christmas. We had a Christmas tree from the floor to the ceiling every year with the tinsel, you know, if we didn’t have ornaments, because Pa loved them. My dad worked on the rail road and he was real hard-working. And he used to just want to eat and go to bed. That was on holidays.
We lived on Fiftieth and Hermitage. Across the street was St. Cyril. We went to that church and school for three years. That whole block was St. Cyril. That wasn’t real common. When they had weddings we’d go and watch out the window ‘cuz they had the doors open, you know. We had a friend who brought us into Sunday school for the treats that were handed out at the end.
Well usually if you really had true friends they were with you. You just hung out. And momma always knew that you were gonna hang out and always made cookies. Stuff like that. Always had it on hand. We joined clubs and the clubs usually did something over the weekend too. They expect you to join in, [pause] but sometimes you don’t. Then, I was old enough to go places myself. We’d go downtown a lot and to one another’s houses. We’d go to the Field Museum and the art museums. For a nice time we’d go to the movies. The movies were lavish, extravagant. That’s what we used to do when we went out. My ultimate favorite was dinner and a play. The play was right on the floor of the restaurant. You’d feel like you were in it. That’s what we used to do, even on dates. And dancing.
I nursed in World War II in Wiesbaden, Germany by Hamburg. If you can find Hamburg, you can find Wiesbaden. I was overseas two years. I went overseas on orders. Well, I was finished with school. You have to do something to return payment of tuition and that’s probably what they considered efficient and able to cover it. Well, we did a lot of things because there was a lot of shooting. And all of our cases were surgical cases. And that meant a lot of strict things because surgical cases are something to be taken seriously. There was always a patient on a stretcher waiting for help. And I remember one night when we were awakened. The few that were awake, and [pause], you could see the fire. It was frightening, you know, to see all the open space there. I felt like the soldiers could come without any trouble. And the lord only knows what would happen. Sometimes, we would play baseball for fun. And then I met that girl ‘cuz she was working at nights and [pause], I was sick in bed, and she stayed around so there wasn’t any goofing. Some girls you wanted to make friends with, but others you didn’t. And you know, you can spot them, they don’t have to wear a mask or anything. And you don’t know what you’re impressed by. Is it her shoes or her nails? And some drizzle out. Her name was Aileen and I’m still good friends with her. She and I used to go to church all the time. And we kept in touch after the war. But that’s about the only one that I really kept in touch with. I was happy to get back because Pa had a soda pop waiting for me. My favorite was root beer and he knew it.
When I came home, I wanted to spend some money but Pa had already spent it. ‘Cuz he used to get my whole check and he wasn’t working. So we had rent to pay, electric to pay. [Pause] I got a job with home nursing and emergency nursing because I had been overseas, you see. They -were real eager to give me a job. They were good about it, better than they are now. I was in emergency because I had the experience. Then, I joined the convent. I think receiving the habit was a special time in my life. And I would do it again. I can’t complain about it. It was hard work. If you had two feet you worked. You cleaned in an office, [pause] somehow, you wanna skip part of it, you know; dog-gone-it if that novice master, if she did find a spot that you didn’t do. So consequently, you started over all by yourself and you did a beautiful job. But you never had that happen again. Other times, we would even tie up our habits and play baseball. I guess baseball has always been a favorite pastime of mine. That’s probably why Evelyn sometimes referred to me as a tomboy. I think if I could live my life again, I would do it all the same as I did. But I would just want to make sure I could bring back some of the same people with me.





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