Contributed by "me" and produced by Susan Stafford.

me - photograph of young boy


      I'm six years old. Last year people would say "and how old are you, little man?" and I would have to hold up five fingers and they would say "Oh my! and aren't you a big fellow for your age!" and sometimes they would give me a nickel and say "Here you are. A bright shiny nickel! One penny for each finger." Grandfather Gus would tell me not to waste the nickel but invest it so that it would be a dime by the time I grew up and I could buy rum with it. But I had to hold up my fingers, 'cause if I just said "I'm five years old" they would just look at me and say "Isn't that nice." I'm six years old now and they don't ask me how old I am, They ask "and what grade are you in, my boy?" I was in kindergarten last year. Mrs. Prince was my teacher and we played lots of games and ate paste. I ate some of the clay that I had to make an elephant and Mrs. Prince said that it's too small to be an elephant and I said that it was only a baby elephant, but it tasted awful and I didn't eat any more. Besides its just like trying to eat one of those Mudmen that helped Buck Rogers beat Killer Kane and free everybody and they even saved Wilma once when she was screaming and being hauled away by one of the bad people. They're all slithery and blobby. We played Billy Goat Gruff a lot and I got to be Billy Goat Gruff and got some of the other kids so scared when I said I'd bite their feet off that they wouldn't even try cross my bridge and they would start bawling, so Mrs Prince gave me five beans and I had to pretend to be Jack. And I tell them that I'm in 2a and they say that's nice and sometimes try to pat me on the head. I was in 1a with Mrs. Buckingham and she had real, real black hair and a railway watch hung on a chain around her neck along with her playground whistle, her pen that she could pull way out and it would snap back when she was done with it, her glasses that she would spread out and snap on her nose and talk in a funny voice that sounded like the mountain goats in Brookfield Zoo, and a big locket with somebody's face on the front that none of us could figure out who but Brownie said that it looked like Norman Thomas to her. That's because Norman Thomas came to the neighborhood last year and her father introduced Brownie to him and said "This is my daughter Rebecca" and Brownie was afraid that he would pat her on the head or maybe even pick her up so that he could get his picture taken, but he shook her hand and said "Good afternoon Miss Lefkowitz" and asked her if she would remember to fight for social justice whenever and wherever she could. But I didn't get to stay in 1a because I did something bad and they made me go to 2a where the kids were all bigger and I had to fight someone every recess for the whole first week. We used to sit in a circle and read the stories in Friendly Village in turns. It was a dopey book, 'cause everybody was named after colors, Mr. Grey, and Mrs. Green, and the blacksmith was Mr. White of all people, and Spot was always running and chasing a ball and never bit anybody at all. I have two dogs. Do you have any? They're both chows and everybody says that they're mean and should be put down but that's not fair because Buddy hardly ever makes trouble for anyone who doesn't make trouble for him but Teddy doesn't like anyone and likes to ride in the rumble seat of the car and growl at everybody we pass. I like to read, and Mrs. Buckingham -- her name is funny because Aunt Pearl and Aunt Florence live on the North Side and their telephone number is BUCKingham 3472, but Mrs. Buckingham said that she didn't know them -- would say, "That's good, Lynn" and call on the next person in line. But then one day Michael McGee pointed at me and said "Look everybody! He's holding his book upside down!" and everybody laughed at me. Mrs. Buckingham got out a different book and gave it to me and told me to hold it right side up and read the first page but I couldn't and then she told me to turn it upside down and read, and I did. Later that day they made me go to 2a where people beat me up until we were friends. Mrs McCarthy is my teacher now and she makes me stay after school and read from books rightside up. I can do it pretty good now but I didn't know that it was bad to read upside down. Honest, I didn't. But that's okay because it isn't school all the time and I'm getting all grown up now. I can sneak rides on the fenders on the back of the street cars and Wally the conductor on the Halstead Street car knows my mommy because she rides his car every morning when she goes to work in the Stockyards so he pretends not to see me and I figured out how transfers work, and sometimes people don't want their transfers and just drop them on the floor and I can pick them up and ride all over Chicago sitting in a seat just like the big people. I'll tell you what's fun is to catch a ride on the Halstead car east on a Saturday morning and get a transfer to catch the Stoney Island going North. If you change cars right, you can jump off and walk right into Field Museum and look at the great big fighting elephants that are just about to stick each other with their sharp tusks but never do but what I really like is to go up to the gem room and look at the big piece of jade the man told me was called "Great Thunder Mountain" and told the guard to make sure that I had a high stool whenever I came to look at it. He's a nice man and sometimes comes out to teach me how to look at it. He points out all of the people carved into it, everybody doing their own thing and going their own way, and has me tell a story about each one and then I'm supposed to take any two and try to see them both at once and to think about both of their stories at the same time. I can do that pretty good now, and the man says that now I should try to see three all at once and think of the stories of all three at the same time because he says that Great Thunder Mountain is a picture of the world and all of the different people in it. He says that if I can get to see all of the people and think of all of their stories at the same time, Great Thunder Mountain won't be a screen any more and it'll be a window looking to past where people are and what they do and I will see the face of Lord Amida. I told him that my daddy bought me a cereal bowl and milk pitcher for my birthday and if you ate all your cereal you could see a picture of Shirley Temple at the bottom and he said that the Lord Amida was a whole lot different and I'm glad of that because I don't like Shirley Temple. People are always saying how cute she is and you can tell that she thinks that she's so cute too. And then on Sundays I like to catch a ride on the Cottage Grove going towards the Loop, and change over to the Wentworth to get to 35th and Shields. Comiskey Park. Especially when Ted Lyons is pitching. Brownie says that Ted Lyons looks like Norman Thomas, but that's only because she's stuck on Norman Thomas and thinks that Buck Rogers looks like Norman Thomas too. I like Luke Appling because he plays shortstop and hits so many foul balls that the pitcher gets all red in the face and walks him and I got a baseball glove that has Luke Appling written on it from Santa Claus and so I go to the games whenever they're in town on Sundays. You don't need money if you know where to go and what do to but I'm not telling where those places and things are because then everybody would be getting in for free and they would shut those places up. But you can always look for some tourist at the ticket window fumbling with his wallet because tourists always hide their wallets and tie them down when they come to Chicago trying to buy a ticket and go to the turnstile and tell the ticket taker "My daddy's buying our tickets" and point to the tourist at the ticket window and slip under the bar and run when he looks up to see. I don't think they're fooled any more, but they don't say anything and you can watch from around the post when the tourist tries to get past the man. How old are you?

      Who am I?. I'm me and I live here. Where's here? It's the place where I am. It's somewhere way back in the head of the grown up person who made this thing. He comes here a lot 'specially since he got to be an old man and he sits and listens to me tell him all about things and sometimes he tells me that that's funny because he hadn't remembered that at all. He likes to hear about my mommy and daddy because he hasn't got any. What's his name? It's the same as mine. You wanna know something he likes to hear me tell about?

photograph of our car

There. That's my mommy and daddy driving our big Packard and that's me in the rumble seat. That's Buddy hanging out beside me and Teddy's curled up on the floor asleep but you can tell he's real happy because he snarls and growls and must be dreaming about biting someone, maybe the man next door who always says "That's a good dog" when he passes Teddy and Teddy knows that he isn't a good dog and doesn't want to be and he hates liars just as much as he hates everybody else. You can see mommy wearing her cap. My mommy is the most beautiful woman in the world and people sometimes says that she looks just like Mary Astor but Mary Astor is a movie star and they put lots of gunk on movie stars to make them pretty and my mommy goes to work at the Stockyards Cafeteria at 5:00 every morning except Sunday and is beautiful anyway. That's my daddy sitting next to her. My daddy is awfully smart. He can make any engine go and can build a new carburetor on his machines if the man wants it and he's done everything in the world. He used to play the straight sax and still sits with it sometimes and tries to play it but it doesn't work because his lip is too stiff from when he was hit with a pipe by the goons they brought in from Detroit to bust up the strike and now he has false teeth that he can take out and everything. Daddy says that it's not so bad. It's not like he was shot by the cops like they shot Grandfather Gus in the big parade and he had to walk around and have Uncle Justus Carlssen call him Gimpy Gus but he got a man to take out the bullet and then he polished it up and wears it on his watch chain when he goes to the tavern on Saturday nights to talk Swedish with the old people. Grandfather Gus was a sailor and he had lots of things happen to him that he tells me about, like when his ship was almost sunk by the terrible floating rocks of Rio and how the winds blow off the almond groves and smell so good when you lie off Palma. He says that I can run away to sea when I'm fourteen years old like he did and he might come with me and we'll see the black sand beaches of Bali and anchor under the walls of Cartagena and tack up the Mekong to Tonle Sap. I have another grandfather too. His name is Bomp and my grandmother's name is Donnie and they live way up in Canada and I'm going to live with them someday and he says that when I kill my first deer and he bloods me he'll be almost as happy as the day I was born. But even if his lip is stiff, Daddy still takes mommy dancing where the music is real good and he sometimes takes me to places where they don't let children go to listen to the music but he hasn't heard Sidney Bechet for ever so long and he says that he's going to have to go to France if Sidney doesn't come back soon. But he won't because we don't have enough money to go to France. France is a long, long ways away. He did have money to get the Packard, though, and it's a real good car. He said he got it for a song, but he really paid money for it and he says that in these times anybody who has just a little money to spare can get some really good things because there are lots of people with nice things and no money at all. When? 1937. No, it won't ever be 1938 here. It's always going to be 1937 and I'm always going to be six years old. That's the way things are in the back of a grown-up's mind I guess. I suppose that 1938 is back here somewhere and maybe he goes there sometimes but he says that this is his favorite place just like the rumble seat of the Packard when we all go for a Sunday drive in the Fall is my favorite place in the whole world. Daddy says all of a sudden, "Say, don't we need some cheese?" and we all start getting ready because it means that we're going to drive up to Wisconsin and Teddy hardly growls at all because he doesn't like people but he does like cheese. He likes cheese a lot. He likes me to take a piece of cheese and hold it against his nose and we look at each other for a long time. Then I left go of the piece of cheese and Teddy tries to grab it in his mouth. He wags his tail when we play together but he doesn't want anyone else to know he does that or even that he likes to play. When I go to bed, Buddy always lies down on a soft rug but Teddy gets under the bed and growls when mommy tucks me in. When he thinks that everybody is asleep he comes out and gets up and the bed and Buddy comes up too and we all snuggle together and go to sleep. When daddy calls me for breakfast, Teddy's back under the bed and growls at Daddy and Buddy is asleep on his rug. Daddy knows about Teddy sleeping on the bed but he doesn't say anything because he says Teddy is a proud dog and we shouldn't embarrass him. And so we go off over to the Outer Drive, which is all new and hasn't got hardly any bumps at all and past where they built Stony Point out into the lake and put great big blocks of stone all around it and sometimes we stop at the Michigan Avenue Bridge because down underneath there are a lot of funny little stores and you can get a big bag of smoked shrimp in one of them. And then we keep going North through all the ritzy places along the Lake and Mommy says that they're nice but they smell so bland that they have no character and we all laugh and we get to Wisconsin and buy a bunch of cheese just over the state line and start on our way back sometimes going down the Fox River Valley and sometimes some other way. By the time we get back onto the Outer Drive, Buddy and Teddy and I have eaten up all the shrimp and a lot of cheese and it's getting dark and the breeze is coming real cool off the Lake and then Mommy starts singing and we sing Highways are happy ways when they lead the way to home, and Pack up all your cares and woe, here I go, singin' low, bye, bye Blackbird, to where somebody waits for me, sugar's sweet, and so is she, bye, bye blackbird, ain't no one can love or understand me, all the hard-luck stories they all hand me, so make my bed and light the light, I'll arrive late tonight, Blackbird, bye, bye, Red sails in the sunset, far over the sea, red sails in the sunset will bring you to me, Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile, While you've a lucifer to light your fag, smile, boys, that's the style, Just me and my shadow, walking down the avenue, wave the flag for old Chicago, maroon's our color grand, The Roses are blooming in Picardy, Charmaine, I wanna be loved by you, by you and nobody else will do, I wanna be loved by you, and you alone, boop-boop-a-doop, I dreamt I saw Joe Hill last night alive as you and me, but Joe you're ten years dead said I, said Joe, but I ain't dead, Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town, Happy days are here again, and a lot of others that the old man who comes here can hardly remember until I remind him. And then it gets cold and dark, and Buddy, Teddy, and I all snuggle down together on the floor of the rumble seat and keep each other toasty warm and then its morning and Daddy is calling for me to get out of bed and have some breakfast and take Buddy and Teddy for a walk and then it's time to go to school again. The old man says that this is the happiest time of our life, but who can believe what a grown-up says?

KanColl          Articles