Chicago in the 1940’s, just after the war, some houses I visited had no furniture or maybe just a card table with two chairs like the Honeymooners. I was only four or five. Down the street I went to play with a boy and his sister and they had a broken telephone as the only toy in an empty living room.
My grandparents lived in a tenement. Their apartment had a bed that folded into the wall. It is called a Murphy bed. In the back was an interior courtyard for all the tenements. Kids played, roller skated, caroused and stairs climbed up from the ground level to all the floors. Wash was drying everywhere and the sounds of life were bouncing back and forth from all directions.
My grandpa Ed was a good-looking man, tall with strong features, especially his Roman nose. His people had come from Austria sometime back, not long. He had no education at all nor my grandmother. When he had to write something, he wet the “lead pencil” with his tongue. My grandpa was as bald as I am; I liked to stick those suction cup arrows on his dome. He enjoyed that. He smoked cigars, wore a long wool overcoat, and had a vest which held a pocket watch on a chain.
My grandpa called me Old Timer and gave me sen sen when we went to the corner store to buy cigars. Sen sen was a breath freshener that had a licorice taste. I was just four years old when he took me to see “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” with John Wayne and a lot of Hollywood Indians. I still remember it, sitting next to him in the dark theater, smelling the cigar smoke on his old overcoat, watching the action on the big screen. My father probably had given him a few bucks to take me around and I know my strict grandmother told him directly not to take me to the movies. She knew he loved the movies.
Grandpa’s career needed help. One new job required him to be up early in the morning, maybe about six. He was up and ready for sure and out on the street in front of the old apartment building. He waited and waited. Finally, somebody noticed him and asked what he was doing. That is when he learned it was 2 AM.
Another job he had was painting a flagpole. Up high, he forgot where he was, reached for the paint can and fell, breaking an arm.
Next he became an assistant jailer. Grandpa was well liked. With him there was nothing not to like. So, when a prisoner complained about the heat and wanted the window open. Grandpa gave him the keys and went about his business of sweeping up. Next he knew, the window was open and the prisoner gone..
A wealthy man thought grandpa would be a fitting chauffer. That went well for a while despite the big sedan never getting out of second gear. Unfortunately, after cleaning the car one morning, grandpa backed out of the garage with the passenger door open. Goodbye door; goodbye job.
We moved to New York shortly after and we didn’t see them much anymore. My father had moved far beyond his humble background. Probably that was the reason.