West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

West Side Stories 

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My mother got sick when I was in eighth grade. We were all going to church, ma and the four kids. It was December 8, 1927. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day. When we got to the corner of Harrison and Albany she said, "I've got to go home. I have a pain in my chest. You kids go on to mass."

So she went home and she went to bed, and she never got out of bed until Easter Sunday. She had pleurisy.

She was in bed for all those months. At first I stayed home from school and did what I could for her. About the middle of January we got Mrs. Ahern, who lived two doors down, to stay with her, and I went back to school.

My mother had Dr. Sullivan first. His office was at 12th and Crawford, and he mixed his own medicine. He came to visit her the first time, and I rode back with him. He mixed the medicine and gave me the bottles, and I brought it home. She started taking the medicine, but then after a while she swore the medicine was making her worse.

My father was working on the Stevens Hotel, so he was out till ten o'clock at night. They were working all this overtime trying to finish.

She kept screaming the medicine was killing her. One night she was so bad that I ran next door and asked Mrs. McLaughlin if she could give me the name of her doctor. We called him, and he wasn't available. So then we went to the next house, Mrs. Lally, and she gave me the name of her doctor, Dr. Williams. I called him and he came.

He said, "Well, yes, the medicine is a little too strong." That was all he'd say about it. He took care of her from then on. He didn't mix his own medicine.

She had this ointment she used to rub on her chest. She couldn't breath. She had to rub this stuff on her all the time. She didn't have any energy.

The funny thing, when she got better she said, "Well, who couldn't make a person well if you stayed in bed all the time?" That's what she thought, that the doctor made her better by keeping her in bed all that time.

I don't know how many times the priest came. Us four kids would kneel on the floor at the foot of the bed, and he would anoint her and give her the last rites. And she would always bounce back.

On Easter she got up. When I think back on that now, it was always in the back of my mind that she was gonna die. See, her mother died when she was 12, and pa's mother died when he was about 12.

But my mother got better, and in June I graduated from Our Lady of Sorrows.

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