West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

West Side Stories 

By Mary Jo Clark as told to Jack Clark

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When the Depression hit in 1929 my mother called the Kausuel Coal Company one day and asked them to send a ton of coal, which was $7. She'd bought from them for 20 years.

They said, "Is it cash or charge?"

My mother said, "Charge."

The man asked her to hold on, and then he came back and said, "We're sorry, Mrs. Ryan. You've always paid cash. There must be something terribly wrong that you're asking for credit."

That afternoon she got dressed up and went down to the 12th Street Store. She bought us a brand-new living-room set, including a new rug and lamps. Five dollars down and five dollars a month. She said, "Nobody will ever tell me again that I have no credit."

We were the most stunned kids in the world. By that time we were teenage, and to get a new rug and living-room set, lamps....And that's how it came--because the Kausuel Coal Company wouldn't give her the coal on credit.

She never bought from them again. She called another company to get her coal.

The coal was always in the shed, and you brought it up in buckets, carried it up the stairs. My dad brought it up, but when Ed got big enough that was his job, to haul up the coal.

We had a great big coal stove in our living room. What did they call it? A hot-blast stove. It burned hard coal.

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