West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

West Side Stories 

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The postcard came on Christmas Eve 1919. My mother went to the mailbox. She was carrying Rosemarie, who was about six months old. She got the postcard out of the mailbox, and she read it. She started to cry, and she was walking up and down and up and down the house crying. And I'm holding on to the back of her apron, following her up and down the house.

The card was from her stepmother in Saint Louis. It was written in pencil with a penny stamp on it saying, "I'm sorry to tell you that my dear husband and your father died October 24." There was something about how she was so brokenhearted about it. But why didn't she let her know sooner?

Now my mother's real mother had died when she was 12 years old, and not long after, her father remarried. His new wife insisted that my mother go to work, so her father, Patrick Hennessy, went down to his friend Mr. Copelind at the Copelind Studios on Dearborn Street and asked if he could put her to work. My mother was 13 or 14 years old. She quit Saint Patrick's several months before the end of eighth grade. But they gave her her diploma.

So she became a commercial color artist. She colored black-and-white photos so the salesmen would have a natural-looking photograph. This was before color photography.

She worked at Copelind for 11 years until she got married. She had to quit when she got married. Married women didn't work.

My mother never got along with her stepmother. She said people in the neighborhood used to call the new wife the "Black Widow." People were upset about her father remarrying so soon after his wife had died.

Patrick Hennessy worked for a stove company, and after he remarried he moved to Saint Louis to become president of the company. He would keep in touch with my mother with cards and letters. And he'd come visit us when he was in town, with this little fur hat on top of his head and this little mustache. That's how I always remember my grandfather--a tall man with a mustache and a black fur hat.

My mother had always thought he was very well fixed. He'd always had a good job, and he always sent her money. That's how she found out he was dead. She wrote to him the beginning of December, because he always wrote around Thanksgiving and sent money to buy things for the kids for Christmas.

When she didn't get a letter and she didn't get any money, she wrote and asked if he was well. And this penny postcard was in response to her letter. I still have the card.

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