West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

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In 1936 I got $50 from Sears as a bonus for their 50th year in business. I wanted to buy a used dining-room set for the family, but my mother wouldn't let me. She said I had to spend it on myself, and I wanted something that would last.

So I decided I'd use it to go to school. I read about this place where you could take a three-month course and go to the University of Illinois and take the exam and get high school credits. So I went. I took Latin, economic theory, and some kind of English or something. I got the three high school credits, but I didn't have any more money.

I tried going to Crane High School once, and it was so awful.

But now we were living in Austin, so in 1937 I went to Austin High. I took an English-literature course two nights a week.

The second night of the course this guy walks in and takes the seat in front of me. He hadn't been in class the first night. So the teacher told him that since he was late, she would like him to write a list of the books he'd read.

So this guy is sitting in front of me, and he starts writing. He's writing. He's writing. He's writing. And I'm thinking, where has he been all his life? How could anybody possibly read all those books? But, you know, he had read and read and read and read. And so he just went on and on, writing down books, author at a time. Class was almost over, and he was still writing.

So one day there in class we were reading something from old literature, and the teacher asked, "What does that refer to?"

A guy in the back of the class said, "That refers to going to confession."

Vince turns back to me like this and says, "Oh, there's a Catholic in the crowd."

I said, "So what?"

That's the first thing we ever said to each other.

After that he started to walk with us. I used to meet this whole crowd of girls going home. There was Rosemarie, Anna Mae, and Madeline Carroll, and a couple of others.

The English-literature class was in the old building, which was torn down years ago. It was right behind the new building, which wasn't very new even then.

Anyway, one night Vince says to me, "Who are you waiting for?"

I said, "Oh, just a group of girls. We walk home together." They came out, and I introduced him--and he just walked along with us. So every night it was the usual thing that he would walk along with us.

We used to go to the drugstore at Laramie and Madison--this was when we still lived on Jackson. A group of girls used to have a Coke after school. Vince would come in to buy his mother a pack of cigarettes. I would think, gee, he must have a very modern, up-to-date mother, you know, if she smokes.

Anyway, one night on the way to the drugstore he said to me, "How would you like to go roller-skating Sunday?"

Well, I'd never thought about going out with him, and I said, "Oh, no, I don't think so."

He said, "Well, here, take this book and let me know what you think about it." It was Human Being by Christopher Morley. I'd like to read it again someday to see what it's like, because I don't remember a word of it.

We all went into the drugstore, and he got his cigarettes for his mother and went home. I sat down at the table and I said, "Vince asked me out."

Anna Mae said, "Oh, when are you going?"

I said, "I'm not going."

She said, "Why not?"

I said, "I don't know. I just don't feel like it."

She said, "Well, I wish he'd asked me."

After we were married we used to go visit Anna Mae's mother every New Year's Day. She liked a dark-haired man to come visit her on New Year's Day. She said it was good luck. And every time we came she'd say, "Vince, why didn't you choose Anna Mae?" It was funny.

So anyway, that's my story of Austin High School and how I met my husband.

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