West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

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Vince's mother died a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. She had a stroke. She'd been sick for a while.

She had high blood pressure, and she was desperate because she couldn't get a job. She was all of 49 years old, but she was too old to work. She'd always had these really good jobs. She was secretary to the manager of the Century of Progress, and then she was secretary to the editor of the Chicago Journal of Commerce. But nobody would hire her anymore.

The wake was on New Year's Eve at Vince's Aunt Agnes's, on the south side. The whole family was there, and Agnes served wine to everybody. They had a great big living room. This is where Vince's mother was laid out.

It was almost midnight. George, a friend of Vince's mother, was telling a story, and the clocks were ticking--they had one of these big clocks. It struck midnight. Well, George didn't stop telling his story. He kept going straight through to the end. My father had a fit. He didn't stop talking about that for years. He said it was the first time in his life that he ever knew a man who wouldn't stop what he was doing at midnight on New Year's.

The funeral was the 2nd of January, and it was freezing cold. My father was a pallbearer, and he was standing at the grave with his hat in his hand. All the women were saying, "Mr. Ryan, put your hat on."

He said, "I have never stood in the presence of the dead with my hat on, and I won't do it now." He was from the old school.

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