West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

West Side Stories 

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In Orlando I got a job at the ration board. I used to work late sometimes. There was a janitor, a black janitor, and he would be sweeping the floors. One night he said to me, "You're from a northern state aren't you?"

I said, "Yes, Chicago."

He said, "A world of difference. A world of difference." He kept muttering that as he swept.

I had many experiences with black people in Orlando, and I decided that we treated them much better in Chicago. But then when I came back to Chicago I saw how they were being pushed around.

When I was at the ration board there was this girl who came in. She was from the east somewhere, and her husband was in the service. She was black. She went to a shoe store and bought a pair of shoes, and then she looked in the window of another shoe store and found the same shoes for a lot less. So she went back to the store to get her money back. He refused to give it to her, and his excuse was, well, I have your shoe stamp, and I can't put the shoe stamp back in your ration book. So she came over to the ration board, and we wrote her a letter saying that we would be very happy to give her a new shoe stamp, and he could keep the one he had. "We know you want to please the customer."

So he gave her the money back, and she was forever grateful.

One day she came to the house to visit. Ma was down there at the time. Anyway, this girl forgot her sweater. Ma went to the door and yelled, "Miss, miss! You left your sweater."

When ma came back inside I said, "Ma, you can't do that. You can't call 'em 'miss' down here." It was against the social order. You were supposed to call 'em girl, I guess.

Ma said, "Well, I don't go for that sort of stuff. She's miss to me."

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More by Mary Jo Clark as told to Jack Clark

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