West Side Stories 

Happy 90th, Mary Jo!

We were living on Monroe Street with four children and with a landlady downstairs who didn't like us very much. So we were always looking for a house to buy, but we never had enough for the down payment. And nobody'd rent to us. We'd find places for rent, but nobody'd rent to you with four kids.

I remember one day we were going out to Oak Forest to look at a house. We were at about 146th and Halsted, and I said, "How much further?" Vince says, "Oh, it's a ways yet." I said, "Well, you better turn around. This is too far already."

Another time we went out to Hinsdale to see a place for $1,500 down. It was up on a hill. It was five rooms if you pulled a divider between a room and made two bedrooms out of it. My mother was going to be with us. It had a little sunroom off the living room, and we could make that a bedroom for her. It had a door you could close. It was just a little place, but at least she'd have her own room. The kids could have the two bedrooms with the divider, and then there was one other bedroom.

There was a pond down at the bottom of this big hill in front of the house. As soon as I saw the pond I thought of my kids, and that was as far as I'd go. Vince was sort of for it because it was only $1,500 down, and we had that much. But he didn't like the pond either. So we decided that was not it.

One day I see an ad in the paper. A six-room house for rent--basement, attic. So I call up. I said, "Well, I have six children." This guy says, "That's OK."

He told me the house was only a few years old. He owned it with his sister. But his sister had gotten married and moved away, and what was a single guy going to do with a big house like this? So he decided to rent it. The house was in Wheaton. He told me the address, but he said, "Don't go out to see it before Friday, because we're doing some cleaning and stuff."

I can't remember what the rent was, but it wasn't a lot. We were paying $75 a month where we were.

He didn't ask for a deposit, but I thought if you want to make something solid you better give him one. So I said, "Would you accept a deposit?" He said, "Yes, if you want to give me one."

Well, when Vince left to go to work that morning I told him this guy was coming over and I'd need some money to give him. He said, "Well, OK, I'll put something on the mantel. You can give him that. But make sure he's not a crook." I said, "Oh, there's no problem there. I'll know if he's a crook."

The man came, and he sat down and told me some more about the house. I remember one of the things he said--he said when you ring the doorbell the chimes ring in the house. Of course I was just thrilled at this idea that we'd be getting out of this apartment.

I go over to the mantel, and I see five $10 bills. I think, well, he didn't ask me for a deposit, so I'll just give him $10. So I took one ten and gave it to him, and he wrote a receipt.

Then I said, "Come on in the bedroom and meet my mother. She'll be moving there with us."

My mother was in bed--this was after her stroke. She couldn't talk, just "Be-be-be-be-be." So I introduced them and told her about the house.

Well, he looked like he was ready to run out of there. He said, "Well, I'll be seeing you. I know you'll like the house." He hurried out of the bedroom, opened the door, and went down the stairs. I went back in, and my mother went, "Be-be-be-be-be-be."

I said, "What's wrong? You don't believe it?"

She went, "Be-be-be-be-be-be-be."

"You mean he's a crook?"

She nodded her head and said, "Be-be-be."

Two nights later we went to a church meeting, and we told all our friends that we were gonna get this house. They were sad that we were going to move away, but they were very happy for us.

My sister Marge was baby-sitting for us. When we came home, she says, "Oh, you had a call from the police station." They wanted us to call when we came in. So Vince calls, and they say, "We have a man here who's been renting a house in Wheaton. He was at your house, and you gave him a $10 deposit."

Vince said, "Yeah?"

"Well, he's rented it to 20 other people too."

I guess what happened, one of the people he rented to decided to drive out and see the house. They didn't care if they saw the inside. They had the address he'd given them, but when they got out there it was an institution of some kind, a school or something.

See, what he'd done, he'd rented a room in a rooming house, got a phone, and put an ad in the paper. The police caught him in bed.

Vince thought I was pretty sharp that I'd only given him $10. A lot of people had given him much more.

Mary Jo Clark's stories have been collected in On the Home Front: My Mother's Story of Everyday American Life From Prohibition Through World War II (A Plume Original, $12)

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