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03 April 2009 @ 10:14 pm
Random story from my (mother's) youth  
My mother used to tell stories about growing up in the Swedish slums of Chicago.

My mother was the 5th child after 4 stillborns, and thus was very precious to her parents. Yet, she was a little hyper and annoying at times. One of the things she remembered was during those World War II days was when they used to collect rags, scrap iron, and rubber for the war effort. My mother was never sure about where they actually went, but at age 5, she ran around when the "rag man" came by, screaming "RAGS AN' IRON!!!!" at the top of her lungs, just like the rag man did.

Her father was in the construction/demolition business, and sometimes he'd bring home stuff he'd find in buildings they were demolishing. This is how they ended up with a Tiffany lamp, for instance. But they were still very poor when she was growing up, and one of the stories about her father centered around this glass tabletop he had for the coffee table. Oh, how he loved this thing. To him, it was the symbol of the house's elegance. My mother didn't have a separate room growing up; she slept in the living room (when I was growing up, she said this misery made her determined I would have my own bedroom no matter where we lived). So she got the brunt of the warning and scolding about the glass top.

"DO NOT SCRATCH THE GLASS TOP!!!" she'd hear.

"DO NOT PUT YOUR FEET ON THE GLASS TOP!!" he'd warn.

And when he was cleaning this glass top, he'd take it off the table, and carefully wipe it down with cleaner until it was almost invisible. All the while he'd yell at anyone, his wife, my mother, not to step on the glass top while he was cleaning it. "Heaven forbid... any one of you...!" Then he would clean the wood table underneath, and ever so gently, he carefully put the large, fragile glass top back. I don't know how many years he did this, but the BIG ISSUE in the apartment they lived in was that glass top. It became a center of angst for my young mother.

One day, my grandfather was cleaning the glass top as he usually did. On this particular day, he was very angry and made a very big deal about my mother running around the house while he cleaned it. He warned that she would step on the top while he was cleaning it, and go stay in the kitchen while he cleaned. He got so worked up about it, at some point, there came a resounding *CCRACK* from inside the living room.

My grandfather stood there, looking down at his own foot, surrounded by a spiderweb of cracks. He had stepped on the glass top.

My mother told me this story over and over as I was growing up. I know I kind of surrounded this mini fable with a little embellishment, but I wanted to emphasize how my mother's eyes lit up with glee when she told it to me. It is almost not a story at all, and I am not sure what moral tale one could spin from this, except perhaps a weak sort of karma. "Don't yell at people or you'll do the thing you yelled at them about that they hadn't done..." or something. But this story was important to my mother.

And I wanted to plant this seed in all my readers, so she's not forgotten.
 
 
 
Vamacharavamachara on April 4th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
Hahaha. Awesome story. I highly enjoyed reading it.
wolfdancer on April 4th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
woot
I could see this happening.
My mom shard a room with her brother mom and dad. She has a story about a car much like this.
miss her too.
(Anonymous) on April 4th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
from Missie
I knew you had cousins in Sweden, but I didn't know your mom actually grew up there. Thanks for sharing this piece of her!
punkwalruspunkwalrus on April 4th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
Re: from Missie
No, she was born and raised in Chicago. Three of my grandparents grew up in Sweden, though.
(Anonymous) on April 6th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
Two things Greg.
1. I will always remember your mom as long as I live. I can picture her in my mind almost as well as my own mom. She was a great lady.
2. Any idea where in Chicago she lived? Likely on the North side close the where I work. There was a huge Swedish neighborhood here, but these days it is thinning out. The swedish deli I went to for years is gone :(

Mike D
punkwalruspunkwalrus on April 7th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
I am told by my uncle, on a street called Addison, close to Wrigley Field and Clark Street.
(Anonymous) on April 7th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Ok, Northside like I had figured, but a little south of where I was thinking of. I lived a block or two from Wrigley from like 93-98. Corner of Addison and Clark is Wrigley field. Interesting to know that I lived so close to where your mom grew up. Now I'm out in the Burbs. I need to get down to DC sometime. Nobody here makes General Tso's as good as that place in Mclean. Peking Imperial I think it was called. And I liked the Chicago pizza at Rocco's more than any place here that I have tried. Maybe it is just because I grew up with it.

Mike D
Sister Straight Razor of Toleranceninjacooter on April 6th, 2009 09:57 pm (UTC)
That is brilliant :)