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West Side Stories

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by Mary Jo Clark as told to Jack Clark

In 1926 our downstairs neighbor told us that the man he worked for had a piano to sell. The man had bought the piano for his daughter, but she'd died, and he wanted to find somebody who would really use it. So my mother and my sister Marge and I went one night. The piano was brand new. Rosewood. Beautiful. Marge and I both played it.

My mother said, "How much?"

The man said, "Fifty dollars."

My mother said, "Well, I didn't bring my money with me. I'll go home and see. I have to consult my husband."

When we got home we found that the Kincaids had come over. They knew where there was a car for $50, and my father had bought it.

Instead of going back to the man and saying, well, I don't have the money now, but we really would like the piano, and we can pay a little at a time or something, nothing was said, and he sold it to someone else.

One day the man said to our neighbor, "You know, I can't understand that Mrs. Ryan. Those girls loved that piano. Why didn't she want it?"

"Oh, her husband went and used the money to buy a car."

He said, "I'd have given them the piano."

So that was our piano.

The car was one of those Fords with the round windows in the back. We were very excited about it. Of course we were all scared because we thought Pa didn't know how to drive.

We made a few trips. I remember once my father wanted to take us to his old school, a little red one-room schoolhouse that was out near the old family farm, around 131st and Wolf Road. This is where he got all of his schooling, all three years.

We drove around but couldn't find the school, and the roads were narrow and dangerous.

The last place we went to was Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill's. They lived on a truck farm in Sycamore.

When we were leaving Aunt Maggie loaded us up with all these fruits and vegetables and a bottle of homemade wine. On the way back we had an accident. We went off the road on Harrison Street, just east of Mount Carmel Cemetery, near where the town hall used to be in Hillside. In those days it was a very small town.

They were doing some repairs on the road, and there were pipes you had to go around. As my father went to go around the pipes, a bus was coming the other way and wasn't making any attempt to move over or stop. So Pa hit the pipes, and we went in the ditch.

Everybody was out on the road, waving and yelling. I'm like dead down in the bottom of the car, and I hear my mother yelling, "Where's Jo? Where's Jo?"

By the time they got back to the car I came to. I was the only one hurt. I had a cut on my leg.

But we were all covered with red stuff from the strawberries and whatever else.

The wife of the mayor came down the road and took us to the town hall, and we went in the washroom and cleaned up.

I do not recall how we got home.

The next day my father went out to talk to the town police, and they said, "Well, it's very simple. You were drunk."

They said, "You can smell the liquor all over the car."

That was the bottle of homemade wine.

Anyway, he got the car fixed, but nobody would ride with him again. We all absolutely refused.

So he drove it to work. He was working up on the North Shore, Highland Park or one of those places. Marble work.

He was coming home one night, and the car got a flat tire. A couple of kids came along, young boys, and offered to help. They fixed the flat. My father thought they were nice kids, and he asked them if they'd like to buy the car.

They said, "Sure."

He said, "How much have you got between you?"

"Twenty dollars."

"OK, it's yours."

He gave them the car for $20.

And that was the last car we had in the family. What'd he need it for if no one was going to ride with him?

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