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West Side Stories



The people who owned the building where we lived wanted our flat for their son. Now, apartments were very difficult to find in 1920. So my mother and father went looking. They looked at this flat on Flournoy Street, but the man said, "No, I don't want children."

So they went to other places, and one woman said, "You have four children? Oh, we can only take three."

And my father said, "Oh, that's fine. We'll drown the yongest."

They went quite a few months without finding an apartment.

After a while the landlord, Mrs. Graham, who had been my mother's good freind, decided to evict us. She got an eviction notice against us. My father was working, so he couldn't go. My mother went to court alone and stood in front of the judge and said, "We've tried and tried, but we haven't been able to find an apartment."

Mrs. Graham said, "But judge, they never pay the rent."

My mother opened her purse and gave him all the rent receipts. She always insisted after that, "Always get a receipt for your money, 'cause you never know when your friends will turn on you." She gave the judge the receipts, and the judge said, "Mrs. Ryan, you can have as long as it takes to find an apartment."

She liked the Our Lady of Sorrows neighborhood because of the church, which was not too old at that time. So she went back to that neighborhood, and wherever she saw a sign she'd go in. And it would be the same story--where they didn't want kids.

She went by the same house she'd gone to before on Flournoy Street and saw that there were still no curtains on the first-floor windows. So she rang the doorbell, and Mrs. Boyle came to the door. My mother said, "Do you remember, I was here before?"

Mrs. Boyle said, "Yes, I remember you."

My mother said, "Well, I was wondering if you knew where there was another apartment?"

She said, "Well, why don't you look at this apartment?"

Ma said, "He wouldn't rent it to me 'cause I have children."

Mrs. Boyle said, "He has nothing to do with it now. I own the building."

So the day we were moving, my mother was to take the children to the new house while my father stayed with the movers and to make sure the house was cleaned and everything.

My father told my mother, "Now, the easiest way to go is to get on the 12th Street car and go to Sacramento, and then you're only a few blocks away."

So here's my mother, who was a very little woman, with these three kids and with Rosemarie--who weighed 20 pounds on the day before her first birthday--carrying this child all the way from 12th Street to Flournoy, which was a block before Harrison Street. I can still remember her with these straggling kids.

We got to Flournoy Street, and my mother is just exhausted beyond belief--and she sees a streetcar going past on Harrison Street. She cursed my father. He knew there was a car on Harrison, but he thought it would be harder for her to transfer than to walk a few blocks.

So we made it. And when we go there, Mrs. Keane, who lived on the third floor, came down and brought us a big box of fruit. She said it was from Mrs. Boyle, who was out, to welcome us to our new home.

My mother loved Our Lady of Sorrows. And after she found the apartment she said, "We're never going to move out of this parish till you kids are out of school." And that's what happened. We stayed in the neighborhood until 1937.

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