West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

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In October of 1929, at the beginning of my second year at Providence High School, I went to Straus & Shram on 35th Street, and I was offered a job at $8 a week.

I would have to go to continuation school one day a week, but first I had to go to the Board of Education to take an exam to see if I was qualified to work. They said I could take the job if I had my tonsils out.

So I called the doctor, and he said the total fee would probably be about $50, including the hospital. So I came home and told my father and mother that I was to have my tonsils out.

My father sat there for a while, and then he said, "At $8 a week it'll take you seven weeks to pay for your tonsils. Well, by that time it'll be Christmas. Now if we don't starve between now and Christmas, I don't think we'll starve between Christmas and May." So I stayed in school.

And I still have my tonsils. Back when I was a kid, almost everybody had their tonsils out. They would take a whole family to the hospital.

One time Ed and I were to have our tonsils out. I was about eight, and he was five or six. So the appointment was made. The morning we were to go, my mother went in to my father and said, "If these kids are going to the hospital you'll have to take them."

He said, "I can't take off work."

She said, "Well, I'm not going to take them. I had a dream last night about my mother. She said to me, 'If you don't want those kids, I do.'" And my mother told my father, "I am not taking them." And so we never had our tonsils out.

Years later we had a cousin who died having her tonsils out. She never got to the operation. She died after getting the anesthetic. She was six.

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