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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“You can’t go home again.”—Thomas Wolfe

I could see Uncle Leonard’s tavern from our front window.  If I ran to that apartment window at 1623 West Buren in Chicago, I could look east and look west.  I could see the spire of our church, Saint Jarlath’s, where I attended 1st and 2nd grades, and made my First Confession and First Holy Communion. 

First Holy Communion

Our apartment home, with the “L” in the back alleyway, where my sister and I played among dirt and old cars and just junk, our apartment is long gone out of our lives since the condemnation and razing of the neighborhood to make way for the future Congress Street Expressway.

Evicted, we made our Joad Family-like trip to the South Side, and new lives for the next ten years.  

The years preceding our exodus were filled with memoriesofatime—and writing this now (and reading it at some future time) encourages my brain synapses to fire up again and again.  There is no lack of memory brain matter from some-seventy years ago.

But about that bay window in our apartment.  (The song lyrics humming around now: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone . . . the rainbow . . . a bright sunshiny day . . ..”)  On a clear day I could see forever.  I could see Uncle Leonard’s tavern to the east, not far past “our border,” Ashland Avenue (1600 West as the Street Directory shows).

Ashland was as far as we were allowed, my sister and I.  In our neighborhood, it was the busy street to the east, too busy for the likes of young children to cross over to the other side.

“Where do you live?”  “Ashland and Van Buren,” we would answer.  On the corner, the drug store and the mailbox, two significant markers then in our lives.  Where else to get Adams Black Jack chewing gum after mailing a letter?

(I recall one incident when I was so excited about going to the drug store that I mailed the letter first—then realizing it had no stamp.  In the drug store I tearfully related my plight; I cried at the realization that there was nothing I could do except tell my mother about my young impetuousness wanting gum equals getting stamp, mailing letter, then the gum.  Good old-fashioned Catholic delayed gratification gone awry.  “Live and learn.”  I’ve not forgotten.)

And not to forget that bay window: I could see Leonard’s Tavern from the apartment.  I could see my dad’s (our) 1937 Plymouth parked in front of the tavern, stopped there after his work route.

MARTY O’NEIL AND LILLIAN SCHUMA

That tavern was a real watering hole for my sister and me as our parents frequented that place as a social club on Saturday nights.

What I remember most about Leonard’s Tavern was the painting over the bar, the smells from the “Men’s,” and the story my dad told us about the foiled robbery.

The story of General Armstrong Custer has always fascinated me in my search for “the real story.”  I didn’t know much about the cause of the conflict and the Battle of Little Big Horn.  What I learned came from the Anheuser Busch replication of Custer’s Last Fight which was displayed facing the bar.  What ever possessed my Uncle Leonard (not a real uncle but my dad’s good friend whom we knew then as “uncle.”) As a youngin in first and second grade I was ignorant of it all.

 So, there is the tragic General Custer, frozen in time, surrounded by bodies and 7th Cavalry troopers fighting to their deaths.  I would sit on a bar stool, transfixed by the glory of it all, ignorant of the truth and the stupidity of the foolhardy, but transfixed by the smoke of gunpowder, the gore of it all, riles and Custer’s sword raised, tomahawks dealing death, knives scalping, all the din of battle.

What was this reproduction painting doing in the tavern in Chicago?  I never found out why—or how it got its place.  What I am sure of is that this painting led me down a path of history and my trip through They Died with Their Boots On (1941), time with Errol Flynn.  Especially the paths of war and battles, D-Day, Saving Private Ryan, Audie Murphy (heroic American soldier), A Bridge Too Far.

There sits this kid on a bar stool, head in hands, elbows on the tavern bar, gazing at and lost in a painting, compliments of a beer company.  What a strange sight (perhaps a Steven Spielberg moment?)

While my parents were drinking, and laughing, I drank “orange pop.”  Always orange pop, never “soda.”  I don’t recall darts and dartboards, pool tables (not yet wide screen television with football or Days of Our Lives), or card playing.  Just juke box music and laughing.

“I have to pee.”

There was the toilet room: “Men’s,” a dark, green room, with a ceramic trough that had a pipe running its length, constantly dripping water that ran to a center drain.  I was hardly tall enough to reach to urinate.  But I managed.  And so many troughs later, I was urinating in the same kinds in England and in other “bathrooms” in my life, with smells of tobacco smoke and urine, and wet damp floors.  And plumbing pipes dripping water.

My dad was hardly ever seen without a long sleeve shirt.  He always wore an undershirt, a “Dago-T,” with its straps and body-builder shape.  My dad had strange-looking scars on his upper left arm, scars like circles and indentations. We didn’t often see those marks, but we knew the story about how he got them.

The entrance to “Leonard’s” was on Van Buren Street, at street level.  The “joint” was part of a building above.  As you entered, there were no stairs or steps down, but a kind of ramp which led you into the bar area.

 I remember pipes or railings to hang onto as I made my way down the ramp.  Then you were there: bar, tables, chairs, talk, and drinks.

My dad had many friends, some of them on the police force.  (“Uncle” Sam Spinelli was one of my favorites.)  The story goes that one evening my dad and one of his policemen friends were going into the tavern (long before he and my mom married; he was a young man).  As they made their way in, and down the ramp, my dad’s policeman friend shouted that a robbery was taking place.  A blast from a shotgun killed the policeman.  As he fell, my dad tells, my dad went down but received a shotgun blast to his upper left arm and shoulder.  What took place after that I don’t ever remember hearing about except that he was gravely injured and nearly lost his arm.

Thus, my dad’s scars.

The tavern is gone.  After destruction, demolition, and building, the streets, like Van Buren and Ashland, do still exist and operate.  I found a map to a Currency Exchange at 1600 West Van Buren, and the Chicago Transit bus has a stop at Ashland and Van Buren, both streets being major thoroughfares in the city, major routes to the downtown area and “The Loop.”

I have some great memories of growing up, some good, some bad, some not so bad.  I have some great history, as I see it, containing narratives that are worth sharing with others.

For “No creative idea’s ever wasted.” [From the movie The Noel Diary, 2022]

©  James F. O’Neil 2023 February

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens:  “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

“Why the emperor of ice cream?  It’s an odd combination: an absolute, imperial power and a benign, sweet treat.  Ice cream is a sensuous delight, eagerly anticipated and gleefully consumed.  If you wait too long to eat it, it’ll melt.  So much for the ice cream–now what about the emperor?

“Ice cream is like life: sweet, or at least hungrily indulged in, while it lasts.  It’s also like the dead: cold and destined to be consumed or to dissipate away.  Perhaps, then, the line that closes each stanza is a wake-up call to readers.  If the “only emperor” or dominant principle of the world is the one we’re reminded of when we see ice cream melting–(or, in a different way, when we attend a funeral  [shown in the poem])–we’d be well advised to heed it and make each moment count.”  –Austin Allen, Poetry [magazine] Foundation

Once upon a time: Rainbow cones on the South Side: 93rd and Western in Chicago.

RAINBOW CONE chicago

There see the giant cone, with five or six colors in slices–not scoops–of ice cream piled on top of one another. 

We screamed with excitement for ice cream as our family made its special way farther south of our Marshfield home.  It was a drive from Marquette Boulevard.  No quick 45-mph trip like today.  Probably in the green ’52 Chevy, 25-30 mph, with plenty of stoplights interrupting the special occasion.

Now when it comes to memories in time about flavors, I don’t recall any special Rainbow offerings, but the colors were vibrant.  This is embedded in me.  And in days before Rainbow–and after–ice cream has been a special weakness of mine.  Not as an addiction, like anything-chocolate, but as that special “Good Nutrition My Plate” (nestled within the perfect food container that not only holds but is eaten) with its various food groups which include NUTS (coco-nut and chocolate peanut butter, pistachio and black walnut); FRUITS (like White House Cherry and rum raisin); DAIRY (lemon gelato and butter pecan);  PROTEIN (egg nog and phish food, and chunky monkey and chocolate Moose-tracks); VEGETABLES (carrot-cake and chocolate malted and mint chocolate chip); GRAINS (chocolate cookie dough, and Grape-nuts).

my plate image

However, Rainbow was but one special source of providing me with melting gustatory delights.  No doubt about it, Good Humor was like no other.

good-humor

The bells of the truck signaled the Coming of the Man in White. He enticed us kids to come outside our homes or from our apartments, or made us stop dead in our playing-tracks.  If we had the twenty or twenty-five cents, our saved nickels and dimes, we made our purchases.

good-humor-man good humor dot comAnd?  “Coconut for me, please.”  The delicious-tasting ice cream bar on a stick, covered completely with a thin coat of white-something loaded with coconuts pieces.  Heaven as I ate it.  Heavenly.  If my favorite was not available, I had to settle for something like chocolate cake or perhaps succumb to savoring an orange creamsickle:

good humor orange creamsickle

Good Humor exists today, in supermarkets, in 7-11, in other places, and even with a few trucks in certain neighborhood locations.  “But it’s not the same.”  Yet I would never turn down a chocolate eclair, a toasted almond, or even a strawberry shortcake bar.

Howard Johnson’s at some time was a place I remember first seeing coconut milk on the menu.  I thought that it would provide me with a special ice cream treat: a coconut milk milkshake.  O YES!  YES!  YES!  And then, later, I asked, “A coconut malted milkshake, please.”  The nectar of the gods for sure!

Gus Pappas died in 1987.  He was 83–and that was a long-ago moment.  In 1953, “Mr. Pappas” (“Gus”) bought a corner confectionery in the Byrne Building, at Garfield (55th) and Halsted: Pappas Sweet Shop.  We just knew it as the ice cream shop.  It was a hangout for me and my friend Bill Manion, or with Joe Balint.  My sister and her friends found time to have their ice cream and their teen-age talk-sessions there.

BURNS BUILDING Pat Telios Reagan BYRNE BUILDING WITH PAPPAS CORNER

No matter how warm outside, I remember the store was always cool inside, with its white tile floors and marble counter-tops.  Cool was needed to keep the dipped, rolled, and wrapped delicacies fresh and tasty (Oh, those chocolate-covered cherries!): Who needed Fannie May candies when we had Pappas on the corner?

Gus had a son, James (“Jimmy” to us), who worked in the store.  In my time, Jimmy began singing with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera.  Though his first role was in the chorus (My mother and I saw him in La Boheme.), he was a star to me.  He brought music and fun-with-music into my life, and an appreciation of opera that I do cherish.  And there is nothing today that compares to my savoring a Green River Malted Milkshake, with homemade ice cream, that Jimmy Pappas made for me.  Yum!

green river malt

GREEN RIVER MALTED MILKSHAKE

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

 Vanilla-Coconut-Milkshake-Silk-PureCoconut COCONUT MILK

Major Ingredient of a Homemade Coconut Milkshake

 


 

 

BY: JAMES FRANCIS CUMMINGS O’NEIL NEE ČAPEK

“I know my father and my mother, but beyond that I cannot go. My ancestry is blurred.” –V. S. Naipaul

* * *

Once upon a time, from my interviewing my mother, and thus it is written (here), I learned that the beautiful young maiden (of course!) …

KATRINA VON KOENIG, Great Grandma Katrina, a worker in the Barony of Luxembourg (it’s sounding so romantic and mysterious) met

FRANK ČAPEK [b. 1834], a laborer who was (maybe) in the Prussian Army (that would be romantic, like in Elvira Madigan), later turned anarchist, and (perhaps) a bomb manufacturer, in Chicago, for the eight Accused Conspirator Workingmen in the Haymarket Affair (Riot), May 4, 1886.

HaymarketRiot-Harpers

Drawing from Harper’s Magazine and Wikipedia

I heard about this man when I was a child. I grew up believing I was related to a famous anarchist, because Grandma Schuma said so, and because my mom told me so.

I couldn’t wait to see my Great Grandpa Čapek’s picture in the newspapers.

Frank Capek (Great Grandpa)

I spent hours at the beautiful Chicago Public Library on Michigan Boulevard, using the actual newspapers and microfilms of the events of May 4, 1886. (At one time later, my Uncle Elmer told me he studied, too, about his grandfather, and claimed he recognized pictures. He lived with Great Grandpa at 5431 South Seeley Avenue [I remember that house across Garfield Boulevard] until the Prussian soldier died.)  Great Grandpa Čapek was a talented watchmaker. He died in 1930.

* * *

Frank and Katrina, whom I did not ever know, had eight children, with beautiful ethnic Bohemian names: Emilie [b. 1886], Mike, John, Frank, Joe [b. 1884], Theresa, Katherine, and Mary. I could never understand why my Bohemian relatives chose these names. But when I thought about emperors and empresses, presidents and monarchs, like Franz Josef and Maria Theresa, or King John, maybe the “common” names were more special emulations than Leopold or Vlad the Destroyer. (Not many songs about Leopold, but Emily? Maria? and Joe? or Meet John Doe?–or A Guy Named Joe–or, even better, “What a good Joe he is!,” the compliment.)

immigrants at ellis island

Bohemian immigrants on Ellis Island

There they were, these Bohemian kids (not CZECHS!, not Slovaks, not Slovenes, but Bohacs, or Bohunks–Hunkies or Honkies!). Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918. Bohemia was a kingdom, from “way back when,” like before A.D. 600–those days of Beowulf….

bohemia in 1882

Bohemia in 1882

I learned–and was reminded often–that I was a Bohemian, because “Mom said so.” There I was, growing up in the ethnic South Side of Chicago: Damen and Seeley and Garfield Boulevard (55th Street), and Back of the Yards. Some neighbors were postal workers; others, electricians, tradesmen, homemakers. Family people. Neighborhood people. [Emilie worked in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. She was a meat packer for Libby Foods.]

JOE ČAPEK married ANNA JARYKOVIC.

Joseph Capek and  Anna Jarykovic

JOE AND ANNA WEDDING PICTURE

Anna–of course, it had to be “AH-NAH”–died in 1924. In 1918 she had contracted the flu–the world influenza pandemic that occurred near the end of World War I. (More died from the disease than died in the war. I learned that in school.) She then contracted and succumbed to TB. Growing up, I remember many trips to the North Side, to Bohemian National Cemetery, and the graves and headstones.

Bohemian_National_Cemetery

Bohemian National Cemetery Entrance

And Mayor Anton Cermak’s mausoleum

cermak tomb

Cermak Tomb

–and the nearby restaurant that had the best roasted duck, with mashed potatoes and gravy. On the way, we sometimes passed the TB Sanitarium….

tb sanitarium in chicago Jennifer A. Stix 1974 photo

Photo by Jennifer A. Stix 1974

Joe and Anna begot: Herbert (Uncle Herbie, who went with Aunt Flo); Joe (Uncle Joe, who went with Aunt Aggie); Elmer (Uncle Elmer, who went with Aunt Gladys) —I knew them all; and LILLIAN CATHERINE [b. November 16, 1918] (my mom).

Lillian C. Capek Schuma

LILLIAN C. CAPEK

Mother Katrina, while helping Anna with the children, died of a heart attack: November 1918….

In June 1910, having fallen (madly?) in love, Emilie Čapek (Joe’s sister), while working at Libby Foods, married her handsome supervisor, Edward Albert Šuma [Schuma] [b. 1884]. I have the wedding pictures. My, what a handsome couple they were!

Edward Suma-Schuma and Emilie Capek

Edward Suma-Schuma and Emilie Capek (seated)

* * *

My Grandpa Schuma was hospitalized, was dying. In Evangelical Lutheran Hospital cafeteria, in 1956, on the South Side of Chicago, I came to know who really begot whom. I heard a beautiful story from my mother, a story of family and love. I heard of the love of a mother for a daughter, and a grandmother’s love. Then illness and death. How could all these children have comprehended it all?

Family togetherness, and the love of a generous aunt and uncle (Emilie and Ed), “begot” Lillian as “parents” and for me were my Grandma and Grandpa Schuma. They took the little girl. “Uncle Joe” kept the boys. I never knew that Joseph Capek was my real grandfather–until 1956. I knew my “grandparents” helped raise me when my father (Francis Cummings) was overseas with the Army. Their house was the first I can recall, at 5644 South Seeley Avenue.

5644 South Seeley, Chicago Grandma s Place

5644 South Seeley Chicago (current)

I grew up there with them: with their daughter, my “Aunt” Emily, and with my sister and with my (2nd) cousin Marilyn (who was begot by “Uncle” Bill Knoch).

So I learned the family “secret.” Yet it was never meant to hide or deceive. Life went on. I learned the facts, the “truth.” My mother said it was so.

Nothing changed after that. Except for my awareness. After Grandma Schuma died, I was present for the reading of her will, in 1958. Then the lawyer stated the “where-from?” that began in 1924: “My niece Lillian,…” when they took in that little girl. Nothing really changed for me.

How does one ever begin to tell a story of ancestry? The more I work with the lives and the connections, however, the more I realize the story was really the beginning of how my sister, my cousin, and I–three little kids–became part of the family story. I never looked at it this way before. Those earliest of pictures I have of me alone show a cute happy baby in my mother’s arms.

jimmy loved b

Jimmy Loved

Later pictures begin to show three little children, each a year apart, with smiling faces.

 

jan jim marilyn january 1944

January 1944 THREE FRIENDS [Janice, Jimmy, Marilyn]

Then, standing together, holding hands.

GRANDMA'S PORCH 1945 B

Grandma’s Porch  5644 S Seeley 1945  [Marilyn, Jimmy, Janice]

In  the beginning,… Janice [b. 1939], Marilyn [b. 1940], and Jimmy [b. 1941]….

Little did these women, sister and cousin, who begat my formation, who made me laugh, who taught me some funny-ness–little did they know they’d become the main characters in an important story:

“Where ya’ from?”

© James F. O’Neil 2016

kim novak bohemian daughter

Kim Novak famous Chicago Bohemian

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Corned Beef? “In the United States and Canada, consumption of corned beef is often associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. Corned beef is not considered an Irish national dish; the connection with Saint Patrick’s Day specifically originates as part of Irish-American culture, and is often part of their celebrations in North America.

“Corned beef was used as a substitute for bacon by Irish-American immigrants in the late 19th century. Corned beef and cabbage is the Irish-American variant of the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. A similar dish is the New England boiled dinner, consisting of corned beef, cabbage, and root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes, which is popular in New England and parts of Atlantic Canada.” [Wikipedia]

Cornedbeef WIKIPEDIAYummy Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner

Since I could ever remember, we had corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish Catholic Feast Day of St. Patrick was almost a Holy Day of Obligation: Attend church under pain of mortal sin. Well, it wasn’t really such a day; but it was a day off from school, it meant a Chicago parade, and it meant the Italians in my neighborhood had to wait two more days to get even with us by brandishing St. Joseph’s Day–and by having local processions and festivities.

[Saint Joseph’s Day, March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on 1 May was created in order to coincide with the celebration of International Labor Day (May Day) in many countries.]

St Joseph IN GLASS  st aphonsus church wexford, PASaint Joseph in Glass

Saint Alphonsus Church

Wexford, PA

He was the stepfather to Jesus; St. Patrick only drove out snakes from Ireland….

However, more people in America ate turkey at Thanksgiving time than they ate ham. And more people in American ate corned beef at St. Patrick’s Day-time than they ate Italian sausage and peppers (though I cannot “prove” this allegation by me)!

Well, corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots had been the steady diet of my O’Neil family since I became part of the O’Neil/O’Neill Clan. So my wife and I have continued to carry on our clannish traditions with our own family on that Special Day of 17 March.

170px-Irish_cloverLuck of the Irish Shamrock

Note: In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour workday would become standard. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day. On Saturday, May 1, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies were held throughout the United States, with the cry, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” In Chicago, the movement’s center, an estimated 30,000-to-40,000 workers had gone on strike. What then occurred is the Chicago Haymarket Affair. “No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Haymarket Affair,” with its rally and riot and trial and executions. “What began as a rally on May 4, 1886, the consequences are still being felt today. Very few American history textbooks present the event accurately or point out its significance,” according to labor studies professor William J. Adelman. [Wikipedia]

So, the Haymarket Affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers, Catholics and Communists alike.

Thus ends the history lesson relating Saint Patrick, Saint Joseph, The Haymarket Riot, May Day celebrations, the eight-hour work day, and corned beef and cabbage. Now about those Reuben sandwiches….

sandwich-corned-beef by kaufmans deli skokie ILCorned Beef on Rye by Kaufman’s Deli

Skokie, IL

© James F. O’Neil 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

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