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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

 

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In the study of literature, using the PSYCHOLOGICAL approach, one type of critic places emphasis upon subjective perception and emotional response to an aesthetic experience.

The “objects” of study are

the writer/author/artist

the work (characters/personae)

the reader/viewer and reactions/responses

in addition to the study of the creative process.

Literature helps us reveal ourselves to ourselves; yet literature often is expressing the author’s unconscious in symbolic terms without awareness. Images, connotations, desires, repressions become significant in a work.

HOW IT ALL WORKS (in a “perfect” situation):

The literary work is presented as a text. We use knowledge of the language to perceive the text as things we know in life/reality. Consciously we supply an intellectual meaning to the text by the process of abstraction.

We supply theme/meaning by thinking about the work as a separate entity: We reality test it. We experience the work by INTROJECTION, taking it into ourselves, feeling the nucleus of fantasy and the formal management of that fantasy as though it were our own. By ANALOGIZING, we bring to the work our own highly individualized fantasies.

Fantasies are not “good” or “bad”: only those that please or displease. So “good” now means that which pleases, and pleases for a long time.

However, MEANING is not there simply: it is something we construct for the text within the limits of the text. It is transforming unconscious relevancy to conscious relevancy.

So: “literary meaning” conveys an idea that all the details of the work are “about,” a “point” to which all the individual words, or events, or images in a literary work are RELEVANT.

 Question_mark_(black_on_white)

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Witch fell down . . . and . . . melted away to nothing, . . . Dorothy . . . being at last free to do as she chose, she ran out to the courtyard to tell . . . that the Wicked Witch of the West had come to an end, . . . There was great rejoicing. . . .” — L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

If memory serves me right…in 5th grade…

Sister Mary Dolorita (a pretty face, all the flesh that showed–except for two hands–and a smile) taught my classroom of 5th and 6th grade boys and girls.

I liked our school on the South Side of Chicago. The building faced Honore, near 72nd Street. The structure, mostly one story, in a U-shape, was built around a beautiful church.

saint justin photo 2Saint Justin Martyr School and Church

Near the front of the building (at the south end), a stairway made its way up to a landing, with a second-floor classroom and the principal’s office. At the top of the stairs, on each side of the building, a door led to the choir loft. The church organ was situated in the center of the loft.

From 1949-1955 (my 8th grade graduation), a considerable part of my life was bound to these structures. Much I remember, yet so much I have forgotten.

However, I will never ever forget standing in front of church, lined up by grade, standing outside in the rain “Until there is quiet!” The principalshouted at us from under her umbrella. That year, my 5th grade, was the year from hell with her as principal, with

D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E
O-R-D-E-R
Q-U-I-E-T
O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E.

She was in absolute charge of the school. Nevertheless, we endured.

With the School Year nearly over, including nice Chicago weather, school activities included packing unused schoolbooks to be sent off to the missions. One morning, while we were quietly doing our seat-work tasks, Sister called upon me (always the acquiescing “Go-for”) to bring boxes from storage. Where was the storage for boxes?

Next to the choir loft. Of course….

Leaving my busy classmates, I entered the Silence of the Hall, looked both ways, and then headed to The Stairway.

(“Abandon hope, all ye who climb these stairs….”)

Looming at the top of the stairs, “Door Number One [left]: Choir Loft.” “Door Number Two [ahead]: Storage.”

Quickly–and softly–I moved to the top of the stairs, one linoleum-covered step at a time. I saw: “Door Number Three [right–and open]: Sanctum Sanctorum Principal.”

I opened Door Number Two. Absolute Darkness. Yet from the light of the open hall area surrounding me, I saw inside. Certainly, against extant Chicago fire codes, cardboard and corrugated boxes of all types and sizes were stacked un-neatly in this small storage facility.

And the one naked light bulb, in a socket, hanging down from the ceiling on a dark black fuzzy cord, with a barely-visible chain hanging across the bulb.

light bulb fotosearchLight Bulb. Credit: fotosearch

I pulled the chain, turning on the light bulb. At that very instant, the pump motor for the church organ began to run. The organist had begun to practice. With the light on, I could now see the green metal-mesh cage over the large black belt connected to a motor and flywheel. This motor ran the pump to operate the bellows–making the church music we so liked to hear. Noise and light nearly overwhelmed me in my Quest-for-Cardboard. So which one box would be perfect, would show my Dear Sister Dolorita I could do the job?

Of course, The Beautiful Perfect Cardboard Box on top of a pile near the back of the small room.

Behind me, while I made my way to the boxes-taller-than-I-was, The Voice of Principal shrilled: “What are you doing?” Frozen, I turned and blurted out, “Getting a box for Sister.” Then, something like, “Well, get on with it. Go on!” I pointed and tried to reach. “Never mind!” Pulling a step stool, then reaching for…all in slow motion (of course): She reached. She fell. She tumbled. She went down. Down. Down. Screaming. She screamed: “Oh!” as she went down, down, down into the depths, behind the metal cage.

Then I saw two laced high-top black shoes, pointing upwards, connected to two skinny lower legs, and ankles covered by dark black nylons.

“Help me! Help me!” she cried out, behind the running motor. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” (Turn what off?)

So I reached for and grabbed onto the bulb socket and chain, receiving a shocker! I pulled the chain. The motor kept running. Music continued from the church organ.

I barely saw the legs as I turned and ran to the classroom on the landing. I pulled open its door, shouting to the nun-like silence inside, all eyes on me: “Hurry! Sister fell into the organ!” In a flash, the good nun was pushing me aside, out of her way–and making headway to the space emitting music and motor sounds.

“JESUS! MARY! JOSEPH!” (They would certainly come to help when they heard their names shouted out in helplessness.) “Get Mr. Joe [the janitor]!” He would come for sure when I found him. I found him somewhere. Wherever he had his hangout. I went with him, but was told to go back to my classroom.

I arrived there empty-handed, but memory-traumatized. Forever. I retold the story–tearfully (almost). Lunchtime bell. Dismissed for lunch. Saved by the bell.

Adults running. Rumors. Ambulance. Congratulations.

Congratulations? Yes, I was to be congratulated. I was a childhood hero–to my schoolmates. “You tried to knock off the Old Witch. Is that true?”

Of course, it was true.

More likely, however, I probably did cry, knowing how fragile I was then.

The Principal never returned. Summer came. Then 6th grade. No mention of The Fall. I entered 6th grade, like all my other classmates, hearing from Sister Mary Georgine:

“YOU BOLD BRASSY THINGS!”
“YOU DON’T KNOW BEANS IN THE BAG OPEN!”

freshly roasted coffee beans in a jute bagBeans in the Bag Open

And we were now happy in school, lining up in good weather, a few times a week.  I was never again sent to find another storage box. Besides, they moved them–and, as far as I know, locked forever that Dantesque Doorgate.

(I bet Mr. Joe and the organist could get in if they wanted….)

© James F. O’Neil 2014

By: James F. O’Neil

It has happened again: One of those moments of memory revival when I do something that really conjures up picture-visions, feelings, tastes, and a sense of time gone by.           

Something simple I do, like mixing a pitcher of Kool-Aid or some other popular non-sugared drink, brings me into the memory world–here, the world of my childhood.       

Pour Kool-Aid There I was, pouring the colored powder into the two-quart pitcher.  As the green crystals and powder took their time getting to the bottom of the plastic container, I saw in my mind’s eye my mother, walking toward me, wearing her light-green smock with large pockets.            

I was waiting for her as she came from the Kool-Aid factory in Chicago, on the Southwest Side.  My vivid image of her now makes me remember a warm summer afternoon (she must have worked an early shift), the car my dad and I sat in waiting for her, and her gait, with her hands in her pockets.           

When I saw her, among the other women wearing hairnets, coming out the employees’ door, like those women workers in World War II, finishing their shift in some defense factory–in full-body coveralls–I left the car and ran towards her.  (This now occurs in filmed-slow-motion.)  A big hug, maybe a kiss (probably not in front of all those women), and a question:  “Watcha got in your pockets.”  We kept walking, her telling me about which line she worked that day: Cherry, Grape, Lemon-Lime, Orange, Raspberry, or Strawberry.  (I never liked orange.  Don’t know why, since I always enjoyed Creamsicles in orange flavor.)  She had colored powder on her smock, and her hair sparkled colored-crystal.           

I liked her job.           

That factory provided work for her, money for us to live on, and free Kool-Aid.  I cannot recall the exact dates of her work at this factory (in the 1950’s), but I know I was not a baby, as my title might imply.  Yet I remember one younger brother who also partook of the flavored powder.  We were children, with tastes.           

There is an expression “working for peanuts.”  My mom worked many jobs: making gaskets for bombsights, working at the Federal Reserve Bank (no free samples ever there), working in a cardboard factory making boxes, and the Kool-Aid Factory.  Of all, my remembrance of colored powders brings good feelings and positive memories.  She never suffered cuts, bruises, slivers, or smashed fingers or toes.  She brought home the money–and brought home color and flavor into our lives.  Much better than peanuts…

Postscript.  In 2004, the former Kool-Aid factory on the city’s Southwest Side was scheduled to be razed and replaced with a housing development.  Now known as Marquette Village, near Marquette Park, I know the soil must contain memories and crystals, with Kraft Foods Inc. manufacturing Kool-Aid, with a dose of Good Seasons salad dressing mixes–and maybe some drops and bits of Open Pit barbecue sauce.  My remembrance of things past?  “Kool-Aid, Kool-Aid, Tastes Great!  Wish We Had Some, Can’t Wait”–and, “A five-cent package makes two full quarts.”  How great was that!?

*I remember Tom Wolfe’s great book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, published in 1968.  When writing this memoir, I could not get that title out of my mind–yet I always referred to it with the “Baby” added to the title.  Don’t know why.  Perhaps I have just been a “Kool-Aid Baby.”

© James F. O’Neil  26 May 2013

By: James F. O’Neil

I have a small wooden sign in my man-cave with the words “home,” “story,” and “begins.”

What a neat sign with a neat saying.

Many craft stores, country gift shops, and little antique storefronts have made these kinds of signs popular, signs of warm, fuzzy slogans or aphorisms or “down-home” good feelings.

We like to buy these, put them on walls expressing that “Family Is Everything” or over a bed “Always Kiss Me Goodnight” or in a study “Home Is Where Your Story Begins.”

Perhaps “This Is As Good As It Gets” might be found over a door in a summer cottage. 

Cottage #16, of the original 100 cottagesThus it begins: a vacation, a story (“What I Did Last Summer”), a life, a death, a beginning or an ending, a love (“Love Is Blind”), stress (“Keep Calm And Carry On”), or friendship (“BFF”)–or one I really do like: “Love’s Last Gift Is Remembrance.” 

Saying from Hastings BenchStories are everywhere, where we look to see or find them.  And if “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” then that is where a story can begin. 

We must tell our story: “Once upon a time, when I was six and living with my grandmother, …”    Our listeners depend on it.

© James F. O’Neil  2013

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