January, 1940. I had just graduated from high school. I wanted to go to Northwestern but didn’t know where it was or how to get there and, more importantly, we had no money and girls didn’t go to college. There was one freebie, Wright College, that I considered but didn’t know where it was or how to get there.
(Suggestion to the past: take a pocketful of nickels and a map and spend a day riding streetcars OR be rewarded with a talented, inspiring tutor. Not a Lutheran, not your typical 1940’s square. None available, it would seem.)
Hung around house writing short stories, all bad. Mom knew a salesman (a pig but she didn’t know that) at Kemper Insurance. Got a job there. Had no idea what to expect. There were eight floors to Kemper Insurance with a dumbwaiter running up through them and on each floor, crouched around the dumbwaiter and waiting for mail, was one boy and one girl. The girl was supposed to sort incoming mail, the boy to deliver it in a handcart but we switched around and had a fabulously FUN time sending shoes up and down the d’waiter and like that..
But on the day the job started: I walked in (in my HS clothes, plaid skirt, sweater, bobby sox, saddle shoes) and here was this handsome & fabulous creature, gorgeously dressed like a boy model of 18 years old, even the gold watch would knock your eyes out. This was Don, far too sophisticated to play the baby games the rest of us played, and we got to be good friends, long phone talks mostly about politics and my favorite subject “How can suicidal humanity be helped out of the pit it wallows in?”; in another couple of years we’d be running around with a Chicago Ultra Sophisticated Crowd, going to the ballet and like that—um, let’s see, one of them was Edward Gorey, and snobbish Joan Mitchell who stayed home and painted. And so on. Anyway, 1940 morphed into 1941 and September came and Dad died. I remember that night, the midnight phone call, the horror, the silence. (Frank would love it.)
Mom went insane. I have no other word for it. She played “Gloomy Sunday” night and day. It was awful. I had no skills to handle this at the time—then it was January, 1942, Don and I were hatching a scheme: we wanted to hitchhike on Route 66 all the way from Chi to L.A.! Wow! What an adventure, so we got ready to take off and Mom said, “You can’t do it unless you get married.”
Married? What the f—k for? But her mantra was, “What will the neighbors say?” This was all-important in my mother’s mind and she couldn’t be talked out of it so I figured, what the hay, if it makes her happy. So we went downtown to the Justice of the Peace’s office and paid $2 to “get married,” and Mom and the neighbors lived happily ever after, until they died. And later I got “divorced” and married fabulous but crazy O.T. Wood which is a whole other story which I can’t tell yet because it may hurt the innocent. (Suggestion to the past: forget about “married,” it’s nothing but Police State Suppression. Up the Revolution! Whatever that means.)
Next: to L.A. on Route 66 with hardly any money, ending in getting arrested in Texas. (Which is also another story for another time.)