Monday, March 4, 2013

A Few Minutes with Marie

Marie was sitting in the lobby when I went to pay my rent.

   “Paying your rent?” she asked. “You better pay it, or they’ll throw you out on the sidewalk. They used to do that, you know. I grew up in Chicago during the Depression, and I saw families huddled on the sidewalk with all their possessions. The landlord had thrown them out. It was so sad.
   “The family of a girl I knew got thrown out of their apartment. I told my mother, ‘We’ve got to help them.’ They lived with us for a couple months. The father was a concrete finisher. You know what a concrete finisher is? They work on sidewalks and things like that. It’s hard work. But it was winter, and there wasn’t any work. Soon as the weather got better, he worked night and day. He didn’t have to, but once he started working he paid my parents for letting them stay with us. He didn’t have to do that.
   “That girl was my best friend. But, eventually we lost track of each other. I suppose she got old, too, just like me.
   “My grandmother didn’t have to worry about being evicted. She owned a farm. She didn’t believe in banks, and she kept all her money in a mattress. She didn’t trust the banks. Sometimes people would come to her door and ask for something to eat. She always let them in, and they ate with the family. The only thing was, she told them they had to say grace before they could eat. One time, she told a guy that, and he said, ‘I’m Jewish.’ My grandmother told him, ‘That’s alright. You have your own prayers. Say them.’ He did.
   “I married our landlord’s son. There wasn’t much choice. We were Catholic, and my parents and grandmother always said I had to marry within the faith. Other than the landlord, most of the people in the neighborhood were Jewish. He was older than me. People said I was too young and didn’t know what I wanted. They said the marriage would never last. We were married fifty-two years. I guess we proved them wrong.”

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