Lupita is the nickname for Guadalupe

I only knew her as Lupita. I was very young, perhaps about six years old, when one day she appeared in our lives in the Back of the Yards. She used to take care of us when my parents went to work. She looked like most Mexicanas of that era in the 1960s: long black hair, brown eyes, short, and pleasingly plump. Since I was so young, I’m not even sure how old she was, but I’m pretty sure that she was older than my mother who was in her twenties at the time. She spoke very little English with a heavy Mexican accent, even less than my parents. She was single and had no children of her own. Even though we were children, we always called her Lupita, just plain old Lupita, nothing more formal than that. Now that I think of it, Mexican children were always taught to call an adult woman Señora or Señorita plus her last name. Now I’m wondering why we even called her Lupita, just Lupita. Anyway, I’m not sure how my mother met Lupita, but it may have been at a factory where they both worked. Back then, factory jobs were plentiful, and when someone got tired of doing the same job for too long or they just got tired of their coworkers or bosses, they would just quit and find another factory job almost immediately.

Before Dicky was born, my brother Danny had to go to the doctor at Cook County Hospital a lot because he had osteoporosis in his right arm. My parents would take Danny and my younger brother Tato (Diego) to the hospital and Lupita would take me to her house on the bus. She lived about two miles north of us which seemed like a long, adventurous trek to me back then. We would take the Ashland Avenue bus (Number 9, I think). Many of the buses were still electric then and there were overhead wires to provide the electricity. Many parts of Ashland Avenue were still paved by cobblestones. I would take my train set that I received for my birthday or Christmas–I don’t remember which. At her house, Lupita would clean her house and when she was done she would read novelas, which were books that were printed in sepia-colored ink that told soap-opera-like stories, but looked like comic books. I would play with my train set that entertained me for hours at a time! It consisted of a locomotive, two boxcars, a caboose, and a small circular track. Most children my age would have been bored by it, but not me! The train set also came with some small wooden barrels that I would put under the tracks to create a “hill.” I could while away the hours just by positioning these barrels in every possible position! When I had accomplished that, I liked to experiment with the sequence of the locomotive and boxcars and caboose. I was so easily amused back then! Oh, wait a minute! I haven’t changed all that much since then. I’m still easily amused!

Well, when my brother Danny was better and no longer had to go to the hospital, Lupita would babysit us at our apartment after school. She genuinely enjoyed being with us. My brothers and I would play well together, but she would get nervous when we wrestled. We loved to wrestle. Since I was the oldest and biggest brother, I always won. The last match would involve Danny, Tato, and Dicky wrestling against me. I always won! I would pile them up, one on top of the other, and then pin them down for the count. Lupita was so afraid that we would hurt each other that she would stop us from wrestling. She always stopped us from having too much fun. Like the time we were throwing my mother’s records out the back window like frisbees. Or the time we used my grandfather’s encyclopedia from Mexico to build a fortress wall. I told Lupita that my mother always let us use the encyclopedia to build a fortress, but she didn’t believe me and made us put the tomes back on the shelf.

She never talked much, but she always sat in the living room with us. If we went to our bedroom and we were too quiet for too long, she would come to see what we were doing. Once, my brothers and I were in the bedroom just reading comic books, but she made us go into the living room with her. She didn’t trust us. And with good reason! We once gave her a really good scare. We were reading comic books in our room and she didn’t check up on us. When we read comic books, we became our favorite comic-book heroes. I was Spiderman, Danny was the Silver Surfer, Tato was the Torch, and Dicky was Batman. Well, once, Dicky felt the power of Batman coursing through his veins and he dove headfirst into the air shouting, “I’m Batman!” However, he didn’t fly very far. His head hit the dresser drawer handle, which had pointed ends, and he had a huge gash from his forehead to the back of his head. Dicky screamed from the pain and we just stood there silently not knowing what to do. Lupita came running to the bedroom and she almost fainted when she saw Dicky bleeding from his forehead. She picked him up, carried him to the sofa, and stopped the bleeding by putting a warm, wet towel on his head. My parents came home shortly after that and took him to the hospital where they closed the gash with twenty-seven stitches. Lupita stayed to watch Danny, Tato, and me while my parents and Dicky went to the hospital. We just sat there quietly in the living room with Lupita until they came back from the hospital.

I don’t remember the last time we saw Lupita. She was always a part of our family, but suddenly one day she just wasn’t there anymore.


Mi abuelita y tía Matilde

My tía Matilde came to Chicago as part of the package deal when my abuelita came for eye surgery. Tía Matilde also needed surgery, so she came from México to have surgery on her ears. I’m not sure what exactly was wrong with her ears, but she was otherwise healthy.

My aunt was very young when she came and she liked living in Chicago. She loved listening to pop music on the radio and she bought all the records by her favorite singer, Rick Nelson. She went wild when listening to his music.

What I remember most about my tía Matilde was how she did laundry. We, my parents, my three brothers, my abuelita, my tía Matilde, and me, all lived in a small four-room apartment. We had a washer and dryer in the kitchen next to the sink. When my parents were at work, tía Matilde would do all the laundry in the house, every last handkerchief and sock. She would search everywhere in the apartment for dirty clothes. She found dirty clothes where I would never even think of looking. She just had to make sure that every last item of dirty clothing was clean when she was done doing the laundry. And so, when all the dirty clothes were in the washer, and there was a little room in the tub for more clothes, she would start taking off her clothes right at the washer and start putting them in the washer. She would be standing in the kitchen wearing nothing but her bra and panties, proud of the fact that all the dirty clothes in the house were now washed, obviously oblivious to my presence.

Back then, we always seemed to be either at home or at Cook County Hospital taking either my abuelita or tía Matilde to the doctors there. Anyway, my tía Matilde, who would undress at the washer, was very shy with the doctors when they asked her to disrobe. The day of her surgery, she refused to undress and refused to put on the hospital gown because it had no back to it. I still remember her telling this story when she returned from her surgery. She absolutely refused to undress for the nurses and doctors. She thought she had won her battle, but after the surgery, she woke up in her hospital bed and immediately realized that she was completely naked! Whenever she told this story, she always sounded so shocked that this could have happened to her despite her precautions. She didn’t even remember when or why she lost consciousness. She always wondered who managed to see her naked. She would blush everytime she told the story.  She was truly traumatized by this experience!

She eventually went back to México with my abuelita.


Mi abuelita en México.

I remember when my abuelita came to live with us in Chicago back in the 1960s. I liked having my grandmother living with us because she used to take care of me when both my parents went to work. She even protected me from my mother when she hit me a little too hard or a little too long.

I remember once for homework in the first grade I was supposed to read aloud from our reader to one of my parents. My father wasn’t home, so I went to my mother. She said she was too tired from work to help me do my homework. I told her that all she had to do was listen to me read. The reader was quite simple: “See David. See Ann.” And so on. I didn’t even know that much English at the time.

Anyway, my mother didn’t want to be bothered by me. I kept begging her to listen to me. Finally, my abuelita said that I should read to her. I wasn’t sure if she could help me to read this book. At first, I hesitated because not only did she not know English, but she was also blind. One of the reasons she came to Chicago was to get eye surgery.

I remember we would all go to Cook County Hospital and wait for hours until the doctor finally saw her. After her surgery, she no longer had her eyes. I remember my parents struggling to put her glass eyes into her eye sockets and my grandmother complaining about how much pain she was in. Eventually, my mother learned how to put them in herself. My mother wanted my abuelita to stay in Chicago and live with us. Abuelita didn’t like the weather in Chicago. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. She thought our fair city was ¡una Chicagada! A rough translation of this word would be “Shitcago.” I couldn’t help myself and I laughed out loud. I’m sure my mother would have smacked me if abuelita wouldn’t have been so close to her.

Maxwell Street

I'll have the Polish sausage with mustard, onions, and extra cholesterol!

Last night, I watched The Blues Brothers movie again, mainly to show my sons a classic movie about Chicago. I first saw it 1980 when I was in the Marines. I saw the 25th anniversary edition DVD at my local library and I borrowed it since I always talk about classic movies with my sons. This is an age of reproductions and sometimes my sons will quote something from a song, a TV show, or a movie they have seen without knowing the source of the imitation, parody, or spoof. So whenever possible, I try to educate my sons by pointing out the original source. Perhaps the most famous scene from The Blues Brothers movie is the one that I’ve seen in many contexts and that is the scene where Jake and Elwood Blues go to the Triple Rock Baptist Church and find God. You know the scene where Jake back flips up and down the aisle. I once saw this scene with my sons at a movie theater during the previews. My sons had seen the scene before, too, but they had never seen the whole movie.

I liked the scene at Maxwell Street because I still remember going to Maxwell Street as a boy with my father and uncles when we lived in Pilsen. When we went to St. Francis of Assisi Church on Roosevelt and Halsted, we were right around the corner from Maxwell Street. Sometimes we went to Maxwell Street after mass. My father always went to Preskill’s hardware store where my father could look at tools for hours. I always remember the little shacks that were built in the middle of the street to sell food such as red hots (hot dogs), Polish sausages, and other appetizing greasy foods, but we never ate there.

When I was old enough to drive, I often returned to Maxwell Street, against my mother’s wishes. This was a great place to buy nice clothing cheap. And tailors would alter it for a perfect fit. It was then that I was finally attracted to fine cuisine that Maxwell Street had to offer. Yes, I’m talking about those Polish sausages and pork chop sandwiches, way before they started serving them with French fries. Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage was right on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. That was my favorite eating establishment. Sometimes I would stop there on the way home from the comedy clubs because they never closed. I mean never! Not even Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Where else could I buy a Polish sausage and pork chop sandwich at any hour of the day, any day of the year? Sometimes I would drive by just to smell the all the Polish sausages, pork chops, and onions piled high on the ever-grilling grill that was the equivalent of Maxwell Street’s eternal flame. I would always meet interesting people there, too. I once saw a limo pull up and the passenger got out to buy a Polish sausage and then got back into the backseat of the limo and then it drove off. I’ve often wondered about the true story of that purchase. How cool would it be to go to Maxwell Street in limo?

When I became a Chicago police officer, if I drove past Maxwell Street, I just had to stop for a Polish sausage and a pork chop sandwich. No matter what district I worked, I somehow found myself going by Maxwell Street on the way back from the Cook County Jail, the Cook County Hospital, or the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. Of course, I would stop at Jim’s Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and partake of their fine cuisine.

Follow your nose to Jim's Original Maxwell Street Polish Sausage!