We always called my mother’s father, “Pa.” (We called my grandmother, “Ma.”) Ma and Pa managed to raise four wonderful children during some tough times.
We visited them many, many times at their walk-up apartment on the West Side of Chicago. The occasion usually had something to do with a holiday. I remember they had a 5-cent pay phone in their dining room, where we kids (my sisters, my brother and me, along with some of our cousins) would usually end up after dinner playing a ruthless game of “War,” using several decks of cards. We always thought that the location of the phone – on the floor, leaning against the wall – had to do with where the phone company installed the outlet. It looked to be very heavy and might not have lasted if it had been hung on the wall. There was a small ottoman near the phone on which they could sit while making a call.
Pa worked for the Chicago Transit Authority for many years, at first as a streetcar driver and later as a bus driver. He never owned a house or a car, but he always had a job, even throughout the Great Depression. During those years, he was paid in scrip instead of cash.
When Ma died, our heartbroken Pa moved in with our family. Actually, he moved in with me in my attic bedroom. (My brother, with whom I had always shared the room, was serving in the Air Force at that time.) Pa got a job at the Byrd Theatre, an old movie house on West Madison Street in Chicago, where he sold tickets in the box office and also tended the candy counter.
I was assigned to pick him up at the end of the Madison Street bus line every day that he worked. Every time he got into the passenger seat, he would give me a hearty, “Hello, Timmy!” And then he’d tell me if the bus was on time or not. If it were early or late, he would say to me EXACTLY, to the minute, how early or late it was. After years of keeping a tight schedule, and even though he was retired, he still expected the buses to be ON TIME.