(September 3, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of my grandfather’s arrival in America, from Poland. Though he seldom talked about the old country (he was sixteen when he emigrated), he would often tell tales about his life in Chicago, and in Michigan (or Mi-shi′-gan, as he called it). Sometimes, he would tell the same stories, but I guess that’s what helps us remember. Some of what follows is from a tape recording I uncovered recently. I seldom changed his mind about anything (particularly about religion), but I learned a great deal about seeing the world through a different set of eyes.)
When I was in the hospital, some priest come up. First, he send somebody else, kinda feel me out. Then he come down, second time already. Well, I think of him what he thinks of me. I thought (well, he kind of, uh, put a finger in here), I thought to myself, I would like to tell him exactly what I think of him. What do you think I am? I would like to tell him that. What do you think I am? So he tried telling me different, uh, different, uh, some highlights.
Fact, he says, uh, “Keep up the good work.” Yeah, and he tried to coax me in so I should, uh, taking communion.
I said, “What do you think this is here—a trick?” They think that you’re taking communion, ah, you already, you, you their sheep. See? I said, “I know the communion is.” I say, “I used to make a communion myself!” Ha, ha.
I was living onBlackhawk Street,Chicago, with the nuns, and the Sister Superior, with the six nuns in there, and uh, they had a divided basement. I seen they, she, was doing something by their gassstove. She make up what you call angel food-cake flour. It was just warmed up, you know, and she put it on a pan, like a tart, hot little bit, but it’s white, not just burnt, see? It’s just stiff, you know? And they have it, uh, put your, uh, round, and she made it like a pancake, and she’s punching out there the communion. Yeah. I looked at first. No, it’s the communion for sometimes they have at mass, and the, from altar there too, you know. Priest come down, some habit, you know, when he’s learning how to be priest. Though some people bring it to a house, here and there, and they have a mass. And they have a communion.
You know, I talk to her, Sister Superior, and she know that I’m not that stupid, either, see? She understood. She said, “Mr. Kabala, I don’t think the way they say. Different. I know you right. It’s different than Jesus,” she told me, “and that ever-body is a human.” I know what she meant by that.
I had a coal shaft underneath the sidewalk (the streets were higher), and they have like a cover and you drop the coal in there for the winter for storage. Sometimes I had to go get some coal for my stove. They had a oil heater, in the first place, throughout the building. I had a stove. Hard coal and soft coal. There was, sometimes they had some young ones, you know, they just joined in, and this and that, you know. Young girls, you know. And what they do, they join the convent. And they not allowed to go by themselves. They always had to go in pairs. And so that didn’t bother me.
Florencewas only maybe little girl, maybe three or four years old at that time. Chuck was maybe year or year and a half. And, uh, I, we lived there. We had three rooms and a bathroom. And I didn’t have to pay. I done some work for them. They want to, some painting, some this, and that, all around they house, you know. Some construction work sometimes. And for that I got rent, you know? I didn’t have to pay rent. I stayed there for ten years, I think. Course, those days the rent was maybe fifteen, twelve dollars. That’s all it was. Yeah.
And I had all kinds of experience with those nuns, you know. The young girls that go for coal, before long they’re running after me. But, the others, they’re running too. It was, oh, she was so eager for the man, you know, she grab and shakes. Oh, I had my ideas. I didn’t touch them or anything like that, but so…