This Was During The Depression
Eleanore ate salad at the Mason Street Grill last Friday,
in honor of her mother,
a woman named Blanche,
“she was a honey”
born around 1892.
When honey Blanche grew up
she worked for a time making
the most popular salads at the Pfister
so great were her salads
that President Teddy Roosevelt
asked to meet his salad maker
so he could kiss her hand
and from that
Blanche learned how approachable lawmakers are.
Eleanore has frequently called them up too
to advocate on behalf of the poor.
Somewhere in the attic
Eleanore has the phone number
of former Senator Kohl
who by the way, I saw again
just the other day
in the lounge
so the next time I see him
I’m to tell him
Eleanore says “Hello,”
another word her father had to learn
after arriving from Poland.
“My mother was born on the boat,”
says Eleanore but soon changes her mind,
“No! She was born and then rode the boat.
She was sick all the way,
vomiting over the side,
I certainly give these immigrants a lot of credit
they were all getting sick not just her.”
Blanche’s first job was caring for a doctor’s child
she took the streetcar to work.
There were three children:
Eleanore’s older sister, herself and then Florence.
There was also her brother, Norman
who died at age three from infantile paralysis.
Eleanore was in kindergarten at the time
but had to drop out.
Even Buster could tell Norman was sick,
that dog would pick Eleanore up from school
and they would run down the alleys together
until they arrived at her house on Archer Avenue.
Across the street
was the butcher shop
the boy whose family owned the shop
was Eleanore’s playmate and eventual husband.
On the corner of Archer and Kinnickinnic was a big lot
owned by the plumbing store guy
who told the kids that they could play football
or baseball there
any time they wanted
and so they did.
Eleanore wore jeans,
played sports with boys,
unlike her sister, Florence
who would stand in front of the mirror,
primp her red-brown hair and announce,
“I am going to Hollywood.”
Anytime Eleanore had a date
she’d introduce the fellow to her family.
So many boyfriends dumped Eleanore!
Once they saw Florence
they started dating her instead.
“She was strictly a Hollywood type of person.”
This was during the depression
people ate horse meat,
everyone knew when Al Capone was coming to town,
they went to the streets to watch.
In 1931 there was an older lady with a hat
who owned “a big hunk of luxury,”
an electric car!
The kids used to line up and watch with mouths wide open
as she clambered the high step to get in.
Eleanore’s father planted a Victory garden for his family
where Cudahy High now sits
it was like a cemetery with different plots
for families growing tomatoes.
To this day Eleanore still gardens
at her nursing home in Oak Creek.
“I’ve had a beautiful life,
and these are all of my friends,”
Eleanore gestures at all five of her friends
who joined her to celebrate her life.
It’s not her birthday
she turned 96 last January
but on this August day she’s presented a birthday cake.
Someone pulls away her salad,
Eleanore protests, “I’m not done with that!”
but covers her mouth in shock and delight
when she sees a cake and one burning candle set before her
instead of singing we watch Eleanor eat her dessert
with the fire still going till the last bite.