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Memories of those who came before

Sovereign State

Speaking of Dr. Jill Biden, and aren’t we all, it is good to remind all that the word doctor has as its etymology “to teach.” This is in response to the buffoonish Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal chiding her for using the honorific, which should only be used by people who have delivered babies. Tell that to my wonderful ophthalmologist.

Years ago, as a sort of joke, my ex-wife, in response to a solicitation from one of my schools, told them I was now Dr. Lonnie Tyrone.  Not to be fooled for long, my Jesuit University now refers to me as Mr.

(A character in a play of mine says he graduated from UCLA.  When challenged, he proudly says Uptown Corner Lenox Avenue.)

Which brings me to my parents’ education.  Though both had post-doctoral degrees in the School of Hard Knocks, their formal education was less than stellar. In fact, neither graduated from high school. Evelyn left Carl Shurz on the North Side of Chicago after junior year to help with the family, the youngest of five, growing up on Ohio Street, in a tenement, now a half block from the vaunted Michigan Avenue Miracle Mile.

My grandfather, Alexander Lipsey, (pronounced LipChay) who was AOL from Franz Joseph’s army, always warned my grandmother never to answer the door. It was bound to be soldiers from the emperor’s army ready to drag him back to Budapest. A knock at the door was probably from the census bureau, which never got the numbers of the LipChay family. Alexander died from phthisis at age 46, working in a gravestone factory before masks and earplugs and OSHA. Evelyn was seven. 

At 17 she worked in the Woolworth’s five and dime, (does that term still exist?) she the youngest of five, at the candy counter. She was so industrious that her boss said There are no flies on Evelina. Or the candy, I presume. My mom always liked her candy. She was born in March 1918 just as the so-called Spanish Flu was beginning to rage.

My Dad came to Chicago in 1932, “packin’ a rod”, as he put it, fearful of Al Capone, and who would not have been, being from Tecumseh, Nebraska, to the Murder Capital of America.

He worked at the Wimpie’s downtown, under the Loop, the granddaddy of all late-night diners. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, eat your bloody grease out. His accustomed drink was a Pine Float ­— a toothpick and water.

He met my Mom through some Nebraska folks and Harold Carter and Evelyn Lipsey dated from the North Side to the South Side where they went to the Black and Tan Jazz Clubs, where they saw — well, who did they see, they must have seen many greats, many graduates from UCLA.

My mom told me that they sat next to Black people.  She said, quote, We didn’t think anything of it.

My uncles were not paragons of racial equity.

One said that the only reason we have ZIP codes is that the (here I will let your imagination supply the odious slang, not the N word, but just as damaging I am guessing) Black Folk can’t read.

Mom said they went back home from the Black and Tans, standing for the bus, from Chicago’s Great South Side, not affording a car, shivering, and deeply in love.

They were married for 42 years. Evelyn massaging Harold’s back.

He had welded, losing his hearing in the din of the factory at Ell Kay (you can still see the mark on lots of toilets) and U.S. Bottlers, where he worked until he was 64, when the son of the deceased owner told him he was being let go just before he would get his pension.

Harold, who rose at 4 a.m. to go to Indiana, to weld on his first job.

Harold, who, in Tecumseh, was known as Rink, because his letter sweater he wore every day and wrinkled at his belly, so he was called Harold The Wrinkle Belly Sheik.

Rink, with a bit of larceny in his heart, went back to Tecumseh High, from which he had not graduated because he could not pass history, bribed a functionary, and bought a diploma. High School Grad Hooray.

Harold and I had few conversations. One, embarrassing about sex, driving, as we passed Joker Joe’s, a sort of strip joint, in Niles, Illinois, home of Hillary Clinton (more on that later) because no one stripped, but when women went to the loo, and they all wore skirts, Mom included, and I think he encouraged her to go, there was a draft in the floor that blew them up, the skirts that is, haha, and Dad thought that was HI-Larious.

Another, in which he admitted to me that he always wanted to be a journalist.

And here I am. Thanks, Dad. He died in 1982, pulling his gold Cadillac across the road into where he succumbed in the parking lot of the Mount Prospect Pop Shoppe.

Schola longa; vita brevis.


Lonnie Carter is a writer who lives in Falls Village. Email him at lonniety@comcast.net.

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