What Goes Around

Vol. XVIII No. 2 - SUMMER 2007

By: Kathryn Gemperle

This story is a reminiscence told to me by a police officer from our neighborhood.

They bought a two flat in Edgewater, on Foster Avenue. It was the late 1960s and prices were low. With an income from the second apartment they could afford it but Rosa, would have to work. Like many immigrants before them English was difficult to learn so Rosa needed a job that didn’t require speaking to strangers who might not understand her accent. A friend told her about a map company nearby on Ravenswood Avenue, a place where they printed maps and made globes. So she went to apply. She had some difficulty with the application but she did complete it and was hired.

The week days were a little hectic in the morning with the children getting ready for school and Rosa for work. They worked it out that she could take them to the school playground early, the school, Trumbull was just a little west on Foster and then she would continue two more blocks to the map company building at Ravenswood and Farragut. Along the way she walked by a grand Lutheran church, Ebenezer and then some little shops. At Paulina there was a Swedish bakery, across the street. When she reached Ravenswood she stayed on the east side of the street. To the west was the high embankment for the Chicago and Northwestern train, with trains slipping past every hour full of commuters who worked downtown. She began to clock her travel time by the train so that she knew if she was on time by where she was when the train went by.

Once at the building she went quickly to punch in and then to her own worktable by the window. There was a box of blank cardboard balls that she would transform into globes in a careful process. She centered the ball on a spindle and began by applying glue to the center of the map. The map looked like a flower with pointed petals. Once glued in place she continued to extend the glue further down on the globe and then press the map sections in place. She did all of this with great care and her boss appreciated her skills.

She had to work carefully and keep her hands clean. It took concentration to match the parts of the globe and be sure that the latitudinal and longitudinal lines lined up. Of course the most difficult piece was the last one. The glue did not dry immediately so there was room for pressing and pushing the printed map to line it up and get it perfect. Nothing less than perfect was allowed. She used her hands to pressure the glue to the ball, an even pressure that did not distort the topographical indications of mountains. Her neck would cramp sometimes from the tension. Her eyes grew tired but this was a perfect job for Rosa. It was a craftsman’s job and a production line job.

Once the ball had been transformed into a globe, it was passed along to the stage for the installation of the hardware and the stand. There were extra pieces attached at the top so that distances could be measured. The pin that went through the globe was attached to an arm that connected to the wooden base. This assembly was also done with great care after the glue had dried. After she completed the globe, Rosa did not see her work until it was finished at the end of a shift. The completed work would be standing on a table waiting to be packaged for shipment when she went by on her break.

In order to do her job Rosa had to pay attention to the shapes of the continents and how they matched up. On every globe she found her homeland, Cuba, which she missed so much. Then she would find her new home in Chicago. The matching was very important and she had to be especially careful. But since she was so visual it was not hard work, just interesting. Yet at the end of the day, she was tired. Walking home she began planning what she would be cooking for dinner. After school the children were hungry and usually had a snack. If they did not eat they would be hanging around waiting for something she cooked to eat before dinner. The cooking and eating took a lot of time, two to three hours, and the children needed to do homework.

After a few months of working, Rosa began to wish she could own a globe. At first it was just a thought, her children would learn a lot from it, learn the names of many places. It would help with their studies. But she couldn’t just buy one. Her wages were needed for the mortgage. So she just stopped herself from thinking about it.

Then one day a friend told her about a better job just a little further away. She could take the Clark Street car and have less walking to do. She realized she should take a better paying job, but it would be the end of making globes. Her boss was sorry to see her go. He just couldn’t pay more for the work and now he must face training a new person for the job. But she had to do what was best for her family. On her last day, he offered her a globe, one that she had made. She was touched and thrilled. They gave it to her in a box and made a handle at the top with string so she could carry it. It was not heavy but awkward to carry.

When the children came home they saw it at once and began spinning it around. “Find Lake Michigan” she said as she began to prepare dinner, “but be careful”. “Did you know that I made that globe? It is beautiful and they gave it to me as a good-bye gift.” After that evening the globe had a place of honor in the dining room.

Years went by, the children grew, married and had children of their own. When they sold the two flat and moved to a smaller place the globe still held a place of honor. No other job that Rosa had worked at was as interesting as the map company. No other job demanded such craftsmanship.

When one day her son, the policeman told her that he was moving to a condo she felt sad to think that his marriage had ended. But when he told her it was a loft at the old map factory she couldn’t believe it. She wondered what happened to that business, they were always so busy. Could it be that people stopped buying globes? She tried to visualize the space as her son,Cesar described it, up to the second floor along the north side of the building with great large windows. She bombarded him with questions. “Where did they put the kitchen, was it all one room? Her last question was “When can I come and see it?”

They decided on a date and she carefully packed up the treasured globe. It was clean and dust free. She found a big shopping bag to carry it in. It took two bus rides to get there and a short walk up Ravenswood from Foster. The entrance had been changed to accommodate many mailboxes. There were large framed maps in the hall, left over from when the company closed. On the staircase landing she saw the old safe in the wall. She knocked on the door of her son’s space and he welcomed her into her old workroom. The windows were the same, and the roof skylight. Quietly she set the shopping bag down on the table. She reached in an pulled out the globe. “Here Cesar,” she said, “I think you should have this.”

Thanks to Officer Cesar Garcia for telling me this story.