Humble Beginnings

Vol. XVIII No. 2 - SUMMER 2007

By: Millie Ring

I was born in Scandinavia. There are three countries that are part of Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. I was born in Sweden. It is a cold country and has long, dark winters. The sun rarely shines by the Artic Circle, where it is dark night and day for about four months in the winter. In the summer, it stays light so long that you have to have your shades pulled down at night so that you can sleep.

I was almost five when my parents, Lilly and Ingemar Olund came to the United States to find a better life. The boat we came on was called the Gripsholm, and it took ten days to reach this wonderful country called America. There were no planes in those days, but now it only takes 9 hours on a jet to span the ocean from Sweden to the USA.

Neither my parents nor I could understand or speak one word of English. I went to kindergarten at Trumbull School and the kids teased me because I could not understand them. I soon learned to speak English without any special lessons. Then my parents learned the English language from me. We were so very proud of our achievement and happy to be living in this remarkable country called the USA.

We lived in a small four-room apartment on the 1400 block of Winnemac. There was not a bit of grass on a yard where I could play. There were only cement sidewalks. We played hopscotch on those sidewalks and sometimes we played baseball in the alley. It was crowded in our four room apartment because we had my parents, me and my sister and our aunt Dagmar and Uncle George and their daughter June living in four rooms with only one bathroom. My dad, Ingemar, worked as a carpenter and made about $15 a week with no vacation, sick pay or pension. My mom, Lilly, was a housewife.

We were very poor. I only had one pair of shoes, coat, hat, sweater, and gloves. I also had one dress for Sunday school and two blouses and two skirts for school. There were no big decisions about what we were to wear for school. When it was winter and zero degree weather, we wore rubber galoshes with buckles.

We did not eat the way we do today. There were no delis or frozen foods. Our main diet consisted of oatmeal or a piece of toast and squeezed orange juice for breakfast. For lunch, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a bowl of homemade soup. Some days we walked home from Trumbull for lunch and some days we brought a bag lunch. For dinner, we had meat once or twice a week, some fish, many potatoes, rice dishes, fresh vegetables, and hard breads. We did not eat many salads. It was simple fare, but we grew up healthy and strong.

My mother shopped on Clark Street at the many Swedish owned shops. There were four Swedish Bakeries in Andersonville. Mons was at the Corner of Foster and Clark. On the same side of the street but a little north of there was a Vegetable Market. The Tip Top meat market was on that side too.

We played simple games such as cards, checkers, bunco, and dominoes. There were no computer games such as Nintendo or Game Boy. There was no software, and hardware was a place to buy nails. The internet was something like a hairnet. We had roller skates that fit on our shoes and we needed a skate key to tighten the clamps.

We did not have any of the electrical appliances we have today. We had a toaster that opened on both sides so two pieces of bread could be toasted at the same time. We had to turn and watch the toast so it would not burn. We had no automatic dishwasher, Mom was it. We had a washing machine with a hand wringer and no automatic dryers. There were no microwaves, toaster ovens, or showers. There were silent movies only, no “talkies”.

We did a lot of walking in those days. I think the street car cost 5 cents and we could not afford the fare. There were no transfers and there were two conductors on each street car. When we got a hole in the sole of our shoes, we would put a piece of cardboard in them so our feet would not get wet. We only had black, brown, or white shoes, not all these multi-colored ones that we have today. We had gym shoes. The girls wore green rubber gym suits and wore gray tank suits for swimming. They looked awful.

When we needed new things our mother would take us to Clark Street to buy shoes at Hedstrom’s which was near Foster. The department stores were Friedman’s and Winsberg’s up on Granville.<./p>

Christmas was a big event. Santa always came in person with a small pack on his back on Christmas Eve. We were so excited. We each got two or three presents. I got petticoat, woolen stockings, and maybe one toy which was a ball, jump rope, jacks, or a game like Checkers or Parcheesi. We each had a Christmas stocking that was not hung by the fireplace because we did not have one. In our stocking, we found raisins, some penny candy and an orange or an apple.

On Christmas eve we had Swedish Smorgasbord, which consisted of Shitabulla (meatballs), Dopp I Gorota (dipping in drippings) Shinka (ham) Ost (cheese) Limpa bread and of course, Glogg (spiced wine).. Thenon Christmas morning we went to church at Ebenezer Lutheran on Foster and had Julotta. We had real candles on our tree. The Christmas tree cost one dollar. We used to string cranberries on a chain and popcorn balls to trim the tree. We also used multicolored paper chains, paper baskets and little Swedish flags as decorations. It was a marvelous feast and celebration with our many loved ones.

As the years passed by we moved several times. When I started high school at Senn we had moved to the 1400 block of Argyle.

We lived not far from Essanay Studios. I walked to Senn and back each day. It was a long walk.

During the years I was in high school we often went to the Rainbo on Clark Street. It had a lot of activities. There was boxing there, and of course skating. They had dances and Roller Derby. But I remember going there once for a kind of “Dance till you drop” event. That must have been in the 1930s.

I graduated from Senn High School in 1940 and then went to business school for training to become a secretary. These are only a few of my wonderful memories of growing up in Andersonville and in the beautiful country called America.

In later years I married a wonderful man named Norman Ring. We had two children, a girl Sandy and a boy Garrett. They got married and blessed me with five wonderful grandchildren. My grandson Kevin and wife Tina have blessed me with a great granddaughters Cassidy and Shelley. God has been good to me. He has given me more than my fair share.