Martin Stewart

Transcription of Martin Stewart
Interviewee: Martin Stewart
Interviewer: Sarah Altinbask
Date: February 13, 2014
Place: Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N Ashland, Chicago, IL 60640
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbask
Total Time:

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: So can you tell me more about some of the pictures that you have?

MS: Yeah, do you want me to go over these again? Is that what you’re saying? Go over the pictures again?

SA: Uh huh

MS: Because I started showing you this one.

SA: Sure.

MS: Ok. I don’t have a lot of pictures of my family but this happens to be one of me when I was six months old and as you’ve said I haven’t changed a bit except everything but my eyes.

SA: And where was that picture taken?

MS: Well this is in Winnipeg in Canada. Manitoba, that’s about…. Winnipeg is about 100 miles north of the Minnesota border. So it’s kind of in Southern Canada but most people in Canada live in the Southern part, because it gets too cold the further north you go. So, Manitoba is kind of, I don’t want to say odd place, it’s kind of flat as a pancake. Flatter than Chicago if you can believe it.

SA: Really?

MS: But there are something like 100,000 lakes in the province. Have you ever seen those signs from Minnesota and the license plate that says, “Land of 10,000 lakes”….

SA: I’ve actually never seen that.

MS: …and anyone from Manitoba when they see that they laugh. That’s all you got? Well that’s a big deal for the U.S. I guess but not necessarily for Canadians. So, like I said, Winnipeg is a city, flat as a pancake. About 500,000 people, surrounded by wheat fields. It’s basically what they do. It’s a big farming grounds, and some people don’t like it, It gets pretty cold there of course. I remember….

SA: …Colder than Chicago?

MS: Oh absolutely. Think about it. You’re maybe one thousand miles further north from Chicago.

SA: Ok.

MS: And so it’s bound to be colder, twenty, thirty, forty below zero, and the further north you go, of course, the colder it gets. So, summer in Manitoba is seventy five degrees. Wow, that’s great. It’s just enough to keep the wheat growing. So that’s where I was born. I’m one of five 5 children. And my parents, my father was an only child. And of course as you can tell from the name Stewart he’s from Scott’s ancestry. And I remember my grandfather…I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, because he had such a heavy brogue. I can kind of imitate it sometimes “So he kind of spoke like this…a lot of people cannot really understand it.” {sort of like the mumbling) But that’s kind of the way that he talked. My father had a little bit of that, but not too much. Of course I have even less, since I’ve lived most of my life in the U.S.

SA: I don’t hear it at all.

MS: Well people say first you can tell that someone’s from the Midwest by the way that they annunciate. Canadians have a tendency to say “OOO”. And a few words we pronounce a little bit different like “oot.”.

SA: Out?

MS: Yeah “out,” and “progress” rather than “prah gress.” We have a tendency to accent the first vowel and some things like that but most of the time it’s not really noticeable. And of course, every Canadian knows how to say “EY”. So that’s where I was brought up. Like I said I had, let’s see, three sisters and a brother, and I was the second youngest. So I was born in 1945 right after the war ended. My father didn’t go to war. He stayed home and tried to make some money. He was born in 1913 so they, my parents, got married in the height of the Great Depression. So they didn’t get much, have much schooling. The… my father I think had two years of high school and my mother never went to high school. I think my mother was maybe seventeen when she got married and she comes from a Polish background. Of course I couldn’t understand what they were saying either. In fact her mother and father only spoke Polish as happens with a lot of first generation immigrants. They know a few English words but basically they didn’t know any others. My mother of course could speak English and Polish that’s how she met our father because, she did speak English. We lived in a Polish neighborhood in Winnipeg. It was Polish and Lithuanian as I recall. The two… and Ukrainian. They were all mixed together and their languages were all similar so they could somehow communicate.

SA: Interesting.

MS: I remember I was maybe seven years old when we came to the States. But I still remember some of the things between within, 1950. They still had horses going down the street. I remember the fellow who was selling vegetables. I remember a guy who would go, he’d have this equipment on his cart, with a horse and he would sharpen knives. He would go door to door sharpening knives for people. There’s still a few people like that sharpening knives, but I think you have to go to them, they don’t come to you anymore.

SA: And that was after you came here?

MS: No, that was in Winnipeg.

SA: Oh, ok.

MS: That was in Winnipeg. So my earliest memories are pretty vague because I was so young when we came here. And so I was just kind of like tagging’ along. I’m here. What’s this place?

SA: Now, when you came here, did you come straight to Chicago?

MS: Oh no, no. We went to Minneapolis, because my mother’s parents were already there in Minneapolis. The two uncles that I had… the two uncles that came to Minneapolis were builders. One was a carpenter and the other one was a painter. So they formed their own company and they built a house. One of the first things they did. So my father of course was still in Canada. But my mother’s family, half of her family, had already come to Minneapolis and she wanted to come here too. That and things weren’t that great. My father had a number of different jobs. He drove a logging truck over the ice in winter time. He was a hockey player. He’d move furniture. He did just about anything that he could until he finally went to school and he learned about boiler makers, large heating plants, things like that. But when he first came to the States… and of course he came here to find work. That was the basic reason. There was no political repression or anything like that in Canada. So he came here because he wanted a job. My mother said we should come here because then she could be back with her parents. So the first place when we came here, we stayed with my mother’s parents. Again I don’t remember a lot of it except my dad kept saying that he really doesn’t want to be here. “We’ve got to find our own place. We got to get out of here. “I could well imagine that because he’s a man with pride. And he doesn’t want to depend on his relatives, especially the Polish relatives that he can’t even communicate with, because he didn’t know Polish either. So, before we left Canada…… I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself but I do have a picture of my sister, and ….

SA: What kind of outfit is that?

MS: It’s a Scot’s Tartan, and she and my other sister both danced in Scottish dances. I do remember my father taking them to a dance class so they would be able to dance some of these traditional Scots dances. That reminds me. I tried to learn how to play the bagpipes when I was older, and that that’s a story in and of itself. Let’s just say I never really learned how to play the bagpipes.

SA: Ok.

MS: But I did try. So, we came here because of work and because my mother wanted to be with her parents however, and we stayed in the basement area of the house that they had. And my father was really anxious to get out of there. He couldn’t communicate with the other side of the family. His pride was really hurting, so eventually we wound up buying a four-flat, because he saved and saved and saved all his money. So we bought a four-flat in Minneapolis and rented out the other three, typical thing that happens for some extra money.

At first he had a very difficult time finding a job. I do remember him… couldn’t find anything in Minneapolis, had wound up going to Detroit and he found a job there. So he had come back whenever he could He didn’t have enough money for a car so he’d be taking the train back and forth from Detroit to Minneapolis.

SA: So he would go and you guys were still….

MS: And we stayed in Minneapolis because my mother’s parents were there.

SA: So at what…how did you end up here?

MS: Well that’s another long story.

SA: Ok.

MS: I went to school in Minneapolis and being a English speaker I really didn’t have any problem. I didn’t know I was from someplace else. This is what I was told to do, so that’s what I did. Eventually I graduated from college and I was looking for a job. I wound up being a salesman for Skill Power Tools, which is now owned by somebody else who’s owned by somebody else, and they hired me as a salesman. So I stayed in Minneapolis and then they found a territory for me in Davenport Iowa. And I didn’t like Davenport Iowa. So when I was hired to go… I was told to go to Davenport… my then boss says, “Don’t worry this will last maybe a year, maybe at most two and I’ll get you to another large city.” which turned out to be Chicago. So I came to Chicago as a product manager. And then, I was traveling all over the country. In fact I wound up going to California, didn’t like that, came back to Chicago. So I’ve lived in Chicago now for about thirty years.

SA: Thirty years?

MS: Thirty years.

SA: How do you like it?

MS: I found that it’s a lot…. I am a mid-westerner whether it’s from Winnipeg, Canada, or, Minneapolis, Chicago, it’s all Midwest. And I feel more at home here than I do in L.A., for example, where everyone is from someplace else to begin with and they all try to act like they’re not. So all of these things gave me more of an appreciation for Chicago. And of course that’s where I met Dorothy.