Tracy Poyser

Transcript of Tracy Poyser
Interviewee: Tracy Poyser
Interviewer: Mark Lecker (with Gerhard Schutte)
Date: January 30, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 30:33 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker on January 30th interviewing Tracy Poyser, uh, who comes from Germany, correct?

TP: Mmhmm.

ML: Tracy, can you tell us about your early years? What kind of place did you grow up in?

TP: I grew up in a very, very small village. You know, just as a point of interest my name in…I was baptized Beate, but Beate with an “e” on the end always turns to beat, [unintelligible]. So in English speaking countries I became Tracy [laughs]. But the village I grew up in the Rhineland of Germany, in a region called the Westerwald, which means the “western woods.” But it’s high plains, deep valleys, hilly landscape…and it’s in the Rhineland… probably, if you draw a line from Cologne to Frankfurt then put a pin in the middle that’s just about it. A little village of three hundred or so people. Less than half of the population of this condo.

ML: So did you grow up in a big family?

TP: Small one. My father, my mother, and my older sister, who is two years and eight months older.

ML: When did you come to the United States?

TP: In 1972, so that would be forty one years ago.

ML: And where did you immigrate into?

TP: Chicago. Chicago.

ML: Did you immediately come into this area? Or did you come to another area?

TP: No, my husband had lived in [unintelligible] and we decided to settle in Lincoln Park, for what he thought was a year or two. Then we stayed there until 19…actually until 2005 when I moved to this area.

ML: What kept you in that area?

TP: The convenience, of being close to downtown. Jack was a management consultant with offices on Wacker Drive. Literally, most of the places that I worked in downtown, either in the Loop or close to Michigan and Wacker.

ML: What brought you to Chicago in particular?

TP: Jack did. I got imported [laughs]. I got imported. I was the translator/interpreter foreign language secretary for the Dusseldorf subsidiary of a Chicago-based consulting firm, management consulting firm [unintelligible]. So I was one of the linguists there and Jack was my first assignment. Long did it last.

ML: Do you feel at home in Edgewater?


TP: Yeah, very much so. Very much so.

ML: What promotes those kinds of feelings?

TP: The sense of community, the sense of energy, in the community. In a city like this, the international character of the neighborhood, you know, it’s really…this building alone is like a small United Nations. The community is like a small United Nations. I think the degree of activism that exists, and the community organizations. It’s just…. I think also since I’m retired from corporate life I had the chance to get involved with community affairs here and it’s giving me a sense of home that I’ve ever really had since I’ve moved here.


ML: Why do you think there’s such an increase of activity of people within the community?

TP: I don’t know. I think it had, from what I understand, there is a welcoming. Maybe it’s because of the diversity. You know that people have really found a way to work together. And people seem to want to help their neighbors get integrated. It’s sort of almost what I perceived as the American dream of melting pot. You know, huddled masses [laughs].

ML: Have you found it easier to make connections as colleagues, acquaintances or friends, close friends in an area that is more diverse?

TP: As a general rule, I would say that’s the case. But I think it also depends how you want to live your life. I’ve always found it easy to connect with people. I’ve had that pretty much, if you look for some way, a guiding principle that, in retrospect I see that desire to help people communicate. That’s what I’ve pretty much always tried to do.


GS: Can you recall specific experiences that underlie the sense of community?

TP: In Edgewater? Well, in the building, where I moved three years after my husband had died, I found people will talk to each other in the elevator, which they won’t do downtown. They smile. They introduce themselves. They welcome you. We have an eight page newsletter that features stories about the community. I was invited to be on the editorial committee for that. That in itself gave me a way to go out and find stories. And then there were several community organizations, particularly the Edgewater Community Council, and the Chamber of Commerce here. And for most of them I found, there was a project. For the fiftieth anniversary of the Chamber and the twenty fifth of the Community Council there was creating Edgewater Cookbook. And collecting recipes from all of the… I volunteered to do the photography of Edgewater scenes for the partitions. And so that became as a result of that, and volunteering to do event photography. It was just must much easier once I had the first connections. It was much easier.


ML: We were talking earlier about how involved you are in photography. Is there an area in Edgewater that is your favorite place to take pictures of?

TP: Oh my goodness…the lakefront of course. The beaches. Alleys. Just really wandering around…the Edgewater Historical Society did a Home Tour. But to me it’s finding the kind of hidden stuff. It’s the underpasses on Lake Shore Drive with the bricolage, with the mosaics. It’s almost anytime you walk around and do something slightly different you find something new.


ML: What culture do you identify with? Do you identify as being German who lives in Edgewater? Or are you beginning to identify as an Edgewater resident who happens to be from Germany?

TP: I think first of all, as an American who used to be come from Germany. And now I identify as an Edgewater resident, who grew up in Germany. You know, it shaped me. I consider myself as really more of a European, than as specifically German, which has something to do with the fact that I was fortunate to be the first generation in a true democracy in Germany. When I lived in London, I kind of…I’m a mutt, you know. I identify with Britain quite a bit.

ML: Do you find that the more time you spend in a particular location; you begin to identify with that location?

TP: Yeah, I do. ‘Cause I think that I do that even when I’m travelling. I like to, to get the, the feel of a place, and talk to people. That’s why I like to travel where I can go to small villages and back roads and talk to people. Go with small groups, and really get a sense of the culture of the…you know, the values in a community.

ML: Becoming a member for a short time.

TP: Yeah, yeah.


GS: When you came to the United States first, have you experienced a sense of being a
“stranger”? And if so, how did you overcome that?

TP: I think initially yes, because my accent was extremely British. And people told me I talked funny, and I said, “Really? I studied the language where it was invented.” [laughs] But, I think because I had worked for four years in the subsidiary of Chicago-based consulting firm, and had dated my late husband for almost that length of time, I was introduced to…oh, Jack sent me picture books, I learned so much about it, that I was really excited to come here. I think it was more not having any personal friends. My sister lived on the West Coast then, and initially you sort of walk around in a glass bubble. And then I think what surprised me was the sheer size of it, and the height. You know, I was used to sprawling, like London is sprawling, but like every tourist or newcomer, you [unintelligible].

ML: Did you find it easy to assimilate or become part of the culture?

TP: Yeah, I would say pretty much so. It took a while, but once I found employment. You know, four years…I arrived in ’72. In ’77 I started working with a Chicago-based company that I stayed with for twenty years, but I really made a kind of an American dream career again. Yeah, I found it very much less restricted than Germany in some ways, in terms of being especially in employment situations as a woman. It’s a little bit more paternalistic still in Germany, so I found that very, very encouraging.


ML: Did that help you feel more comfortable and less like a stranger?

TP: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. It really did. It really did.

ML: Do you have any lingering feelings of, of being a stranger, being an outside while living in Edgewater?

TP: No. Absolutely not, absolutely not.

ML: What do you attribute to that?

TP: I think that I’ve really felt like an American since almost…well, definitely since I acquired citizenship - which was the first ceremony, in 1976 in the bicentennial year. And I think that also it’s a mindset, really, you know. If you look at… (Indicating objects in her home)… yeah, you know. There are aspects of home Germany and home here that I would like to merge a little more…the best of both countries. But all together I really haven’t felt like a stranger…oh my goodness, not in years and years and years.

ML: That’s good.

TP: Yeah, yeah.


GS: When you travel back to Germany, how are you viewed by your friends?

TP: As the crazy American

[Everyone laughs]

TP: As the crazy American auntie. You know my sister and I…. My dad was an only child, and my mother came from a large family, and so… All of my cousins who grew up in the Frankfurt area stayed very close to home, and went into the parent’s business, or close to that. And the two of us were the only ones who went very, very far [unintelligible]. So we are just the crazy American cousins.

ML: Do family members ever come visit you in Edgewater?

TP: No, they haven’t had a chance. It’s tough, you know. They all have family as well as… like one cousin has a son in Berlin who is a journalist, married to a young woman from Thailand, and so…. She now moved to Berlin, and goes to Thailand. It’s just the lack of opportunity. Then the other thing is that [unintelligible] Germans still don’t see…many Europeans still don’t see Chicago necessarily as a destination. You know, they’ll go to New York, and they will go to the American West, and San Francisco. They think that we’re shooting at each other, Al Capone, you know. When I moved here, people thought I was, you know, crazy because I would certainly be shot…you know, shortly after I come here.


ML: The weather doesn’t help either.

TP: No…well, it’s not unlike Berlin, actually.

ML: Really?

TP: Yeah, yeah. Consider…the area I grew up in Rhineland is about the latitude of Newfoundland. And Berlin has continental climate that’s like this. Cold, cold winters, and…

ML: Would you ever consider leaving Edgewater? Moving so to another location?

TP: Yeah. If I found an opportunity presented itself, you know…go where the spirit moves me.

ML: What would draw you away?

TP: Probably…some maybe… I don’t have children of my own, and my husband was my children. So his kids are all grown, and didn’t have any close relationship…being somewhere I could be…have a real sense of community…being…I think I would have to be with people that I’m very close to. And philosophically aligned to. But if…right now I would have very little inclination to move.


ML: On the flip side of the coin, what keeps you in Edgewater?

TP: The location is close enough to the city, and far enough away to be a little less congested, a little less crowded. I like the vicinity to Roger’s Park. And it’s our community. As a photographer, as an artist, I got involved in developing local arts initiatives, like Edgewater Artists in Motion, which was an initiative supported by the Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of other community organizations that was spear headed by Ray Ann Ceclry who is a local real estate developer. And she located a number of local artists and asked us whether we were interested displaying our art in empty storefronts. And so we started doing that. To make the area safer and more pedestrian friendly, and potentially an artistic destination like the Glenwood arts district.

ML: Ok.

TP: I got involved in that from the ground floor. So that alone was really great. But I just love the beaches, and I love the variety of Sheridan Road, and the residential area, with single family homes…and the beaches, all of that.


ML: Have you seen a big change in the neighborhood in the amount of time you’ve lived here?

TP: I would say yeah. It’s been…it’ll be nine years in April. I would say it’s safer, it’s…. When I look at the commercial corridors, Granville, Thorndale, Broadway, and the change in terms of attracting new businesses, small businesses, nice restaurants…it’s really going through a very positive change, and I hope that continues.

ML: It seems like you’ve had a very interesting route from small town in Germany all the way to here.

TP: Yeah.

ML: Overall how would you describe that experience of ending up here in Edgewater?

TP: I think it’s magic [laughs]. It’s…everything leads to everything else…it’s a flow that….I really… And you know, here, again, I think it’s big town, but it’s still a community, a neighborhood feeling. Yeah, it’s really lovely. It’s really lovely.

GS: I saw in this newspaper that they were celebrating this young woman, student, who now occupies a position at Harvard as an editor of their student journal. And I thought, “This is typically Chicago that they celebrate [unintelligible] just an individual that landed there, but they’re celebrating her as someone from Chicago.” So I am agreeing with you there. I have another question about support you have here. As we grow older and so on, we might need support of people who could attend to us if we have some crisis. Is there some sort of mechanism here that…


TP: Well, I haven’t really found it so far… The reason why my sister and brother-in-law moved here from Portland, Oregon was the year my husband died was to have just that. She’s a little older and not as healthy as I am fortunate to be. So it is good to have two floors up and we can help each other. In this I know it’s more…cross that bridge when we come to it still. I don’t really see a support system for seniors and need to have that. I think that is part of…it’s not so much Edgewater, but a part of our culture. [Unintelligible]. That’s maybe when you say what would compel me to move away was finding that support if I can’t find it here.

ML: Would you prefer a support system made up of family members, or even close friends?

TP: Close friends, community members…people who in some way could truly enjoy as much as you are physically and mentally capable of doing.

GS: Any organizations?

TP: You know, I haven’t really seen that here. I have been a student of meditation of the last eight years at a local meditation center, Shambala Meditation Center. They have a social engagement component who is looking towards that from within that community. And it’s not like a…it probably exists from within specific religious community. I’m not affiliated with them, really…other than when I was small…a philosophy necessarily than a religion to me. I think that is probably something that maybe missing in the States altogether. I don’t know, actually, what do you think?


GS: I am more recently moved that you are. I came in the ‘80s, the late ‘80s. I also find this is a greater degree of individualism here. You have to take care of yourself, build up your networks and so on.

TP: I think also…and this is probably one of the few negatives is the…the kind of…there is a cult of youth, compared to let’s say Peru, where the elders are truly honored in their community. It’s this…where older people almost become an embarrassment to their families. But I think that is part of our culture, it’s not so much Edgewater or Chicago. And if it’s anything, there may be more access here than any other big cities. Just because of the way our community works. Have you found any visible support system?

GS: No. I believe you have to join, I think, either a church, or some other community. But there is…it’s not like a community like you have in your small village…

TP: Yes, exactly….

GS: …and when you grow older you need to go to the doctor there is always somebody who can take you. And you cannot rely on that situation.

TP: In this building, particularly, it is a multi-generational building. There are kids and dogs are accepted, and so there… I have friends who are both younger and older. And it is interesting to me we just interviewed a woman for our newsletter, Isla Zeigler, who came here who is ninety five years old. And survived the Nazi Germany just barely, I mean she at sixteen literally got out on the last train…by the skin of her teeth. To Holland and then to the States. She had a really sweet group of friends that just gave her a farewell party, and people shop for each other. We try to somehow create that a little bit within this building. But there are also people…I changed floors from thirty four to twenty two and I found that it was almost moving into a different village. And so you know, you have these layers of familiarity, of friendships within a building.


ML: Do you find a parallel between the small village you grew up in and the village of the condominium building?

TP: A little bit, yeah. Except for the cows and… [laughs]. We’re not allowed to have…it’s in our bylaws that we’re not allowed to have chickens on our balconies.

ML: I guess there goes the fresh eggs.

TP: Yes. No, but our receiving room clerk has chickens, and she brings eggs in for people who want them every now and again. She’s a little bit of the town crier. You find out a lot of things.

ML: Well, I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing your story.

TP: Thank you very much.

ML: Is there any parting words you’d like to leave for anybody watching the video?

TP: I just feel very fortunate, truly, to have had the chance to experience the best of the new world, and with that again, ending up in a neighborhood that brings me the international component.

ML: Well, thank you again.

TP: It’s a pleasure, it truly is.