Election Days and Kitchen Table Conversations
Growing up in Chicago meant politics and family. Conversation about the issues was basic yet poignant. This is a story about my home in a Chicago bungalow on a Mayoral Election Day in 1964.
My dad, Jim Conley, was no heavy-hitter in Chicago politics in the '60s, but he was a precinct captain for the Austin District. It was a position he held for a number of years. I don't recall how long he performed that task. I just remember that eveybody in the neighborhood knew him.
All I could understand was that when someone had a problem that needed fixing, they'd call my dad.
Anyway come Election Day, he got the vote out for "The Boss," Mayor Richard J. Daley.
It was about 6:30 p.m. on a cool, damp April evening. He'd been out since sunrise and finally made it home. He stood for a moment at the coat closet next to the door that led to the second floor bedrooms. There he took off his deep-brown fedora hat, revealing the red-gray strands of hair that barely covered his balding head. Carefully he hung up his overcoat.
I heard the familiar heavy footsteps move across the green-and-white-specked linoleum floor. With a handkerchief, he wiped the perspiration from his brow and smiled with the knowledge that he'd kept the political machine in place.
Then he greeted us with that tired smile. I was sitting with a coloring book at the white Formica table. He leaned over, kissed the top of my head and said, "How ya doing sweetheart?"
My mom was in her usual position, washing dishes at the kitchen sink. Drying her hands on a checkered towel that left a wet spot on the front of the neatly pressed blue and white, shirt-waist dress—I always thought that dress looked so pretty when her shoulder-length, coal-black, curly hair brushed its collar—she turned around and winked at me.
Then she said to my dad, "So, how many times did Old Man Reilly vote from the grave?"
He gave a breathy sigh, knowing full-well that the practice was as crooked as the day is long, and said, "Ahh, don't start Louise. It's our bread-n-butter and you know it."
The conversation between the two stretched on into the night. Intermittently, my mom would tell us kids to finish our homework and then later to get ready for bed. Meanwhile, the two sat drinking coffee, and I vaguely remember the tragedy of the JFK assassination cropped up along with references to "The Iron Curtain" and Nikita Khrushchev.
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