Girls Like Us: 40 Extraordinary Women Celebrate Girlhood in Story, Poetry and Songs

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It was just a little house, a simple dark brick bungalow no different physically from the endless streets of bungalows and big comforting trees on the Far South Side, but it was very different inside. Everyone came to us. We did virtually all of the entertaining, and in the summer everyone came to our Wisconsin summer home.

It seemed quite natural, and it also gave me a strong, secure sense of "being" very early on. Because of an odd mixture of personalities in the family — a mixture that could have been as disastrous as it was creative — we were the first ones to try everything. Much, much later, when we were both adults and he had children of his own, my first boyfriend, Richard Siegle, said to me, "Your family did everything first.

You water-skied first. You were the first to slice open the hot dogs before you barbecued them. When my mother died in , handing me the one unsustainable blow in life that I never quite believed would or could come, the minister praised her so correctly as a "woman who created neighborhoods" wherever she went. This was so true; it was a gift of God that was hers.

But we were so infinitely blessed in our neighbors, who became — and still are — our real extended family. There were the Siegle family next door, the Lengeriches across the alley we had real alleys in those days too and the Beukes and Bailleses next door.

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Our homes were extensions of each other. These wonderful people are still my rock and my solace. But if ours was first of all a happy, prosperous family life, on the other hand hard work in the Germanic sense was expected of everybody, and everybody, moreover, was expected to enjoy it. My father had a dairy business at South Carpenter Street that thrived precisely off the sheer amount of blood and sweat he and my grandmother, "Oma," poured into it.


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He would get up at three in the morning and run two of the most important routes, then come home for a big lunch that was really a European-style dinner, sleep, and go back to the dairy to work. Oma, who had come over from the German section of Poland near present-day Poznan in steerage when she was sixteen, heaved the milk pails around with the best of the men. But when she dressed up in her fine lace and beaded clothes, in her elegant big house with the Czechoslovakian china and the German crystal, she was the envy of any grand lady. In contrast to the hardworking but fun-loving nature of the house, my religious life hovered like a slightly threatening angel.

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I was sent to a Baptist Sunday school with a straightlaced, terribly decent and highly puritanical family down the block. Not only did I believe in God, heaven, and angels, but I took totally to heart the Baptist maxim that one must "convert" and "bear witness to" one's loved ones.

Whenever my mother's father and mother came out from the North Side, I became anxious and puzzled. My grandfather, Carl Gervens, a lovely, gentle, scholarly man from the Rhineland, was a German socialist and skeptic. He was not about to be "saved. But this early experience with religious absolutism is not something I really regret. It helped me to gain a strong moral sense — and a sense that life was meant to be a dedication, not simply a pastime.

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When, during my university years, I gradually lost an organized faith, it was a great and disturbing loss for me; I have wondered since whether work, when central and crucial to us, does not become an internal search or a substitute for the lost or wayward outer God we now seek inside us. My propensity for otherworldliness fed by constant reading, I divided the world into two spheres, both of which were deep and sometimes terrifyingly real to me.

One was the world here and now, the hearty bourgeois world around our breakfast table. The other world was the "heaven" of our Sunday school I was poring over the atlas, one of my favorite pastimes, and I discovered that Bethlehem, which had always been a metaphysical concept for me, really existed. On a map!


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    There was Chicago with its political corruption, its racial hatred, and its Mafia operations and a citizenry that accepted all of this as natural. It was this tribal morality that fed the growing flames of my hatred for injustice and my desire both to protect myself from this parasitical world and to fight it and to try to change it. Perhaps most important, hovering always just over the horizon, both terribly appealing and terribly threatening, was the black community.

    It hung there like a cloud on the horizon — but I had always loved the rain and the wind, and so I was fascinated by it. Most of the people in our neighborhood feared or hated blacks; to me they represented my first fascination with another culture. It was forbidden — and thus needed desperately to be known. I probed it, but carefully; occasionally I would venture a little way into it and sit on the stoops we had stoops in those days and in those neighborhoods and talk to the old "Negro" men and try to learn about them.

    Much later, when I worked on the Chicago Daily News, I tried to repay the black community just a little for all it had suffered at our hands.

    Girls Like Us: Forty Extraordinary Women Celebrate Girlhood in Story, Poetry, and Song

    I initiated and got printed the first series on the black community that any Chicago paper ever printed. We had thirty-eight parts to it — in fact, once we did it, we overdid it!

    But in many ways life was also so snug and cozy that to this day my closest and most loyal friends are those from the "old neighborhood. Indeed, one success was everyone's in this basically tribal milieu. In this environment my big, stubborn, honest father stood out like a beacon of honesty, if not of understanding. Both an admirable man and a difficult man, he was a typical "mountain man" of southern Germany. He had hands like great hams, and he stood well over six feet tall and weighed sometimes more than pounds.

    He terrified my boyfriends. He was absolutely incorruptible, with that dire, unforgiving honesty of self-made men whose honesty is both a heartfelt thing and a dare against the world they have bested. In the midst of the Depression, before I was born, the dairy business on the South Side of Chicago was fraught with corrupt building inspectors looking for payoffs, with Mafia "enforcers," and with big dairies driving out small dairies like ours with bribes of five thousand or ten thousand dollars — substantial amounts of money at that time.

    If you were not Irish or one of the "machine" ethnic groups, you weren't in — especially Germans, with their individualistic tendencies toward their own businesses. My father had the dubious "honor," when he was a boy at Twenty-first and Lowe, of having to avoid the Reagan's Colts, an Irish gang that included such boys as Richard J. Also available as: Audiobook. Triathlon for Girls Like Us. Narrated by Lauren Ezzo and 1 more. Also available as: eBook. Running For Girls Like Us. Continue shopping. Item s unavailable for purchase.

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    Carole King is the product of outer-borough, middle-class New York Read more 6. Rachel Lloyd has turned a personal atrocity into triumph and is nothing less than a true hero Never again will you look at young girls on the street as one of 'those' women—you will only see little girls that are girls just like us. Read more 2. We understand stuff. We just learn it slow. And that makes me mad. Quincy and Biddy are both