The Patch

“Anybody who was not well-connected, you go to the Patch.”

Edited by Welcome Project Intern Ella Speckhard

Transcript for The Patch

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was a twin. And they left Poland and they didn’t speak English. They had a note on their—pinned to their thing: Chicago. And so, they, you know, landed in New York, and they found their way to Chicago. My grandmother’s twin stayed in Chicago, and she came to Gary. She was a tough lady. They lived in a place called the Patch, ok? And she met a guy, and they married, and he was also an immigrant, Polish immigrant.

The Patch was just outside the Gary city limits and it was not part of Gary Land Company. These people settled. They didn’t have any standards as far as how they built their houses and that sort of thing. So, it was ramshackle, a little bit. My grandparents had bought a little shack and they dug a basement underneath it, and they added this onto it, and they added that onto it. It was different. There was no building codes in the Patch. There was in Gary. With Gary, they did a great job of being organized, and you know, building city and that sort of thing. But the Patch was in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. It was immigrants, blacks, anybody who was not, shall we say, (and I hate to say this, but) Irish, whatever, they were kind of—had their way, you know? Germans. And anybody who was not well-connected, ‘Yeah, you go to the Patch.’

My mom was a homemaker. And my dad worked at a place called Republic Steel. He did not like to go there, ok? Let’s put it that way. He worked at Republic Steel before the war and got his finger cut off and whether he had a psychological issue or not, he hated that place. He quit. He opened up a tavern in 1941, and the war broke out, and they drafted him, and he had a particular type of skill in the steel mill which was kind of rare: making these certain-type bars. And they says, ‘Well, here’s what we want you to do. We’re not going to send you to Europe or wherever. We’re sending you to the mill.’ You would’ve thought that was a death sentence. So, he went back to the mill, but he just couldn’t make himself work every day. He had a full-time job, he just didn’t go to it, ok? And many times they tried to discipline him, and one time they fired him, but he was so good at what he did, they had to bring him back. They had to bring him back. And they did.

In the 50s, it was kind of bad. Other kids had things. We didn’t have things. I can remember not having any food in the house at all. Piece of stale cheese, but it tasted so good. It tasted like steak, you know? And in 1959, it was a big strike. I was eight years old. It was a long one. And we didn’t have any food. We were out picking sand berries, and grape leaves, and that sort of thing to stay alive, so…

We lived out on 7th and Vermont. It was a small house and one thing that I’m impressed now is how close those houses were together. You could hear somebody having an argument or you could hear them frying bacon in their house right next to you, you know? And, of course, they could hear you, too, if you had issues and so it was very unique. People got along somehow, though. And, you know, our neighborhood had all different nationalities. You could—I could go to anybody’s house on any given day and taste a different cuisine, so to speak. It was awesome! It was awesome. We had Arabs, we had Jews, we had Mexicans, we had a few blacks at that time—was not a lot—Polacks, and I say that, ‘Polacks,’ on purpose because in those days, we called each other everything. You were a Spic, you were a Polack, and it didn’t make any difference. You were a Mic. We didn’t care. We thought that was ok. It’s kind of strange because now it’s not politically correct at all. But I don’t know which is better: if it’s better now, or if it was better then. I just don’t know.

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