I wandered among the 40 desks straightjacketed to the floor. For 75 years they had been prevented from playing hooky. Each desk encompassed an 8- or 9-year-old student industriously engaged in their seat-work (at least until I moved on down the aisle).
I was 22 and in my second year of teaching at Lowell School next to Humboldt Park. It had so recently transformed from Eastern European families to Puerto Rican ones that, with my two-year college Spanish, I was the one the office called upon to help parents register. In other words, a school in flux.
At the June faculty meeting in 1967, our principal had exhorted us to accept that Lowell would only become more Puerto Rican and to get out if we didn’t like it. At the September meeting, we learned that she had transferred to the far Northwest Side.
As always, I had been dropped off 90 minutes before the tardy bell by my husband on his way to UIC. As always, I planned to take two buses home. On this particular April afternoon, as I wandered up and down the aisles, stopping to help where needed, one of the third-grade students tapped me on the arm and pointed to the door. A man’s face was peering intently through the door window. Oh my God, it was my father! What happened to mom? Exerting all my willpower, I calmly told the students to continue with their math work while I stepped outside the classroom a minute.
“Where’s your husband?”
“At UIC. Tell me, what’s the matter with Mom?”
“You don’t know what’s happening? Clow shut down the plant because they’re burning down the West Side. We’re leaving right now.”
(Having shed copious tears the previous night over the death of Dr. King, I knew who they were.)
I told him to take another look at my confused students. He was welcome to leave right then, but I was their teacher and would be there for 45 more minutes — until the dismissal bell rang.
My perturbed father sat on a chair in the office until 3:15 and walked outside with us.
He left the car running and walked me to my second-floor apartment. To his surprise, my husband opened the door. Dad shot me a disgusted look and turned to catch up with his drinking buddies at Oneill’s on North Avenue and Austin.
I remember it as one of the final moments before our political rift spasm-ed us so far apart that we could no longer hear one another.
Dad never said I love you, but I think he may have expressed it that afternoon.
Pat Healey is an Oak Park resident and a retired teacher in District 97.