I often reference the burden that carrying your family history entails. I usually dwell on the mental load, how it requires — and can drain — your time and energy and spirit. But other times, I’m talking about an actual, physical burden.
I’m talking about Gertrude’s window.
This stained-glass window currently lives in my dining room. I haven’t found a better place for it. I have somewhere in mind, but first, a little history.
One chill February afternoon in 1921, a call rang into the Englewood police station from a Greek restaurant on 63rd Street. Could they please come remove some patrons who wouldn’t leave?
Police arrived to find two reluctant customers: Ruth Townsend (61) and her daughter, Marian (26). The pair had just been evicted from their home a few blocks away, at 57th and Stony Island. It was cold outside. They came to this restaurant, where they’d eaten before, because they had nowhere to go and nothing to go with.
Accustomed to handling sympathetic hard-luck cases, the police took the now-homeless women to the Hackett Stevenson Memorial Lodging House, a women’s shelter on South Prairie Ave. They probably thought that was the end of it.
But a week later, on Valentine’s night, the police had reason to return — and they weren’t bringing valentines. The Townsends’ neighbors had watched their eviction take place, and had seen the furniture piled up in the backyard. They also noticed something that was missing from the scene. Rumors began to spread. Eventually one of the neighbors had approached the police to say: Ruth’s elderly mother was living with them. We haven’t seen her since last summer.
The cops wanted answers. Where was Ruth’s 93-year-old mother, Nancy Chamberlain?
The summer of 1927 had been the peak of drama for Lady Bledzo. As part of her very public lawsuit against ex-fiance Darby Day, Jr., she had appeared in national newspapers. She garnered the support of sympathetic and powerful media. She had provided letters, photos of injuries, and compelling and dramatic testimony about abuse. Lady Bledzo had given it her all.
In early February, when All This began pulling its long shadow over our lives, I joked to my husband that I might be particularly well-equipped to handle the situation.
I’m a homebody by nature. All my hobbies are domestic, or can be done at home. I can already make bread or provide a decent chicken soup for the invalid. And I’ve read plenty about the influenza epidemic of 1918. I was made for this, I told him. We both laughed.
Poised on a spare desk in the Chicago Avenue Police Station, Lady Bledzo didn’t look like she’d just come from a fight. In her crisp white suit and jaunty tie, with a fur across her lap, she looked like she was ready to go shopping.
But excursions to Wieboldt’s or anywhere else would wait.
There had been a fight, right on the sidewalk, and now there were reporters eager to hear her side of things. Lady Bledzo posed for photos and smiled at their questions.