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Chicago Whispers
by Sukie de la Croix
1999-09-01

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Excerpts from an interview with a 64 year old woman

"I joined the Air Force when I was 21 years old and I had a homosexual affair before I left, but I was never in a gay environment. I didn´t even know what the word meant. I never heard the word gay. Anyway, I joined the Air Force and then I was in a gay environment.

"I looked the part, I always dressed the part, and I never knew I was. I remember when I was young, just dating, I remember blowing smoke into other girls´ mouths and getting pleasure out of that. We were young and we were experimenting with cigarettes at the time, but for me it was pleasurable because I was blowing smoke and it was like a kiss. Just like a kiss, but I didn´t know it at the time. I look back on that, thinking, I always favored being with girls, I had crushes on the nuns. I always used to say how pretty some of them were, comment how young they were. I went to Catholic school, on the South Side in Bridgeport, a Croatian school, St. Jerome. Then I went to Little Flower on 81st and Prairie, which was an all-girls Catholic High School. Then I got very sick, I got rheumatic fever. Then we moved to Tucson, Arizona, and there I was in the first Catholic High School in Tucson ever, and they didn´t even have it finished yet. This was way back in 1951, 䚄."

"I went into the Air Force in 1956. I left three years later, I signed up for three years, for the men it was four, now it´s even four years, men and women. I would have made a career out of it but I had a medical discharge. I told you I had rheumatic fever when I was in high school and it left me with a heart murmur and the doctor told me at my discharge physical that eventually I would have surgery and I did. When I left I came home to Chicago and my mother found out I was lesbian, she was pulling out of the dresser drawer all my jeans. She blamed herself, of course, like all mothers do. But then my whole family came to understand it, or accept it, not understand it. That was around 1960.

"My mother introduced me to the first gay woman in this city that I ever met. My mother was a cook and a waitress and they used to work at Edward Don and one woman always reminded my mother of me. I was in the Air Force at the time and when I came home she was so proud to introduce me to these ladies, and that was my first circle of friends. They took me to bars. The first one was the Volli-Bal on Clark Street.

"The first time was scary because I wasn´t used to the whole gay scene. I was so controlled; when you´re in service you´re very controlled. You´re told when to eat, when to dress, and how to dress. I was very scared because the women were very into playing parts at the time and there were a lot of women there that seemed to be big bold brassy butches, and their femmes were really femmes. You didn´t mess around with them, you didn´t even talk to them. The butches wore men´s clothing and the femmes wore women´s clothing, ultra ultra dressed. I remember going into a bar and we had to have three articles of women´s clothing. We couldn´t wear a fly front in our pants.

"But some of the women used to wear men´s jockey shorts, or boxer shorts, T-shirts. They emulated the guys an awful lot. We had no rules, none to follow, so we emulated our brothers. That´s exactly what it amounts to. So what you look like now, we looked like and then some. And we were subjected to maybe the bar being raided. We couldn´t dance together. All the bars were then were gathering places."

Palm Gardens

"In the middle of that bar ... a straight German guy who owned that bar ... in the middle of it, on the inside of the bar was an organ, and he used to play that organ all the time, and he must have had a lost love, really, because he used to sing the song, ... he couldn´t sing ... but this song held so much emotion in it, and it was called "I Laughed At Love." I´ll never forget that as long as I live. It was a real bright bar, it wasn´t dark like bars are, it was very bright, like German bars are bright. You went in there to drink and all these big bulldykes were in there. Again I was afraid, but I met a lot of the people in there and I met this guy who was very gentle, very, very nice. And whatever went on went on, he didn´t care. It´s not that he didn´t care, he let it go. It was one of the best bars I´ve been in. Looking back on it, I didn´t know it then. That guy really threw his whole heart in there. Everybody that went in there was like his kid, it was just wonderful. But I was young and to me it was a very rough bar. I can´t go rough."

Marilyn´s

"Oh that was fantastic! They had really great ideas. I think Nancy Reiff was the front for Felicia, Jim Flint ... that´s my own personal opinion. You walked in there and there were tree branches in the ceiling and there were Italian lights ... they were way ahead of their time. The hostess wore a tuxedo, you knew she was a woman but she was a very feminine looking type. Nancy would show you around, or be around, or whatever. I don´t know why they didn´t take off, it was so great, such a great bar."

Memory Check: Volli-Bal ( 2124 N. Clark Street ) , Palm Gardens ( North Avenue ) , Marilyn´s ( 432 N. Clark Street )

Be a part of reclaiming our history. Send your stories, memories and information to Sukie de la Croix at OUTLINES. He also interviews over the phone or by e.mail sukiedelacroix@iname.com


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