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Whiskey Breakfast

Whiskey Breakfast: My Swedish Family, My American Life

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Whiskey Breakfast
    Book Description:

    Whiskey Breakfast is Richard C. Lindberg’s captivating tale of life as a first-generation baby-boomer Swedish American. Masterfully blending autobiography with immigrant history, Whiskey Breakfast surrounds Lindberg’s family story with Swedish cultural history and politics, as well as remarkable Chicago history and how Clark Street and Swedetown became a center of Swedish immigrants’ social and cultural life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7829-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    When I think back to my favorite childhood memory of my father, the same one always presents itself—a rare, unguarded moment that occurred one summer afternoon in my eighth year when I inspired the stern, unforgiving old Swede to guffaw in amusement. The moment was spontaneous and joyful. I had never seen my father like that before; he was not the kind of man who freely displayed his emotions. And I never again heard him laugh as happily and fully as he did on that humid Saturday afternoon we shared in his backyard.

    With the remains of an unfiltered...

  5. 1 sweden and the sorrows
    (pp. 1-24)

    Through the oral tradition of family history passed down from one generation to the next, many American families learn of their ancestors’ wondrous journeys from the hellholes of the world to the shores of America to blaze a trail and reap whatever little promise there might be for success. I use the word “hellhole” without rancor, because that is how the hardships of the “old country” were so often remembered by so many for so long. In my personal family album, the first immigrant was my father’s father, Kålle (commonly Charles) Lindberg, and his particular hellhole was the rural provinces...

  6. 2 two men from swedetown
    (pp. 25-39)

    Taking the same route to America as his father, Kålle, Oscar arrived in Montreal and slipped past customs officials along the Canadian border into Detroit. He reached Chicago and headed for the city’s North Side near Belmont and Clark Streets. New immigrants usually arrived in Chicago with specific directions to the neighborhoods made up of others from their country back home. Swedes went to “Swedetown” and found a world of Swedish temperance cafés, fraternal societies, taverns, and cheap lodging for transients.

    Chicago’s first Swedetown began in the late 1840s as a miserable collection of wooden shanties and lean-tos; a squatters’...

  7. 3 the opposite sides of the tracks
    (pp. 40-50)

    Richard, Emma, and their two little girls lived in Swedetown for many years—moving from Clark Street to Winnemac Avenue, just a few blocks away. During the years leading up to and all the way through World War I, they built quiet steady lives cushioned by the familiar security of Swedish-speaking neighbors and shop owners in stark contrast to the upheavals going on in the country at large.

    As a girl, my mother was a tomboy at heart. Helen played marbles in the alley as well as games of “indoor ball” (an early version of softball) with the other street...

  8. 4 the shadows of despair
    (pp. 51-74)

    Nearly twelve months to the day that Oscar sailed for America, Elma sent a final urgent appeal for help. Osborn, she wrote, had contracted tuberculosis, known to that generation as consumption. Elma had removed the baby from the Göteborg orphanage after finding it impossible to pay for his care and maintain a life of her own.

    Elma gave up her little apartment in Göteborg and returned to her family homestead. Osborn was placed in the care of his grandmother and Elma’s brothers. Her family bore my father no personal ill will and generously viewed him as a working-class hero possessed...

  9. 5 feeding the sparrows
    (pp. 75-91)

    As much as Chicago’s Swedetown proved a powerful inducement to the poor farmers of Småland tilling the craggy soil in their “kingdom of stone,” those who had spent a fair amount of time in the whirl of Clark Street began to view their situation somewhat less positively. They began to dream of living in more spacious and tranquil surroundings as soon as they had gained the confidence born of greater familiarity with the English language and American customs.

    My grandfather Richard imagined himself as a homeowner—a king among men—seated with his newspaper and cigarette in a place he...

  10. 6 oscar and evelyn and charley
    (pp. 92-107)

    Oscar and Evelyn’s honeymoon was over before it began. Temperamentally unsuited to one another, they were a strong-willed couple, quickly baring their insecurities and anger once the bloom was off the rose. After a few unhappy months, Ezzie contrasted Hamlin to Oscar, pronounced them both unfit providers, and decided it was in her best interests if her second husband returned to his club-hopping regimen—without her. If he stayed away all night, there was at least the chance of enjoying a good rest. It was in the early dawn, after many fitful hours of listening to her husband’s nonstop snoring,...

  11. 7 a picnic, a proposal, a passage
    (pp. 108-119)

    Richard Stone endlessly pondered the fate that would befall Helen and his bungalow now that Marge had flown the coop. What would the poor girl do once he was gone? More than anything now, he desired to find a life companion for his poor homely daughter. But who would have her? The men of the Moose had shown no interest beyond a few beers and a few friendly dances at Moose Hall. And despite years of slaving over Emma’s battered metal pots boiling hambones and potato sausage,lutfisk, androtmos, Helen had tried but failed to become even an adequate...

  12. 8 charity begins at home
    (pp. 120-137)

    It was the late-summer buzz of the cicadas my mother longed for—the hiss of millions of the insects sequestered in the branches of mature trees in the old neighborhood. The thought of the seven-year cicadas brought to mind memories of bygone summer evenings and the struggle to fall asleep in the thick, steamy humidity of a Chicago summer, listening to Marge’s endless chatter while running chunks of ice over her face and wrists to cool down. Helen remembered with a sad fondness the summer cicadas, the sleepless nights, and the silly, nonsensical rhymes the Norwood Park boys repeated to...

  13. 9 the crying game
    (pp. 138-148)

    While Helen fretted in Skokie, Richard and Emma enjoyed their “empty nest” on Navarre Avenue. With just the two of them, the house was mostly quiet except for Emma’s occasional obsessions over

    the neighbors’ real or perceived slights. Carl Johnson, owner of the family business specializing in feed, seeds, coal, and furniture moving, kept Dick Stone busy during the week, though he could see that his loyal employee of nearly thirty years had slowed down with the onset of late middle age.

    On the weekends, it was Richard’s custom to park himself in the front room of the house and...

  14. 10 the house that was not a home
    (pp. 149-165)

    It is a spring afternoon in the middle of my eleventh year, and I am afraid. I am Oscar Lindberg’s second son and I’m supposed to be as fearless and tough as my father, but in truth I am anxiety-ridden and my sense of well-being and security extends only as far as the distance from the front hall to my back-porch room, the same room where Richard Stone passed many a night sleeping alone in the rear of the bungalow on Navarre Avenue. We live here now, my grandmother, my mother, and I.

    Bewildered and apprehensive, I wonder what it...

  15. 11 the shock—up generation
    (pp. 166-177)

    Marge Stone, the former flapper from Norwood Park with the rubyred lipstick and sarcastic air, died alone at Swedish Covenant Hospital on February 18, 1958, from cirrhosis of the liver. Not even Leo was present at her bedside when death arrived early that evening. Those who knew Marge were busy condemning her for living a profligate’s life, even as the mourners repaired to the corner tavern down the block from the John V. May Funeral Home in Jefferson Park, where the wake was held.

    My vague recollections of that long-ago day of sorrow include fifty people drinking in a crowded...

  16. 12 custody visits
    (pp. 178-196)

    My father would often say to me, “Always make them think you have money, Rickey—people will treat you better.”

    It seems to me that my father paid a terrible emotional price just to be liked. Ultimately his money and insecurities brought only strife, turmoil, and rebuke. For much of his life he solicited the admiration of others to salve the pain of his own broken childhood, and although he probably could not admit it to himself, he fended off the collective neurosis, jealousy, and greed of a half dozen women demanding financial assistance by wielding an open checkbook to...

  17. 13 slam books and second chances
    (pp. 197-217)

    There comes a moment in everyone’s life when we must let go of childhood. For much of my life, I have dwelled in old memories of childhood in a Swedish household in Norwood Park, questioning why certain things happened to me, attempting to reconcile the past, and harboring a desire to walk down an alternate path once forsaken. I have often dreamed of a second chance, desiring to go to back to boyhood and bind up the wounds, bring closure, and move into the light of today. I longed for an escape from my childhood, but for many years, I...

  18. 14 a child of clubland
    (pp. 218-227)

    I was reminded many, many times that I had cousins living somewhere in the heart of Sweden, but they were meaningless to me. I did not even know their names, and if I thought of them at all I imagined the whole happy group fishing for herring in the Baltic and living aNational Geographiclife. Who were they, really? What did it matter anyhow?

    Being Swedish seemed the least of my problems. The Swedes were invisible in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, I went to great lengths to conceal my Nordic ancestry to the Norwood Park kids who would have added...

  19. 15 the taming of the swede
    (pp. 228-236)

    Oscar was sixty-seven years old, and he desired to make some changes in the quality of his life. Unable to find a suitable buyer or family successor to take over the construction company he had launched in the 1940s—because I was too young and Chuck was totally uninterested—he closed his business in 1964. Alice and her parents were still performing their routine caretaking duties, but once again my father was restless in his love life and business affairs.

    Märsta, February 19, 1965

    Hello old friend!

    What has happened to you since you moved into the castle of your...

  20. 16 love is for barflies
    (pp. 237-252)

    The bullying and the hectoring I endured as a boy ended by the time I entered high school in 1967, the year of my father’s marriage to Marie. It almost seemed as if that other troubling aspect of my—life my relationship with my father—had ended as well. For the next two years, 1968 and 1969, both Chuck and Oscar were absent from my life.

    Chuck was on his own now, a grown man with too many responsibilities and not enough cash. His shotgun marriage to Jeannine Palmer in 1963 was followed by the birth of a daughter the...

  21. 17 a worker of the world
    (pp. 253-264)

    As the years passed, my Thursday afternoon visits with my father became a matter of routine. As we sat in the backyard amid his prized roses and buzzing sweat bees in the stifling humidity of a July afternoon, he nursed a glass of Canadian Club—so therapeutic for his emphysema—and wove colorful tales of his early life. He told me about his meeting with old General Wood, about the day he stared down swarthy gangsters who threatened to sabotage his construction sites unless he paid tribute to the Chicago syndicate. “I drove those damned dagos from my office, I...

  22. 18 ashes to ashes—and back to ronneby
    (pp. 265-276)

    February 6, 1988

    Bloomington, Indiana

    Dear Richard:

    We are now in the grip of a severe cold. Below zero the past two nights and although sunny today, the temperature will get no higher than twelve degrees. This is the time of year (a few years back) when your father would say “Let’s take off!” And away we’d go; Florida, Brownsville, Expo ’67, San Diego, Hawaii. Ah memories! Your dad was proud of your accomplishments even though he didn’t talk to you about it, he did so to others; your work record, your education, your writings, et. al. He understood construction...

  23. 19 a wayne king lullaby
    (pp. 277-282)

    My mother, a bitter and disappointed soul, built impenetrable walls to seal off any chance at long-lasting happiness. She lived another thirty-seven years following her final separation from Oscar in 1955, but for all intents and purposes the second half of her life was a slow, measurable suicide, hour by hour, day after day. For years she had fixated on taking her life in some dramatic femme fatale way, but never once did she make the first attempt. My beleaguered mother was spiritually and physically drained dry and full of morose self-deprecation. Her false threat of suicide was a guilt-inflicting...

    (pp. 283-296)

    I am a man who lives in the past. I am a historian and that allows me to rationalize my meditations over events of long ago. I am a writer, and the creative muse inspires me to record the voices of the past. And in my mind, the past never recedes. It is always with me, and at times it can be a haunting, aching aria.

    The older I get the more time I have to reflect upon the lives of my father, Oscar, and my grandfather Richard, the two men who came to Clark Street all those years ago,...

    (pp. 297-300)

    Evelyn Freislinger, arthritic and brittle, visited Chicago and Pistakee Bay one last time in the spring of 1981 shortly before her death in Monterey, California, later that year. She stored her cigarettes in a scratched and battered gold case. She wore pink slacks, applied way too much makeup to her face, spoke every sentence as if it were a formal declaration, and exuded a faded 1940s kind of ballroom elegance. She was quite a dame.

    Bruce Hamlin, Evelyn’s other son, served in the military before moving to New York City, where he worked in television production for a major network...

  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-302)
  27. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 303-318)