The Butcher’s Daughter
The Butcher’s Daughter
By: Cristina Larson
My story of growing up in the legendary Taylor Street as the butcher’s daughter.
Chasing down cop robbers, unlocking her father from the icebox, encounters with Scarlett fever and leading a one-woman strike, all in the life of “Tony the butcher’s daughter.”
Nardine (Lena) Forchione DiCristina, born February 14, 1926, spent much of her childhood on Taylor Street.
Her father, Anthony Forchione, came to the United States from Faeto Foggia Puglia, Italy. He was sponsored by and lived with his Uncle Lawrence or Leonard Forchione, his wife Concetta (DiGrazia) and their nine children at 732 N. Lawndale Ave. in Chicago. His uncle taught him the butchering trade.
He served in WWI for America and survived the Eastland Disaster of 1915. After the war, he went back to Faeto, met Nardine’s mother Carmina (Carmella) Pavia. They were both from the same hometown. The two decided to marry and come back to the U.S. to 800 N. Harding, Chicago. This is where Nardine’s brother, Frank, was born.
Next, they moved to 2408 W. Arthington Street, on the corner of Arthington and Western, where her dad had his butcher store.
“My father was a hardworking and generous man. He never bought from the black market sellers that would come into the store because he would say, ‘I fought in the war for our country and I’m not taking food out of our soldiers mouths’” recalled Nardine.
She continued, “He would give lines of credit and say, ‘pay me when you have money’. I know a lot of them never paid because they didn’t have it, but he always wanted to take care of the other hardworking families on Taylor Street.” Nardine remembers going into the shop and getting hot dogs or bologna for her friends who were hungry or did not have food. “My father never asked who I was taking it for even though he knew I wasn’t eating it all.”
“I loved going to my father’s butcher shop. I still remember the smell of the sawdust on the floor.”
Her father’s butcher shop had a phone booth which was “the size of a bedroom with a white milk glass.” It was so large that Nardine and her friends would play in it like a playhouse. In those days, phones were rare. She adds, “People would call for my neighbors, mostly about employment, and I’d run and let them know they had a call.”
Also, the shop contained a large walk in ice box which was about 9 x 12 with big thick doors. “One thing I’ll never forget”, Nardine said with a pause, “are the nights my father wouldn’t come home by a certain time. I knew I would have to go check on him, and a lot of time, I’d find him locked in the ice box after being robbed.” Often, her father would roll the money and just leave a small amount in the cash register. She continued, “One time, he was held up and he saved the roll of money by hiding it in the sauerkraut barrel.”
With a smile on her face, Nardine recalls, “ice was delivered in large blocks that weighed 100lbs by burly strong men who carried the slabs on their shoulders. All the girls wanted to go out with the icemen because they were big strong men.”
The butcher shop was constantly full of live animals. Nardine recalls, “The chickens were mean and would peck at anything. People would come in and feel their breasts and see how plump they were.” At night a lot of coops would get stolen. She remembers shouting, “They’re stealing the chicken coops!”
Around Easter, the shop had goats and baby lambs that Nardine used to feed and play with. “I knew they were going to die soon, but I liked playing with them.” After they were slaughtered, she would “play with the lamb heads on the trays. I would rearrange their eyes and tongues to look weird.” She leaned back and laughed as she said, “guess that’s not what all little kids did?”
Frank and Nardine were baptized, made communion and confirmation at St. Callistus Church in DeKalb St. They went to John Cregar Grammar School on Taylor and Campbell. As if it were yesterday, Nardine recited every detail of the building. She said, “it was a three story old brick building, two playgrounds – one for boys and one for the girls. It had showers for the students, a beautiful lunchroom with hot meals that I used to help with, a separate lunchroom for the teachers, a shoe repair every now and then to re-sole your shoes.”
The she explains that in those days a doctor would come in once a week, or once a month, to check for head lice, colds, sore throats, etc. One day, after a routine check-up, she was pulled out of class because her brother has Scarlett fever. She recalls, “We had a red sign on the door and were quarantined for about two weeks. My father had to sleep in the butcher store because if he went home, he would have to stay there. That would have ruined the business.”
Nardine explains that school for many immigrant kids was difficult at that time. “The school was quite rough, they even had a room called the dumb room,” she said.
She continues, “The principal was very racist. We didn’t know that word then, [but] we knew she did not like Italians, and she would tell us so. We were all gangsters and ignorant.” Nardine sits up, and says in outrage, “I was friends with a quiet boy, Charles, whose father was Diamond Joe Esposito. Our teacher called us some nasty names, so I got into quite an argument with her. I knew it was time to stick up for myself.”
She graduated in 1940 and moved on to high school at Creiger High on Taylor Street, around Damen. She recalls, “it was a branch of McKinley High for a semester then went to Manley High on Polk and Sacramento. The Navy took over Manley as a training center for the war (WWII), so we graduated early, in January 1944.” Nardine explains, “It was a sad graduation because so many young men in my class were going to war.”
She graduated as Lena Forchione but had to change her name to Nardine on record when she went to work with the federal government as a riveter on C54’s at Douglas Airport, which is now O’Hare. Since she was very tiny, about 80 pounds, and five foot tall, she worked in a lot of small areas and wings.
In those days, you could not claim sexual harassment, explains Nardine. “You just learned to take care of yourself.”
Nardine leaned back in her chair and said “things got pretty bad at one time. What you have to understand is that it was like you were drafted to the job. You couldn’t just quit. So, I decided that if he wouldn’t stop harassing me, I would go on a one-woman strike. I sat down and refused to work.” In response to her strike, the Union steward came down and gave her a private hearing. She was transferred to a different department away from him.
In 1941, Nardine moved to the northwest side on Lawrence and Keeler, where she currently resides. Although she likes where she lives now, she said “I have many wonderful memories of growing up on Taylor and Western.”