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[The following is excerpted from the new paperback edition of Studs Terkel’s oral history of death, Will The Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]
“The Other Son”
In contrast to her husband’s introspective nature, she is outgoing, a large-boned woman, overflowing with gusto and ebullience. She frequently laughs out loud.
I’m a forty-six-year-old woman of Jewish-Gentile descent—my father’s a Jew, my mother’s a Gentile. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by my stepfather—raised Catholic. He was a truck driver. My younger brother, Mark, became a truck driver. I went to public school. But I went to the Catholic catechism every Wednesday. I did the confirmation and all that kind of stuff. I got close to age twelve, thirteen, and I began to see what I was saved from. I was saved from Hell. But what Catholicism wasn’t teaching me was what I was saved to. They didn’t tell me how to live with God and experience a taste of Heaven on Earth, now. So I began to pull away from the Church. It just didn’t meet my needs.
If I read my Bible I saw that it said very clearly to worship God, then why were people worshiping statues? To me that looked like idolatry. So, as a young teenager, I started asking questions. Then I began to wonder what is this all about? I know that there’s a God, and I know that He loves me, but what else is there? How do you live now? I lived in a very difficult, alcoholic home, and early in my teens began to experiment with drugs—do whatever I felt like doing. In the one sense, I had the Ten Commandments ingrained in me, so I knew what was right and wrong—but I didn’t really care about the consequences. I didn’t really understand the value of a God who loves me, and that because He loves me, I should act loving towards him, which means act loving towards everybody else. I was very, very selfish.
I had been working part-time jobs since I was fourteen. A couple of weeks after I graduated from high school, my dad said, “Get out of the backyard, sitting in your bikini, and get your butt downtown and find a job.” So I went downtown and found a secretarial position. I was seventeen. And then I moved out when I was eighteen, to live with my boyfriend. That didn’t work out. Moved back home and met Steve not that long afterwards, in March of 1975. We moved up here to Rogers Park and had a family. We had twins in May of 1977, Andrew Needham and Samuel Richard, born on different days—May 7 and May 8. And then in 1982, in August, we had Philip; and then in 1987, December, we had Clinton. I was working as a floral designer, part-time, in Skokie. Steve was tuning pianos.