Barrington author's book recalls Depression-era childhood in Chicago
Bernice Lafoe of Barrington will turn 90 in January, and life continues to be an adventure for her.
Consider her most recent weekend gig, when she was the guest author at a literary event at the Jewel Tea Pavilion in Barrington. Family, friends and book club members all gathered to get their first copies of her memoir that she wrote, "Burling Street Girl."
The book is a collection of 70 stories from Lafoe's childhood growing up in Chicago during the Depression and World War II. It was an eventful time to grow up, and through Lafoe's eyes the book blends national events with the mysteries and pleasures of childhood.
One early chapter she describes is when her father, a cabinet maker and upholsterer by trade, brought home small packages to the family that a young Bernice Pozdro could hardly wait to open, they smelled so good.
They gathered around the kitchen table and each one opened their package to find White Castle hamburgers, she relates. That was in 1939.
"Everyone talks about McDonald's and their (burgers) now," Lafoe says, "but how happy and delighted we were to open those little packages."
The stories are somewhat chronological and build toward 1944, when Lafoe contracted polio. She describes the next six to eight weeks in great detail, from the time she was diagnosed and couldn't get out of bed, through her parents' devoted care and that of the visiting nurses who came three times a week.
Lafoe's diagnosis and long recovery came during the same time both of her older brothers were serving in World War II, so it was a perilous time for her parents. Yet, they remained ever present -- and upbeat -- for their daughter.
"I went from a wheelchair to crutches," Lafoe says, "and I missed a year of school. But I was never sent away from home."
Ironically, Lafoe would later marry Dave Lafoe, who also survived polio, though he was sent to Cook County Hospital and put in isolation for six weeks, as were most other polio victims at the time. Why Lafoe escaped that fate, she still cannot understand.
It was after Dave Lafoe's funeral services in 2015, when their nieces and nephews returned to Lafoe's Barrington home, that the idea first surfaced to document some of her memories.
"Thanks to her sharp memory and sense of humor, Bernice has always been our family's best storyteller," says her nephew, John Pozdro. "She has commanded many a room without really being aware she was doing it.
"She vividly recalls the sights, sounds and smells of her neighborhood," he adds, "along with amusing insights into her family's dynamics."
Within months of her husband's funeral and needing to find a new reason to get up in the morning, Lafoe says she sat down at her computer and began her first story. It was about their home on Burling Street in what is now considered East Lincoln Park in Chicago.
"I never set out to write a book," says Lafoe, who enjoyed a successful career as an executive secretary. "I just wanted to share some of my stories for my nieces and nephews.
"But after I wrote that first story about the 'Burling Street Girl' I was hooked," Lafoe says. "I've never been a writer, but I thought it was pretty good, so I kept going."
Her nieces and nephews helped with copy editing and layout, as well as designing the front and back covers. What resulted was a 350-page book with more than 20 original photos and sketches.
"The book takes us through to the time that she has recovered and returned to normal life," adds Pozdro, who served as her editor, "with an epilogue, from decades later, that reveals what I think is a very poignant twist."
To read an excerpt from the book, or for details on purchasing the book, visit www.newberryhillpress.com/contact.