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It's A Great Life: 24 - Chicago By Night

Jack Merewood and his wife returned to the USA to work in Colorado.

My father said that while we were away he would walk across regularly to keep an eye on our house, light fires so it wouldn't get damp etc, and in September 1954, a year after my mother's accident, we sailed from Southampton on the Queen Mary. The crossing of the Atlantic took five days and we had a wonderful time. Every day a news bulletin was pushed under the door of the cabin giving a programme of the day's activities, and there was plenty to do. There was a daily quiz, and every night there was horse racing. A long 'course' on the floor with squares on it and six big cut-out horses each on a stand and numbered one to six. There was a Tote where you could bet on the horses. Someone threw a dice and one of the ladies present (Sheila was sometimes chosen) moved the horses up the track, if a six was thrown number six would move one square and so on. It was always very exciting. There were also whist drives, cribbage drives, a quiet library, and the sea was reasonably calm most of the time.

Arriving in New York it was still a further 1,800 miles to Denver, so for this part of the journey we took the Greyhound bus. The Greyhound bus service is marvellous, with the buses running all through the night making short stops at various depots where from time to time they change drivers.

Dean had an aunt (Aunt Clara) who lived in Chicago and when the bus arrived at that depot she was there to meet us. She took us home and we spent a lovely evening with the family, one of Dean's cousins taking us a drive round the city at night to show us the sights. Next day Aunt Clara took us back to the bus depot and we continued our jourŽney. We left the Greyhound bus at Cheyenne in Wyoming and took the normal service bus to cover the last 103 miles to Denver, where Jessie and Dean were waiting to meet us and take us to their house, where we were to live with them. They had long ago moved from the chicken coops, and lived in a nice house on Ford Street in Golden.

We had very little money at home, especially when we had paid our fares to Denver, so Jessie had sent us $50 as a loan should we need money on the way. It was essential now that I start working for Dean. He took me to the studio and showed me round. At first I would mainly take telephone calls and make appointments, and also help Dean whenŽever he needed me. He was an excellent photographer and had unlimŽited patience when taking photos at the studio, especially with children. He would try to get them to smile, sit still, not cry... He had dolls and toys which he would wave at them and he kept up a constant patter from behind the camera.

This was the time of year when Dean went round the high schools, taking graduation photos of boys and girls who gave them to friends and relatives at Christmas. I went with him to help to set up his equipŽment and so on, while Jessie took care of the studio. Sheila played her part by baby-sitting with Cheryl whenever she was needed, besides helping in the house. I really enjoyed working with Dean, and I liked working in the studio on my own when he was out. People would be puzzled by my accent and would sometimes ask 'And where in Scotland do you come from?'; but I got on well with everyone.
The real hard work came when the films were developed and proofs sent out. The orders came in in abundance: one boy 'Six of this size, four of that size, two of another'; a girl, 'Four of this size, four of that size, etc, etc'. Dean had the arduous task of 'touching up' the negatives. The teenagers were notorious for having spotty faces, and Dean had negatives strung out on a line, with the light behind them, and he'd go along taking out the spots. The photos were not taken in colour but in sepia, so had to be coloured (tinted) individually by hand, a tedious task. Bonnie had taught Jessie how to tint, but now it meant hours of work for Jessie to get the orders filled for Christmas.

At home I had taken part in plays in the local Thespians. There was a very active Thespian group in Golden and they were putting on a play, My Three Angels, in January, which we went to see. It was very good, and afterwards I spoke to one of the actors, Dennis Pike, who as it happened turned out to be the President of the Society. He welcomed us with open arms, asked us to come to the next meeting, and arranged for he and his wife to pick us up. At the meeting, someone asked where in England we were from. 'Huddersfield in Yorkshire' we said. To our amazement they said 'Oh, Huddersfield, what a marvellous choir, we have a record of their Messiah.' So we were off to a good start!

After Christmas things went very quiet at the studio, the mad rush to get the students' pictures finished and delivered was over, and in January there was very little business coming in. Sheila and I had helped as much as we could during that extremely busy time, but one evening, as Jessie and I were walking in the garden, a very solemn-faced sister said they couldn't afford to keep me working for them. The idea of another studio was not now a viable proposition, which meant that I now needed a job. I could go on with Dean for a while, but it was essenŽtial for both our sakes that I find work.
There was another thing. We had lived with Jessie and Dean for three months, and two families living in one house, understandably, wasn't a good idea. It was clear we had to find an apartment of our own, and I had to find some work. We were feeling very despondent and had we had the money would have returned to England - but we didn't have the money.

We looked through the local newspaper for apartments, went and inspected some, but nothing we saw appealed to us. They were either dingy, sometimes not too clean, or the rent was too high, and we were beginning to despair. However, there was a very small one advertised on Ford Street, just out of the town, so, with not much hope, we decided to try that. The man who owned it was Art Williams, a wonderful man who couldn't have been nicer. He lived in the same block just a few houses away. When he showed us the apartment, he did his best to dissuade us from taking it because, he insisted, it was too small. It was the top storey of a house which was divided into three apartments, but it only had two rooms and a bathroom. One room was the kitchen with dining area, the other a bed-sitting room. At night the sofa had to be let out to make into a bed. But in spite of Art's protestaŽtions we said we'd take it - it was small but comfortable, clean and bright, the rent was only $40 a month plus our own electric, about $2 to $3, and it was our own. Of the apartments we had seen, none were under $60 a month. 'Right,' said Art, and then pointed to a house on 17th Street which was virtually next door to this one. It was divided into two apartments and the people who lived in the top one were moving out in July. It was bigger than our apartment, so if we wanted to stay in Ford Street for six months we could do so, then move into there. We had no hesitation in agreeing to this.

My diary for 6 January records: 'Our landlord, Mr Williams, is very nice... Sheila went down to house and started to clean. Really in very clean and good condition...at night locked up and went down street to tell Mr Williams, so he invited us in and we had some coffee and cake with him. He's a really grand man. We like him very much, very generŽous and kind.' The next day, Saturday, Mr Williams ('Art,' he said) helped Sheila to clean all day as I worked with Dean. Mr Williams, ('ART,' he insisted) told Sheila he thought he'd already cleaned the apartment! But anyhow he went over it again with her. On Sunday Jessie and Dean helped us to move in. In the evening we went ice skatŽing with them to Homewood Park. We'd borrowed skates from Joe's store. We'd never been on ice skates before but really enjoyed it, and soon bought some skates of our own. Colorado in winter is the state for winter sports. Dean could ski, and taught Jessie, but Sheila and I never got round to skiing, though we used to go up into the mountains and watch the skiers.


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