Kindred's Memoir of the Forehands and Their West Side Tavern
LINCOLN--It was seven-tenths of a mile from the tavern to Grandma's house on
Sixth Street. Grandma [Magdalena "Lena"] and Tommy ran the tavern for 33 years.
Every summer I came to
stay at Grandma's house. I came so I could play Little League
I don't know how much a
guy's life is shaped by what happens from the time he's 9 until he's 15.
Probably a lot. Grandma made that time wonderful. All I'd do every day is
play ball. At dark I'd go to the tavern and read books and wait for closing
The tavern was a great
and mysterious place. Forehand's West Side Tavern sat next to the railroad
tracks that run through the center of this county-seat town. You could get
pie-eyed at Grandma Lena's place. She used that word all the time. Pie-eyed.
What you couldn't do at Grandma's is get mean. Other places in town, maybe.
Not at Lena's.
She was hell on wheels
behind that bar. Anybody who got pie-eyed and wanted another beer might as
well move on. Grandma's voice could ruin your ears. She wasn't very big.
Maybe 5 feet tall with legs that got more bowed every year. But you could
hear her everywhere.
One guy didn't listen.
She said leave. He wouldn't. He was going to play the slot machine. Grandma's
nose came about half-way up his chest. She raised up her foot and stomped
her heel into the guy's toes. He left then.
I mopped the tavern floor
every night. For fun I'd go next door and read the comic books at Hap's
restaurant. I listened to ball games. Tommy was Grandma's second husband,
and he was a Cubs fan. I rooted for the Cardinals so we'd have something to
What Tommy and Grandma
did for me the most was make sure I played Little League every summer.
They spoiled me. I
climbed up the candy counters in the tavern. They'd give me some little
chore to do. Take these potato chips to Joe and you can have that Milky Way.
Every night I would go to sleep in a tavern booth. I'd lie down in the seat,
and I wondered if I would ever be so big I wouldn't fit.
Grandma always said she
didn't have anything to do with it. But a customer gave me a baseball. Said
he'd caught it at a Cardinal game. A real major-league ball. I kept it until
I lost it. The only time I felt worse than after losing Grandma's baseball
was the time I lost my father's catcher's mitt. I was at Grandma's house
then. She hugged me and said it would be OK.
Grandma was smart and
loud and strong and sweet and she gave me everything a kid could ask for and
a whole lot that kids don't even know they're getting until they get to be
old themselves. She gave me love and time and attention. She showed me a
woman can do anything. She showed me anybody can do anything if they really
really want to.
She said she'd give me a
quarter for every "A" on my report card. I came home with 13 "A's" because
in first grade they gave you a grade for everything including how you comb
your hair. This was 1947, and 13 quarters could buy a case of beer. She made
it a dime the next time, and we kept it up until I got out of college.
Last Christmas my mother
gave me a box full of my old stuff. Inside a high-school graduation card
from '59 was a $20 bill still there. She said it is worth $50 now.
I loved to see her laugh.
My sister took a picture at Grandma's 86th birthday party last June. My
sister made a cake with writing on it especially for Grandma. In the picture
Grandma is laughing like a little kid. You should have seen her when she was
young. There's a picture of her when she was 16. She wore a big hat and a
dress with puffy shoulders, and she was so beautiful.
She was born in 1896. She
was 19 when her husband took her to Canada. He was trying to stay out of the
Army. She had a baby. They lived in a one-room shack in the middle of
nowhere. They called nowhere Saskatchewan. They burned cow chips for heat in
the winter. She was going to have another baby, and so they moved back to
Lincoln and had a girl who would be my mother.
Grandma was diabetic and
old and she had a little stroke in May of 1981. She fell that day. She never
walked again. She had a wheelchair and Tommy took wonderful care of her. One
day she saw a bug. She hated bugs. She told Tommy in her loud voice to get
the bug. Tommy has had two cataract operations. He couldn't see the bug.
Tommy told this story. He
said Grandma shouted, "There!" And he said, "Where?"
Tommy sat on the bed. He
looked down at the floor. Grandma sat in her wheelchair 8 feet away.
"Next thing you know,"
Tommy said, telling this story, "Grandma is sitting on the bed next to me,
pointing her finger down at that bug. "There," she said.
Turns out Grandma could
walk if she really really had to.
She died Jan. 9 .
Just from being old. Tommy was there getting her something to eat.
Thanks, Jim Knecht, for
sending me this touching, informative memoir; and thanks especially to you,
Dave, for writing it and for allowing me to use it here.
Respond to David Kindred
* * * * *
summer while I attended the Sesquicentennial Celebration of Lincoln,
Illinois, I bought a short video tape of scenes from the 1953 Centennial
Celebration. That tape was made by the Barricks of Barrick Trucking, holders
of the Budweiser franchise, and the tape very briefly showed the fronts of
several taverns, including the West Side Tavern. The tape showed a
bartender coming to the door in a long white apron: