“He Wasn’t the Man I Married”
Grace Phillips was born on October 3, 1922 in Alder Point, Nova Scotia to Warren McAndrews and Mary Jane Wilson, both of whom were Scottish Canadians. Warren was a coal miner, and Mary Jane cared for their ten children: Margaret, Grace, Leon, Calvin, Rosemary, Dale, Katherine, William, Mattie and Lillie. Lillie was actually the daughter of Mary Jane’s best friend who had died during childbirth. Lillie’s father was overwhelmed and distraught and had no use for the baby that had somehow lived, so Mary Jane took her and raised her as their own.
When Grace was about twelve or thirteen, the McAndrews decided to move to Chicago in hopes of a better life. Warren, desperate to get away from the mines, found a good job here as a carpenter. Grace only completed seventh grade and then stayed home to help her mother with their large family. In her teens, she got a job at a factory that made decorative braiding, a skill Grace became quite good at. It was one of the things, actually, that attracted her future husband, Gordon Phillips, to her. When he first met her, he noticed that even though the clothes she wore were simple and not expensive, she made them look elegant by adding braiding.
Grace and her sister, Rosemary, had the same set of friends and often socialized in the big dance halls around Chicago. It was at one such place, the Merry Gardens, that Grace was introduced to a mutual friend, Gordon Phillips. Gordon and Grace started dating and fell in love, but when the war broke out, Gordon immediately joined up. They decided to get married before he shipped out, so Grace bravely traveled to North Carolina where Gordon was stationed to get married, as he was not allowed to leave the base. Shortly after the wedding, Gordon was indeed shipped out to Europe, so Grace returned home to live with her parents and wait for Gordon to come back. She got a job in the meantime at a factory that made gold rings.
Unfortunately, the war did not go well for Gordon. He was captured by the Germans and spent eight months as a prisoner of war. When he finally came home, he was only 110 pounds. He got a job right away, however, in a tool and die factory, and Grace quit her job to be a housewife and then a mother. Together, she and Gordon had three children: Rosemary, Carol and Steven. They began their married life in a small apartment on the north side and moved from place to place until they settled in an apartment on Diversey, where they remained together until 1970.
Grace and Gordon’s marriage, however, was not a happy one. “He was never the same” after the war, Grace often said. “He wasn’t the man I married.” Grace tried hard to make it work, but Gordon began drinking more and more until she could no longer take it. Gordon moved out and eventually remarried, and Grace remained in the apartment with Steven, the only child still at home. Grace got a job as a purchasing clerk for the Society for Visual Education in Chicago and managed to support herself and Steven over the years.
Grace’s daughter, Rosemary, remembers Grace as being very submissive to Gordon, who suffered from severe mood swings, among other things. “But when she divorced him,” Rosemary says, her mother “became much more independent.” She went out more and became more social. She had always enjoyed reading, embroidering and croqueting, but she now took up walking, sometimes spending her entire day off out walking through the city. Once Steven got married and moved away, she likewise got more involved in her church, St. Bartholomew and volunteered many hours to the St. Vincent De Paul society.
In 1990, Grace decided to move to a new apartment, but after only two years in the new place, she was robbed twice and mugged once on the street. She decided at that point to retire from her job and move to a better apartment on Patterson. Grace continued with her hobbies and volunteering, though, until February of 1994, when she discovered that Gordon had died. He had had a quadruple bypass the year before and had been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. While in the hospital having surgery to remove the cancer, there was apparently a mistake made that caused Gordon his life. His heart had begun to beat irregularly, so he was given a medication to slow it down a bit. Tragically, however, the nurse on duty accidentally administered 10x’s the amount prescribed, which stopped his heart completely, and he died.
Though Grace and Gordon had lived for years and years apart with little or no contact between them, Grace was very affected by Gordon’s death and went into a depression after he died. Rosemary believes that her mother never really stopped loving her father. According to Rosemary, Grace never once spoke negatively of their father, despite all that had gone on between the two of them. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that just two months after Gordon’s death, Grace suffered a stroke, which left her right side paralyzed. She spent five weeks in the hospital recovering. When it was time for discharge, her family suggested giving a nursing home a try. Grace agreed to this and believes her stay at the home to be temporary, though her daughter, Rosemary, confirms that she and the rest of the family feel it is a permanent move, as it is impossible for her to care for herself now.
Grace seems in relatively good spirits and has a great sense of humor, but she is very frustrated by her inability to effectively communicate because of the stroke. Her speech is severely limited. She can get simple things across, but relies on her daughters to give more lengthy explanations to the staff whenever they come in to visit, which is somewhat problematic for all concerned and for obvious reasons. Grace has been successful, however, in communicating to the staff that she wants to be up and about in her wheelchair and not lying in bed. Though she cannot really talk to the other residents, she prefers to be sitting among them and is eager to participate in activities if a staff member or a volunteer can sit and help her.
(Originally written May 1994)