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Single Chicago mother raised her 12 kids with frugality, ingenuity and good Mexican cooking

Adeline  Rodriguez

Adeline Rodriguez

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Updated: April 1, 2013 6:31AM

Homemade tortillas and beans helped single mom Adeline Rodriguez raise a dozen kids, survive a couple of hungry gangsters on the lam and live to see her family grow to include 36 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great grandchildren.

Mrs. Rodriguez, 95, died Sunday at the home at 90th and Brandon on Chicago’s South Side where she lived for 71 years — and where she spent decades in the kitchen, cooking up breakfast, lunch and dinner for her seven girls and five boys.

“We had homemade tortillas, beans — everything she made was from scratch,” said Mrs. Rodriguez’s daughter, Monica. “You came home from school, and this house smelled like fresh, homemade tortillas.”

Mrs. Rodriguez always came up with something special — chicken

mole, pork stew, slow-cooked tacos. Her bunuelos — similar to doughnut holes — were pillowy clouds. On Christmas Eve, she would rise at 4 a.m. to direct the making of tamales, a Mexican holiday tradition.

Her cooking — and her English skills — came in handy when a couple of hungry Depression-era outlaws blew in to her girlhood home in DePue, Ill., as her family said the rosary. She and her family had settled in DePue after emigrating from rural Jalisco, Mexico, so her father could work on an American railroad.

Family lore has it that one of the gangsters was “Baby Face” Nelson, the boyish-looking bank robber and killer. The exploits of criminals like Nelson were followed like soap operas by a population beaten down by bank failures and mistrust of authority.

“He said he wouldn’t harm anybody, he was just hungry,” said Monica Rodriguez. “My grandparents spoke no English, so my mom was the interpreter.”

Young Adeline’s mother told her to tell the man, “ ‘All we have in this house is tortillas and beans.’ ”

“He said he would accept that, and he told everybody to stay praying in the room, he wasn’t going to hurt them,” Monica Rodriguez said. “My mom went in the kitchen to help my grandma.’’

After the two men ate their fill, they threw enough money on the table to keep the family in flour for a long time, she said.

Mrs. Rodriguez’s family eventually settled near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 9129 S. Burley. It was a time when the smokestacks never stopped belching. Good jobs seemed to be everywhere in the South Chicago neighborhood.

By seventh grade, Adeline, the third-oldest of 12 children, left school to help her mother tend her siblings. Five of her six brothers would serve in World War II — the sixth was too young. She and her family prayed

novenas — devotions for nine days — for their safe return. They came home without a scratch.

At 18, Adeline wed a young man from the neighborhood.

When the marriage ended in divorce, Mrs. Rodriguez kept the family afloat with rent money from steel-mill workers who came to Chicago from Mexico or downstate, and let rooms in her home.

The laundry never ended. It was done with a wringer washer that nipped the children’s fingers if they didn’t pay attention. Mrs. Rodriguez had no car, so the family navigated the city via the CTA. She’d ask, “Who needs new shoes this week?” Then, they’d troop over to the Big Ben store on East 92nd Street, where two pairs cost only five bucks. As soon as they were old enough, the kids worked to contribute to the family.

Mrs. Rodriguez’s daughter remembers how she would treat the kids to ham-and-cheese on Kaiser rolls.

“We’d get all excited,” her daughter said. After a steady diet of beans and tortillas, a sandwich was exotic.

Mrs. Rodriguez counseled her children to save their money, telling them that no matter how hard things were, she always banked $5 a week.

“Mi hija [my daughter],” she’d say, or “Mi hijo [my son], you can do it.”

Sometimes, other women confided to her that they found their lives difficult. “I did it with 12 kids,” she’d say. “You can do it with two, or one — and you’re educated.”

When her son’s hair went gray, she stopped dyeing her own hair. “How’s my son going to be walking around with gray hair, and I’m walking around with brown?” she said.

She liked the films of Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara; the original “Ugly Betty” (the

telenovela “Betty la Fea”), and the music of legendary Mexican ranchera music king Vicente Fernandez, “El Idolo de Mexico.”

Her grandchildren laughed when their grandmother used American slang. For a while, her favorite warning was: “Don’t go there!”

She loved her Chihuahua, Diva. When she went out to dinner, she always squirreled away some of the meat for her dog.

Until last October, she was still crocheting baby blankets for new additions to the family. During the holidays, she went to the theater with her family to see the Rockettes, “A Christmas Carol” and “A Christmas Story.”

Late in life, she enjoyed traveling to Disney World and San Antonio’s River Walk. She also visited Las Vegas three or four times a year, where she grew to like room service.

Her hometown of Jalisco is known as the birthplace of mariachi, and her family got a mariachi band to perform at her funeral Saturday.

At the end of her long life, Mrs. Rodriguez was at peace.

“On Valentine’s Day, she had me calling this one and that one,” her daughter said. “I said, ‘Mom, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m just calling to say goodbye.’ ”

“I’m happy,” Mrs. Rodriguez told her. “I’m going to see my mother again.”

Mrs. Rodriguez is also survived by daughters Lupe Gonzalez, Marie Amparo Zamora, Gloria Siller, Nadine Zepeda, Chris Pokrajac and Cindy Bermejo; sons Amador and Gabriel; four sisters, Lola, Velia, Esperanza and Evangelina; and a brother, Foustino. She also had three sons who preceded her in death: Abel, Phillip and David.

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