CHICAGO -- Over the mantel in the Jacksons' Southside home here hangs a life-size portrait of the man himself from another moment in history. It's a freeze-frame of the old Jesse, sure and defiant, with his bushy Afro, thick sideburns and brown leather vest. There is a glimmer of a gold chain around his neck. This is the confrontational protester of the '60s, an image Jackson hopes to replace in the voter's mind.

In the next room is the Jackson of the '80s, in the flesh, eating a solitary breakfast. He wears his hair much closer to the scalp these days, and his clothes -- navy pinstripes this morning -- resemble those of any K Street lawyer. He sits at the head of a formal, lace-covered dining table, devouring a short stack. This is the family man people have rarely seen.

"My wife made these for me," he says, pushing a healthy chunk of pancakes into his mouth.

Jacqueline Jackson breezes into the room, barefoot and smiling. She is a feather over five feet (her husband is a foot taller). "See! I know how to keep my husband," she says with a laugh. "And I can show you how to keep yours!"

The Jacksons, and their five children, have lived in this rambling English Tudor for 17 years, through lettuce boycotts and marches for racial equality; through Vietnam war protests and the uproar over busing; through the novelty of his 1984 presidential campaign and up to the intensity of this one.

But for all of Jesse Jackson's fondness for publicity, the press has rarely been invited here. And, in part, this has been Jackie Jackson's choice. She says she is tired of hearing that people don't know her -- yet the wife of the self-styled "country preacher" has always danced to her own music.

If she doesn't want to do something, she doesn't. Simple as that. Not even when she was expected to go up on the podium in San Francisco for a final show of Democratic unity four years ago. Not even when she was invited to the first-ever forum of Democratic wives in Des Moines last summer. And it was Jackie Jackson who insisted that the Jackson campaign would not respond to questions about the candidate's personal life.

Where she has remained quite comfortable -- indeed, in command -- is in this house.

"What it is, " she says, "is my home."

She uses the phrase "my home" a lot these days to make a point about privacy and what is -- and is not -- a fit topic of conversation, and just how far she will let the public into her life.

"There is a time when I will go to the basement of my home and strip a chair," she says, "and I don't want you there describing the position I was sitting in when stripping that chair ... My kids just don't understand why people want to know what we eat. I mean, at a certain point, I say enough is enough!"

Mrs. Jackson has been the home-front activist, manager and parent all the years her husband traveled the globe for his brand of social justice.

"My mother cooks, pays the taxes, paints the house, gives speeches, travels abroad," says Jesse Jr. "And she is rarely given the credit she deserves. Her life is a full-time job, but for some reason people who don't know us like to portray that negatively."

For her part, Jackie Jackson doesn't resent that her contributions are often overlooked. She talks like a woman who is quite comfortable with her station, someone who successfully developed self-reliance in her husband's absence. She learned, she says, "how to repair the roof, paint, drive the children to the hospital late at night ..."

She also learned how to carry off her own speaking engagements and arrange to meet leaders like Yasser Arafat, Anwar Sadat and Daniel Ortega -- even before her husband got around to it. In 1978, she visited Mideast war zones to see the effects on women and children. She went back with her husband a year later. In 1983, she went with 11 American women to Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and came back denouncing U.S. policies toward Central America.

Still, she says, her children have always been her main concern. She comes back to them repeatedly during a three-hour interview.

Settling down in the living room, she is casually dressed in a deep fuchsia jump suit. Her nails are a perfectly manicured matching pink and her four gold bangle bracelets rattle loudly when she waves her hand to make a point. Jesse Jackson remains in the dining room, talking with aides and readying himself for a trip to Washington.

"I must tell you, when people ask me what I do, I always say I am a mother, first," she says. "Today, you're supposed to be embarrassed if that's what you do. But think about what you are giving the world. Your children represent your thoughts. I see my children and I see other children and many of them have problems and are into drugs. Your children are a statement."

She is asked if she raised her children by herself. "You don't have to be home at 5 to enforce a way of behavior," she says. "So I have been {the one} holding the children -- but my husband represented the law. I often had to use physical force to make them behave -- but my husband, he just gave them a glance. And I never understood that!"

She lets out an easy, throaty laugh and throws back her head.

Some who have followed Jesse Jackson's career say they didn't even realize he had a family until the 1984 campaign, and detractors blame him for this. They like to say that he is so self-absorbed he forgets to mention his wife and kids.

But in an earlier interview in Washington, he says he sees it another way, as indicative of how he is treated differently from white politicians.

"The media has tended to portray me one-dimensionally for years," Jackson says. "They just see me as the man who speaks in rhymes and wears flashy clothes ... When my daughter was at Whitney Young {high school in Chicago} one student said to her, 'Jesse Jackson is not your father, is he? He doesn't have children.' Always the one dimension!"

He says he is never portrayed as "a stable person. I mean I've been married to Jackie nearly 25 years. That's stability."

Jackie Jackson likes to say that they are really just like any "normal" American family -- but she also knows that they have never been the type to organize a Saturday night bridge game and rarely get a quorum for a family picnic.

Delicate faux irises may grace the ceramic cachepots on the stoop, but there is also a Secret Service car blocking the curb and a bodyguard at the front door. In fact, over the years this home, in the predominantly black neighborhood known as South Shore, has more often than not served as a quasi-headquarters for the civil rights movement. It is just a short distance from Lake Michigan, in an area where three-story apartment buildings are interspersed with spacious older homes like this one.

Inside, the Jacksons' house feels accessible. Off to one side of the living room is a white Chippendale-style couch with a big sign reading "Broken. Do Not Sit." The room is wood paneled and warm, with a decor best described as eclectic elegance.

There is an antique oak Victrola in one corner, and a brass gong in another. A black lacquer cabinet runs the length of the living room and is filled with crystal pieces and china. Oriental rugs cover the floors. And atop a black grand piano are several dozen photos of the children in shiny silver frames: Santita, 24, Jesse, 22, Jonathan, 21, Yusef, 18, and "little" Jackie, 13.

During a recent "60 Minutes" program, the family came across like a real-life version of "The Cosby Show." When Mike Wallace asked them about drugs, for instance, all five children shook their heads vigorously. "Never," several answered in unison. Yusef, a senior at St. Albans, told Wallace how his parents "make us feel comfortable."

"My mother loves to laugh," he said, "and we enjoy making her laugh ... And by that she gives us confidence ... And so we feel when we leave this house we can do anything."

Jesse Jr., a St. Albans graduate, even went so far as to tell Wallace off-camera that he did not like some of the personal questions asked of his mother. "I let him know we do not like people coming into our house trying to cause a disruption," he recalls today.

Jackie Jackson smiles when told her children leave quite an impression. "It makes me feel warm all over," she says.

A few minutes later, the candidate comes in to say goodbye. "When will I see you again?" she asks.

"I don't know -- I'm still working that out," he says.

"Excuse us," she says, getting up to leave the room. "But he wants to hug me."

Jacqueline Lavinia Davis Brown was born 43 years ago in Fort Pierce, Fla., the daughter of a 15-year-old unwed migrant worker who earned 15 cents an hour picking beans. She rarely saw her real father back then because, she says, "My mother just didn't like him." By the time she was 5, her mother had married a serviceman who moved his family to Newport News, Va., and a more comfortable life. "White gloves and piano lessons," is how Jackie Jackson remembers her upbringing from that time on.

"My mother was so strict," says Jackson, who has four half-siblings. "I think she was really a general in the military. I always remember her saying 'No, no, no ... ' In high school, I think I went to one social ..."

She met Jesse at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C., when she was 17-year-old freshman and he was 20. As a star athlete and a campus civil rights agitator, Jackson was the center of attention, even then. At first she resisted his advances.

For his part, Jesse Jackson says he was attracted by her intellect. "She wanted me to look over a paper she was working on about China and the U.N.," he recalls. "Now this is North Carolina 1961 and talking about China was just kind of out there."

They were married within two years, and Jackie Jackson was pregnant with their first child at the time. Jackie dropped out of college, and after Jesse graduated in 1964 they began looking for a city in which to settle.

One professor urged them to move north for opportunity. Since Jackson had decided he wanted to be a preacher, the family chose Chicago so he could attend the Chicago Theological Seminary there. Then-North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, who came to know Jackson well when Jackson was leading statewide sit-ins, gave him a letter of introduction to be hand-delivered to Mayor Richard Daley. "I think," recalls Jackie, "that the mayor suggested my husband become a toll taker on the highway."

She laughs and shrugs at the absurdity of Jesse Jackson collecting tolls, but she is careful not to criticize the job. There were, in any case, better things ahead. By 1965, Jackson had already gone with a group from the seminary to march in Selma, Ala. And he had met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"In part, it was at her insistence that I went on the road with Rev. King," recalls Jackson. "I was finishing my master's at the seminary ... Jackie said, 'You shouldn't miss this opportunity to serve.' "

While Jackson continued to travel as King's anointed head of Operation Breadbasket (an arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and later as he tried to seize King's mantle after his death, Jackie remained a homemaker in Chicago.

For one, she was instrumental in helping her husband start Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), an organization that aimed to promote educational excellence as well as economic enterprise for blacks. Jackson has long used PUSH as his operating base, and it has been the center of Mrs. Jackson's life in Chicago. "That's where most of my friends are," she says.

She says she also joined picket lines in her youth, pushing along her children in strollers, and learned to take the pulse of the community through such chores as grocery shopping.

"At times that was the only way I found out what was happening," she says. "I still do. You must go to the grocery store to protest the soggy lemons. You must find out what is making people angry. There's no other way one can be political ... You must stand in the lines -- and be able to walk down the street so they can tell you off."

Always, the family feared for Jackson's life in his absences. "I can remember dropping my father off at the airport and going into the bathroom and crying and crying that this might be the last time I would see him," recalls Jesse Jr. "He would never see me cry -- but there was always this fear ... "

Jackie once said that while there were times she has missed her husband and feared for him, she never resented his travel. "I assumed my responsibilities, " she says. "I am not a whiner ... I take what's mine.

"That is the portion of my spirit I would like to convey to women. Women are heads of households. I think we should face the challenge and not always ask: Where is the man? You're talking about who lets you down off of the horse and carriage and I've been getting down by myself for years."

The last movie to which Jesse Jackson took Jackie starred Elizabeth Taylor, and it was so many years ago that she can't even remember the name.

"I insisted that my husband take me to the movies," she recalls. "I thought, 'We never go to the movies.' So we went. A couple of minutes later he fell asleep. And then he started snoring. I was embarrassed and deeply humiliated. And that was the last time he'll go to the movies with me!"

Jackie Jackson tells the story as any teasing wife would tell an irreverent tale about her husband, adding at the end: "See, all husbands are the same." But there is another message here that she gets to later: that they would never lead a run-of-the-mill life. "I knew," she says, "we would be doing great things."

She calls her relationship with her husband a "partnership," and told The Washington Post in 1984 that people misunderstand it "because most women do not see themselves as partners. They see some romantic notion they bought on the television."

"There's no hype in our relationship," says Jesse. He has often referred to her as his "best friend" and adviser, but is generally not as forthcoming in discussing their relationship as his wife.

She says her oldest daughter recently asked her how to recognize true love. "I told her that you know when you can love someone from the waist up -- and appreciate them from the waist down ... I relate to my husband first and foremost from the waist up."

To be sure, friends and political observers say Jackson truly relies on his wife's judgment, and that she is invited to participate in strategy sessions.

"I will say this," says Jackie Jackson. "I never try to catch him in the bedroom. I do it out front. Do I wait for a private moment to sway or enchant him? No. Sometimes I'm bludgeoned, sometimes I win. But I am always thoughtful about what I say so I am not 'the wife.' I can't get hysterical. I cannot be angry with him. I have to be very diplomatic or I will be excused from the conversation."

Democratic consultant Robert Beckel, who was the designated "Jackson handler" in the Mondale operation, remembers how Jackson "always took notice of what his wife was saying. One time we were all having a late dinner and she demanded that the pace of the campaign slow down a little to give him a chance to catch up and rest, and it slowed down after that."

Florence Tate, Jackson's press aide in 1984, says Jackson frequently phoned his wife after one television appearance. "Once he was on a Sunday talk show in Washington and he couldn't even wait to get out of the studio to get to a phone. He had to find a phone right then and there to call Jackie and get her reading on his performance."

"Oh yeah," says Jackie Jackson when reminded of this, "and sometimes I beat him up -- I say 'I think you were awful.'

"And he gets so angry -- 'I'm not going to call you anymore,' he says. Or sometimes I tell him he was the most brilliant thing I have ever seen. He is amazing to me. And when I say that, I mean it sincerely."

When the Donna Rice affair overwhelmed Gary Hart's presidential campaign last spring, other candidates were suddenly forced to deal with questions about their personal lives. Rep. Richard Gephardt, for example, said, "I'd be happy to have you ask any question you would like to ask," when a reporter inquired about "the Gary Hart question." Asked, "Have you ever?" Gephardt replied, curtly, "No." In Jesse Jackson's case, those familiar with the situation say, Jackie Jackson insisted that no questions be entertained. Instead, at her direction, the campaign issued a statement saying that questions about adultery are "a matter between the candidate, his family, his conscience and God."

The statement was well received publicly and among politicians, who saw it as a shrewd maneuver to keep the press at bay. Jackie Jackson still bristles when the subject comes up. "I don't know what to do with these rumors. When I go out with my girlfriends they say I'm gay; when I walk around with my handkerchief because my nose is running, {they say} I snort cocaine. I don't know what else I can do.

"I had one reporter ask me if I had a drinking problem. I said, 'I think you have been given some false information.' "

In early October, to a small group of female reporters in Washington, she expressed concern about the tone the campaign had taken. "You know I've been doing this a long time and it's more of the same -- it's just a little meaner this time," she said at the time. "There's also a certain level of vulgarity in the questions today, and I'm not a vulgar person.

"We don't sit around my dinner table talking about sex. It's not a biscuit you pass around. We do not talk about doing it. You come into my home making mischief, I'm going to ask you to leave."

She says she hopes the campaign's response to questions about the marriage serve as an "example to all women about foolishness. It was straight from the heart, honey."

Jackie Jackson has never liked to think of herself as simply a candidate's wife. She says she supports Jesse Jackson for president because she believes in his causes.

And so, few who know her express surprise when she refuses to do something for the sake of wifely appearances. In 1984, she would not join her husband and Walter Mondale on the podium at the Democratic convention because she felt the Mondale camp had snubbed them.

And last summer she was the only one of the Democratic candidates' wives who declined to take part in the Des Moines forum. "I take this campaign very seriously and that was just a show," she says. "I have never been in a beauty contest. That is not my thing. I am not running -- my role is to support him and his policies."

She says she hears people listening to him this time, and sees "a little less emphasis on his color ..."

"He is a mainstream person," she insists, echoing his new campaign strategy. "I think he was painted as some nonnegotiating radical. That was the image they attempted to portray. But he speaks enthusiastically, so now you can listen a little better without watching his hands move, or the expressions on his face."

When she speaks of the issues that concern her, she often harks back to minorities, the poor and the disenfranchised -- the constituency Jackson himself has long addressed:

"We always talk about how we want a great country, and a magnificent bald eagle and an incredible football team ... Yet, when we talk about developing health care, we say adequate health care, sufficient education, minimum wage ... We don't refer to these necessities with the same symbolic intensity ... Everyone deserves to have a great life ... "

She states her foreign policy position succinctly: "antiwar." She has followed the Central America situation closely, for instance, and is opposed to U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan rebels. "My position has not changed," she says, since she visited Sandinista leader Ortega in 1980. "I support the right for them to work out their own decision. I think the approach should be on food and not guns."

And, not surprisingly, she believes her husband is the one to make it all happen. Most recently, she has spent time campaigning in Iowa to make sure it does.

"I am convinced the time has come," she says. "Let them call us what they will, but we'll show them when we get to Atlanta." And then, sounding very much like the candidate himself, she says, "It's time for the old wineskins to move over and make room for the new wine."