Friday, July 24, 2009

MEMORIES OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION - CHAP. V Before the Great Depression, my father had a successful business. I cannot give all the details, because I was too young to understand them, but he opened his own music business at one point. He had managed the Record Departments in a couple of major department stores, and had enough faith in his own abilities to go out on his own. It was in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he featured Victor recordings and the hand-wound machines to play them on. The store was located in the "negro" area, and the type of music he sold catered to their tastes. When the Depression hit, his business fell off dramatically and eventually he had to close it. Newspaper headlines often cause panic, and in all depressions I am convinced that the over-exuberance of the nation's press makes things severely worse. There never is a calm and rational voice among them to mitigate the circumstances, but only shrill headlines that maximize the impact. Rational people sit back and assess the situation; irrational people make sudden and unwise choices that affect everyone, including those who are rational and trying not to contribute to these media induced paranoias.

Perhaps, at times, we'd be better off if the press suspended publishing Business News for a week or two, in order to see what actually was happening, instead of being the carriers of the virus and spreading it. It is a thought that is not without merit.

At the time, my grandfather, also a hard worker, was doing alright too, with most of his money invested in a building that was leased by the U.S. Government for use as a Post Office. That seemed safe too, right? No, the Government decided to build a Post Office themselves and moved out of the building, which was not a good thing to happen to your major investment during a Depression. Such are the Vagaries of Life. When you think that you're all set, having planned well for the future, a ball comes through your front window and disturbs your peace and quiet. Thank goodness that my grandparents owned their own home in Philadelphia at the time, as that kept a roof over their heads during the lean years as well as a favorite refuge for their grandchildren during summer vacations.

Earlier on he and grandmother had owned a restaurant, which was said to have been successful. The origin of their business might have been that he sailed as a cook on trans-Altantic steamships. Dad's early memories are of his father packing a satchel, being gone for weeks at a time, then returning home and opening his satchel and handing money to grandmother, suggesting a seagoing period where you sign on, make a trip, then pay off at the end of the voyage. In 1926 he was working as a cook on the Governor's yacht in New Jersey (see photo), and again, this suggests prior experience as a ship's cook.

The accompanying photo of Dad, taken on a sales trip to Pittsburgh, shows a well-dressed confident young salesman, probably taken around 1927, when he was 26 years of age. It was taken on a hotel balcony. He'd been married about three years and had two young sons, and soon to have a daughter. He didn't know it, but the Great Depression lay in front of him and some tough years ahead, but his confidence and self-reliance shown here was to be a big help to him when hard-times came along, although it was to be sorely tested time and again throughout the coming years.


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