MEMORIES OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION - CHAP. VI
The news today is far more depressing to me than the thoughts of the past and the years of the Great Depression. The 2009 Congress wants the Government to take over our lives in every aspect and to tell us a better way to do things, but in order to do that they must destroy a good part of what we have now. My message to them is: Balderdash! You don't create wealth by taking it from those who are wealthy and giving it to those who are poor. You create wealth by offering those who have it some incentives to develop new projects and employ people to build them, and those who begin earning money will spend it for their own needs.
If you teach a man how to plant crops, he will have food to feed himself and then, some to sell to his neighbors. In the meantime, his neighbor is busy making pottery for the farmer to cook or store food in. Those were the type of lessons that I learned when I was young, and they pertain to today's world just as much as they did before and during the Great Depression.
To understand things better about those days in the Great Depression, let's first do some arithmetic, using only ten fingers (and ten toes if need be). Chewing gum,Wrigleys, was five cents a pack for five sticks of gum. A pound of sickel pears cost a nickel. Milk was nine cents a quart, fresh from the farmer and sold out of a large can at the local bakery. We walked there with a two quart pail, and at times bought fresh buns or rolls fresh out of the oven. Chris, the baker's daughter worked behind the counter from the time she was nine or ten years old. A loaf of bread was a dime as well. It was nice being around Chris when she was outside, as she always smelled of that baked bread, and to us it was better than perfume. When she was 16 and 17, that bakery smell and her other attributes made her quite attractive. Stanley Podwyszynski, a kid with ears that stuck out at a sharp agnle from his head, like jar handles, would sing to her as a group of us walked in the park on a summer night. (He joined the Army in 1941, but I'll bet they never put him in the front lines, as the enemy could line up his sights on those ears.)
In 1931, Dad earned $64 every two weeks for 80 hours work or 75 cents an hour, handling ticket sales at the Electric Ferries in Weehawken, New Jersey. I cannot say for certain, but this was probably a nickel to a quarter an hour more than many jobs paid.
Gas, I think, was about six or seven cents, but I do remember that in 1939, when we were going to High School, it was nine cents a gallon.
We had Five and Dime stores, and it was surprising what a nickel or dime would buy you, almost everything you needed in the kitchen and all the small items in the home.
Newspapers were three cents. The Post Office charged 2 cents to send a letter. A post-card could be mailed for a penny. It was easy to keep track of things when so much of life was in nickels and dimes. Kids earned nickels and dimes by doing errands for neighbors, by standing outside of a grocery store with a wagon and loading up someone's groceries and walking home with them. This was opportunity to us. We may not have thought of it that way, but we were learning daily lessons about work and responsibility. Then Archie hired me to come inside the store and wrap packages of groceries, and suddenly I was earning ten cents an hour. Archie wrapped and tied the neatest packages in town, then put a handle on the package for the man or woman to carry it home, and under his supervision I learned how to do the same. Years later I wrapped five thousand ten thousand dollar paintings with the same pride Archie took in his work on a dollar or two worth of groceries at the National Grocery Store in North Bergen, New Jersey.
We earned additional nickels and dimes and even quarters by mowing lawns, weeding gardens, cutting hedges, shoveling snow from driveways, odd jobs, all done with hand tools (who ever saw an electric or gas powered tool in those days?). Small lawns, medium sized lawns, and even large estates, all done by pushing around a hand-mower. You didn't see many fat kids around town in those days, believe me. Work? It was really work then, hard work too. We sweated freely and didn't have a can of spray to clear away the odor. You did that with soap and a washcloth in the bathroom sink. We were preparing ourselves for the future, our future.
But then, we did not know that, and to us kids a dime meant that we could go to the movie matinee on Saturday morning, two movies, a cartoon, the news, and a Buck Jones (on his white horse) cowboy serial. Buck always taught us too, like a moralty show, the virtues of honesty and loyalty. He taught us how to get the girl too, but we didn't always learn that too well. He wore a white ten gallon Stetson and all the bad guys wore black. Sometimes a neighbor would give a kid two large empty soda bottles and they were worth a nickel each when returned to the grocery store, so that could be a box of popcorn or an ice cream cone. A smaller coke bottle was worth two cents. We Knew how to add things up, how ten pennies could get you into the theatre as well as a dime.
Perhaps we did not have it as bad as some of the others, because Dad had managed to find a steady job and it was one where they had a steady work force because it was a crucial link between New York and New Jersey, the Electric Ferries Co. with boats crossing the Hudson River every half hour. Perhaps that would have meant that we were somewhere in the lower middle-class. Poor, but not too poor. This meant that if you tripped and spilled that two-quart bucket of milk, you got one Hell of a scolding when you went crying home with an empty bucket.
But the Daily News and Daily Mirror had pictures of the lines of men outside any factory that put out a sign, Men Wanted. There could be a hundred or two hundred men lined up for those two or three or four jobs, men with families who were short of food. Every guy had a newspaper sticking out of his pocket, with the pages for jobs, with the ones he could do, circled. Hot sun, summer rain, winter snow, the lines were always the same, as they bore those discomforts in order to find work.
We were avid newspaper readers as kids, as Dad brought home three or four papers a day, left behind by riders on the Ferry Boats. News kids on the docks sold papers to passengers as they boarded, kids twelve to fifteen years old, helping to supporttheir families. Shoeshine boys were always around too, helping to make some guy more presentable for a job interview, or a floor salesman in a department store neat and presentable. A nickel a shine, and how those kids prided themselves on the shine they'd give you. They too, were salesmen, often Master Salesmen. It wasn't jive talk; it was sincere, and then, at the end, a little bit of spit on the toes of your shoes and that extra cloth snapping down and across a few more times. That was quality, that was the best shine you ever got in your life!
And, that, to many, was the difference between food on the table at night or go to bed hungry. It was the same for the newsboys hawking papers on the corners in New York, or the old women selling flowers or apples. (con't. from here tomorrow)