The Great Depression
October 26, 1929 Mrs. Moesner had a gathering of children at her home to
celebrate another birthday—mine.
I was proud and happy to be a big
girl of eight and the same age as Sally and Tootsie—only two months
Halloween was just a few days away, the young at heart Mrs. Moesner, had
decorated her apartment in colors
of bright orange and black. We let
out happy shrieks when she carried out a bundle of costumes for us to
boys went to put on their costumes, and each one came out
taking a bow. Tony was a sailor, Louie was a clown, and
Bert was a
pirate. Then the girls paraded out. Sally and Tootsie were gypsies and
Jean was a witch. Because I was
the “Birthday Girl” Mrs. Moesner had
me wear two costumes. I was Cinderella, wearing a tattered and torn old
At her signal I let my frazzled looking costume crumble to
the floor and I stepped out of it wearing a beautiful blue
glittering with silver sequins. Mrs. Moesner quickly put a sparkling
crown on my head and dramatically
announced to the other children
“Now you have seen the before and after Cinderella.” Bert strutted to
the piano while
Mrs. Moesner and the other children formed a circle
around me and sang the Birthday song. Then we seated ourselves
around the table and in the center was a large Birthday cake glowing
with orange candles. Another wonderful memory—I
was a Princess for a
weary but happy children rode down Mrs. Moesner’s apartment elevator,
each one carrying a little candy
filled pumpkin. I made believe that
someday my pumpkin would turn into a horse-drawn carriage, taking me to
the “King’s Ball” where I would find my own Prince Charming. All I
needed was a glass slipper!
meantime Woolworth was filling its shelves with Halloween decorations.
Jack-O-Lanterns smiled out of neighbors’
windows and children
anticipated going “Trick or Treating.”
the unexpected happened. Three days after my eighth birthday and two
days before Halloween the
“Great Depression” came in like rolling
thunder on “Black Friday” October 29, 1929. People were in a frenzy
that we children did not understand. It was the worst day in Wall Street
History. The stock market had crashed. It was
the end of the
“Roaring Twenties” which had been a period of unprecedented prosperity.
Many people lost their jobs
and thousands of farmers lost their
land. Soup kitchens to feed the hungry were set up. People were
feared that America would have to get used to a
permanently lower standard of living.
too young to feel the effects of the Depression. I don’t remember ever
feeling poor. My mother fed us her
homemade bread, pizza and pasta.
Dry beans soaked overnight in a big pot of water and the next day we’d
pasta e fagioli—macaroni
and beans, made even tastier with the addition of sautéed garlic and
a sprinkling of grated cheese.
father never found it necessary to close down his barber shop, even when
the customers let their hair grow a little
longer before coming in
for a haircut. Now Papa had
more time to read the daily paper. In the evenings he’d relate to
mother the history that was unfolding around us.
“Great Depression” continued. In 1930 Herbert Hoover was the President
of the United States. In
1932 Will Rogers
tried to raise our spirits with his humor.
That same year Franklin D. Roosevelt was voted United States
were proud when, five foot, two inches tall, Fiorello LaGuardia, an
Italian-American, became New York’s Mayor.
spite of the turbulent times our lives continued without much change.
My parents and relatives were glad to be
living in America
and counted their blessings.
They were positive thinking immigrants who could still sing, dance
and be merry while stretching a dollar.
little brother was soon enrolled at Public School
like myself, looked forward to sessions when Papa helped
his arithmetic homework. Now
that Tony was in school Mama had more time on her hands and was pleased
when Mr. Mirelli asked her if she’d like to work in his dress
factory. The Depression had
not ended and Mama was
glad to earn the extra money.
lunchtime she’d walk to the barbershop to give Papa a sandwich and some
fruit. Then she’d return to
to enjoy the rest of her lunch hour with Aunt Annie and
the other seamstresses.
I often heard her repeat to Papa the
English words that she
had learned from the American girls at the factory.
school, Sally, Tootsie, Tony and I walked home together.
When we arrived at the factory Aunt Annie’d greet us
milk and cookies. Then we
went to be hugged by Mama who was seated at her sewing machine.
She’d give us a
small bundle of belts made of the same fabric
as the dresses she was sewing.
With a thin metal rod we learned to turn
the belts right side
out. It was fun for Tony and
me to sit on the floor behind Mama’s chair, and turn belts as fast as
little fingers could go.
We wanted to help Mama complete her bundle of dresses, and best
of all, Mama paid us one penny
for every ten belts we turned.
later years Tony and I still remembered Mama so vividly, sitting with
bowed head, guiding the fabric with her
strong hands under the
machine’s needle, and always with a song in her heart.
Turning belts for Mama was a labor of
love that would always
be another one of our fondest memories.