Chapter XII - The Depression Continues
Irvington was a good town in which to live. There was no discrimination and life was tranquil. We all had a very full rich life. Colette and my husband were working and the future looked very promising. Then something disturbed our tranquility. My husband had an attack of appendicitis and had to be operated on. He sustained two operations on the same day. The second operation was performed on a fistula that had bothered him for quite awhile. Luckily everything proceeded normally.
After his discharge from the hospital he had to take care of the fistula at home. He had to have a hot sitz bath every day until the fistula had healed. All of the money we had saved had gone for the care of my husband. By the time he had fully recovered we had no savings left, but at least he was well again.
During the period of Nicola's illness Colette's place of work had gone on strike. One day while my son Tony and I were walking home from grocery shopping he said, "Ma, this fall I am not going back to school."
I was shocked and said, "You will not do what?"
Timidly he replied, "I want to start working now. You need help and I want to help."
I replied, "Tony, you have to finish high school and then I hope you will go to college."
He said, "Ma, don't you worry. I'll do all right."
He was to enter his third year in high school and this was summer vacation.
I said, "Tony, your intentions are good. You are a good son. Go ahead. I give you my permission."
At that point I was desperate since my husband was at home recuperating and my daughter was on strike. We had a family of ten to feed.
Tony started to look for work, but with no experience he could not find anything decent. He ended up working for a fruit and vegetable store that paid very little for his work.
During that period of time the country was going through a convulsion trying to emerge from the worst depression the country had ever experienced. The social order had suffered a hard blow and reconstruction was painful. Socialism was getting a foothold and the younger people were led easily in the belief that a change would make everything right.
At this time my husband had recovered and started to work, bringing Tony to work with him. Two weeks later the foundry went on strike.
My daughter Colette's place of work was still on strike so she decided to take a job near our home ironing and stretching curtains in a laundry. It was hard work for only $8.00 a week.
I had no alternative but to try to get a job myself. I saw an ad in the paper for an experienced looper for sweaters. Even though I had worked on hosiery I was sure I could do the work. I applied for the job and was told to come back in a week. When I went back I was told they had not started producing yet.
At 40 I had many gray hairs and, at that time, people of my age were considered too old to be hired. I had to do something, so I asked if I weren't being hired because of my gray hair.
"Oh, no," the boss told me, "It's because we haven't started yet."
A week later I was called and started working. When the boss asked me how long I had been a looper I said, "Five years." Then he asked how long it had been since I had worked. I again said, "Five years." The truth of the matter was that it had been 25 years. Looping on stockings is very fine work and requires a lot of experience.
Since I had been absent for such a long period I was afraid I would not be very productive. However, I was confident that I could manage the work since the stitches were larger on sweaters. Although I wasn't fast the boss must have understood my need and predicament and kept me on.
After three months of work I was laid off because of lack of work.
My husband and son were working now. Working in a foundry did not appeal to Tony and he wanted to get started in work that he would like to do as his life work.
We had a conference. Tony wanted to quit his foundry job and do some war work. Work of that kind was in demand because the war had started in Europe. I disagreed with Tony since I knew work of that type would not be in demand after the war. I wanted him to learn a trade. My husband suggested a civil service job. Tony decided to apply for a job as letter carrier but the regulations did not permit him to take the test since he was 1/4" shorter than the height required. Then we decided he should try carpentry in the building business.
With the civil service work eliminated, Tony went to look for a job as a carpenter's apprentice. The starting salary was only $12.00 for a 40-hour week. He learned quickly on the job and decided to learn more by going to night school. The courses on blue prints and estimates really helped him get a foothold in construction.
At the time, night school provided jobs for unemployed teachers. I read a brochure and singled out a course in citizenship. Although I could read English I could not write. I realized that reading meant someone had done the thinking and enabled the people to read, criticize and enjoy. Writing meant there was only you to do the thinking. I did want to learn to write and do my thinking. I registered and paid a small fee for a one-hour session. For a few winter months I learned to spell by following the teacher's suggestions. We wrote each given word ten times. I excelled in vocabulary and this surprised my teacher who wondered where I had learned all those words. Since I knew Italian, all the words that were related to Latin were easy for me. At the end of the school year I had learned to write some, but my punctuation left a lot to be desired.
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