Chapter VIII - Our Skating Rink, Dashed Hope
Now my two older daughters were in high school. When Carmela graduated from grammar school I was floating on air. My happiness had reached a peak. Grammar school had seemed to me to be a great achievement because I had to quit school at the end of the third grade. Also, I had loved school but since I was an orphan I had to work for my living. I remember, sometimes when I had errands to do and I was passing a school, I would stop and listen to the students recite. Tears would come to my eyes. I wanted to be there.
That painful experience explains my ecstasy when I saw my daughter graduate.
While my daughters were in high school I was learning with them. They would come home with many books from the library since they were avid readers like myself. They attended Madison High.
Madison had a very fine library and had many books written in the Italian language and translated into English. I came to the conclusion that the books lost some of their appeal and charm in the process of translation.
As the depression deepened my older children helped to the best of their ability. My husband had decided to build a vegetable stand on the main road and obtained permission of the landowners. Our old car hauled the produce back and forth. Irma and Helen had to tend to the stand after school and the older girls took charge on weekends.
People didn't have money to buy, so the stand business was very meager.
Tony acquired a magazine route and was a caddy for a golf course on weekends. He helped as much as he could.
I canned tomatoes and vegetables and also stored potatoes and shelled dry beans to provide food for us during the winter.
My husband was now unemployed, except for the janitor job at school. He earned $50.00 a month. With a family of eleven, that kind of money did not cover anything including the mortgage. When the full-time janitor suffered a heart attack and died, there was a vacancy. Nicola applied for the job and was confident about getting it because of his experience as part-time janitor. There was another applicant. A meeting was held by the town officials and the job was awarded to the other man! Nicola was crushed. He could not see the justification because he had been a good, conscientious worker. I felt that discrimination played a large part in the decision. Even with this disappointment my husband was a good worker. He would do any job to help earn money for his family and he was happy when he was again called to his job in the foundry where he worked anywhere there was work to do.
Something happened that distressed us very much. A sudden drop of temperature into the teens caused a break in our furnace.
It had been warm enough that morning for Nicola to leave the house in light clothing. When the temperature dropped so much, he decided to stay in Newark with relatives for the night. His only means of transportation was by bus since the bus route to our town had been discontinued. That meant he had to walk three miles from the bus route to our house.
The following night when he returned he decided to burn some wood in the furnace to warm up the house. We had not ordered any coal yet since it was early in the season. Little did Nicola realize that the water had frozen in the furnace. He managed to start the fire, the furnace cracked, and warm water started to pour out on the cellar floor. The floor became covered with about two inches of water and the water froze solid.
That winter was a severe one. My children used the cellar floor for ice-skating and enjoyed skidding around with their friends. There were days when the water pipes would freeze and we had to warm up the pipes to be able to have any water. Sometimes the children would rub their faces with snow before going to school. This they would do when they could not wait for the water to start coming. They would miss the school bus if they waited too long.
One day Helen had a severe toothache with a swollen lump on the side of her face. She had to stay home and I kept her in bed to keep her warm. When I checked I discovered that the edge of the sheet by her mouth had icicles on it. They had been produced by the steam of her breathing!
Despite the hardships of that winter, not one of us developed a cold!
Gloom had settled over the whole country. Occasionally when I rode a bus I could see distress on people's faces. The whole country was in a deep depression.
A new election was due. Roosevelt ran opposite Hoover.
Roosevelt promised innovations if elected. Hoover tried to justify his policy and promised a recovery. After twelve years of Republican government and all the hardships suffered, people wanted a change. Roosevelt was elected our new president. A new era was to be ushered in. The promising words of our new president were inspiring and they suggested that hope was beginning to prevail.
We were hopeful too. My husband and I decided to try a comeback. We bought a young pig and 200 baby chicks. Those beautiful chirping chicks were our new hope. We figured that the pig would provide meat and fat and the chickens would provide eggs. Also from their sale we would get more meat.
No one could imagine my complete dismay when, one morning I opened the door of the coop and found not a single chick there! I looked in every corner. There was not a chirp - just complete silence. Where could they be? Could it be that someone had stolen them during the night? I closed the door and was desolate. My husband had gone to work and the older children had gone to school. I had no one to talk to. Then I had an idea and looked under the coop. There they were - all dead! During the night a weasel, or more than one, had entered the coop, sucked their blood and had carried them under the coop!
More misfortune was still to come. The pig ran away from the pen! We looked all over and asked the neighbors if they had seen the pig. No one had. The following night there was a knock at our door and a stranger asked us if we had lost a pig. I said, "Yes," and he told me if I paid him $5.00 the pig would be returned. The pig was our only hope so we paid the money!
The first thing Roosevelt did when he took office was to urge people to not be afraid and he proceeded to reassure them that America was strong and would emerge from the temporary decline. First of all he wanted to assess the real condition of the banks so he declared a bank holiday and closed the banks for three days. People were losing their homes and tenants were not able to pay their rents. The whole country's system was disorganized and this led the country to despair.
Then something innovative was brought about. It was called welfare and was supposed to help starving people.
We managed not to go on welfare. Instead we plodded along on our own.
Youth camps were opened which took the young unemployed off the streets and provided jobs for them. They received good meals, lodging and training for useful jobs. The country benefited by their work.
Roosevelt's new program opened many new avenues for better roads and buildings. Conservation and reforestation invigorated our forests. The programs were organized to spread the work hours evenly and to rotate the unemployed.
The president encouraged the businessmen to hire their help back and little by little confidence was being restored.
We made a valiant effort to hold on.
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