Monday, March 31, 2014

Daddy Works Hard for a Dollar

Daddy Works Hard for a Dollar

Us Kids
          I don’t think we realized we were poor when we were kids.  We were happy kids and all of our friends were just like us.  We knew that work was hard to get but we didn’t think we were poor.

          Daddy had trained and done some work as a plumber but when we were young he took whatever work he could get.  FDR was trying to get the country out of the Depression and he started a lot of programs.  One of those was Relief.  The State would give you a little money and some free food but you would have to work when they wanted and do whatever work they needed.  Daddy shoveled snow in the winter and helped clean the streets in summer.  I guess it wasn’t really free.

          When Daddy went to get the relief food he would take one of us kids, Sonny, Jackie or me, put us in Sonny’s wagon and pull us to where they gave you the food.  It was always dry foods like oatmeal or raisins.  We got so sick of raisins that Jackie still doesn’t like them today.  When the wagon was full Daddy would put us up on top and pull us home. Mommy was always happy to see us and glad to have the food. 

          Sometimes Daddy hustled hot dogs and drinks at different events.  He worked at baseball games, car races and even wrestling matches.  Sometimes he watered down the drinks to make a few extra pennies.  He would take me with him sometimes.  I didn’t like the wrestling or the cars going round and round but I loved going to the baseball games.  While I watched the game the other men hustling food and soda who knew Daddy would make sure I had plenty to eat.  Of course I was proud and happy to be with my father.

          When we walked home he would tell me stories.  Once in 1934, while he was living in Laurel, Maryland, he was having a terrible time finding work in that small town.  He remembered the soup kitchens and men selling apples in the street.  So he hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. hoping to find work.  He didn’t even have a penny in his pocket.  He had been walking for hours, up one street and down another, but there was no work to be found.  It was winter and it was very cold.  Daddy said he was very cold and very hungry.  He finally got up the nerve to ask a well-dressed man for a nickel to get a cup of coffee.  The man looked at him with so much disdain and said, “You are the fifth bum to ask me for a nickel today.”  He turned his back on my father and walked away.  Daddy said he made a vow that day that he would never ask anyone for money again.

My Daddy
          How hard it must have been back then for a man like my father who wanted to support his family.  He was always ready to work hard for a dollar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Gift Of Love

A Gift Of Love

          One cold Saturday morning in the winter of 1939, while we were living on 11th Street in Philadelphia, my father asked if I’d like to go somewhere with him.

          “Where?” I asked, “How far is it?”

          He laughed.  “You ask too many questions,” he said, “We are going where we can get some clothing.”

          “What kind of place,” I asked, “A store?”

          “No, it’s a church and you don’t have to pay for things there.  They’re free.”

          “What are we going to get?” I asked excitedly, “Will I be getting something?”

          “No,” my mother said, “Your father will be looking for a heavy winter coat for himself.”

          Even though I was only six, I knew that it was hard for my father to get work in those days of the Great Depression and he had to walk outside a lot while he was looking for a job.  So I said, “No matter what the weather is like, you need a coat Daddy, let’s go!”

          We walked down the street and Daddy held my hand as I skipped along beside him.  Soon we came to the church where there was a long line of people waiting to get in.  The line went down some stairs and through a doorway where there was a lady handing out tickets.  Everyone got one ticket that was good for one piece of clothing.  She gave Daddy one ticket and I hoped Daddy would be able to find a good coat for himself.

          It was a very big room, or so it seemed to a little girl, filled with tables piled high with clothes.  As we walked around the room I saw a hat that I thought was just the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  It was a knit hat with flaps that tied under your chin and covered your ears, but the best part was the two yellow wool pigtails that were attached to the back.  

          I picked it up and carried it around with me.  My Daddy looked down at me holding the hat in my two small hands, clutching it to my chest, and he smiled at me.  I’m not sure if he couldn’t find a coat for himself or not but he got the hat for me with our one ticket.  Before we left he put the hat on my head and tied it under my chin.  As we walked down the street on our way home I would shake my head so the yellow pigtails would bounce around.  I was so proud.

          Daddy looked down at me and said, “You look so beautiful Dorothy Lee, in your new hat.”

          When we got home my mother was displeased and angry with my father.  She was the practical one.  She said, “You should have gotten a coat for yourself instead of that silly hat for her!”

          It was a gift of love from a father who couldn’t give much to his little daughter in those hard times.  He gave up a winter coat for himself to get a silly little hat for his little girl.

          I loved that hat as I did my Daddy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Runt of Sydenham Street

The Runt of Sydenham Street

It was while we lived on Sydenham Street that we got our very first pet – a little black Scottie dog.  I don’t remember how or where we got him from, but I do remember he was the smallest in his litter and that we called him The Runt.

He was so cute!  We all loved him, but for my Mommy it was love at first sight.  Despite Runt’s small size and health problems, he was an active happy dog who would take any opportunity to run out an open door.  One day, as one of us children left the door open, Runt ran out and didn’t return.  That day we couldn’t find him.

Mommy was crying, as were all of us kids.  When, after a few days, he didn’t come back, Daddy went to the SPCA to look for him.  He was there – the dogcatcher had got him.  Daddy had to borrow two dollars to get him out.  Two dollars was a lot of money back in 1939!

We were all so happy when Daddy came in carrying our little Runt.  He was so happy to see us too.  Mommy sat in her chair and held him for a long time.

The Runt was never completely well after that.  I don’t remember how long he was ill, but we didn’t have the money to take him to the veterinary.  He died and we all cried, but it was Mommy who was hit the hardest.  She loved The Runt so much!

Daddy put him a box, covered him with his blanket and buried him in the back yard.  We put little stones all around his grave.  Daddy made a cross out of two sticks tied together.  We were so sad.  We made sure his cross was always upright and that the stones outlining his grave were always in place.

When we were moved to Boston, us kids wanted to take him with us because there wouldn’t be anyone in Philadelphia to take care of his grave.  Daddy said no.  Daddy said The Runt’s place was there on Sydenham Street, that Sydenham Street was his home.  Mommy had some crepe-paper roses she had made and she gave them to us to put on his grave.  

Mommy really loved that little dog.  She always wanted another Scottie dog, but she never got one.  At that time F.D.R. had a little black Scottie in the White House named Fala.

We said a prayer for The Runt.  We said good-bye to him and Philadelphia and we were off to Boston.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Doll Named Shirley

The Doll Named Shirley

       It was August 21st 1937.  America was in the middle of what was called The Great Depression and millions of people were out of work, as was my young 25 year old father.  Today was a big day for me, it was my 5th birthday and I was hoping my mother would make a cake for me.  We were living in Philadelphia in one of many two room apartments we lived in over the next few years.  It had a kitchen and bedroom/living room.  We didn’t have a TV but we had a radio that sat on a small table in the corner of the living room.  There was a radio show for children called Uncle Wip.  They would tell a story, sing some songs and at the end they would wish children by name Happy Birthday.  How do they know whose birthday it is I asked?  Daddy said he guessed it was magic.

          Jackie and I were sitting on the floor in front of the radio listening to the show that day.  They got to the part where they were wishing children happy birthday and I heard them say, “Happy fifth birthday Dorothy Lee and because you have been a good girl all year that is a present behind the radio for you.

          I couldn’t believe it.  I just sat there for a few minutes.  Then I jumped up.  “That’s me!” I yelled.  I was so excited to hear my name on the radio.  Then I thought about the present behind the radio.  It must have been the Shirley Temple doll I wanted!  I wanted the doll with the curly hair and beautiful dress.  With my heart beating fast I ran to the radio to get my beautiful doll.  There was a doll there but not the beautiful one I wanted.

          It was a small celluloid doll with a string of beads around her neck and feathers around her waist for a dress.  She didn’t even have any hair.  I was so disappointed that I could feel the tears forming in my eyes.  As I picked up the little doll I heard my mommy say, “Look, she found the doll!”     
          I looked over to the kitchen and saw my parents peeking around the doorway.  They had big smiles on their faces.  I ran to them and hugged their legs.  Daddy reached down and picked me up.  They were so happy with their surprise for me.  They laughed as they kissed me and said, “Happy Birthday baby!”

          I knew even at that young age that I couldn’t let them know how disappointed I was.  I guess they thought my tears were tears of happiness.  

          I now know how hard it was for them to get even that little celluloid doll for me when pennies could buy food.  And they had called and gotten my name on the radio.

          I came to love that little doll and I called her Shirley anyway.  She was cute.          
          When I was thirteen, my parents gave me my first birthday party where I could invite children not in the family.  I had a lot of fun, got some nice presents but no birthday would ever mean as much to me as my 5th one and no present meant as much to me as my little doll named Shirley.