They were poor. It was during the depression so they were not alone. Six kids, a widowed aunt, and only occasional work opportunities for dad. Tough to scrape up the $14 to pay the rent, and thank God for the corner store. Ralph would provide the food and "put it on the book" until mom could pay it down . . . a little. Not uncommon, it was the depression. A story shared by many.
It was cold. The oil man walked up the three flights of stairs in the back and tied his rope to the railing and dropped it down to his truck. He walked back down the stairs and tied the rope to the oil hose nozzle. He then walked back up the stairs and pulled on the rope to bring it up to the fifty gallon barrel that sat on the porch. Each pull of the rope made it all the heavier for him. When the barrel was filled he would gently lower the hose and drop the rope, and walk back down the stairs. He would put the hose back in its place and get the ticket that came out of the meter showing the gallons delivered. He would make his third trip back up the three flights of stairs to present the bill, often around forty five gallons at 10 cents a gallon, while hoping that this time the tenant would have the money to pay the $4.50. Not uncommon, it was the depression. It was getting dark. It was cold. He was tired and hungry. He still had four more deliveries to make.
Snow was hoped for as it provided the boys a chance to earn a few quarters by shoveling snow. A few quarters to give to mom to help pay the bills or buy some groceries. The neighbor's kids did the same. Not uncommon, it was the depression. No shoveling in the neighborhood because no one had any money. A few blocks away were the "rich" people. They lived in a house not an apartment building. The mister had a real job. Some even paid a half a dollar, but you had to shovel the sidewalk and the driveway, too. All the kids ran there first hoping to get picked. Sometimes the nice lady would come to the door and give the young worker a cup of hot cocoa. What a treat!
Afterwards, when mom had gotten the quarters, she would sometimes give the eldest a quarter and tell him to get a couple of boxes of raspberry Jell-O . . . and a banana. She would make the Jell-O in a big bowl and, before it had completely solidified, she would cut up the banana, spreading out each slice as best she could.. She knew that each of the kids was hoping to get a slice of the banana in their bowl of Jell-O. It was not uncommon, it was the depression. What a treat! Dessert and it's not even a holiday. If it snows tomorrow will mom make Jell-O with banana again?
Dad turns on the radio and turns the dial until he gets a station with music. They're playing Christmas carols. Another treat! The kids run to find the Christmas carol books the John Hancock insurance man left when he came to collect the 15 cent premium on the $150 life insurance policy. Every time he came to collect the 15 cents he had to walk up the front stairs, and that was four flights, not like the three flights in the back. As each of the carols came on the radio, the kids found the page in the Christmas carol book and sang along. Mom, Dad, and auntie sang too. It was a happy time. Not uncommon, it was the depression.
When the kids ask mom what they might get from Santa Clause, she gently tells them not to expect much because it's the depression for Santa, too. It's getting hard for him to get enough money to feed the reindeer and provide the food for all his helpers. He had to lay off some of them, too. But the young ones still dream of a sled, or maybe some ice skates to clamp on their shoes, and candy canes would be nice. It was the depression, but it didn't prevent dreaming.
Mom takes a trip up to the rubber factory where they make sneakers. The ones that have a little blemish in them can be bought for 50 cents a pair. Still a lot of money but not as expensive as in the shoe store where they charge $2.29. She arranges for Santa to bring the young boys the sneakers. The older boys get a new pair of pants and a football for all to share. Little sister gets a dolly. It was the best that Santa Clause could do . . . it was the depression for him, too.
Dad cooked the really big turkey and made the gravy and his special stuffing. Mom made the pumpkin and minced meat pies, and did the turnips, the regular and sweet potatoes, and the cranberry sauce. Auntie made her delicious bread and rolls. What a meal! I bet even the rich people didn't have it any better. What a great Christmas!
It's not what's under the tree; it's what's in your heart. A merry and blessed Christmas to all.
- Category: Letters
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