by Elena Santangelo
America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than
ever before in the history of any land.
The poor-house is
vanishing from among us.
—President Herbert Hoover, 1928
1933 – East Main
Street, Norristown, Pennsylvania
What I recall of the
Depression was everyone saying we didn’t have enough to eat.
And they always said the coal had so many rocks in it we
couldn’t make it last a week. Bootleg coal was all we could
afford—the small slaggy bits left over after the good coal
was shipped out.
I remember feeling hungry? No more than usual. What I got to
eat was how much I’d eaten every day as long as I could
remember. Same with feeling cold in the winter, I guess. I wore
flannel underwear beneath my dress. Over it I wore a heavy
sweater, with thick stockings below, hand-me-downs from my
cousins, knit in better times by my grandmother. We all
called her Nonna.
night Aunt Gina would put a hot water bottle under the
sheets of the bed I shared with my cousin Delphina. After we
were tucked in, my aunt would throw the rug from the floor
over us. We couldn’t move from the weight. Then our cat
would jump up to nestle under the rug between our feet and
the hot water bottle. She’d lick her fur for maybe twenty
minutes, making the whole bed rock. With the bottle, the rug
and the cat, we kept warm enough.
That’s what a child remembers. Not the cold, but the way we
kept warm. Not the hunger, but the days when we didn’t eat
macaroni for dinner. Or ate it, but with something besides
beans or split peas or onions in tomato sauce. Sundays we
had ravioli, or once in a while Uncle Ennio brought home a
chicken. After he wrung its neck and Aunt Gina cut it up, we
got the feet to play with. We’d pull the tendons to make the
can’t picture the hand-me-downs we wore so much as when one
of us got new clothes, like the brown oxford shoes Del put
on when she started junior high, and the white knickers Aunt
Gina sewed for my brother Salvatore for his First Holy
Communion the next spring.
It’s the out-of-ordinary things that stick. That’s why I can
remember that one week in 1933 so vividly. Roosevelt became
our new president right after Lent started. We listened to
him on Mr. D’Abruzzo’s radio. But that was also the week a
rich man got deathly ill on our front steps, and when I
heard voices in a room with no people, and when our black
cat Crisi helped me and Del uncover a secret best left
it now on Amazon's Kindle.
to Fear Itself Description