We may have lived in what might today be called "poverty," but one thing I can say I'm most grateful for in Mom's training was her attitude about cleanliness.
"Just because we don't have money doesn't mean we can't be clean," she'd say. It sounded good and was a true statementexcept for one thing! In order to be that clean one had to haul water from the school in those ten gallon cans on a wagon, trip after trip after trip. Clothes-washing day was a real drag! But there was also cleanliness inside the house to address.
A weekly event was scrubbing the kitchen linoleum (sometimes it spread over to the living room as well). Our sister Marie was the one who acquired that job, which she handled very well. Only one problem! When we boys wanted to get into the house after it was cleaned, Marie stood over her newspaper-covered floor as though protecting a territory of some sort. She carried a broom which she swung at anyone brave enough to tread the forbidden area. More than once did I and my brothers get a solid smack with that broom. I never understood how long we were to wait until it was OK to enter, but I'd guess we tried much too soon. In a way, today I can understand how she felt putting in all that labor, and then having a couple or few boys come in and mess up her work. It may have been a case of "justified whacking!"
In behalf of us boys I must say that we, too, had assigned tasks to perform, one of which was hauling those milk cans to and from the school house for water. Another job was cleaning the yard, a rather extended area due to the fact we were the only house on the whole block and could have used as much of that space as we wished. With a chicken coop, a shed/garage, a backhouse, a well, a drainage ditch and a huge junk pile at the extreme rear of the yard, there was plenty to do to keep the place from looking like a junk yard. And there were also a lot of grassy, weeded areas to keep trimmed. Additionally, there were always some sort of garden and flower beds and trees all over the place.
In all months other than summer, or possibly spring, we took those baths behind the living room (we called it the "front room") stove. Most stoves we had were of the older potbelly types in which we used wood, coal and paper for fuel. Later on we progressed to fuel oil stoves, though they were more costly to operate since it wasn't possible to push oil off a moving train (that story back a way).
Mom and Dad would keep huge kettles and pans continually heated on that stove and the one in the kitchen in order to supply enough water for four kids' baths. So there was always more than sufficient heat in even the coldest weather on those Saturdays.
A large, round washtub of the galvanized variety which was common to that time was used. It was placed behind the front room stove, not only for the benefit of the heat from the stove, but because it offered some cover from "snoopers." It was also enclosed by two walls which met in that corner.
Dad's job at the brickyard always provided a place for him to take showers, and even our local schoolhouse offered these facilities for parents and/or kids. It may have required some prior appointment so the janitor could provide sufficient heated water, though; I'm not certain.
When I think of the varieties of foods available today for meals at somewhat reasonable prices, it's difficult to imagine how we existed on what we did in those days.
For example, Saturday morning breakfasts provided one of our greatest treats in the form of soda crackers and margarine, and coffee. Dad always got up by five a.m. or so during the weekdays, so we kids didn't sit down to have breakfast with him then. But on weekends we got to see and eat things he did during the week. That one favorite breakfast became a ritualistic thing on Saturdays, as did the pancakes and maybe eggs on Sunday.
The nearest paved street to our area was probably about two half blocks or a city block to the west. That was a cement street. To the east was Lombard Avenue which was a tar-covered, elevated road used to accommodate the brickyard trucks and to assure passage through to the cement streets in wet weather (remember the "roads" near our house?).
Lombard Avenue was rather filled with potholes from the heavy trucks, and the gravel underneath the tar covered much of the road. But the cement streets had sections which were separated by tar strips, the separations being for the purpose of allowing for contraction and expansion, thus preventing the cement from buckling.
In the hot summer months the tar became soft and pliable, even giving off a slight titillating scent. Naturally, this attracted our attention as kids, and we soon learned from experience that the tar was chewable and kind of tasty. All one had to do was to scoop up a portion of the tar and begin chewinglow cost, good taste, what more could one ask for? Since I hadn't heard of any of us ever becoming deathly ill from that treat, it must have been that the toxics and various strains of bacteria around today weren't then.
The "Candy makers' Convention" was always likely to follow the departure of our folks from home, especially if we kids knew they'd be away for some time. Pots and pans, sugar, cocoa, margarine, coconut and nuts (the latter two not in great supply usually) and other available ingredients found their way to the stove area. Then began serious cooking of concoctions of all sorts: fudge, caramel and whatever else could be made was at least attempted.
By the time I was ten I had a couple of teeth which had decayed to the point they caused pus bags to form on my gums, and they had to be pulledtoo much candy, along with inadequate teeth-cleaning materials available today. I know we used something like salt water and baking soda solutions, but I never was crazy about the taste. So the sugar ingested, along with the lack of constant teeth-cleaning, led to my abscessed gums and ultimate loss of those two teeth.
Speaking of candy making, Mom worked for a time at Mars Candy Company in Oak Park, Illinois, a city to the north of our bordering city of Berwyn. Employees were allowed to purchase "seconds," bars which were imperfect, or perhaps the wrappers were. The prices were very low, so Mom always bought something for us Kids. She always had a welcoming committee on hand to greet her, sometimes waiting at the end of the bus line where she'd disembark. Being the candy makers we were, we appreciated some of the real good stuff to offset the kind we made.
Money was as short as hen's teeth in the 30's, and to get a dime as a kid was a lot of money. It could have bought a movie show, a candy bar and a drinkat least two of those things. So when one day I was given a windfall of two dimes by my mother, I was elated, thrilled, even overwhelmed. It wasn't my birthday, as that's in March, the month accompanying the cold, snowy weather. But it was a rather pleasant, warm and beautiful time of the year this happened.
Regardless of the occasion, I treasured those two dimes mostly because of the love with which they were given by Mom. I may even have cried when I got them. So with the best of intentions to hold on to them and to use them wisely at a later date, I carried them in my trouser pocket, looking at them every once in a while to make sure they were there.
One day shortly after that I felt around in my pocket, fumbling to reach for the dimes. In so doing, I felt a sick feeling come over me, as the one dime just wasn't there! I searched and searched everywhere around the yard and in the house but found nothing. I didn't want to reveal the loss to Mom, because I knew her generosity in giving them would cause her hurt because of my carelessness.
Whether or not that dime was ever located, I don't knowI rather doubt it was. That loss, and what it meant at the time, is instilled in my memory for good. Sometimes little things can mean a lot!
Having grown up hearing the Word of God from our folks, we kids were up on things like the "end of the world" coming one day in the future. There was a day when I thought the time had arrived.
Earlier I mentioned some of the happenings of the gangland activities in our day, but there was one unforgettable adventure related to those activities which I left out. Maybe it was because when this happened I was probably around twelve or thirteen, [or] a little later period of time in my life. [Editor's Note: The author was actually 16 when the following event took place!]
As kids we worked at what were called "truck farms." Truck farmers usually rented or leased plots of farm land to grow and market vegetables. Our job was to remove weeds which surrounded the growing plants, going up and down long rows on our knees as we moved forward. It was a back-breaking job, but it was something which took little talent to perform, and it paid fairly well, as kids' earnings went in that day.
The plot we were working on this particular day was located somewhere between 95th Street and 105th South and between Harlem Avenue and Cicero Avenue, probably just about in the center of that area. We had just begun working the rows from the south end, moving toward the north, when loud screeching tire sounds and revved-up engine noises got our attention. As we ran toward the highway we heard a number of gunshots. This caused us to slow down for a moment, but then on we went to satisfy our curiosity.
Arriving at the highway, we found a late model Ford with its right side leaning up against the ditch which bordered the highway. The driver's side windows had been shot out, and slumped over the steering wheel was the body of a man splattered with blood (as was the interior of the car). It was a gory sight for anyone, let alone for youngsters our age!
Tire skid marks covered the road, making it evident that some zigzagging had taken place at high speeds.
As the police arrived and began to gather evidence, we listened somberly to their conversation. It appeared this was another gangland slaying, using a style of execution common to that eraone auto following another, catching up to it, and then blasting away with machine guns.
In the next day's newspapers, front page, no less, appeared the story of what had taken place. The victim was identified as Mr. Louis Schiavone. The article stated that Mr. Schiavone was either a rival gang member, or one who had violated the trust of the gang which killed him.
Why that name sticks in my mind, I don't know. But I do know that the picture of that incident is glued in my mind. Violence of that sort doesn't occur very often, but to practically be on the scene as it's taking place helped to cement it there, I suppose.
1[Return to Text] This is completely incorrect reasoning! And the author should have praised God he did not get very sick or develop a cancer from such activities. This editor recalls playing with small liquid balls of mercury as a child, but would not do that again if he had a choice! It's only by the grace of God (or 'luck' if you don't believe in Him) that many children (such as those who may have chewed on 'lead-painted' toys) survive conditions which could have been very harmful to them.
2[Return to Text] Since this is a story told by one who was a child at the time, we cannot be certain this ever took place (sometimes kids are told 'stories' in an effort to correct their behavior). We are sure though, that nothing like this could ever take place today at a Mars Candy facility.
Text] On July 5, 1939, Louis Schiavone was shot with two bursts from a 12-gauge shotgun. This was nation-wide news, carried by the API, as seen here in the Schenectady, New York Gazette, Thurs., July 6, 1939: