Tag Archive | "life during the Great Depression"

Greek Hotdogs

Tags: , , , , ,


 

Growing up in South Philadelphia during the Great Depression was an experience I will never forget.  And, despite tough economic times and the winds of yet another war to end all wars looming in Europe, I still hold that era dear to my heart.

 

For kids, the South Philly of that time was a magical place to live.  I remember with great affection my family’s Holiday celebrations and the annual New Year’s Day Parade that originated on Second Street and wound its way to its conclusion on Broad Street.   Of course, South Philadelphia was also home to great food – both the food my mother made at home and the City’s many eateries.  The original Pat’s Steaks at 9th & Wharton Streets was and remains a landmark.

 

But, what I recall best are the colorful characters who inhabited the City.  Like the other major Northeastern metropolitan areas, Philadelphia exemplified the “melting pot” that was America.  People with funny names and habits added color to everyday life.  Every ethnic group added their own unique culture and food specialties to the cityscape.

 

Among my fondest memories, however, were what my family referred to as Greek Hotdogs.  We gave them that name, not because they were made in Greece, but because of the ethnicity of the family who ran the establishment in which they were made and sold.  Their store was at the intersection of Snyder Avenue and the Southwest corner of South Carlisle Street –  just a half city block from the Broadway Theater at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue.

 

No matter the time of day or night, you could always find a crowd of people enjoying with gusto a very special hotdog.  Anyone who ever tasted one will attest to that fact.  Like Lays Potato Chips, you “can’t eat just one.”

 

Although Greeks ran the business that made these taste treats, the unique flavor was really in the special sauce and fixings that accompanied the hot dogs – the exact ingredients of which were a closely-guarded secret.  In my opinion, you just haven’t lived until you’ve tasted a Greek Hotdog, as many members of our military who visited Philadelphia during World War ll learned.

 

After he was married and became a father, my older brother Rocco, who was born and died in South Philly, always dedicated one night of the week to the enjoyment of Greek Hotdogs.  He chose Thursday – perhaps, because of the Roman Catholic prohibition against eating meat on Fridays.

 

Since his passing, his daughter Donna has continued the tradition in his honor every Thursday night.  Recently, during a phone conversation with her, the subject of Greek Hotdogs arose, bringing with it fond memories of her Dad and those delicious hotdogs.  As we were ending our conversation, she said “Remember, Uncle Tom, when you order them, you cannot eat only one!”  As I hung up the phone, I smiled and reminisced of the taste of a lifetime, a taste I remember as vividly today as the day when I indulged in my first Greek Hotdog.

 

Walter Cronkite, the iconic news anchor for the CBS Evening News in the 60’s and 70’s ended each broadcast with the same refrain, “What kind of a day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times.  And you were there.”  For me, Greek Hotdogs represented one of the simple pleasures of life, an anticipated change from the everyday.  And, like Cronkite’s audience, I was there.

The Way We Were

Tags: , , , , , ,



With the change in the weather brings thoughts of spring after a long hard winter. It’s the time of year when Mother Nature ushers in the birth of all things; it’s a time to reminisce.


They say that with age comes wisdom, and rightly so.  But after experiencing a lifetime upon which to reflect, I wonder where we went wrong … particularly since it seemed to start out right.


My formative years were spent in South Philadelphia, where I grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood during the Great Depression.  Life was hard during that Depression, but it was also much simpler.  Then, my family’s chief concerns were the basics of life: food, shelter, and clothing.  The family, in fact, was the center of our existence.


Sharing my joys and sorrows with my brothers and parents gave me, and indeed, all of us, a sense of unity and security.  Dad supplied the needs of the family while Mom managed the household duties.  Religion also was part of our lives.  It helped to mold our characters by instilling humility and kindness into our lives.


Although times were hard, life was not unpleasant.  Family outings and visits to friends and relatives, punctuated with much laughter and good times, brought peace and serenity to our lives.  I guess you really could call them “the good old days.”


During the Great Depression, we had few amenities such as people enjoy today. The main modes of travel were automobiles and public transportation. There was no air conditioning back then, and no one had a telephone in his or her home.  Health insurance had yet to emerge, and television had yet to be invented.  Credit cards were still a thing of the future.  Yet, we all survived.


We did have gas appliances, hot water, and forced-air heat. For entertainment, we had Victrolas™, local movie houses, and the radio.  This was the Golden Age of Radio.  The music was good, and the radio also offered mystery stories, such as The Shadow, that sent chills up the spines of every single family member.  We looked forward to gathering around the radio for fun.


Other forms of entertainment were really up to the individual.  We walked and hiked to explore our world.  We played street games or listened to a public concert at a local park, which made life more pleasant.  I can clearly recall sitting by the Wissahickon Creek on warm summer afternoons, listening as the water rushed and gurgled through the valley.  That is a fond, lasting memory for me.


Then something happened that would forever change our lives: World War II came along.  With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America was plunged into war and many young people grew up overnight.  In the process, thousands of men from ages 18 to 45 years old were conscripted into the military.  In the work force, particularly in the factories, women stepped in to fill the shoes of the men drafted into service. 


Those were the days when the patriotic spirit of America flourished throughout the land. War bond sales and Hollywood stars joined forces to defeat our enemies.  USOs sprang up around the nation to offer a home away from home to our servicemen.


After four and a half years of bloody war, America emerged victorious on September 2, 1945.  The introduction of the atomic bomb put an end to the conflict and propelled the troops to return home.  There, we tried to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on into the future.


The immediate postwar years were bleak.  There was too much manpower and not enough jobs.  Factory wages were less than $2.00 an hour and the need for housing to accommodate newlyweds was on the horizon.


As we slowly moved into the future, enterprising real estate developers, such as Levitt in Pennsylvania, offered burgeoning new families modest dwellings in suburban locations, thus creating the exodus of many city dwellers to suburbia.  Along with the introduction of television, this industry spurred our economy with the need for more jobs to satisfy the wants of new home buyers.  Happy days were here again!


The fly in the ointment was the banking industry.  Back then, banks followed stringent standards when supplying loans to people without collateral.  A rule of thumb in procuring a loan was that one week of the loan recipient’s monthly income had to cover his mortgage payment.


Enterprising businessmen saw the opportunity of establishing credit to these borrowers, by offering store credit cards.  It seemed a good solution to the problem.  Hence, the system of credit scores evolved.  As we continued to move into the future, the economy improved, bringing more jobs and higher wages.


America was on a roller coaster ride.  We climbed high and exuberantly as Wall Street experienced record sales with an inflated economy.  However, the threat of financial collapse waited around the bend.  The ride, you see, was dictated by banking institutions and the very watchful eyes of the government.  The banks had to remain prudent in their lending practices; in turn, those practices were to be monitored by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission).  Obviously, the banks and the government loosened their vigilance, for in September of 2008, we experienced another crash on Wall Street.


Barbara Streisand once had a hit song bearing the same title as this article.  Her haunting words still ring in my ears, “What’s too painful to remember is so very hard to forget.”  That just about says it all.


As I sit typing this article of reminiscence about the America in which I grew up, and the America in which we live today, I recall the Native American portrayed in a poignant, old commercial.  A tear ran down his face as he watched this beautiful land turn into a garbage dump.  Indeed, “where did we go wrong?” 


Come September

Tags: , , , ,


In contemplating a title for this article, I could very well have lifted a line from a beloved old Grateful Dead song, Truckin’.  “What a long, strange trip it’s been” surely describes my life.  For the most part, it’s been a good life.   For everything that I have put into it and everything that I have gotten out of it, my life seemed to be headed in a certain direction — until I reached my golden years.  That’s when it turned strange.


Growing up in South Philadelphia with my two brothers during the Great Depression, the life lessons learned in my youth held me in good stead as I matured, carving the path that my life has taken.  Hard work and honesty were the cornerstones of my family.  Like most traditional families of those times, my father was the breadwinner, and my mother was the heart and soul of our household.   My dad worked long hours in my grandfather’s barbershop while my mother did the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and nearly every other household chore, including the most important one: the majority of the child-rearing.   My brothers and I pitched in to help whenever we could.  Back then, when the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 25%, it took teamwork to get by as well as maintain our sanity.


We may not have been rich, but we were happy.  Simple, inexpensive outings, such as a trip down the river on the Wilson Line or hiking in the Wissahickon Park provided my family with downtime as well as quality time, in which we strengthened our bonds and celebrated being alive.  I remember those times with great fondness, as I do playing stickball and other games in the street along with the neighborhood kids.  Somebody’s mother or grandmother was always peering down upon us, making sure that we were safe and causing no major mischief.  If we were the cause of any trouble, may heaven have helped us as those watchful eyes would report back pronto to our parents, who then doled out appropriate punishments.


Back then, there was no such thing as a Time Out to curtail the behavior of unruly children.  There was no such thing as withholding television from us for our minor sins, because TV had yet to be invented!   There was no such thing as “reasoning” with us or facilitating the development of our “critical thinking skills” that would enable us to see the error of our ways.  In those days, parents had neither the time not the inclination for such approaches.  They were engaged in the very serious task of keeping the roof over their kids’ heads and food in their mouths.  The ideology behind “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was not a philosophy in my house; it was a way of life.   My brothers and I quickly learned that things could be a lot more pleasant if we followed our parents’ rules and mores, including respect for others.


As the years passed, my brothers and I were able to help the family in a monetary fashion.  After-school jobs, such as serving as delivery boys for local grocers, working newspaper routes, or clerking in stores allowed us to chip in a bit at home while still enjoying a little “blow money.”


At age the age of sixteen, we traded our short pants for long ones, for that was the mark of a boy coming of age.  Many of us came of age a lot faster than we’d bargained for, courtesy of World War II.   Two years after I’d begun to wear men’s clothing, I traded those clothes for a military uniform, at the command of the United States Army.


After the war, those lucky enough to return home attempted to recapture the years lost in the conflict by trying to meld back into civilian life.  But we were forever changed, as was the nation.  When the war ended, so did the jobs that supplied the war, mostly in manufacturing.  Because there were not enough jobs for the returning troops, many veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill: a piece of legislation enabling vets to attain college educations or learn one of the trades by way of vocational schools.  With our newfound knowledge, we moved into decent-paying jobs, jobs that helped make our country the most economically sound nation in the world.


In the years to follow, we left our homes and the sheltering arms of our parents.  We began our own lives with the girls of our dreams.  Shortly afterward, we experienced the joys and responsibilities of raising our own families and understood, finally, our parents’ perspectives.   We worked, and we worked hard.  We put away for our retirement, to be able to enjoy our golden years with our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Never did we expect to find ourselves in a situation tottering too close for comfort to the same one we’d experienced as kids growing up in the Great Depression.  At least, I didn’t.


Now that I am a senior citizen, I am floored, dismayed, and disheartened by what I see, and I feel that I speak for many people of my generation.  We served our country; we worked within the system and paid into the system.  We had assumed that our honest and industrious work ethic would bear fruit, for it is karmic law that what you give out, you receive back.  We did not expect to lose our shirts when the stock market crashed nearly two years ago. We did not anticipate that our government would blithely fork over $710 billion in aid – not to a needy working class, but to the elite: those who own and run huge mega-million dollar corporations.


These events have left senior citizens up the creek without a paddle.  On fixed incomes, we must juggle the costs of necessities against the ever-rising cost of living.  In addition to food, shelter (including the utilities and appliances and everything else within those shelters), and of course, clothing, we must – by law – carry insurance on our cars and perhaps in the near future, our health.


Over and over, my mind spins with questions of how my dad managed just the basics on the salary he earned.  We owned no car.  Our home was not air conditioned, nor did it boast a hot water heater, a dryer, a dishwasher, or other modern-day amenities.  And yet, we still enjoyed life to the fullest.  As President George H.W. Bush recalled the era he lived in, “Life was simpler and kinder then.”  Where did we go wrong?  Is overindulgence the “reward” we must now reap?


If only we seniors could return to those carefree days of childhood.  Until someone constructs a time machine, that’s not going to happen.  For now, here is another hard to believe fact that seniors must swallow.  Although the estate tax for 2010 is zero, it will climb to 55% in 2011!  If you are interested in cashing in on some savings, please refer to my article on this site entitled, Single Shot 45.


I suppose the plight of the Over the Hill Gang can best be summed up in a song.  We’re not talking about the Grateful Dead anymore; we’re talking about an artist of my generation.  We’re talking about Frank Sinatra’s, The September of My Years:


One day you turn around and it’s summer.

The next day you turn around and it’s fall.

And all the springs and winters of a lifetime

Whatever happened to them all?

  

 

 

Site Sponsors

Site Sponsors

Site Sponsors










RSSLoading Feed...

Live Traffic Feed

RSSLoading Feed...