When the Spirit Moves You: From Wealth to Worry
Having been born in the worst month in the worst year of our nation’s worst economic calamity, I feel justified in calling myself "a child of the Depression." But as bad as conditions were at that time, I was at least rocked in the same crude cradle with other children in the same fix, all of whom were gratefully too young to remember how things had once been.
My parents' generation, however, fully grasped the denigrating impact of The Great Depression. Through its years of struggle followed by those of World War II, families managed to exist in a new, harsher reality. And while my parents were not exactly reduced from riches to rags, they were undeniably plunged headlong from wealth to worry.
A Baby grand piano, Wikimedia commons
My father's lighting fixture factory went dark since nobody could afford to buy its products. Yet as tough as things were for him, he still invited his out-of-work employees to remain on the payroll, promising to give them what he could to at least keep them off the bread lines and out of the soup kitchens.
I am proud of my father for having done that. And I even feel a sense of self-pride, misplaced perhaps, in the fact that my ‘depressed’ childhood left me with so few emotional or physical scars. Could it be that the unfortunate timing of my birth steeled me to perceive later challenges in life as less insurmountable?
When the Depression hit, my parents moved out of their swank West Side apartment in Manhattan and into a duplex on Long island. After my birth, they moved again, into a new apartment building in Queens, whose construction had started years before. That is where they stayed put for the rest of their respective long lives.
Even though my mother outlived her husband by more than twenty years, she was still in that apartment when she celebrated her 100th birthday. Despite pressure from her children — some of us living thousands of miles away — she refused to consider moving elsewhere.
Deep-growing roots are the hardest to extract, even more so under circumstances of diminished strength. Only once did my mother consent to let her grown children take a whirlwind tour of senior facilities in the Washington, DC area, where we found one property that we felt might be ideal, even allowing her to take her long-standing furniture with her. But when we returned and shared our recommendations, "The Dowager" — as we had begun calling her — dismissed the matter out of hand. "Just forget about it!" she announced.
Everything in mom's narrow world had grown familiar and convenient. Across one street were her bank, produce market, and luncheonette; across the other were a neighborhood grocery, her hairdresser, a shoe repair, and a drug store. Two blocks south was the office of her medical doctor (GP) to whom she often took a homemade lemon cake — his favorite. Most of the long-term tenants in her building had moved or died — perhaps both — and the demographics had changed over the years. An influx of elderly persecuted Russians occupied most of the other apartments by then, but my stylish and welcoming mother was a universal favorite with all the tenants.
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