Yesterday's Magazette

14 – Cooking In Back Of The Store


Cooking In Back of The Store


By Carol Greenberg


Anyone having experienced the Great Depression has memories of it engraved indelibly on the soul, as it is on mine. October, 1929, the sky fell in on America. The stock market crashed, banks closed, factories shut down, and the Great Depression, as it has become known, became a historical fact. So much for President Hoover’s prediction, “A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.”

Thousands of people became homeless, soup kitchens sprang up, and the mode of travel was on freight trains. Despair showed everywhere. My family was luckier than most. We lived in Yonkers, New York, a small enough town so that everyone knew and relied on one another. We also had an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and sharing was a way of life. We were never rich to begin with and doing without was no big deal.

My father owned a storage warehouse. People from all over the world sent their belongings to be stored until they wanted to claim them. Now, not only did they stop sending their treasures, they didn’t have the money to claim them. Of course, my father was forced out of business. Being a man of imagination, and with a lot of luck, he became an auctioneer.

He started by auctioning the remains of the warehouse. As time went on and he bought stores going out of business, that were later referred to as “stocks.” He found there was always merchandise left over and he needed a place for the remains. He rented a store on Broadway, the major avenue in Yonkers, and my mother managed the store.

The store was named, “The Broadway Bazaar,” and a bazaar it was. It had everything, from shoes, corsets, men’s wear, to needles and thread. The store was approximately 60 X 100 yards long. It had an embossed tin ceiling, and bare light bulbs hung from electric cords.

My father strung clotheslines across the width of the store and hung suits, dresses, and children’s clothes on the lines. Small items such as needles, spools of thread, and scissors were put in paper bags called “grab bags,” that were sold for 5 cents and placed outside in bins.

Like most store owners at the time, a store became home. Some people lived at the back of their store, but we had an apartment. The apartment had rented in better times for $200 a month. We paid $36.00. My mother cooked on a two burner electric stove, so there was constantly the aroma of food cooking. There was always a fresh pot of coffee for family and friends who visited to share their joys and troubles.

After school each day my brother and I went to the store, where my mother cooked dinner. To save on gas or electricity, she used a sort of wonder pot. It was a take off on the hobo’s way of cooking in a tin can. The bottom had a perforated metal plate where you placed potatoes under a domed lid. It acted as sort of an oven. You could even bake a pie or a cake in it.

My mother was genius at budgeting. She fed four of us and maybe a visitor or two on a dollar a day. Potato soup, salmon croquettes (15 cents for a can of salmon) and fried cabbage and noodles were often on the menu. Snacks were pickles and bread (12 cents a loaf) and butter. There were days that my mother gave me 3 cents for a hotdog.

The deli man gave me a bun with mustard and sauerkraut. I was 8-years-old before I realized the bun was missing the frankfurter, but that would have cost a nickel. The pennies my mother saved paid for my brother’s and my music lessons.

I grew up appreciating everything. I laugh now remembering that I had to wear shoes that my father bought at a stock. They were always too big so my mother stuffed paper in the toes. But I had dolls and toys that no one else had. I had ice skates and certainly roller skates and wore the skate key around my neck to tighten the clamps onto my shoes.

I think the skates came off of my feet only when I slept. Not long ago I met a woman who I hadn’t seen in 40 years. She said she was so happy to see me so she could at last say, “Thanks.” It seems that I was one of the older kids, but I let her play with my dolls.

Now it all seems amazing to me that we survived. Of course, all of us from that time suffer from “Depression Syndrome.” We bargain hunt and stuff our refrigerators to overflowing. We save money, string, and rubber bands. We do not waste anything. We go from room to room, turning off lights that our grandchildren leave on.

Young people have a hard time understanding us. We didn’t have TVs, IPods, calculators, or computers. We had radio and song sheets with the words of the songs. I learned math on a big golden National Register that added the sales for a day or sometimes registered, “No Sale.”

We used libraries for books. I look with wonderment and awe at all the advantages my grandchildren have and I strongly believe that I was born too soon.

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009

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