Anna and the Great Depression|
by Calvert Dodge - June 12, 1997
This is the story of one woman who fought the Great Depression as courageously as famous generals fight famous battles.
Of German parents, short in height, perhaps five feet four inches, light of build, good looking. She bore three children. Her husband, was an electrician for the Illinois Bell Telephone Company. She and her family lived in the back of a gift and frame shop on Clark street on Chicago's north side during the 1920's. Anna could sing, play the piano, and she was an artist. Never famous at it but I and many of my friends can attest that each of her paintings, in our opinions, was a beautiful work of art.
Anna's husband became ill and died of pneumonia, within five days, when Anna was forty two and her third born child, a boy, was only six months old. Luckily her daughter and other son were eight and twelve years old at the time of her husband's death so they could help around the house and store. Anna'sdad, a German immigrant and widower,also moved in with the family andserved as a baby sitter for Anna's two younger children before he died a few years later.
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930's people were so concerned about surviving, obtaining food, paying rent, that Anna's gift shop failed to bring in enough paying customers to provide for her and the family. Records of receipts at the store showed that on one Friday store income was ninety five cents, on a Saturday, eighty-five cents and on Monday, sixty-five cents
So Anna had to close the store. Luckily she found a job as a china ware painter eight hours a day five days a week. She made very little but it saved her and her family. The family moved to smaller and smaller apartments as the money supply decreased.
The Great Depression was a shock to humanity. In those days unemployed men stood on corners selling apples or other obtainable fruit for five cents each and sales were terrible. There were long lines of people, sometimes two or three blocks, waiting for food handouts. Laborers wages were twelve to eighteen dollars a week. Bread was four cents, butter, seven cents. Pork chops were fifteen cents a pound. A double feature movie with news and cartoon was fifteen cents.
In the middle of the Great Depression, around 1935, Anna's job at the china ware factory was abolished. She began painting at home, and delivering her art, on consignment, to stores connected to the higher classes of people who still had money to spend and sometimes spent it. Anna waited and waited and then, from time to time, an item was sold and she collected a few dollars.
Each year the Art Institute of Chicago held its outdoor exhibit and sale. Anna and her daughter were there. They set up a card table on the sidewalk, in front of the Museum, for displaying Anna's beautiful art items. These included paintings, painted metal wastebaskets, lamp shades, and other items which she had beautified.
Despite electricity at her home being turned off, rent being much overdue and threats of eviction, Anna kept her cool. She never backed away from her singing in an excellent choir. She would have friends over to play bunko, a dice game of sorts. She had a boy friend, a streetcar conductor, who visited often.
On Sundays, she attended church, came home and somehow, she prepared excellent dinners for the family with what little food was available. She loved good jokes. Humor may have helped her survive.
Anna played the piano well and, as a result, there was singing in the house quite often. But the Great Depression kept breathing its black breath at Anna. Finally with the new Roosevelt-inspired welfare programs, Anna put her strong German pride away and applied for relief.
The rent was paid, a ton of coal was delivered each month and the coal stove in Anna's living room and the coal and wood burning range, in the kitchen, were now heating up the apartment, providing hot water and lots of heat for cooking. A box of food, from the government, was like Christmas. Once a month the box would arrive with beef, beans, peanut butter, coffee, powdered milk, flour, sugar, cheese, and much more. There were many ''happy" days for the family, because of these contributions<
The kids were all growing up healthy and ambitious. Anna's older son quit high school and got a job as a lineman with the telephone company. Anna's daughter found work as a telephone operator.
Anna's husband, though deceased, may have influenced the hiring of Anna's older children with the telephone company at which he had been employed.
The Great Depression had tried to conquer Anna but she survived. She seemed able to take things in stride, keep up her artwork and maintain a home and friends
When World War Two began Anna's two boys went into the military and her daughter married, then moved away. Anna kept painting, and selling her art. After a few years she no longer needed welfare. At the beginning of World War Two Anna's older son was drafted into the Army. Her younger son joined the Navy for the full four years and then went to college soon after his discharge. Both boys helped support Anna by sending her money each month.
After a year in the Army Anna's older son was able to get a family hardship release and came home. With someone in the home with her, Anna probably felt less lonely and more able to cope with life's hardships.
Anna had accomplished much during her life but the fight was beginning to show its tolls. Her health was beginning to fail. It was affecting her work. She continued to paint and sell her paintings but the quantity of items completed were dwindling. Her spirits seemed to be fading, at least in the eyes of some of her observers.
Her sons married and then moved and Anna was, once again alone. Anna had a stroke and then, while in a rest home, died of still another stroke several years later.
Anna was an eighth grade graduate, could spell better than most and was attuned to world affairs, music and the arts.
Anna had no certificates applauding her achievements, no rewards for her excellent singing and piano work, no accolades for her art or raising her children well. Anna was a hero indeed' especially to her children, Wesley, Elvy and Calvert.
Looking back at my mother's life, trying to remember her voice, her responses to life, her interactions with others is difficult for me. I do remember the time when she was getting some flank steaks ready for dinner. Our dog, Teddy, a Fox Terrier, came running through the broken screen on the door, straight to the kitchen. He grabbed one of the pieces of meat and rushed out of the house. My sister and I saw this and we wanted to chase Teddy and punish him. Anna said 'No! don't punish him. His act must be a sign that we're not feeding him enough. We'll just have to make do with what meat is left.' Her personality, her religion, her strong will, her high hopes, her endurance, whatever it was, helped her overcome each crisis. From the family dog's theft of a part of the family dinner, to talking with eviction minded landlords and other bill collectors, or handling other crisis, she was able to make life calm again, for all of us. She was a hero indeed.