Everyday Survival

By
October 24, 1929. Black Tuesday. The stock market has plummeted, leaving many people to lose all their money, their jobs, and their faith in the world. Since that God awful day, people walk around aimlessly, shadows of their former selves, trying to figure out where they will get their next meal, where they could possibly find another job, and just how to make it to the next day alive.

It is now 1934. A man stands alone on a corner, aside a diminutive roughly constructed stand, resembling a small child selling lemonade on a hot summer day, in hopes of earning enough money to buy a new bicycle. Alas, this is not summer, but the middle of December, and the stakes are much higher than a new bicycle. He wears a torn and tattered coat, over an old shirt, and pants well past their prime. His gloves are almost of no use, for his fingertips remain exposed to the wintry weather, cold and unforgiving. He shifts his weight from one foot to another as he blows his breath into the palms of his hands in a vain attempt to keep warm. His small stand is an old fruit crate on a wheeled metal contraption; it is also where he makes his paltry income. Unemployed. Buy Apples…5 cents apiece.

Everyday he wakes up and finds another street corner to sell his apples. On a good day he makes anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar, but the bad will always out way the good in these days of desolation. A bad day is a day where no one else is unable to afford even an apple, leaving the desperate man on these frigid streets with no rewards. Today he makes twenty cents; not the best day he has ever had…but certainly not the worst. Around about five in the evening, he decides to call it a day. He rolls his cart back to his “home.” He and his family have not lived in a real home for sometime now. They live in a small shack in a Hooverville just outside of New York City. Shouts of “Daddy” as four small arms wrap around his legs. He bends down to meet their level and envelopes them in his arms, happy to see that his children still have a smiling face. Despite his inability to keep them fed, they would never turn on him. If only the rest of this world were as forgiving as his children. He then straightens himself up again, this time to meet his wife. They leave each other a small kiss on the cheek, and he hands her his day's earnings, while the children pull him away to tell him their days' adventures.

She looks at the nickels in her hands and purses her lips together. They cannot live like this much longer. She is reaching into the deepest recesses of her mind for something that they could possibly do to better support their family. She continues through the rest of the day in a trance, making the family a small dinner, tidying the shack, only occasionally nodding to some query thrown her way. When the family retires that evening for a night of slumber, she lies on her back…still thinking…there has to be something that they can do! She stares through a hole in the roof of their small, flimsy, little dwelling at the stars above, looking for answers there, in the heavens. A shooting star flies across the night. She remembers a simpler time, when she was a little girl, and she and the other children would make a wish on shooting stars. A small smile crosses her lips; she closes her eyes for a moment in concentration. Then, tentatively, she opens one eye…and then the other…no, it was a silly idea, but it was still fun to pretend…to pretend that things were that simple once again.

Across the city, another woman looks at that same shooting star, and sighs. She is now getting ready for her evening shift at the textile factory. Tie hair back…not one strand out of place…cannot have it getting caught in the machine…they will replace me faster than it took that star to cross the sky. No jewelry…also a risk. Clean hands…immaculate clothing…cannot soil the fabric…they will take it out of your paycheck. I cannot lose this job…three children, mouths to feed, husband out of the job, too depressed to look for another…cannot lose this job…must keep the apartment…kids, husband, apartment, job…kids, husband, apartment, job. All this runs through her head, as she proceeds through her nightly routine. As well oiled as the machines she works with. Not one step skipped, or forgotten. The same monotonous routine, day in and day out.

She drapes her thin coat over her arms, and trudges through the snow on her way to the factory, working everything through her head. Ten hours at the factory…home…a small rest…then there are the kids to feed, laundry to do, food to cook (however little there may be), bills to pay…while working this out she is barely paying attention to where she is walking, but she knows the way all the same, like the back of her hand. She could walk there with her eyes closed if need be. Dishes to do…turn left…check the kids homework…keep going straight ahead…garbage to take out…turn right…tuck the kids into bed…walk through the factory doors…get a little more rest…punch in and begin the work…do it all again the next day. Like a machine. Always the same, without a hitch…everything runs right on time. She works all day, first at the factory, then she comes home to the small apartment where she cleans till it shines, day in and day out, the same grueling routine in order to support the ones she loves…while her husband sits in his stupor, on that same spot next to the radio. One would think that he has not moved since he returned from his office, saying that he had been fired, while she works so they do not have to live in one of those shantytowns that she passes every day on her way to work. The hours pass, and her shift is over.
During the walk home, she mulls all this over in her head. She is holding her most recent paycheck in her hands. What can she do about it? She just cannot quit…not with him being out of work, and he is not going to be doing anything about that anytime soon, and she certainly cannot leave her family. I could save some money, buy a real house; or at least a better apartment, get a better job…take the kids with me…No, I cannot do it…but this thought does not leave her alone. Like a boomerang it keeps coming back, but she knows that she would never do that. She loves her family too much to leave them--any of them. Not her kids, not her husband. Her husband will find a job eventually; they will all get through this Depression. So long as they keep putting one foot in front of the other, they will make it.

Walking in front of her house is a lonely man. He is homeless, and without a family, he looks into the window of the factory worker’s house and sees the seemingly perfect family. He does not see any form of unhappiness or sorrow emanating from the ostensibly picture perfect abode. All he sees is the happy family that he desperately wants to be a part of. The man takes one last longing look at the family framed behind the glass window, fixing the photograph in his memory, and walks on. He once had that--before the Depression hit. He got laid off, his wife left with the kids, and he has not seen her since. He lives on the streets. Sometimes he will get a bite to eat in the breadline, but more often then not they run out of supplies before he gets there, and he has to eat what he can salvage from nearby trash receptacles, or simply not eat at all.

After that, he will find a park, or Hooverville to sleep in, where he will stare at the sky for hours before finally falling asleep, just thinking, or remembering what he once had. A wife, kids, a home. It's all gone now. Everyday he walks around like a ghost. Unseen by all. If he just fell asleep, and never woke up, no one would ever know. The next morning he wakes up at the break of dawn, with the sky painted in pale pinks and purples, and he just walks, feet pounding the cold pavement. He has nowhere to go, no one to see. So he just walks, not knowing where he will end up at the end of the day. The same thoughts play through his mind, like the films at the picture shows he saw before the Depression. He used to go with his family. Tears begin to sting his eyes now, as a tidal wave of memories flood his mind. He just keeps walking like he does every day, only today, there is a small change in his plans.

He finds a tall building, and walks in. Just as always he is a ghost in the hustle and bustle of the busy office building. He finds a set of stairs and just keeps walking. He decides he wants to see the city from above--a birds eye view. He just keeps walking. Every memory of the loving family he once had filling him up, both body and soul. Here comes the aftermath of those memories. I will never hold my children again, never see them grow up, never see my grandchildren. His feet are still pounding the steps. I will never see my wife again, never see her beautiful face, never hear her laugh again. Higher and higher he climbs. His chest feels tight now. His breathing is strained from climbing so many stairs. Like Christmas bells, that's what her laugh sounded like, Christmas bells, I can almost hear them. He has reached the very top of the stairs now. He had passed every door on the way up to reach this spot. The entrance to the roof. He opens the door slowly, and is exposed to the slowly brightening morning sky. I wonder if she has re-married now, found someone new to support her. He walks to the small stone wall that surrounds the roof now, tears creating tracks down his unwashed face. He leans forward against the wall. I wonder how he is treating the children, my children. Do they even remember me? No. Why would they? What did I ever do for them? Nobody knows he exists anymore. Nobody.

His thought from the previous night comes back to him. If I just fell asleep, and never woke up, no one would ever know. He swears he hears her laugh echoing through his ears one last time. It is not falling asleep, but it's the only way he can stop the memories stop haunting him. He takes off his shoes, and he climbs on top of the miniature wall, and stands there for a brief moment. As a soft breeze hits his face, he pictures that happy family. The mental photograph he took yesterday evening. That is the last thing he wants to see. He dangles his toes over the edge, and slowly inches to the edge. Just before his fall, the mental photograph changes from the happy family, to who his own. No one would ever know…

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In times of trial, one has to have something to hold on to in order to move on. Whether that something is hope, faith, or family. Hope that things will turn out for the better. Faith in your loved ones and that they will always come through for you, and knowing that they have faith in you. Family: knowing that no matter what you do, that you will always have family to back you up. Whether you are out of the job, in trouble with the law, the head of a company, or just being the best you can be. If you do not have any of these to hold on to, you just may not make it though life, because hope, faith, and family, these are all part of everyday survival.





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