During 1920s, it was very common to see little boys running from car to car selling the early, midday or late editions of the newspapers. Selling individually wrapped candies, scarves and cigars. Whatever it took to bring in some money for momma.
The girls played the role they were expected to follow. Seamstresses, mail order brides, or simply dressed in rags and sat with a younger sibling on the street hoping for some loose change.
The lady in rags, their mother, sold apples on Essex and Delancey until she scored a job at Ratners bussing tables and washing dishes.
Her husband helped run a pickel store on Essex Street, until he joined some community members in selling different goods across the country.
Their children each had their jobs to do.
David would stand outside the theaters on Broadway selling cigars, individual roses and the late edition newspaper.
Joey walked through Coney Island doing odd jobs for the retail stores in the area or selling cold drinks on the beach.
Bobby worked the subway to sell the 3 editions of the papers, loose candy or whatever he could get his hands on.
Janice and Sherri, would sit by the bus stations, also dressed in rags, selling sandwiches they would prepare before dawn.
They lived. They never complained.
They survived and they worked their fingers to the bones for each crumb and each thread of clothing.
What’s the point of this story? These people were displaced by the violence and the crime against them in their homes. These are real people who overcame immigrating to the United States, finding housing, jobs and learning the language.
Once they were getting comfortable, the depression hit them but didn’t knock them down. They stood up and reinvented themselves. Then the second world war sent them across the seas to Europe and to the South Pacific.
How did they live three families in one apartment? They lived, they didn’t know any thing else.
How did they live through the scorching summers without air conditioning? They lived, slept on fire escapes and found ways to cool off.
They never said, “why me?” Or watched as others lived easier lives. They simply woke up, went out into the world and then came home to sleep.
Can you ever imagine yourself moving to a foreign country, penniless, not knowing the language or the social norms?
If these past couple of years of covid have taught us anything it’s that anything can happen at anytime and somehow we would adjust. We never know what tomorrow may bring.
We will, live. With the faith we have inherited, the strength of community, traditions and family.