When I invaded the Bond Bread Factory, as a hungry seven-year-older, on a plank from a neighboring building, my sister Patricia, younger by a year, was my scout, my watch dog, my whistleblower, all to make sure we’d have toast off our kitchen stovetop which required bread to begin with, mystifying my mother about “Who in these days gives fresh bread to kids on the prowl.
And the gift of a plank that crossed from one close building to the site where our bread was made, free for the stealing if you could get to it. In such situations, I’d seen watchmen and guards turn their backs on kids hungry enough to make the try; Depression times took care of all other arrangements, like a plank from window to window, knowing where bread in warm loaves was wrapped for the days’ deliveries, or those taken on the lam.
I was not particular as to where the bread was supposed to go, not when I had it in my hands, and was ready for a smile from my mother when I delivered the goods to her kitchen and the fire coal-fed from Abie’s market in 25-lb bags. The riches of the poor, and that whole other story about the Great God Shove agonizing me endlessly in the early times until I took care of the bully on my own initiative, for the good of one and all, meaning me and him.
Everybody in the grip of the Depression knew what chances were taken, what dares were manufactured, what courage (or disdain) enveloped the deeds. There were those two-faced people who would snitch it from you after you had snitched it once. Fair play for the players on either side, a sign of the times.
And I didn’t care where bakeries were accessible, Bunker Hill Street, Medford Street, Ferrin Street, they were in my territory, this side of City Square—I’d see to that, at least by my age where I had been taught by bullies like the Great God Shove who would never bother me again; the lines there had been cut, ranks formed otherwise, step up and take or give a punch, take care of your produce for your own table, or you go down the drain like lickety-split.
Theft or thievery could be examined on a couple of levels; by you or from you, the way my pal Edjo (Edward Joseph Wozny) explained it, like nudging a cue ball or an 8-ball into a better position for a shot on the pool table, sight unseen as a knuckle maneuvered either pool ball apparently out of view of anybody in the four-table room, always having something else to catch the eye, a proponent flashing a photo of his latest nude girlfriend for all to see at the exact moment of a shuffle of the odds and the chances, coming along with, “Ain’t that the best-looking ballicky broad you ever saw?
The Depression, of course, made its own demands, for you or against you, the way one became a survivor or a loser, liar, curser, gang member, thief, gangster, rapist, killer, whichever way the twig gets bent by those about you, looking for your vote, your enlistment, your downfall.
It happened all around us, like Peter Gary, next door neighbor, three floors up in the back end of the house never seeing the sunshine on its face, stealing a guy’s wallet, then seeing the guy’s watch, then touching a warm blanket so luxurious he near fainted. He could see it wrapped around his mother’s shoulders on the first chill of the fall, glass in the windows as cold as the graves on the far side of town, not even a place for a quick visit, two commuter vehicles, two stops en route, lonely is not the key word. A snuggle is a thank you; where did you get this? How did you get this? Did anybody chase you? That’s how indifference makes a stand.
She hugged her son, pulled him close, saying, “You’re your father all over again. No excuses. No apologies. Doing what’s needed. Doing what’s done.” And his father, on his tenth year in jail, and two years to go, hailed as a rebel of the first order, delivered a promise. “I’m gonna get the landlord when I get out.”
He meant every word he said, or whispered in the silence between cells, but they made the street on the first pass, the simple and silent nodding of heads being signs of acceptance and rule for all hands in the mix. If there ever was a question or a doubt, it never found a breath.
Silence ought to be golden.