Author shares tales of Park Ridge Depression-era life
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:04AM
PARK RIDGE — Growing up in Park Ridge during the 1930s, Alice Breon, formerly Nelson, recalled a humble yet happy childhood despite the decade-long economic downturn that squeezed families across America. Now 87 and residing in State College, Penn., Breon shares early tales of life in Park Ridge during the Great Depression in her latest book, “Holes in my Shoes.”
Q: What inspired you to write a book about your childhood?
A: I was telling a lot of the different stories to my children and grandchildren – I have 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. I didn’t (initially plan to) get it published, but thought other people would like to know what it was like growing up in a small town during the Depression. Now I’m working on a trilogy of books.
Q: How does the recent recession compare to the Great Depression?
A: One difference is that it happened so suddenly with the stock market crash in 1929. People lost their businesses immediately and their employees were without jobs without notice. Businessmen committed suicide. Many men, unable to support their families, jumped into boxcars on the railways to try to find work out west. Others went door-to-door asking for odd jobs in exchange for a meal. I think it was more severe than it was now, though I realize there are a lot of people out of work now. There was a government relief program in those days, but it doesn’t compare with the welfare programs we have now.
Q: How did cash-strapped Americans make ends meet?
A: People lived more simply at that time. They didn’t spend any money unless they absolutely had to. You’ll see people my age are still that way. It’s hard to break that habit. Neighbors, friends and relatives all pitched in and helped, too. They were very generous with their time and what they could share. There was a great sharing and empathy for everyone.
Q: How did the Great Depression impact your family?
A: My father was a jeweler and an engraver in the Pittsfield Building in Chicago. When the Depression hit of course fine jewelry was the last thing people were looking for. His business dwindled a lot. The only people that would order specially-made jewelry were movie stars or some prominent person and that was far and few between at that time. He took different jobs were he could find work. My mother didn’t have an outside job. Her entire job was to take care of children. Luckily we were able to survive OK. My father had paid for our house in cash when he bought it.
Q: How did your family deal with the difficulties of the Great Depression?
A: We couldn’t have everything we desired at that time. There was no such thing as instant gratification. We had very few clothes. I had maybe two or three dresses at the most, and one good outfit for church. (Parents) usually bought things that were a little too big for the children so they would grow into them. (My mother) would mend the clothes until they couldn’t be mended anymore.
My mother was a good cook and made everything from scratch. She canned a lot of things. We had a vegetable garden that my father took care of. (My mother) made cloverleaf rolls for a regular dinner and I remember her rolling them up and putting them into a muffin pan. Now I wouldn’t think of doing something like that. It was so easy for her. She was very frugal but she managed to feed us all. We had very well-balanced meals. I never remember being hungry.
Q: You write that children of the Great Depression were happy and creative. What did you do for fun?
A: We made our own games and own toys. We did things like hopscotch and jump rope and marbles. It didn’t require a whole lot of expensive things. I think it was good for us in a way. We used our imaginations.
Q: What are your favorite memories of Park Ridge?
A: I remember, of course, the Pickwick Theatre. That was our Saturday afternoon treat. For 10 cents we could sit there all day and watch the same movie over and over. Things really did cost five and 10 cents at the time.
I went to a music store on Prospect Avenue in my teens. We would ask for the latest records and go into a booth and play them. Sometimes the booth was big enough so you could dance a little. That was our entertainment after school. Then we handed back records that we couldn’t afford. (The store owner) didn’t seem to mind.
Robinson’s Soda Shop was a neat hang out, too. There was also a bakery with beautiful things. I remember a butcher shop with sawdust on the floor. The kids liked to slide on that dust. You could slide really fast!