31 october 2020

Family. Chapter Four.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Christmas 1932. Nickel movies.

Photo shows the front page of The Chicago Tribune, Dec. 24, 1932. "In the depths of the Great Depression, Chicago Tribune cartoonist Carey Orr tried to find the silver lining -- and succeeded."

I remember Christmas of 1932. It was no doubt the time when we had the least, but something happened that Christmas that in retrospect makes all others pale by comparison. It was a dark period. Our electric was off again. We had coal and the relief boxes, but we knew there would be no visit from Santa that year. Mom had tearfully explained that presents were out of the question and not to expect even much in the way of a dinner when sort of a miracle happened in the form of Andy and Anne Marinovich. The Marinovichs were old family friends. My dad had known both of them from his youth in the old country and of all of the Croatians, they were the only ones Mom really took a liking to.

It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing. Everything was white as it was a new snow and I as I recall there was probably an inch on the ground. You might say it was the perfect setting for our Christmas miracle. There came a knock on the door and there stood Andy grinning, while down on the sidewalk stood Anne, and at her side was a small sled which was loaded with boxes and pots and pans. There were presents (the sled was for me) and food for Christmas and the tears flowed and there was a bottle and the folks had a drink and there was a lot of the Croatian chatter which Mom really didn't like, but that night she was overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who themselves probably had very little more than we, but wanted to share it. I don't mean to say that I had some eight-year-old insight at the time. I didn't, but as the years go by and more and more of the meaning of Christmas is lost, and more clear the events of that Christmas become. Andy and Anne are long dead, but their goodness will be with me always.

Don't get the idea that it was all bad, because it was not. I think kids will have fun regardless of the situation or climate. I don't want anyone to get the idea that I personally realized the gravity of the situation, or even that I cared. I was primarily concerned with those things that concern an 8 year old, having fun, playing games, cadging the occasional nickel in order to go to the movies. Ah yes, the nickel movies. Our theater was located about four blocks from home, at 92nd and Cottage Grove. Real name was the Burnside, which was also the name of the neighborhood. Our name for it was “The Garlic”. One only had to enter the lobby to know why it was so called. On Saturdays it was usually two features, a comedy and a serial. The place full of screaming kids, candy vendors plying their wares up and down the aisles, and if it was the occasional silent film they were running, the piano banging away and 300 kids trying to read the dialogue at the same time. Out loud of course. Upon entering one was presented with a stamped piece of cardboard which was a different color depending upon the time of entry. Between each feature the ushers would come down the aisles and you would have to hold up your colored cardboard to indicate what time you entered. If your color indicated that you had been there long enough to have seen the entire playbill, out you went to make room for another kid. We tried all the ruses such as hiding under the seats or in the bathroom, but they would seek you out and no ticket, no show. It was at the Garlic that I saw such epics as The Rebel, Kid Millions, Birth of a Nation, and the original Ben-Hur. Plus untold westerns starring men in white hats and their faithful hoss’s.