by Doctor Science
Captain America (Steve Rogers) is a comic-book and now -movie superhero and my father isn't. But it turns out that they have a lot in common:
|Steve Rogers||My Dad|
|father killed in WWI||father injured in WWI|
|mother Irish immigrant||mother Irish immigrant|
|born 1918||born 1927|
|grew up in Brooklyn||grew up in Brooklyn|
|Catholic, duh||Catholic, duh|
|mom worked while alive||mom always worked, sometimes as sole breadwinner|
|lived in poverty (orphanage in some versions)||lived in poverty|
|exceptionally small for his age||exceptionally small for his age|
|rejected by military as unfit||initially rejected by military as unfit|
|got in via super-serum||got in via eating 5 lbs bananas to make weight requirement|
Many of my e-friends have been writing fanfiction set back in Steve Rogers' pre-super-serum period, and they're always looking for details of daily life back then -- especially about the daily life of poor people, which is rarely recorded from their own POV.
I realized I have a special resource: I can still ask my Dad! So I made a tumblr, A Hero Grows in Brooklyn, and have started to put up posts with his replies to people's questions.
I'm not going to re-post all the entries here because some of them are rather long, but here are links and excerpts:
We did our own wash, even sheets. Those, we washed, well, not every week -- or every month -- seasonally, I guess you'd say.
We washed clothes in the bathing tub, using a washboard and soap.
For clothing, a major dividing line between the working (and lower) classes and the middle (and upper) classes was that the latter *invariably* had clothes cleaned outside the home, while neighborhoods inhabited by the former can be immediately identified by washing strung on clotheslines:
Laundromats didn't come in until after WWII. It has never been common for NYC apartment buildings to have washers & dryers.
They had no shower -- I don't see them in pictures of households of the period. Growing up in the 1960s, I learned to wash my hair in the sink, and a right pain it was getting one's head under the tap. Or you'd have a large cup or other container to pour water over your head. If you had a lot of hair it was *really* hard to get all the shampoo out.
Of course we did our own shoe-shining, you could only afford a shoe-shine boy for something really special, like a wedding. Being a shoe-shiner wasn't the worst job, I knew guys who did it.
We didn't use Kiwi wax, that's Australian and came in because of the War. We used Shinola.
Poor people's food
I'll start with a story I've heard Dad tell many times.
We'd get milk delivered in the morning in glass bottles. My mother would take a bottle of milk and use it to make oatmeal for our breakfast. She'd rinse out the bottle and give it to me, and I'd run down to the store and hand over the bottle for the 2-cent deposit. I'd then buy 2 cents' worth of dried green peas, bring them back to Mother, and she'd use them to make pea soup for our lunch.
All the time I was growing up, my father and his siblings hated oatmeal and pea soup. Eventually, after 50 years or so had passed, Dad started to eat oatmeal again -- but it's very rich, flavorful oatmeal, as unlike the oatmeal of his youth as possible.
In the wintertime we ate canned vegetables, especially peas. I can still taste the tin in the canned green beans.
For meat, we nearly always had hamburger, made into a hamburger stew with carrots and onions. For special occasions we'd have ham, or on very special occasions lamb, brought by the aunts. [His mother's sisters were cooks on the Upper East Side.] But mostly, we ate potatoes, and a lot of cabbage.
Milk was delivered, and you hoped you could pay the bill at the end of the month.
We didn't have much food at a time, because nothing would keep very long -- only a few days. In the winter you could keep food in a window box: a metal box you put in the window frame, that put the food in the coolness outside. You had to be careful, because if it was really cold the food would freeze.
I've seen a couple of references to this Depression-era food storage system, but the only images I can find are on ebay, like this one:
The box was mounted on the window frame, and you opened it to get your food.
In the summer, they used an icebox. This one is much too fancy, but it gives you a clear picture of the inside:
The iceman would go door to door delivering ice. He'd put a big block of it in the top section of the icebox, and it would keep the food cool for a while. We were lucky because the worst place we lived in was over a bar, so they had a lot of ice and they'd give us some of the extra.I don't know why the ice trade continued longer in New York City than in most of the rest of the US, but it did.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.