My father fought in World War I. He contracted tuberculosis in Europe and after the war he was sent to Canada to recuperate. My mother had a house full of kids and she couldn’t work, so my family was completely dependent on welfare. We were on welfare for a long time – maybe eight or ten years.
We lived on 248th Street in Little Neck, Queens. All the government subsidized food got dropped off at an empty lot on 249thStreet. Mrs. Gallagher lived on 249th Street and acted as a spy for the other mothers. She would let the mothers know when the shipments of eggs or butter or meat or vegetables arrived and then all the mothers would sprint to the lot to get whatever was left. Everything was rationed at the food drop-off. You couldn't buy chopped meat or pork chops. You got five pounds of meat, no more. Eventually you could get more bread for your money. We also got food stamps but we had to be careful with our purchases. Margarine was cheaper than butter. We used to buy margarine for 25 cents a package and put powder in it to make it look like and taste like real butter.
My brother and I went to Saint Anastasia for Grade school. There was a nun there named Sister Franzita. Whenever Saint Anastasia had extra food, Sister Franzita would call my mother.
“We have extra food here. If you want to send your children over you can have it.”
My brother and I had a Red Rider Wagon with the sides built up to hold the food. Sister Franzita would leave the rear door open and we’d pull the wagon right into the school to the closet where the food would be hidden. The food – it was usually soup or bread – would be in an icebox in the corner. One day we were taking the food out of the icebox when we heard a strange clattering noise behind the doors that led into the convent.
“We better get out of here.” I said to my brother.
“I want to know what's making the noise.” He replied.
He pushed the door open and we saw Sister Franzita and Sister Roger-Marie roller-skating in the hallway with their full robes and head gear on. They saw us and we saw them. They shrieked and roller-skated into the convent as fast as they could. I guess they were scared we were going to tell on them, but we never mentioned anything.
We used to walk down to Bell Boulevard to look for nickels and pennies on the sidewalk. If we found five cents we could see Mickey Mouse at the movies or buy a hamburger from White Castle. One time we were in Flushing and there was a Santa Claus there. He charged twenty-five cents to sit on his lap.
“Mommy I want to sit on Santa’s lap.”
“I’m sorry we can’t afford it.”
We never had money for anything so I was never able to sit on Santa’s lap as a little girl. That always bothered me.
The other day we had a big Christmas party here (at the assisted living facility) and there was a Santa Claus. I didn’t care that I was a ninety year old woman. I didn’t care if anyone was watching. I never got to sit on Santa’s lap as a kid so I made sure to sit on it now!
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