Wobbly, the Rough-And-Tumble Story of an American Radical

By Ralph Chaplin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4. SOCIALISM AND MY FIRST JOB

ON THE strength of odd jobs which Dad managed to pick up here and there, we moved into a cheap tenement on Sixty‐ fourth Street. Once again I resumed my studies at the near-by Kershaw School. I have never figured out how we managed to survive that first winter in Englewood. Times were hard in Chicago. Unemployment was rampant. Money was scarce. Jobs were hard to find and harder to keep. For the first time we learned what the word "poverty" really meant. The pantry shelves were empty. My father seemed unable to keep them stocked. Ike and George were having troubles of their own. They did the best they could, and Ida helped a little, but it wasn't enough to make ends meet.

My father had strong opinions about charity and people who accept charity. He rejected help from the Masonic Lodge and nearly kicked the Methodist deacon out of the house when the subject was mentioned. I don't know to this day where the half‐ ton of coal and the occasional baskets of groceries came from that kept the wolf from the door during the worst months of that first winter. But I remember the words Dad used in asking blessing on Christmas:

"Dear God,"
he said,
"we thank Thee for this food, but we pray earnestly that we may never have to eat the bread of charity again."

My father would get up every morning before sunrise and walk the streets looking for work. Sometimes he would come home grim, hopeful, but empty-handed. Other times he would return after dark, triumphant, having earned enough to buy food for another day. This hand-to-mouth existence was hard on shoes and equally hard on landlords. We became migratory tenants. Ike was hauling potatoes for Rush and Williams, a commission firm on Sixty-third Street. Many a time he used the truck and team on Saturdays or Sundays to move our dwindling load of

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