Hard Times By: Conner A
“The stock market is down another five points today,” announced the radio announcer, “Stock holders are selling frantically on wall street.” That was almost seven years ago, 1929, and times had sure gotten tougher. The stock market had crashed and a recovery wasn’t going to happen soon. Thousands of banks had failed, taking with them millions of dollars people had invested in the banks. Many people moved to “Hoovervilles,” dirty places made of boxes and tin cans, so called because everyone was mad at President Hoover for not ending the depression when he was in office. We used to be at the top of the middle class, enjoying a nice life, but my dad had sold all of his stocks and had lost his job working at a fabric company. We weren’t lucky to be living in Chicago at the time: it was the city that was being hit the hardest by the depression. My dad, William, left on weekends to go to breadlines. He waited for hours on end just to get food for the week, just to go back and do it again. I had learned a long time ago that this wasn’t enough so I came up with my own supply. I woke up early in the morning and changed into some tan clothes with holes in them. I went upstairs, my feet landing softly on the stairs like cat’s paws. I opened the door to my mom’s room and saw her laying there, her face buried deep in the pillow. My dad had already left. I glanced at the clock above her head. Six o’clock. I had about four hours to get back from my
“errands”. I shut the door softly behind me, being as quiet as a mouse with a cat around. I hurried back downstairs, threw on my Macintosh coat that was falling apart, and scurried out the door. While my dad went to breadlines I snuck out and went to the heart of the city. Unemployed people stood at the corners selling apples for five cents. I walked up to a person and gave him my last five cents that I had from last week’s excursions. “Give me one of them Autumn Gold apples,” I told the seller. He handed me the apple and with a crooked smile said, “Thank you.” I took a juicy bite out of the apple and shoved the rest down my pocket. I would eat it later. I brushed past people, some unemployed and looking for food, others who had jobs and were generous enough to give away some food. I ignored them all, hurrying to a side alley next to a closed bank. I looked down the alley and saw it was clear. I walked in and peered around a dumpster and sure enough there she was waiting for me. I had met Julie when I had been exploring some abandoned houses. She had been abandoned when she was two. She had no memories of either her mother or her father. Today she had her blond hair in a single braid at the back of her head. Her worn down dress hung in tatters around her. Her blue eyes looked up at me and I could see scars on her face from where she had gotten into fights. After I found her, she and I had been working together ever since to steal items. “You ready?” she asked me. “Yep,” I replied “Better hurry!”
I scurried out of the alley and strolled around casually. I waited and then finally heard an ear piercing scream resonate within the streets. People hurried to the alley to find who had screamed. “Help, Help!” I heard her scream. I rushed in as people went down the alley looking for her but it was too late for them. My hands had been in and out of their pockets in an instant. They would feel nothing; and their search would be to no avail either because I knew Julie had already ran out the back of the alley through a hole just big enough for her. I ran out of the alley hurrying but being careful not to draw attention to myself. I hid the items I had stolen in my coat pocket and hurried away, heading to Julie’s house. Her house was one she had found abandoned quite some time ago, and now she lived inside of it, living off the money she got from the items she had stolen. It was on the opposite side of town, on Collaway Street, so it took a little bit of walking to get to. It wasn’t anything special; it was a typical two story house. The inside wasn’t in too good of shape. Some of the floor boards were peeling up. Some shingles were falling off the roof, but the roof was still intact. Light blue rose wallpaper was peeling off the walls revealing what years of rain had done to the walls. I walked into the kitchen and saw her waiting there for me. I poured out my items and set them onto the kitchen table. A cheap pocket watch, a pack of cigarettes; those were rare, and two dollars. I would be lucky if I could get around three dollars for all of it. “Today was definitely not the best day,” I said to Julie. “Nope,” She replied, “I think people are starting to catch on to us.”
“Maybe,” I said, thinking of our next greatest scheme. We had been sure to never repeat the same plan more than twice. We had once and, well, that did not go so great. Times had been getting tougher as more and more people became affected by the depression. Even the wealthy were losing money. Good items, like pocket watches that were gold plated, were becoming scarce to find. Julie and I had to come up with better and better plans to get items. “Well, I’ll have to get back before my dad comes home,” I said to Julie. I had almost been caught by him once. I had been coming back and I went in the front door and he was sitting in the living room. I had to sneak quietly to my room. I wasn’t supposed to go outside without him. He started to turn around so I ran to my room, and got in my bed and waited. Eventually I was able to go downstairs - after about half an hour. I had been sure to get home before him from then on. If he found out what I was doing, I would be grounded and I would never be able to see Julie again. I left the items with Julie so she could go and sell them for money. We always split the money and I hid it away from my parents. She would use it to buy food for herself. I would use it whenever the little money we had was all used up. My parents didn’t seem to notice. I strolled down the street looking around at all the people who were jobless, people waiting in mile long bread lines just to get food, and people protesting in the street. Times had been so merry in the “Roaring 20’s.” Those were times of dancing, and everyone helped their neighbors. Those were the good old days. But now those times had passed and everyone was solemn. You were lucky if you could now get a dime from somebody. I turned the corner and headed down to my house. Its bright
blue exterior shone in the sunlight like water. The brown shingled roof was still in one piece even though we hadn’t repaired the house in almost four years. I walked up the steps and pushed on the door, stuck. I tried again and put my body weight against the oak door. It opened with a screech. I stumbled in and saw that my dad wasn’t home yet, thankfully. I went upstairs and looked in my mom’s room. She was still sleeping. I would have to make my own breakfast. I got some flour, water, baking soda, and a little bit of milk. I turned on our stove and put my tiny biscuit in on a pan and waited patiently. I waited for about five minutes and then it started to burn. I reached in and pulled it out. “Ow!” I screamed. The tray dropped to the floor with a clang. I had reached in without even thinking to put on the oven mitt, “dang oven.” I kicked it. I ran water over my hand to soothe the pain and listened carefully for my mom to see if I had stirred her. Nothing. I picked up the biscuits and dusted them off. It would have to do. My family couldn’t afford to waste anything. Instead of washing our dishes we just used the same plate over and over throughout the day. We wanted a well but the ground water might as well been rat poison where we lived. I ate my biscuit and went to the living room and turned on the radio. I had gotten the radio for Christmas last year from my aunt and nothing could have been more thoughtful. I turned the knobs and tuned to the radio station. It was a fireside chat with President Roosevelt. Fireside Chats were the only thing I liked listening to. “…I promise you that times will be better and soon.” Then the radio went silent. I had just missed the program.
I tuned the dial and listened. It was the global news. “Adolf Hitler was elected leader of Germany today beating out his nearest opponent by nearly ten percent” I turned off the radio. The news didn’t interest me. I heard my mother stirring upstairs. “Good morning, Mom!” I shouted to the mass of tangled hair that should have been my mom. “Ugh.” She grunted to me. She hadn’t been sleeping well the past few days. She had been feeling a little sick lately. She walked down the creaky steps and went into the kitchen. She was having the last piece of bread. It was twelve o’clock and my dad should have been back hours ago. “Have you seen your father?” she asked. “No,” I replied Not a moment later my dad came in, blood dripping from his mouth, his brown hair in clumps, held together with dried blood, his eye swollen shut, but he had the bread. “What happened?” I asked him. “I got beat up by the Thomas gang and had to wait for more bread because they took it,” he replied to me. My dad is a big muscular man. He’s almost six and a half feet. Normally no one picked a fight with him. My mom walked in and gasped at the sight of my father. “Oh William, we need to take you to the doctor!” exclaimed my mom, obviously worried about him.
“I’m fine,” replied my father to my mother. “You sure?” “Yes,” said my father. I could tell he wasn’t going to go to the doctor anytime soon. It would be too much money. He went to the kitchen and pulled out the bread and set it on the counter. He took a towel and wiped off the blood on his face, and sat down in the torn down recliner and sighed. He didn’t stay long. After about a minute, he got up, kissed my mom and said, “Well, I’m going to the job interview downtown.” “Are you sure you should go?” asked my mom. “It’s worth a try,” and with that he walked out the door, closing it softly behind himself. I looked out the window and saw him walking down the street, his back slumped. I watched him disappear out of sight. “He better be careful from now on,” said my mom. I sat down in the recliner and turned on the radio. It was a re-run of last night’s fireside chat with the president. It would have to do. The next hour went by quickly. Mom made herself breakfast, cleaned herself up, washed her face, and then my dad walked in, slamming the door behind him. “I got the job!” he exclaimed loudly as he walked in. “Really?” My mom asked, not sure whether to believe him yet. “Yes, the demolition company manager knew me well and decided to hire me. I get almost five dollars an hour!” exclaimed my father almost yelling now.
“Oh William, this is great!” said my mom running over to him and embracing him. This was such good news. With the income now we would be able to pay off the bills for the house, water, and heater. We would be able to buy food, actual food! “Tomorrow we are knocking down that old house on Collaway Street,” said my father, “It has been condemned for quite some while now” This stopped me dead. That was Julie’s house! “No!” I shouted out loud. “What is it Charles?” asked my mom, “Aren’t you happy” “Yes of course it’s just, never mind,” I said walking off to my room. There was no way I could ever explain this to them. I had to warn Julie, but how? I sat in my room contemplating for almost an hour. Then I came up with possibly the most dangerous plan in the world. Go me. That night I would sneak out and go out into the freezing December air. I would make my way through the city, trying to avoid any gangs that prowled the street at nights, and make my way to Julie’s house. I would wait until my parents were asleep. I decided to take a nap so I was rested when my parents went to sleep. I woke up sweating, I had been dreaming of Julie being crushed when the house was demolished. I got out of bed and looked outside, it was pitch black. I went out into the hallway and looked around. I was pretty sure my parents were asleep but I didn’t want to chance it. I snuck to the door, the wooden floorboards creaking underneath me. I listened like a hawk to see if my parents had stirred. I heard something. I heard steps coming to the door. Apparently they hadn’t been asleep. I ran back to my room to hear my dad shout, “Anyone here?”
I got under the covers of my bed, and waited for my dad to go back into his room. He did but it was too late, I had fallen asleep. I woke up and remembered Julie. I rushed out my door and ran up the steps to my parent’s room. I opened the door and saw my dad wasn’t there. I would have to hurry to make it to Julie’s house in time to save her. I rushed down the steps threw on my coat, not caring if my mom woke up, and rushed out the door. It had snowed the previous night and the ground was covered with a tiny bit of snow. I saw where my dad’s footprints had been. I ran through the city, accidentally tripping some people until I reached Julie’s house - it was still there. I ran inside and shouted, “Julie, where are you?” I ran frantically around her house trying to find her. I checked in her bedroom and there she was, sleeping. I shook her saying, “Get up!” “What is it?” she asked me “The demolition crew is coming to destroy your house!” I replied. She jumped out of bed and pulled on some clothes over her gown. “Are they here?” she asked. “No, not yet,” I replied Suddenly I heard the low rumble of machinery coming down the road. “Let’s go!” I said, pulling her arm. We got about halfway across the yard when she remembered something. “My teddy bear!” she shouted. I had forgotten that. It was the only thing Julie had from her parents. I saw the demolition crew coming down the street.
“Let’s hurry!” I shouted to her franticly as we ran back to her house. She scurried inside and I followed her. She ran into her bedroom frantically throwing things everywhere. “Where is it?” she shouted hurrying back out the room. She searched the living room and found it. “Come on…” before I could finish the first hit struck the side of the house. The kitchen crumbled. Julie and I ran out the door as fast as our legs would carry us. I was running especially hard hoping my dad wouldn’t see me. Julie turned around with tears in her eyes. She would have to find a new place to live. We kept running until we couldn’t anymore. “Where… can I live now that they’ve torn… down my house?” she asked. I could tell she was trying as hard as she could not to breakdown. “Don’t worry,” I said, “we’ll find you a place to live.” Then I had a crazy idea. I could take her home and explain this whole mess to my parents. Hopefully they wouldn’t be too mad. “Hey Julie” I said “Yeah?” “How about I take you to my place and you can live there for now,” I said to her. “Won’t they wonder how you met me?” I explained my whole plan to her. She seemed to be a little skeptic.
“I’m sure they will understand, come on!” I shouted to her as I started to run. She followed me like a shadow until we got my house. Something was wrong, the door was cracked open. I went inside, being cautious. Inside my mother was laying on the floor in a puddle of blood. “Mom!” I shouted as I ran to her. I knelt down to her side and felt for a pulse. She was still alive. I heard something upstairs and looked up. There was a gang inside the house, some had vases from our grandparents, others had food, and some were coming after me! “Get him and the girl!” They shouted at me. Two big people came running at me. Julie ran out the door and I tried to too, but they were too fast. Everything went black. I woke up with my parents standing over me. They both were covered in blood. You could see where the gang had punched them. I reached up and felt my head where the gang had hit me. It throbbed with pain and felt wet with blood. I wiped my left eye clean. My parents had the exact same marks as me. “Are you ok honey?” asked my mom. “I guess,” I replied to her, still felling the spot where my head hurt, “Are you okay dad?” “Yes, I guess I am.” He said. “How much stuff did they take?” I asked my mom and dad. “They didn’t take too much and we were lucky, the police weren’t busy so they came right over!” said my dad. Just then a plump policeman came in saying, “Sir, could we see you for a moment?”
My dad walked out and my mom followed him. Just then I thought of something. Julie had come with me! I hope she was all right and hadn’t gotten caught by them. I knew I had to find her. The police left after about thirty minutes and all they had come up was, “It was probably the Thomas gang”. The police were so helpful at times. I was surprised they didn’t question me. I sat with my family at the kitchen table. No one seemed in the mood to talk. We had all been surprised by this. I was already forming a plan on how to find Julie. I would wait until the weekend and then I would sneak out and see if I could find anything. It was a Friday so my dad would go to the breadlines to get food. Then I was hit with an awful realization. My dad had a job! Well that part wasn’t so awful but, people could only go to breadlines if they didn’t have a job! I would have one day to find Julie, even though it would take more than one day to find her. I hoped my parents wouldn’t be too mad. That night I snuck out taking with me all my money I had which was only two dollars and thirty seven cents. I stuffed it into my pocket and snuck out. The winds battered my face again, but I had a mission. I figured the gang wouldn’t be out tonight because the police were on the lookout for them. I ran to the alley me and Julie always used and ducked behind the dumpster. There we had a raggedy blanket stored. I pulled it over me. I was about to fall asleep when I felt something on the fleece. It was a note. I tried reading it but it was too dark. I would have to wait until morning. I set it down and then the winds picked up. The note blew away. I chased after it but it disappeared. “No!” I shouted into the night. I stomped around and then I heard something. It sounded like footsteps coming towards me. I ran off behind the dumpster. Then I heard her.
“Let me go!” I heard Julie scream. “Oh look boys, the little girl wants us to let her go; listen here” said the person I assumed was the gang leader, leaning in closer, “We don’t want to hear another peep out of you or else you will never be seeing your friend again.” They walked past me taking Julie with them. I walked behind them being sure to stay in the shadows. They walked for a while but eventually took her into an old brick building. I stayed outside waiting for them to go to sleep. I camped outside waiting for the building to go silent. After several noises I didn’t want to hear I heard absolute silence. I went around to the front and stuck my head in. The interior smelled like cigarettes and I gagged. I kept looking around and saw one of the gang members in a chair asleep. A burning cigarette was at his feet. I crept in and sneaked around the main floor. I stepped over beer bottles and kept an eye out for Julie. Then I saw her gagged up and tied up to a chair in the corner of the room. No one was watching her. I ran to her but she shook her head. I ignored her and kept running towards her. Suddenly I tripped over something and cans came flying off shelves landing with thuds. I kept running and untied her as fast as I could. “Run!” she shouted too me as I freed the gag around her mouth. We bolted out the door and heard shouting coming from the building. We suddenly heard gunfire coming at us. “Oww!” shouted Julie as she collapsed to ground. She had been hit in the shoulder. Adrenaline filled my body. I picked up her body and slung her over my shoulder. I sprinted away and eventually escaped the gunfire. I heard loud cussing behind me. I ran down my street and
went into my house. I ran into my room and set her on my bed. My parents came downstairs and walked in. I would have some explaining to do.
That all happened five years ago, now we were at the courthouse steps walking in, about to change someone’s life. My parents went to the adoption room and walked in. I waited outside and after an hour my parents came out and said, “Go say hello to your new sister” I ran outside and ran to Julie. I hugged her and we both cried. Our lives would be changed forever.
Published on Dec 10, 2013