When I was a little girl living in the New York suburbs, my favorite treat was going with my father into the City. This was during the thirties. It was exciting as I held tight to my father’s hand, taking in all the sights, smells, and sounds of bustling New York. We would visit his office at Snyder and Black, an advertising company where I was given a large block of white paper for future drawings. Later we would go to Brentano’s or Scribner where I could choose a book to take home. They had paperback books even then and I had fun browsing. It was hard to leave.
Lunch was at Horn and Hardart automat where delicious sticky buns and various foods popped out of compartments when you put a coin in the slot.
There was one thing I didn’t like about our trips in those days, and the pictures stand out in my memory even now. They were the people begging on street corners - some ragged and I wanted to put coins in all of their tin cups. It made me so sad. There were others who looked as if they were out of place on those cold corners as they silently presented their containers or signs. I still see one lady pictured vividly on the screen of my mind. She was there in mid-town below a large apartment building, sitting on a breezy chilly sidewalk. But what made the scene so memorable was that she was dressed in clothes that although shabby, looked as if they once were of fine quality. She sat on a blanket that looked very familiar to me. It was identical to a beautiful finely woven all wool blanket with a lovely satin biding hat my mother had purchased in a Fifth Avenue store. I knew it had been fairly costly because my mother took great care of hers and told me where she had bought it and how much she enjoyed it. It was rather thin and of a lovely pastel color. The blanket was spread carefully on the pavement and the sad pretty lady sat on it. She gave me a wan smile as I placed some coins in her cup placed on the blanket. The picture was all wrong and so disturbing. Why was that lady there on a cold sidewalk in my favorite city?
It was, of course, the famous Depression days of the 1930s when people who once were well off and living high up in a spacious New York apartment had lost their money in the stock market crash and were now reduced to sitting on a street corner, asking for help from people who still had a little to share.
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