22 No Phalen: The Depression Years
Editor's note: The following memoir excerpt has been transcribed from the original in MHS Collections, without editing.
Things seemed to be going pretty good for the Sanchelli's, nobody got real sick outside of a cold or two, my mother was getting ever so much better, she did just about every thing now, except heavy lifting. I don't know who decided to skip school that one day, but the policy of the school was that if nobody of the same family were in the school to send home for an excuse, a person of Swede Hollow in school would be sent down to get one. I was picked that day to go, I don't know why, I barely made it to school my self, for three or four days I ached all over, I could hardly take a deep breath, I was walking down the path near my house, I was in so much pain I was crying so I turned into my gate and went crying to my mother, for three days I stayed in my mother's bed, my father slept on the couch and she slept with Joey, I got up and all the pain was gone, I don't know right today what I had.
We did pretty good for those years of 1926 to 1929, but things would change again, first would be my sister Mary, she was about eight or nine, when one day she didn't feel good, she slept on the couch by herself for a couple days, I had come in the house and I guess I was a little noisy when my mother said, "sshhh, Mary's sleeping, she still no feel good" I had walked into the living room with my mother and glanced at Mary and I remarked "she aint sick, she's just pretending.” It was exactly at that moment that I noticed Mary started shaking and she started to foam at the mouth, I picked her up in my arms and looked up toward the sky, I could hardy talk as I whispered, "oh God, I didn't mean it," I knew what she had now, I had heard about Epilepsy, in Swede Hollow we called it the fits, Mary would have it the rest of her life, remorse there was no word that could describe my feeling that day, I thought that I was getting punished for saying, what I said.
My father got laid off at the railroad, but he did get a job at Paper Calmensons on E 7th and Earl street, he hadn't worked there for more than a couple months and he came home with a bandage on his arm, he got hit with a piece of flying steel, three weeks later he came home with a bandage over his eye and my mother was really upset "oh it's nothing" he said, but it was more serious than everybody thought the doctor told him his eye was too badly damaged and his vision was very much impaired in that eye. On the advice of some people he sued Paper Calmenson, but unlike the settlements of today, he got eleven hundred dollars and it was doled out at eleven dollars a week, well for almost two years we had a steady check coming in.
The big depression was now upon us, there was talk of many suicides among the rich that had lost fortunes, but most of the people just lost their jobs and income. My mother would send me downtown to one of the butcher shops, she gave me a dollar and ten cents, I would first go see a nickel show and then to the butcher shop and by a dollars worth of meat, I got enough meat to fill a large shopping bag and then take a streetcar home, I got of at east 7th and Bradley and took the long steps down into the Hollow. It would be almost unbelievable today that so much could be gotten for a dollar, pork chops were seven cents a pound, hamburger two and three cents a pound, eggs, three to five cents a dozen, I went downtown to the U. S. Mailorder store on Sibley and 7th St and bought a pair of shoes and a pair of jeans for a dollar and eighty Cts so up to about 1930 the money we got each week was sufficient for us, after that was gone, then we were in bad shape.
Gosh my father was only 47 and out of work, but so were a lot of young men, the only trouble my father had a disadvantage now, in those days not too many of the Italians had any proof of birth and they would tell the bosses that did the hiring on the railroad that they were 45 years old, there were some Italians like my uncle Dominic Bartone that stayed at 45 years when I knew he was 60, the word was that nobody got hired after the age of 45, if you had a job you were lucky.
There wasn't any such thing as Welfare, it seemed that money disappeared from the face of the earth, I was going to Cleveland Jr. high school at the time and was ready to go to Johnson, I came home and cried because I had no money for books, no decent clothes, there was nothing to make a lunch, so I didn't eat at noon hour, I went by the lockers and did my homework. The local governments did start a relief plan. It was more a pain in the neck than relief we had to go to the old Hamms resident on Gable st right above on the east side of Swede Hollow, you would get a grocery order, now when I say grocery order it wasn't what I would call groceries, dried prunes, dried apple appricots and peaches, dried navy beans, sometimes a can or so of corn pies or string beans, a family order for my family went into one large bag, that was for the month! The store that the order was made out to, was no where near home, I had to borrow a coster wagon and go to Alexander's food market on Como and Western to get an order, streetcar fare I think was 7 cents at that time but we didn't have 14 cents for the round trip, if we did have it, I'm sure my mother would have bought meat with it. One of the most important items in our home was flour, 100 lbs of it, we needed it for bread and at a price affordable it sold for $ 4.50 a 100 lbs, it was a once a month item. Thank goodness we had rabbits and chickens, old porky had long since been gone.
Clothes, that was another big problem, shoes even worse, you were a marked individual when you put on a pair of pants that you got from the relief places, welfare gray, starchy, some company must have made a million pair and sold them to the Gov't. Most of the kids in the Hollow went barefooted after school was out for the summer. Tennis shoes, nobody bought tennis shoes, they wore out too quick, my father had a shoes last and I learned how to repair the soles and heels of my shoes and also the rest of the family, we found some heavy conveyer belting and used it for soles and heels, leather was tough to get. When I didn't have any belting we were out of luck. Remember the old saying, "my soles of my shoes were so thin that I could step on a dime and tell if it was heads or tails "? Well we had holes in our shoes so large that if we stepped on a dime, we could pick it up with our toes. When we couldn't repair our shoes, we would go down to the binder dump and look for some old linoleum, this we would cut to size and put on the inside of the shoe, as an inner sole, linoleum was always available. I was 14 when the depression hit, I tried selling papers down town, my mother gave me a dime to get started. This is the way it went, you bought the daily paper from the St Paul Dispatch or the St Paul Daily News for 1 cent per copy and then go on to a corner downtown and sell the paper for two cents, a penny profit, that was easier said than done, the corner I was assigned, ten persons went by all morning and I sold only one paper, the good corners like 7th and Wabasha, 7th and Robert and all the good buildings like the Great Northern building and places that had people working in them were taken, you had to know the president of the newspaper co to get one of those prime places.
We tried junking; junking is going around to places where people dumped things that they didn't want in places that were being filled in. The upper rim of Swede Hollow had a lot of dumps, the bluff side was a good place for the people that lived up on the rim of the Hollow, it was sort of their backyard, we also made the alleys of the east side that had rubbish collectors, if we were lucky we would pick up the old aluminum pots and pans, old pewter, copper and some times rags, some were good enough to wear, but there were a lot of grown men with families also junking, competition was tough, all the big dumps had a self tender. The binder dump at the 6th st. bridge near the bluff, I thought was ours until one day we met up with a man we had never seen there before, he was a big guy with a wooden peg for the left leg, he wore a large brim brown hat, he was armed with a pitchfork and a sling shot, he had a big walrus mustache and looked mean, "this is my dump I don't want you kids taking anything from here unless I say so," he said. We got acquainted with him and he told us that he lost his leg whaling, catching whales was still big business then so we didn't question the story. Once in a while we would try to sneak up on him and take some stuff from the dump, that was too dangerous, he would shoot at us with the slingshot with iron nuts for shot, if you got hit on the head with one of those you would be in bad shape, lucky nobody was hit on the head. We even tried getting down there real early in the morning, but the old whaler was already there, the grocery stores from downtown would, as the old farmers market would dump their old produce that had started to turn brown a little, at the binder dump, we kids would peel of the leaves of the lettuce and the cabbage until we got to the good part and take it home. We learned of a place on Jackson st. and Tenth, near the old Market, Tubessing and Nelsons, we would ask the boss of the place if we could have the over ripe bananas, he would give us the O:K: to go down the basement and get them, we had gunny sacks and sometimes we would get a fourth of a sack apiece, there usually were three or four of us, we filled our stomachs first. We learned how to eat greens that Mother earth put before us, the Dandelion the Italians were already acquainted with, I remember my cousin John Bartone and I going up to the St. John's hospital lawn on Mounds Boulevard and picking two sacks of Dandelions in the spring.
When we went swimming down to Allens pond below the bluff near Mounds Park, we would have to go past the Northern Pacific Commissary, there were two or three garbage cans out on the dock, we would take a fast look in the cans, and there would be bread in the cans, whole loaves, white, rye raisin and other, we from Swede Hollow appreciated the lucky find, the kids from the bluff threw bread all over and finally we were banned also from taking bread out of the cans. James (Scotty) Steele did manage to get to one of the guys, so he was allowed to go in the building and get a gunny sack of bread every so often, well the commissary helped one family in Swede Hollow anyway, a family of nine.
In order to feed the chicken and rabbits, my father would carry a gunny sack and a whisk broom in his pocket, as he walked along the grain cars that were unloaded he would get in the car and sweep up the remains on the floor, he did pretty well so that we had a stock pile in the shed, sometimes I would find frozen lettuce and cabbage at the dump for the rabbits in the winter time.
Most of the Italian families had grocery bills at the store, it was a kind of a practice started when they first got here, being short on cash they would charge groceries until they found work to pay for it. During the depression things got a little out of hand, the bill would creep up a little at a time because it wasn't paid in full and you had
to almost beg for a little more credit because you had little kids at home to feed. We had charged at nearly all the stores on Bradley, depending on where we lived, when at lower Bradley we charged at Damiani, when we lived on Patridge we went the Testa's store and charged, now it was Frisco's store, things got out of hand a little at a time, as the depression years went on, the bills got higher and higher. Some of the bills I heard were as high as 900 dollars, we owed the Frisco's 400 dollars, we paid every dime we owed back, some people didn't.
Mrs. Dora Frisco's mother would sometimes be in the store when my mother was getting some groceries, my mother never left the store with out her stuffing some extras in my mother's grocery bag, a can of peas or corn or beans, she never failed to give my mother something.
We boys started to go to Pig's Eye Slough to swim and fish, the Slough was south of Mounds Park, a little past the Milwalkie roundhouse and yards, on the way home we would stop at Braunig's bakery which was on Hastings ave and Mounds Boulevard, we would sit on the grass on the Tuxedo playground across the street, the garage door on the rear side of the bakery was open, if it looked like no one was in the garage, one of us would sneak in and get arm full of stale rolls and eat them sitting at the playground. It was my brother Noah's turn one day he came out of the garage door with a tray full of chocolate eclairs instead of coming over to the playgrounds, he took off for home at full speed and all of us chasing him, how can anybody run so fast with a tray in his hands, I don't know, the thought of those tasty eclairs made us run fast, but the thought of us taking the eclairs away from him made my brother run faster, we almost got him at the bottom of the long steps off of 7th st., but he screamed so loud we let him go, we didn't let him go for stale bakery anymore, no siree.
There were many freight trains going back and forth, in and out of Saint Paul, some of the box cars were loaded with men and some women, all going some where, looking for something that probably wasn't there either, work they just left a place where there was no work but I suppose they had to do something, we even met a teacher that was seeing the country riding the rails. Downtown St. Paul also had signs of a severe depression, there were people on the street corners selling pencils, shoelaces, razor blades, neckties, anything to make a living, some were handicapped, they would be seated near the building and the tin cup would be out in front of them, a dime was a big offering, if all the people that went past them gave a penny; they would have done alright, I never forgot the blind married couple, he played the prisoner song on the accordion and they both sang, it really touched me but I didn't even have a penny. Millions out of work, that is what everybody including the newspapers was saying, the way it looked to me, everybody was out of work.
Everybody in the neighborhood blamed President Hoover for the depression, it was pretty hard for me to see how one guy could be responsible for the depression, I remember when he ran for the presidency I had just started Cleveland Jr. High and was walking to school with Dan Lombardi, "who's your dad gonna vote for," he asked. "I don't know and I don't care," I replied, I finally realized that there was going to be an election, Al Smith was running against Herbert Hoover.
As I look back, in the early thirties things were just as bad, the first Gov't work program, I think was the C. W. A., I think it was more to have people do something rather than cure the trouble. You were given a work assignment, some hill that had a lot of sand, a shed was built for a warming house, two trucks would also be assigned to the project, the men would get on each side and load up the truck with the sand, after the trucks were loaded, back inside the warming shed and to the stories of past we would listen. I was still going to school, but I would take off once in a while when my father didn't feel good and take his place at the project, the boss wouldn't say nothing as long as somebody showed up. I didn't realize that one day I would take over for real.
It was during, the summer and sometimes my father would lie down on Noah's bed and take a nap, I used to do my reading in the bedroom, the head of the bed was right by the window and I used to make my self comfortable with a couple pillows and read. After I had quit school, I used to go to the library and get 5 or 6 western books and read them in a couple days. This one day I had fallen asleep after reading a book, my father was snoozing away in Noah's bed, I was awaken by a loud oh oh oh oh and gurgling sound, I was horrified as I looked at my father, he was shaking and foaming from the mouth, I had learned quite a bit about Epilepsy since my sister was stricken with it. I doubled my index finger and pushed it between his teeth so he wouldn't bite his tongue, I didn't have time to find anything else. I tilted his head side ways so he wouldn't choke on all the saliva and screamed for my mother. I was so badly shaken by that incident that I don't remember who came into the bed room, I remember when he regained consciousness, he said, ”whatta happen?”, "you had the fits just like Mary," I said, "you have to go to see a doctor right away". I don't know what caused the Epilepsy, I sometimes think it could have been the eye injury, his blood pressure was sky high, it wasn't hereditary because it was the first attack that he had and he was now over 50 years old.
The thought of ever going back to school was out of the question now, nobody would ever hire my father, he was on medication for the rest of his life, even then he still had some attacks, it got so that he could recognize when an attack was creeping up on him, he would lie down right away and some times could avert it. The Gov't started another work program, P. W. A., same type of work only under different letters, there were other work programs also, I even worked at Como Zoo, that was a job I really liked, I was there almost a year, another project was shoveling the city skating rinks, it wasn't too bad, we got 16 dollars a week, my mother could make 16 dollars go a long way. It was about 1932 and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President, things were going to change, that’s what everybody said anyway.
Things did change somewhat for some people anyway, the new president brought in some new programs, the New Deal, N.E.R.A., C.C.C.'s, even some youth programs where kids that quit school could work 20 hours a month. The repeal of the Volstead act would open up the Brewery's, a lot of lucky people were called back to work and good pay, the rest of us went on waiting for lady fortune to knock on our door.
Most of the work programs were of short duration like the P.W.A. it was about 1933 when my cousin John Bartone and I went to work on a project on East Third st., a few blocks east of Johnson Parkway, we ran into a bootlegger well known to us, boy was he dressed in rags, "holy smokes”, I said to my self "that same guy, I was looking at, I also saw driving big Buicks and Studebakers", My cousin must have had the same thought, "Hya Jim what gives?" he asked, Jim walked up close to us, "the government put me out of business”, he said. I met a Man the other day and we talked of the old days, he was 6 years older than I, in our discussion this bootlegger became one of the topics, "I remember Jim having an egg business in that red brick building on the So East corner of Rainey and Payne, I wonder, was he really selling eggs?" I cracked, "oh ya ya I was in partnership with him" said the man who was John Natalino, and who at the time lived on old Bradley st. near North st., Jim at one time was a farmer from Wisconsin.
We were getting some news from the Montana Sanchelli's, my aunt Mary Josephine (Peppina) had a baby and named it Perry after my dead brother, and another baby named Ralph, in my later years I thought back about that story my mother told me about the cinder in my aunts eye. Aunt Peppina would have three more children, Flora, Lawrence, and Florida, my uncle wanted to name Flora, Florida after the state of the same name, but the hospital made a mistake and he had to name the last girl Florida, and they never called her by that name, they gave her the nickname of Babe and it's been Babe ever since. My uncle Martin was also in Montana, having gone there in 1926 or 1927. Well even if my aunt did have a cinder in her eye, when she went to the Mayo Clinic they sure corrected the other problem because she went quite a few years without having any kids, they would all visit us some day.
Well, back to the depression again, I remember a few times that I went looking for a job that was really discouraging, the boss at the bottle house at Hamms Brewery, Mr. Kunze, "why don't you go back to school kid? can't you see, I have to hire these men that have families”? he said, I cried out "I got a family too, my father is sick he can't work anymore and there’s four more at home younger than me." "I can't help it," he replied again, "I still have to hire these older men", I really had thoughts of going back to school but when I saw the clothes I'd have to wear I said to myself "forget it".
Another time Mr. Daloia took me to So. St. Paul with him, he took me over to the Swift's Packing Plant and introduced me to one of the bosses there, Mr. Daloia had left me talking to the boss, "how old are you?" he asked, I was going to say 16 because I would be in a couple months, but I though maybe lying would be worse, my mistake I said “15” I didn't even get a chance to say I'll be 16 in two months, "can't hire ya," and he walked into the office and left me standing alone, one little lie and I could have saved my family some grief.
I gave up going to the packinghouses in South St. Paul until I was 17 but the chance that I had when I was 15 never came again. I still went around to different factorys hoping for a break, but it seemed that every factory I went to had a crowd waiting for the same.
It was in the fall of 1933 when Cossum Yekaldo and I heard that Swifts was going to hire some people so we got up real early and took the streetcar there, everybody else had heard the same thing, the yard was crowded with job seekers, while standing there I heard one man say to a teenager, "I thought you were up in the forests,” the teenager replied, "I went over the hill," I wasn't going to stay up there for thirty bucks a month, going over the hill was the term used for leaving the camp for good without authorization. That was the first time I had heard things pertaining of the new youth program, the C.C.C.’s.
The way he talked it was kind of scary, army uniforms, army food and army regulation and standing revelry every morning, also hard work. I never gave the C.C.C.s another thought again until March of 1934, when my cousin John Bartone came over to my house quite excited as he blurted out, "Mike Tony Gag, Achie and I are going to sign up for the C.C.C. why don't you come too?, you're family will get 25 dollars a month and you keep 5 dollars for yourself,” “boy! I thought to myself, "are these guys nuts! it's like joining the army, if war starts they have to go first”! but that 25 dollars looked better because things for our family had gotten worse. The caseworker would deduct the 25 dollars from whatever help our family got but cash my mother could work miracles with, she would by some stuff from the Good Will store. We weren't the first to go to the C.C.C.s, but we were first in our neighborhood, after we joined up, others from Railroad Island did. Six months seemed like a long time, the work was hard but we got used to it, I even had some easy jobs like serveying, what I missed most was home, I got a little lonesome, some of the boys stayed one year but we four came home, I was 19 years old now and I figured I had a better chance of landing a job, I found out nothing had changed, jobs were still scarce.
Former Sheriff John Wagner owned the land that our house was on, we paid him 20 dollars a year rent, he collected twice a year. My mother always made sure she had the ten dollars when he came for it, one time he sent his son in law for it, I was standing near the gate when he came by and asked for the rent, my mother whent into the house and came out with a ten dollar bill, she waved it at him and said,"I saved this for you, but I got nothing for food this month and I got nothing in the house", "I can't help that”, he said, "my father in law wants his money”, he continued on towards the other end of the hollow when he came back, he passed our yard again, my mother was standing in the yard, "here Mrs. Sanchelli, you pay someday when you got it" and handed her the ten dollar bill, "God bless you, you got a heart,” she replied as he reached over the fence. My father was getting better, but the only work available was farm work, he did most of his work for the Costa's in little Canada, my brother Noah also went on the farm, he got 50 cents a day, my father got a dollar. The Costas were good to my father, they also gave him some vegetables to take home one time Joe Costa said to my father, "Tony take home some meat” and he sawed off a piece of pork from a carcass.
Music comes to the family
While in the C.C.C.'s, I met up with a guitar player, a mandolin player and an accordion player, up to now outside of my fathers singing and my brother and I on the harmonica that was it for music in our house. In 1926 the city of St Paul was organizing a harmonica band to play at the city parks, even a few lessons were given in Lincoln School, you could even buy a harmonica at school. The Hohner Marine Band was the popular harmonica, it sold then for 50 cents. My brother Noah had no trouble learning how to play or my cousin John Bartone either me I just couldn't get the hang of it for a long time, even with my cousin trying to teach me, finally one day after blowing it for the longest time I hit it. The Palace Orpheum theater that was on 7th near or between Wabasha and St. Peter St. on the north side had a harmonica contest about Easter time every year. Matthew Frascone, who lived on Hopkins St. at that time, came down to Swede Hollow and asked Joe Daloia, myself, and my brother Noah, to join him and his cousin Tony Masso to form a band to get into the harmonica contest at the Palace Orpheum.
About Easter time 1931 we went down and played in the elimination rounds, we were one of the three surviving bands! the finals was on a Sunday. I don't remember the movie that was playing there, but I remember the stage and the proffessional entertainers from out of town.
I watched them play cards in between shows, show girls in skimpy outfits and men all painted up with makeup for the color lights, one of the male singers introduced a new song "Happy Days Are Here Again" after he sang it was time for the finals. Our band had also decided to introduce a new song, "Should I Reveal Exactly How I feel", we also had a second song for encore, "Keep Your Sunny Side Up". While we played in the middle of the stage between the two huge harmonica bands we were dwarfed by their size as I glanced first at one and then the other, we were going to have to give it all we had, I stood in the back with Matthew and Joe, my brother Noah and little Tony were in front, Tony was supposed to step on my brothers foot while we were playing, sort of a Johnny Palaio gimmick of the famous harmonic cats. The director let the two big bands play first and then came to us and announced, "and now we have the Christ Child Community Center Band from Patridge and Bradley st. Matthew tapped his foot three times on the floor and we gave it our all, the method of selecting the winner was by applause, the director went from one band to another holding a large card over their heads, when he put the card over our heads you could hear the increase in the sound of the applause, we won the three kids from Swede Hollow and the two from up on the street were a winning combination.
My father never gave up on his singing even when he was sick, he still gave it his best when he was in the mood, every Sunday night before he would come in and go to bed, he would go out to the middle of the big bridge and sing “America The Beautiful,” I still remember the time when Mrs. Steele who lived way down the other end of the Hollow, commented to me one day, "I was telling my kids it was time to go to bed one Sunday night, when my son Donald piped up, "oh no Ma, Tony Sanchelli didn't sing America yet," so the voice of Swede Hollow also became the timepiece on Sunday night. We got a banner for winning the contest and we gave it to the Christ Child Community Center, which is now the Merrick Center.
More on music in the family
When I got out of the C.C.C.'s, the first thing I did was go downtown to a music store and by a guitar, 5 dollars I paid for it, I hurried home so that I could practice with it. I didn't know too many cowboy songs, but little Cecil Markie who stayed with his grandma at the other end of the hollow, knew the words to a lot of them, he probably learned them from the player piano that his grandma had. We got together right away, and treated the residents of Swede Hollow to some good old western songs. We got to John Fucci's house and played for him some of the western music, "that'sa fina ma pazzea opa deh," he said, he wanted us to play, opa deh, for the life of me I couldn't get what he meant for the longest time, in fact he started to lose his temper and said in Italian, what's the matter with you american kids? don't you know that popular song of the first world war?, then it dawned on me, he wanted us to play, Over there, Over there! then he tried singing it, he sure could butcher the English language.
I'll never forget the time I could have become a violin player, I walked into the kitchen one day during the summer vacation and there was a young man talking to my mother, he had a violin in his hand, “Here kid try this out" he said as he handed me the newly varnished instrument, I went outside and walked around trying to play some notes on it, I loved violin music played by the big symphony bands. I went back into the house and the guy was still trying to convince my mother to take the deal, the deal was, for 25 cents a week, I could buy the violin and I would get one lesson each week. It was during the depression period when a quarter looked like a silver dollar, "We can not afford even a quarter", my mother said, I was a little sad but I knew it also, so the shiny violin left Swede Hollow with the man.
I used to leave the guitar on the round table in the living room, and once in a while my brother Noah would take and monkey around with it, but not as much as my sister Mary, I tried to teach them the simple way of making guitar chords so that they wouldn't get discouraged, I bought a harmonica harness that fit around my neck, now I could play both instruments at one time, a mandolin made its way into the Daloia's house and Joe Daloia started to play it, Swede Hollow had its three piece orchestra, me on the guitar, Joe on the mandolin and my brother Noah on the harmonica. Joe Daloia managed to get a violin too and we got another guitar also. We got to be pretty good so that when we visited anybody we carried our instruments with us, because the first words we would here was, "where are the instruments”? Joe's father, sometimes after having a couple of glasses of wine would say to Joe "(Peppino) calla Miggee, I feela lika singa songa", so Joe with Mandolin and I on the guitar would sit in the Daloia kitchen and Mr. Ralph Daloia would sing some of the sad songs that he knew. The songs he sang must have had 50 verses to them, my arms were ready to fall off, and they sounded somewhat the same and every time I thought he hit the end of the song, he would take a deep breath and start all over again.
Another instrument that I liked was the accordion, boy but they were too expensive, when Johnny Ricci started to hang around with us I got acquainted with his accordion, he hated to practice, he would hand me the accordion when we went upstairs in his room to practice, "make lots of mistakes so my mother thinks it's me" he would comment.
It was still early 1935 when we started hearing about the new program, W.P.A., Works Progress Administration, the companies that made long handled shovels, would make mint, it seemed that everybody that worked on W.P.A. would be given a long handled shovel to operate.
Many jokes would be made of those shovels, a couple that I remember the most were, as one man told the other on how to use the shovel effectively, "place the blade of the shovel upright in some firm dirt and press down until the blade disappears, then you should be able to lean on it comfortably", the other one went like this, two men in a small airplane were flying over a W.P.A. project one day, one man said, "hey look what are all those things down there on the ground,?" the other man answered, "well, if they move, they’re flies, if they don't they’re W.P.A. workers". In spite of all the bad publicity the W.P.A. did accomplish much, the workers were given 60 dollars a month which was better than the grocery order which consisted of surplus that nobody else wanted, and a little dignity was restored.
When I went to work on W.P.A., I met a lot of workers that had lost their job, skilled and unskilled, so that when we got to a project, we had to be told what was to be done, this took a lot of time and the men had to wait for instructions, that made a lot of standing around time. I took my father's place on W.P.A. because he was still sick, we were working on, was to become Warner road, cleaning out the brush and trees along the Mississippi river, the hobo hang out was now gone, the familiar fires along the banks would no longer be seen as they would cook their famous stews. Some of the old dilapidated boathouses would also be removed, they were near the Sibley and Jackson St landings, I think there was an old wooden dock that was there.
It was getting pretty chilly so I started wearing my fathers sheep lined overcoat and his felt shoes, my life was going to change a bit that day, we were all told to gather in front of the warming shack I got to the warming shack first and pretty soon everybody got in front of me and I couldn't see the boss, I was 5 ft. 4 in., there was a large boulder near me so I stepped on top of it, now I could see He was an old boss and he was a big man, over 6 ft and over 200 lbs too he looked over the men, eyeing back and forth over and back, “you,” and he pointed at me, “you report to the foreman on that pile driver that is out on the river there the rest of you come with me.”
I met the old guy during the summer of 1936, on Warner road that had begun to take shape, I said, "hello, don't you remember me? you sent me over to haul coal for the piledriver last fall" "cheeze, you’re small I was supposed to sent over a big guy" he said, "how are you doing?" he asked. "I'm doing great you did my family and I a big favor I’m getting a dollar an hour and I only work 6 hours a day," I said in a thanking manner, we shook hands and parted again.
The piledriver crew were mostly Irish, the superintenden was an older Swede, Larson was his last name, James Middler was the foreman, Jimmy taught me a lot he showed me how to splice cable and how to use a acytalene torch to weld and cut steel. I learned a lot about the pile driver and the men who worked on it. We were cashing our checks at Rossini's bar, which was across from the Post Office on the Southwest corner of Third and Sibley, I ordered a shot of whiskey and a beer, as I looked up and down the bar everybody else had ordered orange pop, “what's with the orange pop, Jim?" I asked, he looked at me and said,"well I'll tell ya," and he told me of the life of the pile driver men.
"Mike most of us are single, and we travel all over the country doing this type of work, building bridges and driving piling for a foundation of a large building and things of that sort" he said "and we do a lot of drinking so if some of us were to start drinking today some of us wouldn't be here for work tomorrow so we go on the water wagon until the job is completed." I would learn for myself, as the job would near completion, I was the only one left when the pile driver iron workers job was done, once they started drinking they never came back. I still got a dollar an hour as I guided the power shovel up and down the new Warner road getting it into the proper grade.
The winter of 1936 was a cold one, a record breaking cold spell, but it was a good year for the Sanchelli's, we had a phonograph that Mr. Steele gave us when he worked at Cardozo's furniture store, we bought a new radio, one of the best, a Zenith that had a great big dile, it had foreign stations on it also, we bought a new living room set, we were living pretty good, but I was a little unhappy, most of my friends had left Swede Hollow and we couldn't depend on the W.P.A. to get us out of there. I still went up on the street to hang with the kids up there, the corner bar was our hangout, they had dancing at Gentile's, and at the Pay 7, so on Saturday and Sunday nights we would go there, they were located on the first block on the west side off 7th St. on Payne Avenue. When somebody asked me where I lived I told them 22 No Phalen Creek, that is people that were not familiar with the east side, the Lake Phalen area was a rich housing area so when they associated Phalen Creek with that area I didn't bother to correct them.
"They are going to make a park out of Swede Hollow" I don't know how many times I heard that phrase in the years I lived there, finally the city of St Paul decided to put a sewer tunnel over the creek, the Minnesota Contractors Company was formed and they did it, I never heard of the Minnesota Contractors before or after that again. The sewer tunnel was completed almost up to my house when the contractor decided to bring in a large crane, unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in between our house and the big tree, our time had come, the contractor decided to make us an offer for our house, 83 dollars, we took it and moved to a house on North St., third house from De Soto st.
The Fucci's were right behind us and moved into the second house next to us, the winter of 37 was no slouch either, I spent most of the winter thawing out the water pipes at the Fucci's. I'll never forget the first month there, the bathtub, and the hot water heater, my mother almost fell over when we got our gas and light bill, 11 dollars, we sure made sure to use the hot water only when we really needed it. The house was really big and to heat it, the stove in the living room had to be going full blast all the time, we had a close call one time my mother was awaken by our dog Prince, Prince tugged at the blankets on my mother's bed till she woke up, the stove in the living room had turned red and also the stove pipes had gotten a cherry red, we watched the stove a lot closer after that. Prince was our new dog, Lila died and we buried her in the backyard, about 1933, Prince was just a puppy when I went to the C.C.C. camp, I'll never forget the day I came home, this little puppy gave me a good smelling over and then started to jump and yelp with joy, he remembered me. Prince became my father's best friend, they were together all the time until somebody stole him or he was killed, he disappeared while on a walk with my father and never came back.
The Sanchelli's move again
When I went to work on W.P.A., my brother Noah became old enough to join the C.C.C.'s, he forgot about his pigeons and white mice and decided to lend a hand to the income of the family. It really felt good to see my mother not having to skimp and worry about the family welfare, it did get a little hard to break her habit of going to the Good Will Stores for clothes and shoes.
I don't know why we moved again, but it turned out to be the right move, we got a house to rent on Jessie St., we became neighbors to our old friends of Swede Hollow, the Barilla's and the Manocchio's, mother was elated to be near them again. It was great for me too, Cos Yekaldo had moved in with his sister Dora when he got out of the C.C.C.'s, we were closer now than when we lived in Swede Hollow. Andrew Mazzaro started to hang around with us after he came out of the C.C.C.'s also, we were known as the three musketeers. When we moved on North St., I think I dated for the first time, we had met girls at the bars, but after taking them home, I know I never asked for another date because the following Saturday night we'd see them at some of the bars or we'd run into some other girls and we'd do the same thing.
Sue Barilla was 16 years old now and I was thinking maybe someday when she's older and I got a steady job, I'll ask her to marry me. As I was saying I made my first date with a girl who lived on the bluff, she was a brown-haired, brown-eyed, about as tall as me, and I liked her, believe or not, I stood her up, meaning that I didn't show up for the date, I was to meet her at Mounds Park near the pavilion, I let Cos Yekaldo talk me out of going, I met her girl friend later that summer and she told me off. I had it coming. The next girl I dated lived on Patridge st. two houses from where I lived in 1924, her name was Geraldine Knutsen, a platinum blond with steel gray eyes, she was a beauty, but she was taller than I at 5 ft 4½ in. The summer of 1937 was spent going around with Geraldine, my friend cos went with her girl friend and they would argue from the time they met until the time they parted. After the bars closed I would sometimes go to my house (we were still on North st.) and get my guitar and we'd sit on the grass on Sal's hill and sing for a while. There is a racquet club where the hill used to be. I quit the W.P.A. when I was pushed back to 60 dollars a month basis, I figured I had enough experience to work on construction work that was begining to florish. I went to Chicago to work on a job that Dunnigan Construction had down there, I got $1.o5 an hour, I sure learned where all the slot machines were, after three months I decided to come home, I wasn't saving anything there.
I didn't call Geraldine anymore when I over heard her mother say, "is that that dago calling again", It's too bad, we were getting along so good, my friend Cos ran into her a few months later and she told him that she had gotten married. My brother Noah and Cos got a job with the street car Co. Andrew Mazzaro worked at the Reliance Auto Pts Co on John St. I stayed with the construction because of the better wages. Cos eventually got a job at the St. Paul Union Depot, my brother stayed with the streetcar company, Andrew Mazzaro decided to go back to the C.C.C.'s. I still wasn't working too steady, so I decided not to get involved in any romance yet, and construction had fallen off, any work available was given to the union favorites, I was drawing unemployment compensation during the winter months, things were not too good again. The little spurt of good times was over again.
The Sanchelli's of Jessie St. We almost have to move.
Mr. Sower the owner of the house came over one day in 1938 and he said to my mother, "Mrs. Sanchelli I just got an offer from Steve Di Maggio down on Hopkins street to buy this house, he offered me 1200 dollars for it, I would like to get rid of this place, but I would like to give you the first chance at it." That came as kind of a shock, we were paying $12.50 a month rent, and if we decided to buy it we would have to pay $15.00 a month, we almost couldn't afford it; he came at the wrong time, we were struggling to pay the $12.50 rent. We couldn't find another place so we had to buy the house. I decided to work for the streetcar company. At least I would be working during the summer months.
In 1938 I would also get a shock, something that I didn't expect to happen happened Sue Barilla got married I didn't think it would happen even when I seen Nick Lombardi's car parked in front of the Barilla house. Nick was so much older and Sue never went out, her father was too strict, but Nick using the Old Italian method of asking the parents first and promising her the moon, Nick had already been married two or three times, I couldn't believe it, but I guess her father and mother convinced her it was a good thing. I went to the reception and congratulated her, "Mike, I don't think I could have done any better" as she looked at me she said, I was down in the dumps for a while, but it was my own fault I never gave her any reason that I would someday ask her to marry me and I promised that I was never going to bring children into this world unless I had the means to provide for them.
My brother Joe went to the C.C.C.S in 1939, my sister Mary got a job at the Arlington playgrounds part time, Nellie was in school yet. I was surprised by old friend Andrew Mazzaro, he had been discharged from the C.C.C.'s, and he had all his belongings with him, I asked him where he was going, "I don't know, my sister Josephine moved to Madison Wis," he answered, "Wait right here Andrew," I said, we were right in front of my house so I dashed in and confronted my mother and father who were in the kitchen at the time, "he hasn't go anybody in St. Paul, Joey's in the C.C.C.'s and Noah will be getting married, we got lots a room" I said, they both readily agreed and Andrew became part of our family. Andrew and I slept in the big bed up stairs and when my brother Joe got out of the C.C.C.'s he slept in the bed Noah had. Noah got married in Aug 1940, the streetcar co. would be laying off the part timers in a month or so, "what are you going to do when you get laid off Noah?, I asked him. "go on relief like everybody else" he said. My brother Noah married Angeline Manocchio, next door, I'll never forget when my brother trying to get by real cheap, went to the goodwill to by a used mattress, the mattress had spot tell tale marks of weak kidneys, My brother had to go and buy a new one when Angie cried and said she wouldn't sleep on it. Andrew went to work at Reliance Auto Parts again, he got paid as a steady man by San Levy, Andrew was working during the winter months when a lot of as were laid off and our unemployment had run out, he was a great help.
While I was working for the streetcar co I started to hang around Tom Falbo, I knew Tom before because he lived on Collins st. across from Lincoln school, he was going with a girl and through them I met Alice Paul, a red haired German girl, I got to go pretty steady with her; in fact her mention of matrimony woke me up, I was 25 years old. I had better make up my mind on my future, the gov’t had started the draft program and I, Mike Sanchelli, had a muddled looking future.