From the Statistics of 1933

Kaylin Chung, guest writer


Clouds of flour floated toward the warm lights as I watched Mr. Duchamps prepare the puff pastry dough. Although some people might have disagreed with me, I always claimed that Canelle Patisserie obviously made the best pastries in all of Manhattan. When I watched the pastry chefs making macarons, croissants, or éclairs, my stomach growled louder, and I always  wished I had an extra nickel or two.

Just when I was wondering about when I could eat my next pastry, Mr. Duchamps approached me.

“Here is your pound of bread, Clarence,” he said with his usual rumbling voice. “Tell your folks I send my greetings.”

“Will do, Mr. Duchamps! Here is 10 cents for the bread. Thank you, and have a splendid day!” I exclaimed as I held my hat in one hand and took the freshly baked bread in the other.

“Wait, Clarence. Here, have this,” he said as he handed me a pastry. “Stay and have one before you go. No charge.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Duchamps?”

“Oh, yes. Just think of it as a small ‘thank you’ for being our most faithful client,” Mr. Duchamps responded with a smile.

Mr. Duchamps returned to his kitchen as I sat down to indulge in my pastry. As I was about to take my first bite, I heard a familiar voice.

“Clarence. Clarence! You need to wake up now,” the voice said.

Immediately, two thoughts came to my head: firstly, I was already awake. Secondly, why was I hearing my mother’s voice when she was at home?

Right then, the clouds of flour began to fade into bright beams crashing on my half-opened eyes, and the scent of vanilla dwindled. As the blur of the lights faded, I saw my mother’s gentle face.

“Please wake up now, Clarence. I will not ask again. Also, don’t forget to wash up for breakfast.”

“Yes, Mother,” I responded groggily.

As I brushed my teeth and washed my face, I could only think of one thing: I wish I could go back to that time. I wish I could go back to dreaming.


            Of all the mornings since the depression had begun, that morning had been particularly bitter. The year was 1933, and the month was December. By then, the depression had already impacted America “with unprecedented force” (The).

As the years went by, I had been beginning to forget the comfort of my life before Black Tuesday. I had just turned thirteen years old during the stock market crash of 1929, and in October of 1933, I turned seventeen. I was still young at the time, yet the poverty and gloominess of the nation caused even the young people to feel the burden of life.

My lifestyle before the depression used to be pure bliss. I used to play baseball with my school friends near Central Park, I used to take my younger sisters—Anna and Rose—to the candy shop three blocks away from our house, and I used to often visit my favorite French bakery: the Canelle Patisserie.

However, times had changed, and America was no longer dreaming. Reality had stricken, and the economy told society: “Wake up.” Soon after Black Tuesday, Mr. Duchamps was forced to close the Canelle Patisserie, and the candy shop Anna and Rose once loved no longer existed.

As I donned my only pair of trousers that I could manage to fit in, I heard through the thin walls the conversation of my parents.

“Margaret! Is this what you call a meal? Not even the stray dogs on the street would eat this. You have been giving me the same meals for nearly two months!” my father boomed with unreasonable anger. “This disgusts me. Go buy more groceries.”

“James, you know this is the best we can do for meals. And I’m not able to get groceries because . . . well, because you have been spending too much of our meager savings on liquor this last month.”


Now, one would think that a reasonable man would learn to be frugal in times of poverty, but my father was not a man of reason—he was an alcoholic who did not know where to properly spend our family’s limited money. Recently, he had been spending more money on alcohol than ever. Although he had already been drinking alcohol regularly, he began to spend even more since the 21st Amendment was passed (in early December of 1933). The 21st Amendment was probably passed due to people such as my father: those who payed no mind to the previous prohibition law.


As usual, my father retorted with a series of swear words woven in between the other incomprehensible words he spat out of his filthy mouth. All the while, my mother simply sat and listened.

I was infuriated. How could that bigot go on and on about his “lazy wife” and how she needed to get her act together when he hadn’t even been searching in the slightest for a job opportunity? I was on the verge of intervening when my father’s voice became distant as he walked out the doorway:

“I’m sick an tired of this household. I’ll be at the Henry’s!”

Silence filled the room as I tip-toed into the kitchen.

“Mother, are you okay?”

“Oh Clarence, you’re up now. Yes, yes, I’m fine.” Her eyes were bloodshot. “Have something to eat before you leave.”

“Actually, I’m not very hungry today,” I lied, “Anna and Rose can just share my portion when they come for breakfast.”

“Oh—oh okay, that’s fine.

“Well, I’ll be off then. Goodbye, Mother, and pray that I find a job.”

“I will,” she replied with a faint smile.

            How could a man treat his wife that way? My father’s anger was uncontrollable, and the alcohol intake on his part did not help. I cannot count how many times he went out of control and how many times I would see my mother’s face with a blackened eye. His behavior not only enraged me but also baffled me. However, my mother always told me to respect my father. She was always the one who prevented me from retaliation.


I searched for a job throughout every corner of Manhattan, but every business or factory gave me the same greeting on the front door since four months ago: “We are not hiring.” However, I was not let down because I never had high hopes in the beginning.


Since President Roosevelt’s inauguration in March of that same year, he began to air his “Fireside Chats” in which he advised Americans to place our trust in banks again. He also spoke of his plans to combat the depression through his series of programs that would come to be known as the New Deal. President Roosevelt claimed that he would help provide more jobs for the unemployed; however, many remained unemployed after the New Deal passed—my family included.


After, the long routine of searching for a job until sunset, I returned home. Upon entering my home, my mother quickly approached me.

“Clarence, have you seen your father at all today?”

“Not since this morning. Why do you ask?”

“He’s gone. All his possessions are gone as well. The money safe and all of our savings are missing. Your great-grandmother’s wedding ring is gone. His liquor bottles are gone. Everything!”

“You never saw him come home? Surely you would have seen him if he had come home to take his possessions . . . The automobile! Did he take the B.S.A. 10?”

“He must have come by when I took the girls to Auntie Irene’s house. No, couldn’t because I had it during those hours, so he wasn’t able to take it.”


My mother, sisters, and I spent the next few days asking neighbors and friends if they had seen James Wilson. Here and there we would hear a slight hint as to where he was, but ultimately, we would always end up at a dead end.


Since that day, I have often wondered whether it was beneficial or direful for my father to desert us. After all, he did take all that remained of our savings.

Nonetheless, we survived. Without our money, we lost our home and moved into Auntie Irene’s house in Brooklyn. Poverty struck an even deeper blow on us during the end of 1933 than it had ever before, but we prevailed.

As more and more families had become poverty-stricken, “husbands deserted their wives” and children”in record number” (McElvaine). Soon enough, my family had also become a part of that “record number.” We were simply another story from the statistics.

Works Cited

McElvaine, Robert S. The Depression and New Deal. Oxford University Press, Inc., 2003.

“The 1930s: Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview.”American Decades, Ed. by Judith S.                        Baughman, et al., vol. 4: 1930-1939, Gale, 2001. U.S. History in Context. Web. 27 Mar.                      2017.

Bibliography Staff. “The Great Depression.”History. 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Horowitz, Irving Louis. “A Child’s View of the Great Depression.”The Antioch Review, Fall                     2009, p. 678+. General OneFile. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Young, William K., and Nancy K. Young. The 1930s. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002. Print.