1929: Pearls for Sale

Leanne Eckhart, writer


Daddy came home on Tuesday, October 29. The headlights from the yellow taxi caught on my mirror and cast a beam of light on the shiny string of pearls he gave to me three years ago on my tenth birthday.

“These are just like your mother’s were, a family tradition and a—a symbol of becoming a woman,” he stammered as he handed them to me; his eyes glossed, voice cracked, and smile emerged.

I watched him stumble out of the car and spill the contents of his briefcase onto the ground. His eyes sank into his head, and his shoulders sagged forward while the wind swept the papers away. This was extremely unorthodox for my father; he would usually only come home for the weekends, and as a business investor, he always was professional, prompt, and sober. Even the faintest rumor of breaking the law could ruin his pristine image and then his lucrative job.

Before I had the chance to run, he was in his office with the door closed. Aunt Bessie quickly followed and I could hear their voices rise and fall. She came out crying, my father solemn, and I pretended to be asleep, wishing that life could take a turn back to the way it used to be.


He took me to my first Yankee’s game  in June. I would always listen to the games on the radio with him, but this was real life. It was supposed to be a time to bond with Estell Decarte, his bride, but most certainly not my mother. She knew nothing about baseball, but she pretended like she did, and attempted to converse with me.

“I just love the Yankees . . . I always used to go with my father to Yankee’s games when I was your age and watch Babe Ruth hit homers.” Even the most basic Yankee’s fan would know that Babe Ruth hadn’t joined the Yankee’s until 1920; he played on the Boston Red Sox when she was my age.

Estell, only fifteen years my senior, captured my father’s heart anyway. After my mother’s death from the Spanish flu back in 1920, Daddy remained stagnant. Aunt Bessie came to live with us when I was three years old because my father had overwhelmed himself with stocks and business deals in order to cope with my mother’s death. Estell lured him with her exuberant personality, stunning looks, and fabulous designer clothing collection consisting of “figure-skimming gowns,”and for once, Daddy seemed happy (Clothing).

However, Anne, my best friend since the third grade, told me that Estell is a compulsive liar who shouldn’t be trusted. Her older brother’s best friend dated her when they were in high school. She cheated on him, ran away with her new man, and became a flapper dancer in New York City at the age of sixteen, only to then be rescued back into the arms of her rich father. Daddy told me they were all rumors of false notion, but I had a sneaking suspicion they were true. After all, she was from a wealthy family, and money can cover up anything.


The day now reached Friday, ages since Daddy stumbled home and locked himself in his office. He only surfaced to ask if Estell had come home, or if Frank, his stockbroker, left a message.

Anne came over as she does every Friday after school to spill gossip with 7up, the magical, sparkling sugar drink that we share behind the scraggly bushes Estell had planted for privacy.

“Did you hear what happened to Sally?”

“No . . . ?”

“My father says her family lost all of their money when the Stock Market crashed and have to sell their shop. He says that means he can buy it up cheap and we can finally buy one of those fancy new cars with a radio, a Motorola.”

What crash? Why hasn’t Daddy mentioned it? Where did Estell go? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything?

            “Alice, hello? My father says some men are even jumping, can you believe it? I can’t imagine having nothing.”

“I . . . I need to go.” I handed her the half-empty bottle of pop, “You can have the rest.”

“Wait, Alice! I’m not finished.” I thought for a moment of turning back, but I was already halfway through the door, and frankly I had enough gossip for the day, the year, the rest of my life, so I pretended like I didn’t hear and shut the door behind me.


Thus began my mission; to uncover the truth as swiftly as Hoover had won the election last November, and I managed to gather up the courage to ask Aunt Bessie during my daily breakfast of Wheaties so I “too may grow up strong” just like Babe Ruth (Berg).

“Aunt Bessie?”

“Yes, Dear?” Aunt Bessie yawned as she cleared the kitchen for what I assumed to be for Estell’s allergies.

“What’s wrong with—” someone banged heavily on the front door, and Aunt Bessie practically tripped over her skirt running to the door. I heard just a murmur of only her voice.

“Yes sir, he’s working right now.”

“I’m sorry, that won’t be necessary.”

“I will sir.” The door closed so quietly that she might have well just slammed it.

“Sorry the postman had a confusion, what do you need?” I knew she was fabricating the truth and that it was Frank, Daddy’s stockbroker.

“Oh . . . I forgot what I was going to ask . . .”

Disheartened, I went outside and sat on the steps. The rough, red bricks left marks on my dress, but I didn’t care. Anne was long gone, probably gossiping about me while pretending to be friends with Sally. I rested my chin in the palm of my hand and watched the young beggar across the street dig in the gutter for fallen change and paper to burn, throwing everything else out of his way. Thoughts began to swirl.

Paper . . . Daddy dropped his briefcase when he came home and papers went flying.

I immediately jumped up and rushed across the street, scaring the boy away.

“Wait! You can stay,” I called after him, but he was already gone and papers fell at my feet, all addressed to Arthur Louis Hackett. On the top lay a telegram stating the following: STOCKS WORTHLESS STOP BANK WONT LOAN STOP. It all made sense, why they hadn’t told me anything, why Aunt Bessie was getting rid of our stuff, why Estell hadn’t returned. They were protecting me. We had nothing.


By mid December, someone had yet to sit down and tell me what happened, and I never asked. Aunt Bessie’s dark circles grew as fast as the items in our house disappeared, and Daddy spent so many hours staring at pieces of paper that they could practically leap to life.

Last night, I heard him cry for the first time. It was like he was admitting defeat months after he had lost. With my ear against the wall, I could feel his sobs pulse with my heart.

“Daddy?” I whispered.  No answer. I knew what I needed to do. It was my turn to make a sacrifice for the family.


For weeks I paced the streets in town, cardboard sign in hand.

“Pearls for sale.”

Works Cited

Berg, Timothy, et al. “1920s: Food and Drink.”Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop              Culture of 20th- and 21st-Century America, edited by Cynthia Johnson and Lawrence W.                Baker, 2nd ed., vol. 2: 1920s-1930s, UXL, 2012, pp. 301-310. Student Resources in                     Context. 28 Mar. 2017.

“Clothing, 1919–29.”Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations,                  and Footwear Through the Ages, edited by Sara Pendergast, et al., 2nd ed., vol. 4:                               Modern World Part I: 1900 to 1945, UXL, 2013, pp. 715-740. Student Resources in                      Context. 28 Mar. 2017.


Benson, Sonia, et al. “Roaring Twenties.”UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History, vol. 7, UXL, 2009,   pp. 1318-1322. Student Resources in Context. 5 Apr. 2017.

Byas, Sieve. “The Great Depression: Why it started, continued, and ended probably most                                     Americans believe that government should take a role in controlling the economy to                      prevent another great depression, but history says that’s untrue.”The New American, 5                    Dec. 2016, p. 33+. Student Resources in Context. 28 Mar. 2017.

Currell, Susan. American Culture in the 1920s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh U, 2011. Print. 28 Mar.                   2017.