"My uncle Al Capone played Santa Claus." A True Story.
|Al Capone as Santa Claus.|
In Burnham there were exactly three people outside of city hall with steady jobs - the mailman, the milkman and a schoolteacher, and the schoolteacher only got paid every three or four, months. Mom got work as a scrub-woman at the school. And now when Al and the boys came around for volleyball he'd slip her $10 and apologize for dirtying up the floor she'd just been washing. I hung on to my shoeshine stand for dear life.
The breadlines. The soup kitchens - Al ran his own in Chicago. Beggars coming around to your back door for a crust of bread. Food was cheap enough, but nobody had money to buy it. The corner drugstores sold cigarettes two for a penny. Who could afford a full pack? There was always a long line in front of the roll-your-own cigarette machine. If you rolled them thin enough, you could get 50 cigarettes out of a 10-cent package. We practically lived on the three-day-old bread Dad brought home from a bakery. A gunnysack full cost 25-cents and we kids would rummage through it, hoping to find a sweet roll or two.
Christmas 1930. I'll remember it as long as I live. None of the kids expected any presents. But maybe a chicken dinner. We still had a few hens scratching around the backyard. Then the miracle happened. We were gathered around the Christmas tree - such as it was, just bare branches - when there comes a loud knocking on the front door. Dad opens up and it's Santa Claus, whiskers, red suit and a big bag on his back. I yelled "Al!" and threw myself at him. He clapped his hands and six of his boys came in, each lugging a box of groceries that could have fed the whole neighborhood. They helped Mom stack them neatly on the pantry shelves. There were expensive gifts for everybody - a watch set in diamonds for Babe, slip-over sweaters for my brothers Edward, Sam, Don, and me. Don got a wind-up train and a whole set of tracks. My sister Kathy got the most beautiful doll I ever saw, with a whole wardrobe. And the turkey with all the fixings. I never tasted anything so good in my life.