1930 was a terrible year for most of us. The Depression had set in deep. My old man, along with a lot of other heads of families, was laid off without an hour's notice. Small businesses closed down, hundreds of them. Families doubled up to save rent.
|Al Capone as Santa Claus|
The breadlines. The soup kitchens. Al ran his own soup kitchens 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 at 15¢ for a pack of 20 cigarettes? 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¢ package of loose tobacco. We practically lived on the three-day-old bread Dad brought home from a bakery. A full gunnysack (burlap sack) cost 25¢ 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, a 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.
NOTE: Deirdre Marie Capone emailed me the photograph and her story.
Deirdre Marie Capone, Al Capone's Grandneice.
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.