My father was a wholesale distributor of three specialty produce items, each of which was sold at a different seasonal watermelons in the summer through September, wine grapes in October and Christmas trees in December. The summer of 1929 was so chilly that people didn’t buy our freight train carloads of watermelons. The economy was so lousy that the Slovenian, Hungarian, Italian and German factory workers weren’t buying their usual enormous quantities of wine grapes and a major snowstorm in Canada prevented the Christmas trees from being shipped on time. Prices skyrocketed and demand fell.
Remember that in those days there were no nursery trees grown and that Cleveland Jews had a near monopoly on the area’s Christmas tree markets!
We faced a long, hard winter after Christmas 1929 with no money coming in and a Great Depression with hundreds of thousands standing in soup lines. Only factory workers had any steady income.
There was no Social Security, no unemployment insurance, no minimum wage, no guarantees of back wages being paid, no Medicare.
Like so many others, my parents turned to The Hebrew Free Loan Association but it insisted upon collateral. My mother gave her wedding ring so that we would literally have food on the table. This turned into a twice yearly occurrence in early winter and late spring for the next several years. When produce sales were good my mother would pay off the loan and retrieve her ring. During these years, her ring spent more time in the HFLA safe than on her finger!
When I think back to those times, I always wonder how my mother felt every time she had to give up her ring. The mere thought of this story makes me want to tell it over and over again because it was so meaningful in my life. It is a story I don’t want to forget. HFLA returned her ring each time knowing its personal significance, and that HFLA had permitted my mother and our family to maintain our dignity.
(Nowadays, HFLA no longer accepts jewelry as collateral.)