BUNS, ICEBALLS, PRETZELS, NUTS AND OTHER DEPRESSION MONEY-MAKERS
By: Jack Serig, Sr.
We were a lucky family; Mom, Dad and four boys.
Times were tough! I was born in ’28, in Wheeling, W.Va., so I can remember
glimpses of life from about 1930 on. Some of the things we did to keep
food on the table were just unimaginable in today’s world, today meaning
a few short months from Y2000.
Dad held one job in a fish market. So fried fish
was regular fare. When Dad brought a live turtle home, Mom made great
turtle soup that she mixed with vegetables. The meat of the turtle
was rich and gave great flavor to the soup. To this day I prefer turtle
soup to beef.
During some of those tough years Dad also wore an impressive
silver badge, just like a sheriff, which told the world that my Dad was a
city health inspector. What better way to provide for your family?
Dad would go into meat shops, bakeshops, deli’s, and restaurants and perform
his inspections. Dad was not too tough on proprietors unless they ran
a dirty shop or gave him a bad time. He sometimes came away with gifts
of food but he never asked for favors. I remember once he closed down
a food vendor truck for about two weeks. But that vendor cleaned up his act
and he and Dad became best of friends. That vendor would really load
Dad up. This helped our family survive.
When I would ride with Dad on the streetcar we didn’t
have to pay because he would flash his Health Department badge at the conductor,
most of whom he knew by their first names. But in this way our family
was able to save the nickel streetcar fares and a nickel went quite a ways
in those memorable days.
I can remember Dad figuring out that if he and Mom bought
huge tin barrels of pretzels and smaller cans of different kinds of nuts,
they could repackage them in little bags, deliver them to bars and make a
good profit. He would place the little bags on those metal snack racks
that were always on the bar tops. Sometimes Dad would take me with
him. I could get a big soft drink for a nickel then.
Mom would make her own deep fried potato chips, peeling,
then slicing the potatoes very thin. Then she would drain the cooking oil
off, salt the chips down good to encourage the beer drinkers and package
them right in our kitchen. Mom would have to get the ironing board
out, get the iron hot and seal the bags shut with the iron. Then she
and Dad would put all these yummy packages in large cardboard boxes and Dad
would carry them to the delivery truck and away we’d go to the bars, restaurants
Another way we’d make money is that Mom would cook up
about twenty different flavors of twenty different colors and store them
in saved bottles on a ledge in the kitchen. My brothers and I would
spread the word through the neighborhood that we had iceballs, (now called
icees) for sale in about twenty different flavors. The kids especially,
and sometimes adult neighbors, would spend either three or five pennies,
depending on glass size, on Mom’s wonderfully flavored iceballs. She
had an ice shaver and had to shave the ice from the block she kept in the
icebox. You could order ice by putting a sign in a window facing the
street in front of the house. The ice man would make his rounds up
and down the streets in his truck looking for the rectangular signs which
were designed so you could show that your house needed either a 25, 50, 75
or 100 pound block of ice.
But the best thing that Mom made was fresh, hot buns called
Parker House rolls. She was famous for her rolls in our neighborhood
and at our church. I remember her rolling out the dough, after allowing
a certain time for kneading and letting the yeast do its work, with those
now un- fashionable rolling pins. Upon removing the rolls from the
hot oven she would place them in a basket and cover them with cloth to keep
them warm. Then I entered the picture. Placing the basket in
my 4-wheeled wagon I would go from door to door selling Mom’s famous Parker
House rolls; .50c a dozen or .05c each. I didn’t have to go far!
Those buns would melt in your mouth.
We kids were always looking for soft drink glass bottles. They would
each bring several pennies apiece when turned in at the corner grocer and
allow us to buy a bag full of candy or a cold soft drink.
Dad started me on a magazine and paper route when I was
8-years of age. I’d stand on one busy corner in downtown Wheeling and
Buster, my big brother, would catercorner at an intersection controlled by
a traffic light. As the cars stopped for the signal we’d peddle papers
pretty fast to the going home crowd, .03c each. We made a penny on
The magazine route paid better. At first I carried
two magazine bags, one over each shoulder, heavily loaded with fresh copies
of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Country Gentlemen, Liberty
and Collier. Dad took me all over Wheeling, on foot, to introduce me
to all the people he knew, from the courthouse to the bars. I earned
enough to buy a wagon to pull my load of magazines, which made my shoulders
and back feel better. In winters, with snow on the ground, I’d tie
a box to my sled and fill the box with my magazines. Based on the number
I sold, I’d get coupons from my distributor, in addition to the money I made.
You could trade the coupons in for prizes. On real cold winter nights,
even though Dad had had a full day’s work, he pulled my magazines and me
on my sled so I wouldn’t miss my customers’ expectations. That’s because
I delivered in cold, snow, rain and hot summer nights.
I won my first 28-inch bike in a magazine promotion contest
before I was big enough to reach the pedals. The bike sat on its stand
in our living room for the longest time before I was big enough to handle
it. Once I mastered the bike I could deliver a lot faster. I gained
enough coupons to get a second bike later on, an electric train, a wall tent,
a clarinet and other things boys liked.
By teaching us to work for our own money and buy the things
we wanted it saved our family from being short on necessities, like food.
Mom died from complications after an operation in the
Ohio Valley General. It put a terrible load on Dad. Local government
helped by sending a lady to our house, at 2306 Wilson Street, to help with
the cleaning and cooking and looking after us four kids ‘til Dad got home.
By this time Dad had obtained work in a steel mill stoking
the blast furnace. One day his trousers caught on fire because of the
red-hot coals the men had to work around. Dad had to run out of the
coals to a safe area where he rolled on the floor to put out the fire.
Several weeks later he helped rescue a fellow worker who was staggering on
the catwalk that encircled the huge vats that held the molten, fire-red liquid
metal. The man had been overcome by the fumes that the process produced.
After this second incident, within a few short weeks of the first one, Dad
decided he needed a job change.
We moved to Portsmouth, Virginia in 1939 where Dad was
employed by the Navy’s civil service in an administrative job. I sold
magazines and newspapers and mowed lawns for my spending money always encouraged
by Dad to be responsible. He was transferred to Melbourne, Florida
in 1943. In Eau Gallie, where we lived, I became old enough to work in Mosley’s
Grocery. By this time Buster had been in the Navy for several years and Dad
had sent Ward and Joe to Mooseheart, Illinois for their schooling in 1944.
Buster became an Industrial Plant Foreman. Ward
a Navy Commander and aviator in addition to becoming a High Priest.
Joe, a High School Principal, Apostle and Chairman of the Board at Park College,
Parkville, Mo. Me a Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry and Army Aviator.
A Safety Engineer and Transportation Director in civilian life.
Just shows what hard work and responsibility, taught by
your parents, can do for a family of boys who lost their mother at an early
age. I’m really proud of all my brothers and all that they’ve contributed