BY: Charles Sacchetti
It is safe to say that there were very few, if any, people in my Southwest-Philly neighborhood that could be called “bluebloods.” Very few dukes and earls worked in the factories of Westinghouse and General Electric, the two largest employers in our area. What my neighborhood could boast, however, were hundreds of hardworking, honest, and moral men who carried their lunch buckets each day and gave 100% to the jobs that allowed them to provide for their families.
In the ‘50s, when I was a kid, things were different. Mothers rarely worked outside the home. They were too busy caring for their kids and handling the endless business of managing the home. These capable women generally did a wonderful job, and I’m proud to say that my mother was one of them.
Like most factory workers, my dad never made a lot of money. At the Westinghouse plant in Lester, PA, he was a member of the Electrical Union, and wages depended on the current terms of the contract. Back in those days, like now, salaries were never quite enough to put one on “easy street.” Therefore, it was incumbent upon Mom to make every dollar stretch.
Boy, she sure could do that.
I distinctly remember Mom buying Welch’s grape juice. She realized that drinks like lemonade and grapeade were part juice, part water, so she cut out the middleman by mixing one part water with four parts Welch’s. The result was 25% more volume of a tastier drink as compared to the others. However, I must confess: On the QT, I would pour a few ounces of the high test into a cup and enjoy the juice as nature intended it.
Mom always knew which stores had the best prices for the assorted items she needed. Vic’s Cold Cuts, at 64th Street and Buist Avenue, was the place to go for lunchmeat. Vic’s wife ran the store and was a true believer in her products. The rolls of Genoa salami, ham, and provolone were no match for the slicer and her agile hands. The best part of the slicing process was when she would help herself to a fresh piece of salami and give you one, too. No doubt this practice was done only in the interest of quality control!
The Acme, on the corner of 65th Street and Elmwood, was the best supermarket, while Al’s was the butcher shop of choice at 64th Street and Dicks Avenue. Now, I must note here that Mom didn’t drive, so while we were at school, she had to walk to all these places and carry the bags. She and the other neighborhood mothers were happy to make that sacrifice to guarantee the best values for their families. So, knowing the frugality of dear Mom, it was with some trepidation that, at the age of 12, I approached her with an idea.
I was a kid who was always outside playing sports. Day in day out, if given a chance, outside I would be. Like most kids my age, I was very tough on footwear, especially sneakers. Mom would buy me a pair of PF-Flyers or the like, and they would only last me three weeks or so before my big toe saw daylight! About this time, I became aware of the sneaker of all sneakers: Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.
Aside from looking great, they were reputed to wear like iron and help you perform to your athletic pinnacle. Every NBA basketball player wore Chuck Taylors, as did just about every college player. Simply put, they were the best, but I knew I would have to overcome one big hurdle if I hoped to successfully persuade Mom to buy me a pair: PF-Flyers cost about $3.00. Converse sneakers cost almost $9.00.
After being extra sweet for a whole week and getting into no trouble whatsoever, I decided to open my proposal by giving Mom a big hug and telling her how much I loved her. At that point, she knew something was up, but her little Sicilian smile told me I had a shot. I promised her that the Converse high-tops would last me at least six months because of their superior workmanship. I vowed to take extra-good care of them: No running through puddles, tree climbing, etc. Then I delivered the clincher.
Our neighbor, Rocco Fantazzi Sr., was the manager of the South Philadelphia Boys Club at Broad Street and Oregon Avenue. He had a contact at a large sporting goods store on Spring Garden Street, in center city, and could arrange for us to get a discount on the sneakers; Mom would pay $7.25 instead of $9.00. To my relief, all my points were well received, and she said, “Yes.”
I have shared the next part of the story with my kids as one of the best examples of how a parent can teach her child a valuable lesson while demonstrating sacrifice and love.
On a very hot August day, Mom and I hopped on the number 36 trolley car to City Hall and walked eight blocks to the sporting goods store. The total trolley fare for both of us was 88 cents. I got my sneakers. Including the trolley fare, we saved about 90 cents on the transaction. What did I learn that day as a 12-year-old? I learned that if you can present your case in a way that makes sense, you have a good chance of prevailing. I learned that even limited funds might be spent if the cost can be justified. Lastly, I learned that seeing the smile on my face was worth far more to Mom than that 90 cents.
Charles Sacchetti is the author of two books, It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change and his new book, Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online outlets. Contact him at Worthwhilewords21@gmail.com