I understand Char Allen’s lament in the Squire, “Why do away with the tannery?” But it reminded me that before 1926, many immigrant husbands and fathers were employed in the orchestra pits of silent movie theaters-a great way for them to compensate for language limitations while blending into a foreign culture.
They came to America with the universal skill- music, which gave them confidence and money for their growing families. I imagine those families in crowded walkup flats with dim stairways filled with the sound of children’s stomping feet, women in flowered aprons, men with braces, hand washed clothes hung out to dry, the aroma of baking, and bleach. And the security of a safe warm night leading to the hope of another hectic day.
In 1926, the movie, “Don Juan,” used music recorded on wax records synchronized with a film projector to give movies sound. In 1927, “The Jazz Singer,” gave the movies talking and Warner Brothers millions of dollars. That was the end of orchestra pit jobs and one simple segue to the American Dream.
There were few unions or food banks, no unemployment or Federal bailout. No one thought to hire a lawyer to sue the greedy movie theaters. Those ancestors of ours had to swallow their pride, moms may have had to clean house for the rich folks, and they probably prayed a lot.
The hallways of those dim noisy flats must have heard occasional sobs from a fretting pregnant wife. Men who could not master civilized society’s most basic skill, language, must have had their egos ravaged. And all the time, the kids were watching and experiencing either a little or a lot of their parents’ terror.
By God’s mercy and through their fears, those struggling people gave birth to us. I hope we handle our present difficulties, including the closing of the tannery, with the grace, courage, and prayers that our ancestors did. Things change. How we handle change is important. Our kids and grandkids are watching.