Just before the start of the Great Depression, Mary Feigenbaum’s father, a builder in Brooklyn, N.Y., lost everything. During that time Feigenbaum, now 95, remembers how she sacrificed. She had to work for the family business and couldn’t finish college, and she and her seven brothers and sisters subsisted on pounds of potatoes.
Feigenbaum ran her family’s lumber business, had three children and, after her husband died, moved to Westchester County, N.Y., where she eventually became the administrator of a mental health clinic. She retired at 75 and now lives in Cambridge, Mass.
MainStreet: How did the Depression affect you and your family?
Feigenbaum: My father never invested in the stock market. He was in the lumber business and he built one-family homes.
There was a great rush to build because they were beginning to build up Long Island. My father owned quite a bit of real estate all over, [in] Brooklyn and places out toward the Island.
When the market crashed, people at that time were able to buy stock for only 10% down and they owed the rest. They borrowed the money from the brokers. When the prices started to go down on the stocks the brokers called for money because there was only 10% on it. People ran to their banks to raise money and the banks raised their interest rates to about 10%. So they used up the money to lend people money at 10%, but they didn’t follow their obligations to give the builders their money.
How did your family make ends meet?
One of his wholesale lumber dealers had taken over a piece of land because he loaned him money on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. He told my father, “Go ahead, use it. Open up a lumber yard, and I’ll send you a couple of truckloads of lumber.” And he started it, and that business remained in the family until my oldest brother took it over after the war, and then he died young and I took it over and I ran it for seven years. It stayed in the family until I dismembered it.
I remember that my father, we had no money, he borrowed $10 from my uncle and he bought 100 pounds of potatoes and we ate potatoes, and I don't think anybody knew more recipes for potatoes than my mother. And no one dared to complain.