Between stoves and beer, shoes and electricity, spring coats and insurance premiums, 10 Pittsfield unemployed, when asked what they would do with five dollars, hesitated and scratched their heads in an utter dilemma.

To some, five dollars was such an unspeakably large sum, and to others so utterly remote, that they hesitated between the many places and ways of spending the money. One semi-unemployed, who has worked up a small grocery business for himself during the past few months, expressed his feelings as follows:

“The possession of five dollars would be such a shock that I would have to sit down and quietly think it over. However, I would certainly make a mental note of the place the money came from, and be around promptly the following week for some more.”

“I would buy myself a good night’s sleep, free from worry, by paying off a little money on my furniture,” said one local man who is haunted by the fear that his furniture will be taken from him because he cannot meet payments on it. A loan which he took out on his furniture enabled him to get along for some time without charity. He had been out of work for 18 months.

An interesting family angle is found in the case of a former laborer and his wife who have quite opposite views on what five dollars should be able to accomplish by way of comfort and entertainment. The husband insisted that any five dollars which comes his way should be spent — or at least a part of it — on a good beer party. The wife would like to spend five dollars on a spring coat, or possibly she would save it toward the electric bill, or the gas, which last month cost her only 32 cents.

The father of a family of six, who has applied to local charity for aid, claims that kerosene furnishes a less expensive method of heating and lighting a house than any other type of fuel. With five dollars he would set up a little oil stove for summer use, and probably buy a good quantity of fuel besides.

Shoes strike a predominant note in the affairs of any unemployed father. Two of the unemployed men who were asked what they would do with five dollars, replied that they would buy shoes for the children. And by shoes they don’t mean one pair, but two or three.

“Second-hand shoes are one of the things that are hardly ever right,” commented one man who has three children of school age. “The shoes given us are rarely the right size, and my children went around all winter with wet feet. As for myself, I would spend five dollars on shoes for the kids.”

Fear of a pauper funeral haunts one family, where the father is unemployed, and where insurance policies on each of his five children are about to expire because of his inability to keep up payments.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.