Pointing his crooked finger at the old sandstone building..
I’ll always remember that day in ’66 when I walked alongside Granddad past Enrico’s flashy new restaurant on Lexington Avenue. Pointing his crooked finger at the old sandstone building that looked like a former bank – large sandstone blocks and high windows capped by semi-circular tops, he said, ‘That was the National Bank, years ago.’
At that moment a yellow cab drew to a screeching halt and a smartly dressed lady in a furry hat carrying at least three of Bloomingdale’s new designer bags pushed past us and lowered her head as she opened the back door of the taxi without any excuse or anything. ‘Bloody rude,’ I remember Granddad said.
‘It was different then, years ago,’ Granddad continued, ‘none of your flashy colours, flared trousers or fur hats in October. It was all grey and caps or bowler hats for men and cloche hats for women. And trams.’
As if in a reverie, he continued, ‘I remember the first time I took the tram downtown. It stopped outside and I walked into that bank with the spare cash from my first month’s pay. I was seventeen. I started out cleaning windows, did I ever tell you that?’
‘No Granddad.’ I lied, for he had told me on countless occasions previously but his story sounded interesting and I wanted to hear what he was about to say.
‘I descended from the tram and got a shock. It was so busy, Upper Manhattan – we lived on 144th Street – was quiet. You never saw people milling around Harlem and if you did you knew it was trouble. Now, where was I?’
‘When you descended from the tram you got a shock, Granddad.’
‘Ah, yes, Mother had told me that the safest place for my money was in the bank. She had even opened an account for me sometime before. So, I was going to deposit half of my first month’s wages. Eighty whole dollars! And it was a easy job in the fine October weather, for I had yet to suffer the pain and cold of window cleaning in winter.
‘Anyway, there was a long queue inside the bank. Silence reigned, punctuated only by whispers uttered by the customers to the tellers. There were two tellers. Both old ladies had long strings of pearls around their necks and additionally, mine had half-moon glasses over which she peered when I finally reached her.
‘Confidently, I said, “I want to deposit eighty dollars, please.”
‘There was a gasp from the people around me. Suddenly everyone looked at me, in utter amazement. The silence was deafening. Twenty or more pairs of eyes stared at me.
‘“Haven’t you heard, kid?” A lone voice behind me broke the silence.
‘“Heard? Heard what?” I asked
‘“The Crash! The Stock Market Crash,” he repeated. His eyes bulged and he shook his head slightly as if to warn me of something. “The banks aren’t safe. Hold onto your money, don’t trust ’em.”
‘I looked about the room and everyone seemed to be nodding. It was if I was a bacon sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah, alone, different and unwelcome.
‘I considered the advice, but I was young and pigheaded and the people about me looked old and grey. They were failed men with their rheumy eyes and drab clothes.
‘“I want to deposit eighty dollars,” I repeated. “Mother advised it and she’s done a pretty job in my book so far,” I added as if to justify my decision to the crowd.
‘Silence, then I heard a feeble voice murmur, “Perhaps, the kid has a point, perhaps the worst is over.”
‘“Perhaps, he knows something,” another said a little louder so it was clearly heard by everyone in the room.
‘“Do I really need to withdraw my life savings today?” someone else said.
‘And as if a suction pump had been fitted to the entrance, the bank started to empty.
‘The teller smiled at me. “Good on yer, kid. Oh, sorry, Mr. Everhard. I was quite carried away. But the world needs optimism and you just gave it to this crowd of customers.”’
‘When was that Granddad?’ I asked.
‘I’ll never forget the date, the 1st of November 1929, two days after the Wall Street crash.’