Welcome to the Fidao Family Website
Family History
Family Tree
> Maxime's
> Lloyd's
> Richard's
Maxime Nicholas Fidao's Life Story (Written in 1947)
(Page 7 of 8)
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
Jo loved her home and family and seldom went to social affairs. She objected to have her picture taken, so that we have only a small photograph of her which does not do her justice.

Our good neighbors and friends all helped us out devotedly. Mr. and Mrs. Graham took Marjorie to live with them for several weeks. Their daughter, Virginia, of about the same age, had been a playmate of hers.

Then loomed the question of housekeeping. I was fortunate in getting, through an employment agency in New York, a capable Danish young woman, Sophie, who had been trained in Denmark, and the household duties got taken care of perfectly. She was a cheerful and loquacious woman who helped a lot to enliven us in our sad experience.

Shortly after leaving the International Germanic Trust Company, our housekeeper left us to get married, and I looked for another one at smaller wages. I could not find one, but the work at home had to be done, so I pitched in with cooking, the washing, the ironing, and the cleaning, and soon discovered that with the direction of old friends of my wife and neighbors, it was not such a difficult job if one applied oneself in earnest. I had plenty of time on my hands and necessity spurred me on.

From an advertisement in the N.Y. Times, I saw that an Investment Trust was looking for a salesman. I called at the time indicated, and the Sales Manager spoke to about a dozen of us in glowing terms of the fine opportunity we had of earning a good living. We were to be on strictly commission basis, no drawing account, no expenses allowed.

I started out and worked arduously for a week. No one had money to invest, everybody needed money. I returned to the office of the Sales Manager, handed him back his literature, and told him in plain language that I was not going to advertise his wares any longer at my own expense. Carfares, lunch invitations, and incidentals, were a complete loss to me.

In 1930, the best I could do was to take a job in the office of the N.Y. Unemployment Committee, which collected contributions for the unemployed from the concerns still in good standing.

This was dissolved about a year later, and again I was out of work. There was only one opening; to work in a loft in lower Western Manhattan where they were putting up packages of food for the American Red Cross, at $24 a week, but working every other week only. My assignment was to lift 40 pound boxes from an assembly line and pile them up onto skids to a height above my head. I thus handled an average of 2000 boxes a day. My good physical condition stood me in good stead. My regret was that I could not work every successive week. But that work soon ceased, too. This was in 1931.

The boys had already graduated from Brunswick School. They were connected with the Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company in Stamford, but being single, they were laid off under the country wide retrenchment program. Maxim went to Trinity College, using his savings from Yale and Towne. Lloyd tried to sell oil burners for the Timken Company in Stamford, contacting prospective customers in our old Ford.

Marjorie had been suddenly taken with an attack of appendicitis and operated on at the Greenwich Hospital. I had been unable to complete the payments for the operation, and the operating doctor attached and took our car.

There we were. I without a job and no more savings. Lloyd unable to contact customers, Marjorie still attending school, and Maxim still at College. I had to fight for self preservation. I called up the Doctor's lawyer and argued my case with much freedom of expression, In about a week he released the car, but not without me paying the legal expenses already incurred.

That did not help much for there were no buyers of oil burners. There were buyers for nothing but food.

Through my New York friends I was given a job consisting of reading the tide swings in the East River for the U.S. Army every other week. We worked in 8 hour shifts sad were staggered. I started with the shift from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. The following working week, I was placed on the 4 P.M. to Midnight shift. The next, on the Midnight to 8 A.M. shift.

That was outdoor work and easy, and provided me, indirectly, with some interesting experiences.

The location of the tide gauge was at the foot of the Town Dock on 125th Street and the East River. I had never been acquainted with that section of the City. It gave me an opportunity to look into the life of the people dwelling there.

It was a busy spot; The trucks bringing their freight to be loaded on barges: The big traffic of R.R. barges on the river, and a ferry running every half hour from 125th Street to Randall's Island, where there was a reformatory for young delinquents.

The most interesting part was to observe several "dock rats", who lived in the open, slept at one end of the dock,and existed mostly on panhandling. I had to be on the dock constantly to watch the tide gauge, so I spent much of my time talking to these fellows. There were usually two or three of them, but only one was a permanent resident there.

He must have had a good education, for he spoke good English and his vocabulary was extensive. He had a winning way about him and liked to talk of his experiences, some of them breathtaking and some just disreputable.

In the winter, he built a rickety canopy which he covered with an old rug and slept under it over newspapers and old rags, protected only be a heavy navy overcoat and cap. I saw him one morning emerging from his retreat, digging himself out of a snow drift three feet high. He looked frozen and exhausted, but he soon warmed himself up with some bootleg whiskey.

He always insisted that I have a "coffee Royal" with him. He had a coffee pot and he made coffee over a wooden fire. To his coffee, he added a generous part of his whiskey, which was at times, I believe, plain wood alcohol from its smell and the results observed. That was the "coffee royal" he offered me when ever I was around but which I never accepted. He fed himself often from the leavings of the workers on the ferry boat, who had also developed a liking for him.

He gave me a lot of information on that vicinity and the people living there.

When his supply of whiskey was exhausted, he would go off on a panhandling tour. When he had gathered a few dimes, he would make off for Second Avenue in search for more whiskey. He was acquainted with all the stills in the neighborhood.

Sober, he looked quite fit and he would start out at a brisk pace. I would watch him disappear around the corner at the end of the block. Then, I waited for his return. Soon he would show up in the distance, staggering and leaning against walls of buildings to hold himself up, but usually falling and picking himself up after a few minutes rest. On reaching the dock, he would slump about his corner, and there sleep for many hours.

One day I remarked to him that he needed a haircut. He likes to look well groomed but could not afford it. He asked me to cut his hair. He produced, out of a bag, a broken mirror and a pair of scissors. I cut his hair. It was a very poor job, but he was quite satisfied with it. He could not see the back of his head.

One afternoon, one of his callers was sitting on the edge of the dock, to wear off his intoxication. He lost his balance and fell in the river, right where the city sewers were emptying, floating in the swill. His plunge revived him somewhat and he started to yell for help. There was at the time no one else on the dock but myself. I looked for a line to throw him,but could not find one. I found, however, a very long, long pole with a hook at the end. I hooked him by the belt, and riding him over the water, pulled him alongside the dike to firm ground. By that time, two fellows had run out of the ferry house, and we carried him inside. His underclothes were all of fine silk, including his sock. In the evening, the papers related how I had saved a man from drowning.

When the work of recording the swings of the tide in the River was completed, I was again out of a Job. It was 1932.

Shortly after, I joined the Central National Corporation, through my friend E. A. McQuade its Vice President, as sales man in unlisted securities. Times were bad in the financial world. Harvey Gibson, who was then President of the Manufacturers Trust Company, recommended me to several of his business acquaintances in the financial district, and that helped some. But by 1933, business conditions were at their worst.

Harvey Gibson was a man of vision and of quick decisions, good decisions. He was open minded and quick to see coming changes and to adapt himself to them. His great success is the proof, he was a self made man. He was a fine man, a generous man.

Soon the bank failures brought about the closing of all all the banks in 1933, by our resourceful and darling President, R.D. Roosevelt, and my unlisted securities business disappeared.

I stayed home, at a distance from New York, and with time on my hands I began to ponder. I thought of my enthusiastic departure from Europe for this world; of the 29 years wholly spent working in New York, and I got a feeling that I had failed. Failed in my original purpose to live an American life in the America that I had envisaged in my young days.

There was a wide and interesting world outside the walls of a bank. I was welcoming the opportunity to strive for something different, more satisfying. Yet, I believed that the depression would last at least five years, and that I might have to do now what I thought I would have to do after I landed in New York in 1904. There seemed to be no escape from it.

I had seen for years in New York the multitudes at their daily tasks, for 8, 9, and 10 hours, workers in the business establishments, large and small, who traveled up to one hour or more, each way, between their homes and their places of work. I had seen those workers in the evenings rushing to street cars, busses, elevated trains, subways, pale, tired, haggard looking, indifferent to anything or anybody around them, rushing to reach home in the compact lines of private or apartment houses in which they lived like bees in their hives.

Man's evolution, extending beyond his body, into the material, the mechanical world, requires space. In the congestion of the big cities it results in confusion. In the distractions of the big cities, and in their real confinement, the people lose their perspective and develop indifference toward the requisites that make for their freedom. For all these people, working and living in large cities, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights can have little meaning, for they are unable to enjoy the prerogatives of a free people, and the real values of life, while they are handicapped in their duties to the nation.

For all this, I felt that our big cities are a real threat to our form of government.

New York City is not America. One sees there only shadows, glimpses, and piecemeal evidence of America. New York City does not reflect the real personality, the life of America. But, America is there, away from the enormous algorithms that make the big cities, and where in larger living spaces, the material progress of our civilization becomes a real benefit.

I resolved not to return to work in New York. I would have three more hours of spare time a day that I had been spending commuting for nearly thirty years. I could put this time to more agreeable use in cultivating a garden, reading, or simple living in natural surroundings, instead of the stifling confines of subways and trains. The country would replace the rectangular and dull aspect of the City. I would stay in Connecticut where life, although affected by the proximity of New York, is still more representative of the real American way of life. And, perhaps some day I would be able to move deeper into New England, the West, the Far West.

I called on several business acquaintances in Greenwich, without success. I busied myself with house chores, wondering how we could continue feeding ourselves. I would not go to friends seeking financial assistance. The weather was nice, and the country air exhilarating. Our health was good, and we still managed to have a smile for our neighbors and acquaintances who had no inkling of our desperate situation. The holder of the mortgage on my house foreclosed on me, and I was officially notified of my dispossession. We were to vacate in 30 days.

The fateful hour of dispossession was approaching but strangely enough I did not feel dejected. I was indifferent and callous about it. It seemed that all I felt was curiosity to see how it would all turn out, as if it was the concern of someone else. I felt like a spectator. I was resigned to it. The children were still less concerned than I was, for I did not let them know the full gravity of our situation. They had many friends whom they saw daily and that helped them.

I was doing the wash one afternoon when the phone rang. The Vice President of the Putnam Trust Company wanted to know if I would take charge of the office of a Federal Relief Agency in the town of Greenwich. I was to start work immediately. That was the C.W.A. (Civil Works Administration). I went to see the organizing committee, composed of some eight important business men, and was engaged immediately.

To leave our house now was a real relief. The roof and plumbing had needed repairs for many months. I had not been able to take care of these, along with interest and taxes.

In the CWA Office, Projects were formulated immediately through the various departments of the Town of Greenwich. Men able to work on the relief rolls of the town were hired at prevailing wages. Work started soon on the highways, the schools, the parks and the fire houses, and was supervised by heads of those Town Departments.

While my time was mostly taken with office work, I found opportunities to visit the sites of our projects and to keep direct contact with the foremen and their men and to watch their progress.

The C.W.A. was replaced by the E.R.A. (Emergency Relief Administration) and later was succeeded by the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration). The W.P.A. continued well up into 1942 when the war effort absorbed practically all the available workers on relief. The purpose of all these Federal Agencies was the same, to provide made work for the unemployed on relief, but the administration of these Agencies differed somewhat.

The C.W.A., the first one to operate, was conceived and launched in a great hurry and there was not much governmental interference and regulation from Washington.

The E.R.A. was run by each individual state and in our case in Connecticut, it was run from Hartford by capable individuals who stressed supervision and also fairness.

The W.P.A. reverted to a quasi political administration, and the local authorities did not have the say they had under the other two agencies. At the very start it had the earmarks of a socialistic program.

I recall a representative of the W.P.A. who came down to talk to the workers on the projects and told them, among other things, in very plain language, that from then on the Town would not have the authority to supervise the projects. The supervision would be done entirely by the W.P.A., they were to take no orders from Town representatives, and that they did not have to be as scrupulous as before in the performance of their work. That individual may had exceeded or misunderstood his instructions. He was not seen again and the impracticability of the system as originally outlined by the organizer of the W.P.A. brought about some improvements. However, the main features of the new program remained.

One had read many uncomplimentary stories about the W.P.A. and I believe that in many instances they were true. However, I can testify that such was not the case in the Town of Greenwich where I was the Works Director for the projects and represented the town of Greenwich.

Back to top

< BackNext >

  Maxime Fidao

Photo of Maxime Fidao
Other photos