Book Review: American Identities (Anne Pettinicchi)

book review

Anne Pettinicchi

It is hard to picture the life during the great depression era since it happened during the 20s. The entire nation suffered most dramatically during 1929 to 1933. To get an idea of the era one needs to get the perspective of an eyewitness of the era a voice one cannot ignore for they had the courage to pull through the dire times (Rudnick, Judith, and Rachel, pg 50). Anne was born in Waterbury CT in 1926.  As a young child, she was raised during the depression.  She was the oldest of three children and thus bore the brunt of much.  She used to say she was never a child.  She shared a room with her sister and younger brother.   Her father lost his job and struggled to find work.  But their family’s bills were paid, and they never lost their house.  Much of this was because of Anthony Pettinicchi, her future father in-law. He helped them keep their home and simple necessities like the refrigerator.

Anne had a green winter coat that she wore for a number of years. This happened as the times were hard following the retrenchment of her father and the escalating pummel of the economy. At the time, Anne had to live with what they could manage and for that matter her green jacket was comfort she cherished and valued greatly. In those years, she had to be the grownup a father needed in order to lead as an example to her siblings. During the great depression, the society was hit hard, and the need to concentrate on the necessity was at the peak. This deliberated that she had to make life easier for a father who was in constant search of work. The time saw many men heartbroken while people stood for government handouts. With this picture in mind, Anne was forced to make sacrifices for the family as the eldest daughter of the family.

In Chicago, people fought over a barrel of garbage showing the height of poverty in that era. The life choice for her at the time was to stay with the green coat something she could not live without.  She was contented with the little she had at hand and made sure she kept it until she could get a new one when times had changed. A good trait she developed was not to expect much from the time where life was a gamble of what next. Her self-indulgence was stable, and she did not expect to have new things at the expense of others. Anne had gratitude that she had something when others suffered.  She was promised that as soon as her father got a job, she could get a new coat.  Her father was given a job with the WPA (I think) repairing roads.  A coat was purchased with the first pay check.  When her dad bought her bought her first coat there were several lessons that were instilled into her life. First she learned to be able to manage with a little at hand and made sure she only spent on things she could not live without. She had her priorities straightened out by the conditions the era offered.  Another thing she understood was that she could only buy new things when she had twice the purchasing power of the commodity. This made sure she was grateful of what she afforded. As a woman, it builds self esteem and learned to live with the preconditioned state of the society. The third most important factor that shaped her life in the event of getting a new coat was a life lesson on money. She understood that it did not matter how much money one could make but on how much you can save. The coat gave her the attitude to struggle and find good from bad and saw meaning could come from tragedy. She denied self-indulgence and instant gratification that come from material things instead she focused on the connection with family and others and most importantly God. They may not have had much, but they were clean and neat.  This became a forefront of her being… being clean and neat.  You don’t have to have much to look good.

This depression era was a great lesson building period in her life. The time saw the economy particularly the labor market in a state of sickness that needed immediate attention. The entire population at the time was affected the rich getting more affluent at the expense of others while the poor who could make something by themselves paid the rich to provide what they could make by themselves. People’s lives were hard to the extent kids found their parents crying heartbroken at the time. Children her age looked up to their parents, but the depression brought them to their darkest times of their entire lives. Many people lost their homes and thousands of homeless people lived as street vendors selling apples for five cents. The era saw President Herbert Hover’s name synonymous with the hardships they went through. For instance, there was ‘Hoover Stew’ a soup named after him. Shanty towns made out of cardboard and sheets were called ‘Hoovevilles’. The exchange of capital was so low that the government did not mint nickels in 1932 and 33 (Rudnick, Judith, and Rachel, pg 35). Some of the greatest hits at the time were ‘brother, can you spare a dime’ by Bing Crosby. The song gave people hope that they would get something as times change. Given the demography of the employment force and existing cultural norms that kept most women and practically all married women out of the wage-paying economy, a 25 percent unemployment rate predestined that, for all realistic functions, every fourth family in America had no employed person. Many Americans came to consider that they were finding not just another downturn of the production cycle, but the crumple of an economic, political, and social order, possibly even the end of the American way of life. Yet intriguingly, as many observers illustrated, most Americans continued puzzlingly obedient, even submissive, in the face of this exceptional tragedy.

Thousands of families camped on the great lawn at central park New York City. The park was an empty reservoir during the great recession. By 1945, more than two million people had fled the Great Plains. California saw roughly 200,000 people settle there. These horrible conditions also affected their family since the dad was laid off from a job he had. The family had t get help in order to save the home they had. This gives a picture of the time when losing property was a norm.

Many middle class families managed to keep the little they had by taking in boarders, stretching every available dollar (Rudnick, Judith, and Rachel, pg17). She saw how lucky she was having a home to go to while others lived in shanties getting discontinued city waters and even if she had to wait for the dad to get a salary before she gained a new thing it made her feel so lucky. It made her heart ache to see her age mates living in poverty and daily see people struggle for a meal. This gave her compassion and the heart to give back. These conditions predetermined Anne’s need to look for a job. Thinking, it led Anne to get a job as soon as she graduated high school.  She went to work for the Southern New England Telephone Company.  It was here she would work for her entire life… making lifelong friendships and having a job that provided security to her and her family. At the time, finding a job that paid the bills was a necessity since everything was tight she was forced to get a job that would ease life. In my opinion, she had to get a job to make at least life easier for the parents who were now old and could not work as hard as they used to. Even though the government had a program to give support in the old age she felt obligated to give a good life to the father who took care of them when they did not have the means. The times gave the people a new outlook on life and many who survived to date still hold the same virtues today. Their credit mentality was shaped by the hardships. It is reflected at how she emphasizes the need to have a backup plan for the hard times. She keeps on pleading us to always recognize the symptoms of the economic crush. Her culture of helping is reflected in the charities she held when she had the means. Anne took on that role of the oldest.  Being a leader she was it was important to her to give back to the community.  Being raised as a Catholic, she joined the Catholic Daughters of America.  It was through this organization that she was able to give back to her community.  The organization provided a variety of functions like the annual Bunny raised funds for Easter Seals where children dressed as Bunnies, stood on various corners in the main area of Waterbury and collected funds.  This occurred the Saturday before Easter.  They also did a Day of Recollection. This was a mass and luncheon for disabled adults.  Other fund raisers included the annual rummage sale held at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral that was a central location for those less fortunate.

Potluck supper fundraiser was a fundraiser that gave students scholarships and this was accredited by her love of knowledge. These traits were passed to my mother who saved for our college funds beforehand. My mother insisted on the importance of education in our lives and pushed us to become what we are today. I would say it has affected my life positively since I take nothing for granted. I am grateful that I had to get the perspectives of lives of great family members who have seen the cycle of life in different eras. Their perspectives give me better judgment on how to run my life today. Anne also joined the Coronas Club, an Ethnic heritage club.  They held a variety of fund raisers to provide funding for scholarships.  Although not a college graduate herself, she felt strongly that all should have the opportunity to better their lives from the little help they gain from the society. She had the father in-law help them retain their home thus the need to connect as a community is strongly embodied in her. That aspect of her life made sure she valued the connections the community gives to people and she pushed further to make sure it trickled down to the next generation.

Integrity was the fiber in which she was made.   She had perfect attendance at SNET for 40 years.  While home on maternity leave, her husband’s company went on strike.  She went back to the telephone company immediately picking up as many hours as she could to help support her family.  As a depression child the use of credit cards was a new aspect of life that would later cause trouble.  She had an account with her favorite dress shop.  She made cash purchases and anything bought “on account”   had weekly payments made.  Major credit cards were unheard of until about 1980.  If you could not pay for it, you did not buy it. Life at the time mandated they pay their bills immediately since they did not believe in debts. Credit cards to her were a postponed expense she could not afford.

Her comment on life was that everyone is one illness or one bad circumstance away from being homeless. A true philosophy of a depression child as the times mandated that she remain strong and provide for the family despite the circumstances. Anne saw people lose their property and belongings with an unprecedented mistake they made during the depression. Anne was the most generous person I knew in my life for she would not stomach watching anyone suffer if she had the means to help. This is the direct opposite of the society today where life is all about self gratification and selfishness. She would not spend without a goal in mind making her financial record one of the best I have seen to date.



Rudnick, Lois, Judith Smith, and Rachel L. Rubin. American Identities: An Introductory Textbook. Oxford: Blackwell Pub, 2005. Internet resource. Pg,17- 29, 48-72, 29-47,