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My parents owned and operated a mom and pop restaurant in Cincinnati called "the Victory Diner" during the Great Depression. It opened in 1931 during the worst of times, when most businesses were failing. Many street people wore signs saying, "work for food." With no money for the purchase, my parents agreed to pay out of their minuscule daily sales the price to purchase the restaurant, a sort of lease-buy.
The Victory Diner was an elongated diner car with two large and two small booths up front and a long counter that ran down to the end of the car, about 18 seats. Staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was tough. My dad did the night shift from midnight to noon; mother took the other 12-hour shift. They met crossing paths between home and restaurant.
Our Victory Diner customers varied from young to old. But one woman's plight and desperation stayed with me for life. This little old woman came daily into our diner for months, sat in what we called one of our small (2-seater) front booths, and ordered only a cup of hot water. Then she drew out a single tea bag from her satchel-purse and put it into the cup. Finally, she emptied our sugar bowl into the cup. She drank that. I suspect that's all she had to eat or drink for most of the day.
Our diner menus varied, all good home-cooked meals. The menu page was typed daily, mimeographed and then printed. Each menu page was divided into half. The upper half of the page was all budget dinners, 45 cents for a complete meal. Below the line were the high-end meals, such as choice steaks, for a whopping $1.00. I think my parents began the concept of the never-empty coffee cup; all you wanted at no additional cost.
Another memory was our home statue called "Sarah." A starving sculptor traded "Sarah" (she stood about 5-foot high) for a year of meals in the diner. I thought Sarah was so ugly a thing, but my mom loved her, so she stood in our various home entry halls until I went off to college in California in 1945.
Collected for the Ohio Department of Aging Great Depression Stories Project 2009.