Dictated by Ary
of Mrs. Brodkey
oil on canvas
28 x 21 1/2
Foundation Collection, TX
One of the ingredients of the back of the store
was dust. The back of the store was never cleaned. It had a
high ceiling, very high. There was not a complete separation
from front to back, just a continuation. The only thing, which
separated back and front, was a wall-case where we had on display
shotguns and musical instruments and other dust-accumulating
things. The back of the store consisted of about one-third of
the entire floor space. The store itself had its store fixtures
and the back of each was saturated with dust. Hardly ever would
they move a wall-case to clean the back of the case and the
wall. Whoever cleaned the store managed in the most ingenious
ways not to touch too far under the wall-cases. In the back
of the wall-cases there were spider webs and dead insects. At
the entrance to the back room was an old curtain that you would
be afraid to touch because the dust would begin to come out.
There was a back door leading to a back lot filled with all
kinds of garbage empty cans, boxes of all kinds, all
sorts of bric-a-brac, which constantly attracted junk collectors.
After glancing at the things they would drop them and turn away.
There were two windows to the back of the store. Since they
were never washed and the dust was so thick, they formed a permanent
curtain between the outside and inside. We rubbed only a few
places so as to get the view in the back.
The back yard extended quite a long distance and it reached
the back of the building on the street to the south (Third Street).
That building was occupied by some sort of a hotel and the inhabitants
of these hotels, in those days, were mostly prostitutes. Occasionally
these maidens would take a sunbath by opening wide the window.
Great-uncle was a pious man and occasionally in the morning
he would use the back of the store to recite his prayers. I
observed once that he was walking back and forth, spitting to
the right and left. It was puzzling for awhile, and then, looking
through the clear space in one of the windows I saw a "Mademoiselle,"
fascinated by the view of the old man with the big white bears,
and exposing her completely naked body. Great-uncle, who was
near-sighted, noticed something without exactly knowing what
it was, when suddenly in the midst of his prayers he realized
that he was looking at a naked woman. As a consequence, he walked
back and forth and kept on spitting right and left. I doubt
if he ever felt he had washed out the sin he considered he had
The furniture in the back of the store consisted
of a big table painted brown, some old chairs and a number of
rusty folding beds. My brother Abe and I slept on two of these
folding beds. One night the spring on my bed got loose. Being
a heavy sleeper I didn't realize that one end was loose and
in my sleep I rolled down under the bed. When I woke up, I hit
my head against the bed-spring. I managed to crawl out from
under the bed and went to the front of the store, to the great
surprise and relief of my brother, who was about to inform the
police that I had disappeared during the night.
My older brother and I lived in the back of the store before
Mother came and we continued to live there with Mother and the
children when they came over, in order to save rental. There
was an old stove, charcoal, I think, on which Mother prepared
the meals during the first four or five months after their arrival.
During that period the back of the store began to clear up.
It got so that once when the landlord out of curiosity looked
in the back of the store he exclaimed, "It's nice there"
and we were afraid he might want to raise the rent so we quickly
began to throw things around to look like the olden days.
The voices from the front of the store carried back in an unusual
way. When one of the drunkards who had a habit of coming in
would tell nasty anecdotes, we were glad that Mother couldn't
There were all kinds of things in the back of the store, which
puzzled us as to how they got there. There was some Confederate
money, and one day we found a General's uniform. When a friend
of ours came in and we showed it to him, he concocted a story,
which would have been good for a mystery novel.
The door to the back was bolted with all kinds of iron bars,
eaten through with rust.
We worked long hours, but on Sunday and holidays
and occasionally in the evening I would have a chance to paint.
I would set up a still-life on the table at the back of the
store, or I would paint a portrait. Once my cousin, Max Brodkey,
one of the owners of the store, asked the ex-Mayor, Herbert
Quick, to pose for me, and I made a good portrait of him. He
was tall and dignified, with a reddish face. When he came the
first time he grabbed a chair from a corner to sit down, and
before I had time to realize that it was the chair with one
leg missing, the Mayor was already stretched out on the floor.
Of all the things that Sioux City needed in those days, it was
an Esperanto Society. We were ready for universal peace; it
was a time when everything was going according to plan and we
would have universal peace and the only thing lacking was a
universal language. So we organized a branch of the Esperanto
Society. The Society started to hold its meetings in the back
of our store. So if the historians will try to trace where the
spirit of universalism was promoted, it was right in the back
of the store. Every week we had to drag a bench from somewhere
because there weren't enough chairs. And there was peace universal
Among the members there was a woman who had 9 or 10 children.
Very idealistic; a member of the Socialist Club, an Esperantist,
very much preoccupied that her children should live in a better
society than ours. So occasionally she would bring the children
and they livened up the meeting. All were religiously devoted
to the cause of peace and right. There was an old man, an agent
for an insurance company, who was very religiously devoted to
the Great Future. When Billy Sunday came to Sioux City the old
man became so absorbed in the evangelization that he couldn't
reconcile all these things the religious teaching of
Billy Sunday, the propaganda for socialism, and he wasn't a
good Esperantist, he couldn't learn the words. Finally the poor
man took to drinking.