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Monday, 29 September 2008

My Mother's Business

By Florence Hart Millo of Ruminations

My mother grew up during the Great Depression. Her family was poor before the Depression, but truly destitute during the years just before the war. She left school after the eighth grade to work wherever she could find work.

During World War II, she worked in a shipyard as a welder and always said it was the best job she ever had. She ate at the yard cafeteria the best food she ever had and had the medical attention that she needed but had never been able to afford.

She met my father who was a merchant seaman. They married right after the war and I was born in 1947. During the 1950s, it was the norm for married women to be homemakers and not work outside the home. Even though my father earned a good living as a seaman, the years of poverty had left her wanting to be able to bring in her own income. She decided that she could become a beautician and open her own shop.

No one in the family supported her aspiration. She was told that she couldn’t do it and that it would never be profitable and to forget about it. My father’s work often took him to ports on the other side of the world and he would be gone for three to four months at a time. So while he was gone, she enrolled in beauty school and by the time he came back, she was a licensed beautician.

He decided to humor her and built a small addition to our house where she opened her little shop. While doing the practical hours of beauty school, she concentrated on those women who were older and worked outside their homes too. The little shop was successful and profitable from the very beginning because many of her beauty school clients came with her to her new business.

I grew up with a steady stream of regular customers in my mother’s shop who were more like extended family than customers. You could tell which day of the week it was by who was sitting under the hairdryer - If it was Mrs. McC, it was Wednesday, no doubt about it.

I asked her once why she was so determined to have her own business. She told me that my grandmother had kept the family from starvation by starting her own business sewing men’s shirts in the logging camps of East Texas.

I think my father was surprised at just how profitable the business was and was rather proud of her. About 10 years after she opened the shop, my father had a stroke and was unable to work for the rest of his life. That little shop in the back of the house made all the difference in the world in how they were able to live their lives comfortably. I was very fortunate to have a mother who was determined to have her own business.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a wonderful tribute to your mother, Florence. She was obviously a woman of foresight, courage and ambition.

Since I, too, grew up during the Great Depression I can understand your mother's need for security. It has been a need in my life since childhood.

Hello Florence,

Your Mother was a woman of courage and accomplishment.

It was difficult in those days of "No wife of mine will ever work" for her to not only work but actually get training and start her own business.

She reminds me of my own Mother who worked during the war calibrating turbine blades for aircraft engines. My Dad was also not well and I don't know what we would have done without my Mother....

So, I salute them both and I think your Mom would be very proud of you for telling her story so well.

I applaud her decision! I started my business in 1984 and at the time, the money was not necessary to our daily life, but after 10-15 years, it was needed and I was very proud and happy to be contributing to the family purse.

A nice story with an even a nicer subtext.

Thank you all for your comments. This is the first time I've written anything like this.

I grew up in the 50's watching my mother's experiements with running her own business while minding five kids. Let's see, Avon, Dutchmaid clothes, Tupperware and toys are the ones I remember. When she divorced my father and moved out she became a jeweler and started doing craft fairs. At 77 she still does.
I have always been grateful for the lessons I learned watching her. I started out selling pot holders door to door, then I also learned to make jewelry and market it. Now I run a business writing and producing video but it gives me a sense of security knowing those jewelry tools are in the attic. One of the best things you can have is useful skills and the knowledge of how to sell them. Better than money.

Enjoyed your story, Moms back then
were true moms & wives, the back bone of the country. They did what
was necessary. I don't think that
happens much in these times. I
wouldn't be who & what I am without
my mom's determination & courage
thru tough times back "then".

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