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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Woman Who Inspired Me

By D. Sugar

Mom was one of the first “women libbers.” My father did that for her (or depending upon your degree of sexism, to her).  You see, he ran out on us, deserted us when I was ten and my sister Babe was five.

So there we were, two kids and Mom, trying to find traces of the spousal and patriarchal devotion bullshit that men are always touting (and spouting!). It was early 60’s and our economic state was as depressed and depressing as our family situation. Nothing was coming in; no Daddy, no dough!

So-o-o-o, Mom had to go to work to get money to buy food and pay for other frivolities like clothes and rent. And herein lies the story of a hero, my hero, my best friend, my Mom. She was determined to keep our little family together. Yet all around us neighbors in the same fix were giving up their kids either to adoption agencies or foster homes.

Back then, it was almost impossible to raise kids and cash at the same time. Back then, women were fair game for the factory owners, the only viable employers, what with killing hours, dangerous working conditions and pitiful pay.

But my Mom, like Joan of Arc, Annie Oakley and a little of Ma Barker and Bonnie without Clyde thrown in, decided to slam tradition and tie a feminist knot of security around her little brood. She took two jobs, worked night and day, thumbed her nose at convention and screamed to the world, “Hey, lookka me, I’m dancin’!”

This is my spin on stuff that I only heard about, but it’s remembering our interaction, the experiences we shared, her capers and her marvelous stories that give me the greatest rush.

My Mom had a great sense of style and loved clothes. She had a flair for the dramatic and with a few stitches and tucks was able to transform a piece of burlap potato sacking into what could pass for a fine silk dress. She always looked like – well, maybe not a million bucks, but thousands, which in those depressed times was the equivalent.

One of her jobs was as salesgirl in an exclusive dress shop on the Upper East Side and she would tell us exciting stories about the fancy ladies and their escorts who frequented the salon. We would sit breathless and wide-eyed as she painted word pictures of the elegant and very expensive fashions these glamorous ladies chose and that were paid for by the gentlemen.

It wasn’t until we were older that she confessed that these glamorous ladies were high-class hookers who shopped up a storm on weekends with their boyfriends in tow and then came back on weekdays to return their loot for a cash refund. Boy, did we laugh!

Mom always told us that first impressions were based on appearance and so many of my memories are linked to clothes, visuals, images. My dresses were so highly starched that sitting down produced a sharp cracking sound that startled everyone within earshot and embarrassed me. My white shoes were so white they’d get lost in a snow bank and my black patent pumps were so shiny that looking down at them blinded me and so I got a stiff neck from keeping my head in an upright averted position.

When I started dating, Mom advised me on clothes choices. She bought me a lovely red suit to wear when I had my first date with a new boy in town. It was an extravagance, but worth it, she said. However, since I really didn’t need the suit, what if the boy didn’t show, if he “stood me up”?

Mom’s plan was simple; I was to dress, without removing any of the store tags and wait. If he was a no-show, the suit was to come off and returned to the store the next day. As long as I live I will never forget the sight of Mom standing near the door with a huge scissors in one hand, holding on to me, fully dressed in my new red suit, with the other.

We both stood, motionless, waiting. And then the doorbell rang. Mom shot into action, snipping away furiously at the store tags just like a migrant worker wielding a machete. We grinned at each other and I was on my way. When I got home Mom and Babe were sitting up in bed waiting for me. And, boy, did we laugh!

I wish I could write something spiritual, even religious about my Mom, but mostly I remember the laughter; her laughter, her smile, her funny stories and the great advice she gave me. She laughed when she told me about most parents holding themselves up as role models to their kids. “I was no bargain” she’d say to me, “You’re a better daughter than I was.”

As for advice on sex, she said, “Don’t be easy, loose, available, and not only because it’s bad, but more importantly because it’s not smart!” Her words were real, not preachy and for that reason acceptable. She told me about giving boys a different name, so that if they called out to her on the street, her parents wouldn’t know she was being hailed. Boy, did we laugh!

She told me of her first experience on the Ferris wheel, when reaching the top she got so excited she peed in her pants and the groundman, feeling the drops on his head, stopped the machinery thinking it had started to rain. Boy, did we laugh!

And the time, needing another set of dishes so she could observe the Passover holiday, she bought a load of Passover Macaroons wholesale to sell on the street and earn the required cash. But she got so hoarse from hawking the stuff, she lost her voice; the Macaroons turned so hard they could have been used as hockey pucks and were unsaleable, so losing money on the deal, she said the heck with Passover! Boy, did we laugh!

My Mom had lots of stories that made us laugh, she had lots of advice that kept us straight and she had lots of love that made us strong. The woman who inspired me.

You betcha! Bottom line? Boy, do I miss her! 'Nuff said.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How blessed to have such a mother who is still you giving love and laughter.

Your Mom was a real hoot, but was also one smart gal. Her advice was so good I wish I had known about it when I had that talk with my daughter.

It's obvious that you loved and admired your mother completely and who could blame you? She was a very wise and courageous woman. To keep her sense of humor under what has to have been the most difficult of circumstances is remarkable.

So here's to a hard working, smart and funny woman; your Mom.

What a wise mother indeed and what a wonderful example to her daughter.

Loved your story. It was so vital and full of good sense. I loved the bond between you and your mother - I could feel it.

"Back then, women were fair game for the factory owners, the only viable employers, what with killing hours, dangerous working conditions and pitiful pay."

Sounds like you're writing about the 40's and not the 60's, which offered lots of opportunities for women. Think your Mom might have coloured her stories just a little!

Loved this story. And knowing you mom, she was really something. You did her proud

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