Like many parents of the baby-boomer generation, Mom was a Great Depression baby and that early experience of poverty and deprivation, and the shame her family felt (through no fault of their own) in having to receive basic necessities such as milk and eggs "on the dole", and hunting for coal along the railroad tracks and putting the precious chunks of fuel into a wagon to drag back home, influenced her outlook greatly during subsequent years when she and Dad were raising a family that was increasing every 13 months or so!
|Me, Mom and Dad, in 1951.|
From the time they were married and during the time she was pregnant with each of us, Mom worked full-time, as did Dad, to support our family. If there was every any question about that, we didn't know of it. Work was what one did when one was an adult. I don't know exactly how it happened, but from the earliest times I remember Mom worked at a dry cleaners. I remember visiting her a few times at a local dry cleaning shop where she worked at a huge steam press in the back room for eight hours a day, constantly on her feet, a room filled with chemicals and steam. I believe her specialty at that particular dry cleaners was men's suits pants and starching and pressing men's white dress shirts. She worked throughout each of her six pregnancies, up to the time she went to the hospital to deliver each of us. And then she would go back to work five days later. Back then, a woman was able to stay in hospital with baby for a full five days - you weren't kicked out after half a day like it is these days. Back then, it was the only vacation some women, including Mom for many years, ever got. And you had nurses taking care of you and meals served to you in bed. Luxury! What do we have now? Pffft...
We were poor but as kids we didn't know we were poor. We always had clothes, although a lot of them were hand-me-downs from older cousins, and we got one new pair of shoes a year. Often it was "ouch" time as feet grew, and the old "lining the shoe with cardboard" thing was done, too. Millions of other families lived exactly the same as we did, and we were surrounded by families who lived the same as we did. So, we didn't know we were supposed to think of ourselves as "badly off." We always had food on the table, I do not recall ever going hungry although I grew to loathe "boiled dinner," and there were the occasional treats and special birthday and Christmas presents. Our material possessions were few compared to today's standards, but we were loved and protected. Gosh, what filthy little creatures we were. We would play outside hard, all day long and into the evenings during the summers, and come home black with dirt! Always reluctantly. I remember the neighborhood being filled with the loud calls of various mothers yelling from porches and doorways for their kids to come home. We always did so, but usually slowly. There wasn't a worry back in those days about child molesters or being snatched from the streets even when it was dark outside, although I'm sure those things did happen. But it wasn't like today, where we live under a veil of fear.
If we were old enough, we washed ourselves but Mom always checked and would usually take the wash cloth to us for a once-over for good measure. Otherwise, she would scrub us up in a flash - and I do mean scrubbed! We were none the worse for it and would go to bed clean, fed, and TIRED! Not one of us was suffering obesity like the kids of today's generation!
Back in the 50's and 60's when we were growing up, the network of extended family was much more intact than it is now. Family helped family. Whatever was needed, the family would make sure it was provided. I find it sad that we, as a culture, seem to have drifted so far away from that closeness and unity we once had.
It was only later on, when Mom and Dad both got jobs with the county, that their pay improved and there were secure benefits like health and life insurance, actual days they could take off for PAID vacation, and paid sick days. Imagine being able to stay at home when sick, and be paid for it, and not have to worry about losing one's job.
Mom and Dad worked hard and saved, and in about 1966 or 1967, fifteen years after they'd married, they bought their very first house -- a big old duplex on the corner of an old south side neighborhood. It had three bedrooms and one bath with an old-fashioned deep claw-foot tub. It was a dream come true. Fitting eight people into a three bedroom flat -- well, we did it, and we all shared that one bath, too. On a schedule. LOL!
A pap test in the early '70's revealed that mom might have cervical cancer and, back then, doctors didn't give women any options. My Mom had a total hysterectomy, when she was about 45. Her primary care physician never put Mom on hormones or calcium supplements afterward. Today, that would be a malpractice suit. Back then, we didn't know about such things. That was before the internet and it was not easy to find out information -- not that we would have dreamed of doing so. What the doctor said was like the Word of God. You just obeyed and didn't ask questions.
One day, about eight years after her hysterectomy, Mom tripped when getting out of a car, fell, and ended up with a broken hip! So tough she was, she just thought she'd bruised some muscles and that was why her hip hurt so much and it was so hard to walk. It wasn't until two days later that one of my brothers-in-law refused to take NO for an answer, literally picked her up, carried her downstairs to his car (Mom and Dad lived in the upper flat of that big old duplex at the time), and drove her to an emergency room. She was x-rayed. Yep, broken hip. Her bones had turned brittle and fragile long before she should have had to worry about any such thing happening. That was due to lack of calcium supplements and the abrupt cut-off of female hormones long before it would have happened otherwise, due to her over-eager male doctor who didn't give a poop about what would happen to her as a woman after yanking out all of her female organs.
|Mom and Dad at Jeffrey and Heidi's wedding, July 14, 1984.|
In 1987, Mom and Dad sold the duplex and bought a cute and cozy brick home. It only had one bathroom, but there was a "half bath" in the basement and that bone-dry basement could have been turned into a nice rec room; but by that time all of us except for one brother had long been out of the nest. So my brother had the "suite" upstairs (a large bedroom and separate roomy area around the stairwell that in a modern home would be a loft), Mom and Dad took the larger bedroom on the main floor for themselves, and my Dad created a man cave in the smaller bedroom. It is still Dad's room, although he passed away in 2002.
I think Mom will probably live to be at least 100. She seems to shrink a little bit every year - now she's shorter than I am and I was never anywhere near her one time elegant height of 5'7"! She is constantly on a diet and hates her figure -- like many of us in our post-menopausal years she has lost her waist line and that bothers her, and the cellulite -- the curse of many a woman! She persists in having frizzy perms put in her hair. In fact, I talked to her today and she had her hair cut and permed again, after having gone nearly a year growing her hair out. Why, or why, Mom? It sounds like she got something like a Mohawk style this time. EEK! Mom, what the hell are you doing, Girl? But no one can tell Mom what to do. Not even Dad, when he was alive.
Over the year, Mom's eyesight had gotten progressively worse, and in some photographs she looks like she has owl eyes peering out through the intense magnification of her glasses. One day, she just got sick of those damn glasses and went right out and scheduled lazer eye surgery. Zap, zap, she had both eyes done and now sees MUCH better than I do. She's a hell of a lot braver than me, that's for sure!
So, Mom, this is my tribute to you. We owe you so much - everything, actually. You gave us life, and so much more. You taught all of us to be proud of working hard and to never be ashamed of who we are, where we come from, or what we do for a living. You taught all of us to be self-sufficient and how to do things for ourselves from an early age. You taught us pride, but also how to accept "charity" and help from family when needed - and how to give it back, as well. You made sure we all (including the boys) knew how to do basic cooking, how to do our own laundry, how to iron our own clothes, how to shop, how to clean house, and how to manage a budget - in short, how to take care of ourselves while living on our own, and do it well. You taught us by by showing us, figuratively and literally. And you didn't spare the rod, Mom, when it was needed. Gosh, we were awful children to raise! Always getting into mischief, well, except for Debbie. She was always the sweetest, the good child. Yeah, compared to how kids are raised these days, you expected much from us - and put a lot on us, too - from an early age. You didn't spare the "rod" when needed, either. and we needed it - a lot! Today it would be called child abuse but you know what, we learned and learned well, and we needed to learn discipline. That seems to be something sadly lacking in many youngsters these days. We all lived up to the challenges that were part of our family life, and we have thrived. You didn't raise any sissies or wimps, Mom.
We have all done well. Your grandchildren have done well, too. There are great-grandchildren who make you proud -- they are so bright and beautiful, they are like shining stars, and full of promise. Even though it seems sometimes that the world is going to Hell, when I see our family's young ones, I feel hope for our future. The world can't possibly go to Hell when it has such wonderful young people in it. They are your legacy, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. We love you.