My mother had a difficult job, as did most women of that era. She was expected to do the shopping, make meals, clean the house, and raise the kids, making sure were bathed, clothed, did our homework and were properly disciplined. She was the one who attended PTA meetings and took us to the doctor.
Dad’s job was to bring home the paycheck. Yes, he worked his rear end off, often leaving before sunup and returning home after my sister and I were in bed. When we did see him, he would be in his chair in the living room, exhausted, while Mom continued to work.
I don’t mean to imply that Dad was an absentee father–he did his share of raising us kids–but it was Mom who was the dominant physical and moral presence.
When Linda and I were older, she took on a full-time job to help save for our college, spending her lunch hours managing the books at Dad’s business.
She could have done so much more with her life. She was smart, well-read, a graceful writer, expressed primarily in long letters she wrote to friends, a talented cook and seamstress. She was also a flaming red-headed beauty, with a temper to match. My sister and I both think that she was probably frustrated by the limitations imposed on her both by the societal expectations of the day and by our our limited economic resources.
I don’t think she ever got over leaving a much more cosmopolitan life in Ohio, where she grew up, for the more conservative and less sophisticated world of Waco, Texas. Linda and I used to imagine her living a bohemian existence in Greenwich Village, communing with artists and poets instead of playing mah-jong with the ladies.
But she made the most of her situation. I never heard her complain. She made friends easily, both in Waco and anywhere else she had been, and kept them her entire life. She loved my father passionately and did her best by her children.
She was imaginative and inventive. She had a way of making the simplest things fun. Holidays were always an excuse for her to tap her creative energy. Somehow, we always got gifts every day of Hanukkah, even when money was scarce. What she couldn’t buy, she made. She was much in demand at the synagogue for her baking skills and her ability to decorate the otherwise drab social hall for special events. The Halloween costumes she conjured out of scraps of cloth and cardboard and tinfoil were genuine works of art.
When I showed a small talent as an artist, she encouraged me in every way she could, with lessons and whatever art supplies we could afford. I was never short of paper to draw on.
She died much too young, of cancer in 1982. She lived long enough to know and love my wife, but was denied the pleasure of being a grandmother, a job I think she would have heartily embraced. My children are much the poorer for not having her in their lives.
I hope that I’m able, within the limitations of these little Sleeper Ave. stories, to keep her memory alive, to give her her due, to give my children at least a glimpse of what they’ve missed.
On this Mother’s Day, here’s to you, Mom. Thank you for everything.