Tuesday, January 10, 2012


A bit of fiction....

Dad was a Canadian, an RAF pilot; Mom, a 13 year old unwed American mother. I was her second child. Yes, her second child. 

Tom and Teri adopted me almost at birth. Years of trying and failing to have a child of their own had frayed their marriage at the seams.  When I appeared on the scene, the stress of raising an actual child finally cracked the marriage in half. Dad left when I was about three. It was Mommy and me for the rest of it.

When Dad left, he all but vanished and we saw little of him after that. Looking back, I can see that he had suffered some kind of mental collapse as he was unable to work again and his social skills rapidly deteriorated. We had nothing. It was 1949 and jobs for women had disappeared again. Rosie the Riveter was back at the stove and the returning veterans needed all the work that was. Any woman wanting to enter the workplace was "taking a job away from a veteran".  It was considered selfish, unpatriotic behavior. Women stayed home.

With few choices, Mom became an entrepreneur. First, she taught tap dancing. That helped keep us afloat for two years,  "Tap Dancing for fun and profit" was our bible.  Saturday mornings early, we'd roll up the rug and just before the students arrived, Mom would learn the steps. Ten kids would straggle in, put on their tap shoes and watch my Mom "Hop, shuffle, step"- one way across our living room and then back the other way. I can still do that dance. No Beau Jangles came of it, but by lesson 21 at the end of the book, both Mom and the kids could do a fair little shuffle. Parents were pleased as the kids learned way more from my Mom than the steps. She adored children and seemed to have a special second sense about them. I used to think it was those eyes in the back of her head she would warn me about. Tap dance lessons paid for the phone and bus rides, both considered extras. To put food on the table, she cleaned the local dentists office, dusting all the shelves and equipment on Sundays after church. Three days a week she was sales clerk in the big department store, working in the sweater department.

Mom listened to everybody, but was specially attentive to kids. She heard them in a special way. She sensed the hurts, insecurities, enthusiasm, fears that they couldn't articulate at that stage of life. She just somehow seemed to know.

"I think Maria would do much better if we put her at the end of the line. She's too tall for the center and it makes her off-balance." " I know Stevie hates the idea of dancing lessons so we have to think of some way to make this all fun for him."

Her every effort was thrown into giving the kids an opportunity to shine - each kid was taught as if he was having a private lesson. At her funeral, decades later, people came to me and remembered Mom as their dancing teacher, but so much more. While Mom was a roaring success at teaching kids about life and she worked hard at her jobs, we could barely live on the money she was earning.

Then we hit the jack pot. She went to work at Singer Sewing Machine Company. They needed someone to teach sewing to high school kids in the summer - basic sewing: cutting out a pattern, threading the needle, setting the tension on the machine, making a simple skirt. Mom's total sewing experience was acquired in her own junior high school home ec class where she successfully constructed an apron. It was in the big trunk in the attic along with her other prized possessions. The apron was almost in tatters when she finished her project. The seams had been ripped out and resewn so many times that the fabric looked like cheese cloth. The top sewing was visibly crooked. The ties were of two different lengths. No Coco Chanel, my Mom, but a simple lack of skill was not going to stop her. She could sell anything and talked them into giving her the job.

One day when she was taking care of the front of the store, a man came in with a blackened Singer. He was from the local race track where a fire had broken out in his trailer.  Mom chatted with him about his sewing machine and then about the track "Are you coming out this evening?", the man asked. Mom had never even thought of attending horse races. He said, "If you come, bet a wad on #5  Gilda's Dream in the seventh. Her times are great and I think she's ready to go on this race. I'm betting big and I can't afford to do that often".

All afternoon, Mom thought about the tip. #5 in the seventh. She picked up the paper and looked at the handicapping for all the horses. It was gibberish to her although only a few experts thought Gilda's Dream could win. Finally she made a decision.  At 5:30 instead of getting the bus home, she boarded the free bus headed out to the race track. She looked at the options and saw she could make a 2 dollar bet to win, place or show. She decided to take $20, everything she had in her purse and bet to win on #5. Gilda's Dream burst out of the starting gate and led all the way; Mom came home with a purse full of money. 15 -1, her pay off was $300. At Singer she was making $10 a week. Our rent was $20 a month. We were RICH.


  1. Are these stories that are going to be continued as I'm assuming?

  2. I don't know..I'm trying to find a voice. The "more" is very encouraging...and this kind of story telling seems sort of easy for me to write. I'll carry on. Thanks for being a cheering section.