Growing up in the 1950s was a far different experience than that of children today. We knew every family on our block, the names and ages of their kids and the names of the family pets. We knew what the fathers of the families did for a living, what time they left for work and what time they returned home. Neighbors socialized and helped each other. During school vacations there were few organized activities. Instead, the neighborhood kids played together—outside—until our parents called us in at dark. Life was organized and predictable.
It was rare in those days for women to work outside the home. My mother was one of only a handful that fell into that category. She and my father owned a small business and routinely worked long hours and for many years the store was also open on Saturdays. I didn’t like coming home from school to an empty house and sometimes felt jealous of the kids whose mothers were there to greet them. I spent so much time at the home of my best friend who lived down the street that her parents probably considered claiming me as a dependent on their income tax return.
My parents both came of age in the depression and both had a great deal of responsibility placed upon them when they were young. My father left home when he was only 16 and he was not only self-supporting, he helped provide for his parents. My mother’s father died when he was very young so she and her two brothers went to work to contribute to household expenses. Mother and Dad didn’t know how to do anything but work hard.
While I often wished Mother could chaperone field trips or attend school events like the other mothers, she did her best to meet all the demands placed upon her and sometimes went beyond the call of duty. In the fourth grade, I arrived at school only to remember too late that it was Valentine’s Day. All the other kids would exchange Valentines at the appointed time and I was mortified to be empty handed. Frantic, I called Mother at work and tearfully explained my dilemma. She left work, purchased Valentines, addressed them to every member of my class and delivered them to me in the nick of time. I will forever be grateful to her for saving me from the soul-searing embarrassment I was facing.
Mother continued to work in the business she co-founded until she was almost 80 although by then she had passed on most of her responsibilities to others. Not until I began my own working life did I appreciate how difficult some of the choices she was forced to make must have been for her. She wasn’t always able to be there but she was always there when it counted--and that's what counts.
As a fellow 'latch-key' kid I can appreciate your thoughts and I too grew to understand the sacrifice my mother made and wish she was still around for me to thank.