My mother and I didn’t always get along. Perhaps you relate.
We treated silence as our great divider. Rather than engage in shouting matches or knock-down-drag-out fights, we moved about the small spaces of our home, around the others (Dad, brother and sister…my dog), in silence. My life growing up in the 1960s was uneventful at many levels. We lived in a small neighborhood just one or two streets over from the ‘suburbs’. In those days, the suburbs were still new. The concept of living in the suburbs, as opposed to the city, was attractive to many families. The city, with its noise, its tenement housing, its traffic, its very stuffiness as if there was barely enough air for you and your immediate family, made moving to the suburbs, where the air was soft and pure and lawns sparkled with dew every morning, something many folks hunkered after.
For us, in our little, tiny…did I say small?…home, just a bit over from one small and growing suburb, the city was still a distance off – farther away than the quaint little homes on long stretches of tree-lined streets of the nearest suburb – and not something we troubled ourselves with. I don’t think we ever considered relocating to the suburbs, as many of our neighbors were doing.
Rather, we basked in our little tree-lined street; in the corner grocery store, bursting with more goodness (penny candy anyone?) than one could image; in the Portuguese Club at the corner of Lincoln Ave, where my parents were fond of stopping for a brew, on any given Saturday night; in the quiet of weekend mornings. Given that most homes had a ‘new’ color TV where the kids lost themselves in cartoons until 9:00…weekends offered a certain peacefulness that gave grown-ups a chance to sit at the kitchen table in their pajamas and robes, drinking hot coffee, reading the morning paper. (in those days there were two papers – a morning edition and an evening edition – imagine that!)
If enjoying a morning with good coffee, newspaper in hand, nothing more to think about than the specials at the local grocery store, while children sprawled on carpets in living rooms, laughing at Bugs Bunny, wasn’t the epitome of the ‘good life’, we didn’t know it. As far as we knew, this kind of contentment was duplicated throughout the neighborhood, no…the city, itself. And, we were none the wiser. We children of the 60s.
My mother was not one to be content with the status quo. She ached for other things. Not expensive things. Not elaborate things. Not complications to her life, but something more. Something she could ‘own’… much the way she owned the house we lived in. My mother wanted to ‘be’ someone, something… more than a factory worker or housewife.
Because of this, my mother bought the corner grocery store one day, and my life changed forever.
The silences between us grew more complicated. Rather like a knitted scarf unraveling from the middle.
As I grew, I was expected to work in the store. For payment, I got all the penny candy I could eat. My friends envied me. As if penny candy was enough to stop the sickening feeling in my stomach, each and every time I had to work, alone, in that corner grocery store.
Understand that there was never a question about my working in the store. It was a foregone truth. I was the oldest, my mother needed a break now and then, and since my Dad had a regular job, the only one left to assist in the store was…me.
I was not a good shopkeeper. Not only did I tremble at the mere thought of math (no, cash registers did not tally up the total, back then; the person behind the counter had to add all those numbers and tell the shopper what he or she owed), I trembled at the thought of anyone entering the store and speaking to me! I was a tried and true introvert. My only solace in life was in sitting on our window seat at home, reading a book. To be mandated as a ‘worker’ in a public establishment, was a cruel punishment, indeed!
Needless to say, my mother and I got along less and less those years I ‘tended’ store for her.
She, perhaps, thought to toughen me up.
She, perhaps, thought I was fine, once the door shut behind her.
I was left alone in that cavernous place three times a week, after school, and it was a fine set up, for her (The store was, I think, about 500 square feet in total, but it felt like 5000 square feet to me!). I was the one sitting there for three hours, praying no one would come in, or, if anyone did, that all they would buy would be one or two items most… for small amounts that I could add up on my own. I do remember, most clearly, that many afternoons, few people did come in and I would take to the stoop out front, to sit in the sun and watch the kids across the way play ball in the street. I also remember, with a certain fondness now, these many years later, that the people who did come in were friendly, good neighbors who were happy to do the math for me (no, I never questioned them on their numbers, why would I?), older men and women who were eager to talk. We would chat and laugh and I would bag their purchases and they would be on their way.
I never knew then that my mother was an entrepreneur. I have never asked her why she trusted me with the store – surely she knew of my limited math abilities! I admit to hating those hours at the store so vehemently, they clouded my feelings about much else in my life, and the terror I felt at school those days, knowing I had to go home and ‘work’ in the store, kept me in a dark place where I refused to look beyond the shadows where clean, open windows offered me a view of bright sunshine and the sounds of birds chirping.
The store paid the bills at our little house. It provided for us. I learned more and more about that, after I left home.
While I never learned to like working in the store, and I did not improve my math skills, nor my people skills, until many, many years later, I recognized the obligation – that I was the oldest and it was my job to spell my mother, until my brother became old enough. And so, I trudged there three afternoons a week, with a scowl on my face. It hasn’t been until most recently that I realize how much I learned there…and I understand how what I learned influences who I am today.
We are what we think. I’ve said that before. Back then, I thought I was put upon and that I had to get through one more day, because in one more day, change would come. When change did not come, I persevered…I kept keeping on, as they say. But I resented every minute of it.
Today, I embrace that I’m a powerful woman, in charge of my own life. I think I am one of many women of wisdom, otherwise known as #womenofwisdom, and I know, without a doubt, that this wisdom I posses came from my mother pushing me to be more than I thought I could be.
My mother the entrepreneur – a #womanofwisdom and someone I wish I knew better. And just to be clear, my Mom is healthy and living well in Binghamton, NY. She’s near family there, but not near me. I’m in Colorado.