Once upon a time there was a little girl who was the youngest of six children. She was much younger — her elder sisters were already grown and on their own by the time she was born. She would tell you that she was the runt of the litter. Seems this last child used up whatever resources her mother’s body had left, and her mother passed away in her mid-forties when the little girl was only four. But this little girl never felt lonely as her sisters and their families lived close by and she still had her father and her brother. When she wasn’t in school the little girl helped her father in his shop where he sold butter and eggs. In the summer she spent hot days at the beach with her Aunt, who was a very strong swimmer and a Communist. The whole neighborhood looked after this motherless child, too. Once she was picked to greet the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, when she came to her Brooklyn elementary school. She would confess that she loved the attention. (She couldn’t speak for Mrs. Roosevelt.)
The little girl grew up and helped take care of her sisters’ children, and when the time came she made her way into the wider world and accomplished more than a few wonderful things. As a teenager she delivered a neighbor’s baby in the middle of the night when nobody else was brave enough to help. She got a job in New York City selling cameras and film. She waited on professional photographers and filmmakers, and became quite knowledgeable about how to develop pictures. She had a keen eye for composition herself and won a contest with a picture she took with a “little camera,” because, well, a woman would never be able to understand a “real professional camera.” She worked as a bookkeeper in a fancy New York hotel and dated quite a few dashing men. She was even a hand model for a nail polish print ad.
But she did eventually settle down with a handsome fellow she would describe lovingly as “a slob with no ambition.” But that was just his scam to get her to take care of him, because he was a smart and funny man who was color-blind, but he was a helluva dancer. So this happy couple began their own wonderful life together in a little apartment that was full of friends every weekend.
More time passed and they had a family of their own and our protagonist threw herself into being a wife, mother and home-maker, and she was a success by every measure in those jobs. In spite of themselves her boys were fed, clean and happy. There was a lot of laughter in her house, and even when she got sick, she stayed strong for her family. She had breast cancer and talked openly about it long before people wore pink ribbons and ran races for it. She was also a proud supporter of Planned Parenthood.
And when her sons were grown and had families of their own she became both a diplomat and cheerleader for their wives. She opened her house, her arms and her mind to the ways of their world and listened to their stories. She was proud of the young women who came into her life and encouraged them to bigger things, too. Little by little she told them wonderful stories of the way she experienced the world, and in that way both generations discovered they had a lot more in common than the love of her sons.
It has been two years since she passed, and it just isn’t enough to remember my mother-in-law as just a mother and grandmother. Women of her generation had wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) experiences that just weren’t deemed as interesting as a man’s. But they did move about in the “man’s world” with humor and grace. Truly, she did everything a man did, just backwards and in high heels, with full make-up. So today, Bravo, Mom. May her memory be a blessing.