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Friday, November 08, 2013

A Story My Mother Told Me

My mother with her friends from art school. Mom is the second from the left in the photo.
Tomorrow would have been my mother's 92nd birthday. She was the best mom ever--and everyone in the family still misses her. She was quite a storyteller--just like the rest of her siblings. They didn't make up stories so much as they embellished them.

There were some stories about her young life my mother repeated over and over--many of them because they contained object lessons for me and my sisters. Eventually, my sisters and I called them "The Little Irene Stories." At one point, I made up a website and posted some of those tales, but I later took it down at Mom's request--though I printed out all the stories. :-)

So, in honor of my beautiful mother, I will share one of those stories, told just as Mom told it to me.

My First Job

In high school, I followed my sister, who probably was the smartest kid in school which meant that I was supposed to be a genius, too.

However, my brain was better at other things. Still, people expected too much from me. I was shocked when a teacher suggested that I run for class president.

I liked high school, particularly getting to act in plays. That was fun! But I was upset when they wouldn't let me play on the basketball team. Being chosen as the artist for the newspaper and as a teacher's aide helped ease the hurt, as did playing the violin in the orchestra.

The school was in a neighboring town and I had to walk three or four miles each way in all kinds of weather. My father didn't have a horse or buggy then or even a tractor.

The day after I graduated, I went to the coal mine company's general store in town, seeking a job. For the interview, I wore a little light blue plaid dress. Since I couldn't find a belt, I had to make-do with a piece of store string. I wore shoes without stockings.

The manager, who knew me and the rest of my family, hired me on the spot. I worked very hard in the store and was constantly busy. I knew everyone in town and their comings and goings.

My mother always wanted to know the latest gossip. In a little town, everyone knew instantly if someone stepped out of line. No secrets there.

Men swooned over me, probably because of my red hair, but there were bigger fish in the pond. I had places to go and things to see and do.

When I thought I had enough money, I  enrolled in art school in Pittsburgh. My sister Grace had gotten a job as a copy writer in the city, so we rented a room with kitchen privileges. We soon discovered that carfare and food plus rent was too much to handle on just one salary.

I found a job as an usher in a movie theater, even though I was underage. All went well until the day the manager told me I had lost a customer's umbrella in the hat check and had to pay for it. He said it cost $5, a huge amount at that time. I denied losing the umbrella and refused to pay for it.

He started to chase me around the room like a crazy man. His face seemed like it was on fire. I managed to get to the door and ran out of the theater.

My next job was babysitting two little boys in exchange for room and board. Unfortunately, the lady of the house thought her husband liked me too much. Somehow he learned that it was my birthday and presented me with beautiful black lacy sexy lingerie, which I refused.

I was surprised, but his wife was much more surprised. When she came  home, she wanted to know why I had not bathed one of the sons. I told her the boy was coughing and didn't feel well so I kept him warm and put him to bed.

She kept complaining, so I finally told her, "I'm leaving in the morning."

I didn't have any money for carfare home, but as I was leaving, the well-to-do husband gave me FIFTY CENTS for carfare. When I got to the art school, the other students heard of my plight and managed to collect enogh change so I could take the train home.

After that experience, I decided to live at home, commuting the 20 or so miles to Pittsburgh by bus, train, and shoe leather.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Mom.


Unknown said...

What a story! It shows determination to work hard and focusing on a goal. They had it hard in those days, but it showed the strong family support. Thank you for sharing. Ann Frommer

Unknown said...

Enjoyed the story, thanks for sharing. Ann Frommer

Penelope Marzec said...


Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. It was rough back in the "good old days."