The Shop and The Court by
100
(119 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

My mother always worked.  Not because she had to, but because she loved to.  Indeed, at the time of her death at age 81, she was still running her own museum-style gift shop, Natural Choice, which I have written of previously.  Here is one of my mother’s postcard ads from Natural Choice (I come by my use of doggerel naturally):


Notwithstanding Natural Choice, and apropos of this prompt, I will write a bit about my mother’s two “stay-at-home” jobs.

The first was running her own women’s clothing shop, which was called “The Clothesline.”  She had been a women’s sportswear buyer at Macy’s during WW II and had loved it.  She used to tell stories about Macy’s first  “Million Dollar Day” and “The Day They Shoplifted a Grand Piano Off the Floor.”  So, when she and my father moved into the large farmhouse that I grew up in the countryside outside of New Haven, she wanted to keep working, ideally in women’s “retail.”  Undoubtedly due to having two young kids and only one car, rather than opening a shop in New Haven, she had the chicken coop next to the barn converted into an upscale women’s clothing store.  Though, as noted, she cutely named it “The Clothesline,” we just referred to it as “The Shop” at home.  (After all, could there be any other?)

The Shop actually did quite well, primarily via word of mouth through my parents connections in the Yale and New Haven medical communities.  Most women visited The Shop by appointment — especially since we lived out in the boonies and there was only one small sign next to our barn driveway noting its existence — but walk-ins were always welcome if they somehow happened upon the place.  My brother and I were quite young then, but my mother was comfortable leaving us in the house (we usually had a maid) when she had customers and she would simply announce to us that she was going out to The Shop.  But, with one limitation, we were always welcome to come out there if we wanted to visit and promised to behave ourselves.  Indeed, I think my mother, always a savvy marketer, thought it helped sales if her customers saw that she not only ran The Shop, but also had a couple of adorable and un-neglected little boys who needed to be fed.  The one limitation was that we had to stay away from the little dressing room when customers were there, for obvious reasons.  So, of course, sneaking into it when The Shop was empty became disproportionately important.  I’m sure Freud could have a field day with that.

So The Shop allowed my mother to happily work at a “real” job and yet still be at home with her kids.  I remember it well, inside and out, but, sadly, I could find no pictures of it. The best I could do was to locate the featured image, an ad that my mother had run in the local newspaper around 1955 and which serendipitously showed up in a post of a Facebook group I belong to for Baby Boomers who grew up around New Haven. (I am happy to note that, even back then, my mother sent out a politically correct “holiday” greeting.)

As much as I enjoyed being in The Shop with my mother and her customers  — and sneaking into the dressing room when they were not there — my fondest memories of it are probably from when my mother would occasionally take me into New York with her when she would visit her buyers in the Garment District.  Many of them were old colleagues of hers from their days together at Macy’s.  Amazingly, I actually have a picture of many of them from one of their “holiday” parties (my mother is in the back in the middle, wearing what would appear to be a very large flying saucer on her head):

 

Not only did I love the train ride to and from New York — often with a meal or snack in the dining car — but, while my mother was going through the merchandise and haggling over the prices, the buyers would set me up in a room with crayons and a coloring book and dote on me as they dropped in to see how I was doing.  Sweet.

My mother’s only other “at home” job was, while she was doing some “real” job during the week away from home, giving tennis lessons to kids on our tennis court, a/k/a “The Court.”  She was a very good tennis player, but an even better teacher, and she loved doing this; I think it brought out the pedagogue in her.  Unfortunately, as with The Shop, as much as I loved and remember The Court  — and, as noted in a previous Retro story, scattered my mother’s ashes over it — I have virtually no pictures of it.  So I again attach the picture my best friend Ben sent me recently of him being on The Court with his dad:

 

Unlike with The Shop, where my mother welcomed me there while she worked, I was not permitted near The Court when she gave lessons.  The reason was that she did not want me to make the other kids nervous.  And this was a sensible rule   I never wanted other kids around when I was getting lessons, and my daughters were the same way years later.

Ironically, my mother’s “no watch” rule meant that I barely met a cute little girl my own age to whom she gave lessons for a while. The little girl was one of my mother’s few teaching failures, as she was more interested in skiing and not crazy about the whole idea of running around and sweating on a hot day.  I did, however, get to know her better when we went to junior high and high school together a few years later.  And I am now joyously married to her.

My wife and I sometimes joke that it was a good thing my mother had the “no watch” rule or I would have seen what a terrible tennis player she was and never been interested in her. But I still love the idea that I first met her at The Court.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is a lovely story, John. Clearly, your mother was meant to do what she did. She loved the retail industry after working at Macy’s and nothing was going to keep her from that. It was ingenious to set herself up in the outbuilding on your property and I bet the other women who lived relatively far from Manhattan appreciated the opportunity to get fine clothing without schlepping into the city!

    Your description of going into the city on her buyer’s excursions, as told from a child’s perspective, sounds delightful. Of course the women doted on you! I have no doubt they were just as much fun as you describe. And I love the photo you’ve provided, “flying saucer” hat and all. Those were the days!

    You have mentioned the tennis lessons before, and how she kept you and your brother off the court (OR ELSE!), but how funny that Kathie was one of her less successful projects. It all worked out in the end and the universe restored you to your rightful places beside each other, eventually!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks for all the kind words, Betsy. And you really highlight one of the things I most love about Retro” uncovering happy memories of things I’d not thought about for years. And then, of course, sharing them. Though I would love to be able to talk to my mother about that hat and ask her “What were you thinking?”

  2. Wonderful John and a great happy ending!

    Of course your title prepared me for a court of law, but already knowing a bit about your wonderful, versatile mom, I wasnt surprised to learn it was a tennis court.

    As a boomer with a better long, rather than short term memory, I’m not sure if you answered my Connecticut question – did you know my now- retired-lawyer, New Haven-bred friend Fred Gordon?

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I love these stories, John. The Shop reminded me of my father’s mother, who ran a candy/newspaper shop when he was young. They lived above it and had no one to watch the kids when she was busy. She told them to go out to play on the streets of Detroit, where my father promptly lost his baby sister. While you don’t have actual photos, you paint a beautiful picture of a mother who worked from home while also doing a great job raising her boys.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Fortunaterly, we were always safely supervised. Though my contrarian brother will still semi-humorously question how well my mother raised him — and putting most of the blame on himself, not her.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    The descriptions of your mother exude good energy and enthusiasm for life. How fortunate! You have some good memories.

  5. Suzy says:

    I love this story, John! I was lucky enough to meet your mother a few times, but I had no idea about her connection to the garment industry. How fun that she had her own little shop in the chicken coop next to the barn! I bet all the fashionable New Haven ladies were very appreciative! And how fabulous that you got to go into NY with her to visit her buyers. The photo with all the women wearing hats is just a classic!

    Of course the story of your mother giving tennis lessons and Kathie being her worst student is also wonderful. How perfect that you first met her at The Court, but didn’t get to see what a terrible tennis player she was.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Suzy. And yes, she loved her connection to the “rag trade,” as NYers used to call it. But, as I’ve noted earlier, for all her fashion sense, I would have loved to ask her about that hat.

      And, while I never watched Kathie play back then, my mother did indicate to me (off The Court, of course), in so many words, that Kathie was not exactly one of my mother’s more “promising” students. I got the cue.

  6. What a charmed childhood you had, John…the stuff of storybooks…complete with the (eventual) happily ever after!

    I love (and relate to) your mother’s entrepreneurial spirit! Sounds like for her, it might have been as much about enjoying enterprise and the society of others as anything else.

  7. A great New York (and environs) tale replete with buyers from Macy’s, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford line, and a clothing shop in a chicken coop! Great story and tribute to a terrific-sounding woman and mother. The hat is instantly recognizable from your description and those women looked serious — one had to be, to thrive in a man’s world. Altho I had a kid’s book as a child that was about a man who made women’s clothing — an attempt at breaking the gender role barrier, I’m sure. Re: that same fascinating pic… what do you suppose the rest of the phrase including Al Jolson was all about???

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Charle, including remembering the then-name of the train line we took into Grand Central (though occasionally we took the Pennsylvania RR into Penn Station). And, in fact, I was just telling my wife today how almost all of the buyers were women back then — a testament both to the fact of how smart and savvy they were and the fact that there was a war going on.

      And our great minds are also thinking alike about that Al Jolson sign. I’ve also wondered a lot what the rest of the phrase was, but have no idea.

  8. Marian says:

    Fabulous story, John, and your mom in the “schmata” trade, no less. I love the idea that she took advantage of where she was and opened her store. And it made me smile to read about Kathie being a less than terrific tennis player. It all worked out beautifully.

Leave a Reply