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.