Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I'm going to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts!

Greetings from the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke

I'll be heading for the VCCA in a couple of days. Meanwhile I'm visiting fabulous old friends and getting shown the sites in Salem and Roanoke. 

The Taubman Museum is a gorgeous place, designed by Randall Stout, who worked for Frank Gehry.

The VCCA is its own kind of gorgeous. I think at least half of my published stories were drafted there during prior residencies. 
I'm thrilled to be going back.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Drinking with the Saints

We put my mother's ashes in the ground in my hometown in Iowa today. There's something indelibly shocking about seeing both of your parents' names on tombstones.

My brother suggested I read something so I revised a past post that was the product of many dinner conversations with my mom during the years that she lived with me.

My mother’s education only went as far as the 8th grade, and then she went to work. But even before that first paycheck, she remembered get paid a nickel to pick the bugs off the neighbor’s potatoes. She began her first full-time job at the age of fourteen, living with a doctor, his wife, and their newborn. Never leave the mother alone with the baby, she was cautioned. In the middle of one night, my mother awoke to a commotion, and was told that the mother had tried to kill the baby even though the husband had been right there with her. In the morning, the wife was packed off to an asylum, the baby went to live with relatives, and my mother found herself out of a job. 

After that she and her twin sister Millie worked in the cafeteria at Loras College. She remembered how she put the cherry just so in the center of the grapefruit halves for the priests.

Then they were waitresses in Dubuque, Iowa at Diamond’s Bar and Grill and at the Triangle CafĂ©. There were no tips in those days. Except from one guy who always tipped a quarter. The waitresses would trip over each other trying to get to him.

There was a stint at 
Betty Jane Candies, hand-dipping chocolates. Eat as much as you want, she said her boss told her. The eating with abandon only lasted a day or two.

And she sold cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia at Stampfers, a fancy department store in downtown Dubuque.

Then she worked in a club across the river in East Dubuque as a dice girl in the game "twenty-six." Millie spun the roulette wheel. One night their parents walked in, surprised to see their daughters there. My mom told me she and her sister were just as surprised to see their parents.

Millie went out to Baltimore first. They had a girlfriend who could help them get good paying jobs at Glenn L. Martin, a company going full throttle in the manufacture of aircraft for World War II. Mom borrowed money from a friend to send Millie out first in the spring of ’43 and then they both worked to save money, and my mom joined her sister in the fall. Millie was a riveter, and my mom worked for Glenn L. Martin as a file clerk.

Then came the jobs that I envy. If I could go back in time and be my mother for a couple of months, I'd be a hatcheck girl at the Chanticleer, the Band Box, or the Club Charles. I'd live in Baltimore and hear every fabulous band and collect all the autographed headshots of the stars. I'd be the photo girl snapping souvenir pictures, remembering to ask first if the gentleman and his date would like a photo--because you never know, the gorgeous gal on his arm might not be his wife. 

A couple of things happened next. I'm not sure in what order. My mother had a boyfriend, a grocer, who was shot and killed one night when he went back to check on his store. And her sister got married to a guy who didn't especially like her. She went back home.

After my mother returned to Iowa, she worked as a hostess at a bar called The Circle where the bartender introduced her to a snazzy older man with blue eyes so beautiful, you could dive in and never want to come back up. They eloped. 

My father didn't want my mom to work--though she worked in his grocery store for a couple of years until he sold it. But there was a home cooked supper every night, baking to satisfy my father's insatiable sweet tooth, making delicious jams and jellies, canning, filling our back porch with crocks of pickles, and sewing our clothes.

After my father died and she was swindled out of his life insurance, she went back to work. She was 51 years old, had an 8th-grade education, and had been out of the workforce for almost 20 years. She made parts for machinery. She made plastic buckets, getting paid minimum wage. She worked at a factory that had something to do with fabric, and one year there was a small fire and she came home with bolts of salvaged flannel. Nightgowns for everyone! Her big break came after she heard about a union job at the John Deere plant. She drove a fork truck there and worked on the assembly line doing whatever job they asked her to for more than 9 years--until she was laid off just a month or so before she would have qualified for a pension.

Then she took care of an old woman, keeping her company and preparing her food. She worked in a bakery in a town so far away that her wages barely kept pace with the cost of her gas. There was another minimum wage factory job or two. 

When Millie’s husband died, my mother moved back to Baltimore where she worked for the City of Baltimore as a custodian cleaning office buildings.

Now she’s rolling the dice for the angels and making martinis for the saints.

It's a long and winding road. And we are all on the same path.