Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Mother's Business

My Mother’s Business

My mother grew up during the Great Depression. Her family was poor before the depression but truly destitute during the years just before the war. She left school after the eighth grade to work wherever she could find work. During World War II she worked in a shipyard as a welder and always said it was the best job she ever had. She ate in the shipyard cafeteria the best food she had ever eaten and had any needed medical attention. She met my father who was a merchant seaman; they married right after the war and I was born in 1947. During the 1950’s it was the norm for married women to be homemakers and not work outside the home. Even though my father earned a good living as a seaman, the years of poverty had left her wanting to be able to bring in her own income. She decided that she could become a beautician and open her own shop. No one in the family supported her aspiration. She was told that she couldn’t do it and that it would never be profitable and to forget about it. My father’s work often took him to ports on the other side of the world and he would be gone for 3-4 months at a time. So while he was gone, she enrolled in beauty school and by the time he came back, she was a licensed beautician. He decided to humor her and built a small addition to our house where she opened her little shop. While doing the practical hours of beauty school, she concentrated on those women who were older and worked outside their homes too. The little shop was successful and profitable from the very beginning because many of her beauty school clients came with her to her new business. I grew up with a steady stream of regular customers in my mother’s shop who were more like extended family than customers. You could tell which day of the week it was by who was sitting under the hairdryer—If it was Mrs. McCleese, it was Wednesday, no doubt about it. I asked her once why she was so determined to have her own business. She told me that my Grandmother had kept the family from starvation by starting her own business sewing men’s shirts in the logging camps of East Texas. I think my father was surprised at just how profitable the business was and was rather proud of her. About 10 years after she opened the shop, my father had a stroke and was unable to work for the rest of his life. That little shop in the back of the house made all the difference in the world in how they were able to live their lives comfortably. I was very fortunate to have a mother who was determined to have her own business.

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