Thanks, Mom, For Showing Me How It's Done
With little understanding of how inspiring she's been to me and many others, she retired 13 years ago as secretary of the company where she spent her entire career. It meant a lot to her the day she got her first-ever business card (in her 60s) with that status of officer. She wants it in her obituary.
Two New York City companies wooed my mother with jobs during her senior year of high school.
A speedy, accurate typist and taker of shorthand, she got offers from McGraw-Hill, the midtown publishing company, and family-owned Julius Blum & Co., a specialty architectural metals firm based in Chelsea near the Empire Diner.
My mother chose Blum's and became secretary to the president because the company planned to relocate in suburban New Jersey, a mile from her home. The cheerleading captain already planned to marry the high school football star, and to have a family one day.
Both my parents were (and remain) highly practical and motivated to make money. My mother's life wasn't easy. Her father, an import/export executive whose real passion was music, died when she was 10. While the family was able to keep its home, money was always tight, and my Nana was not happy about being forced to work while raising two daughters on her own.
My mother can still remember what it felt like not to have the dress for the dance that she yearned for and wearing shoes with soles worn through. She was determined to provide for herself and her family and still delights in sending me home with laundry detergent or other household staples she's purchased "for nothing" on sale.
My parents figured out a child-care system that allowed both to work long before it was fashionable.
When I was born my mother took time off, although I don't remember this. My sister arrived 3-1/2 years later, and my mother returned to the office shortly thereafter. She became the company's biller, working from 9 – 2:30 and was so fast she could finish a full-time job on a part-time schedule.
She'd come home and my father would then head to work on the 3 - 11 shift. Until I was in the 8th grade, it was a girls' club at night. My mother taught us that breakfast food for dinner was an extra special treat. We'd watch Peyton Place on TV and she wrote to me with plot summaries so I wouldn't lose track while at summer camp.
For many years she was actively involved in local politics and became a Democratic committee woman for our neighborhood. One of my favorite memories is of going to the local polling place to watch the votes come in district by district every Election Night.
The people who worked at Blum's were our extended family and my mother continues to socialize and have lunch now and then with some former co-workers who are even younger than me.
She liked to brag about how good she had it, and she did. Among the last to get one of the full company pensions, she also enjoyed hefty December bonuses that grew each year and shared them gratefully at Christmas with a family that eventually added three grandchildren.
Like many women of her generation, my mom still gets her hair done every Thursday at the hairdresser she's patronized since before I was born. There's not a gray hair to be found on her 78-year-old head.
Wherever we go, she's a live wire and usually has the most energy in the room.
My ex-boyfriends passing through town always made a point to drop in to visit her. At her retirement party, she took the mic and said the best part of working at Julius Blum in the 1950s and '60s was that there were men!
Quick and impatient, she can dance up a storm and swear like a sailor. More than one of her football star grandson's game tapes features a voice loudly expressing an opinion of the officiating. Yes, it is hers.
My mom doesn't think of herself as a cook, yet my childhood next-door neighbors always preferred her spaghetti and meatballs to that of their Italian immigrant grandmother. She makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches and always stocks ice cream in the freezer.
Janet Petersen understood her business and was proud of her job.
She loved to call out the Julius Blum product when she spied it on a corporate stairwell or a New Orleans balcony. It's been my pleasure to show her glimpses of a world that could have been hers, but she chose one sticking closer to home.
It was my mom who gave me a copy of the classic poem "Don't Quit," which I kept on my bulletin board and referred to many times over the years when facing any seemingly unsurmountable challenge.
Thanks, Mom, for demonstrating how to show up every day and make the best of things even when life throws you repeated curve balls. The solid and steady foundation you gave me, made it possible for me to become who I am today. Love you.
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