When I was a boy we saw our mother in her kitchen when we got up in the morning. She made our breakfast every single day that I lived in that home. Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal or; in the summer, dry cereal. You could have “roundies,” or “poppers” in your bowl. Names supplied by my little brother Cayce when he was in the first stages of talking. Every family has quirky names for objects and people that are supplied, usually by the young. My father’s parents were called Mamoo and Poopoo and of course, as the oldest child, these had been the first names I was to call them. My first lesson in unconditional love came with those names. My grandfather Jack was proud to be called “Poops” all the rest of his life and he didn’t care in the least who knew it. Even his friends and acquaintances learned to call him “Poops.” He was never in the least embarresed. He was a proud of his children and grandchildren and they could do no wrong.
When we left for school, my mom was there. When we came home, running up the driveway and into the kitchen, she was there. When I was in Grammar school she didn’t work out of the home, she worked in the home as did most of the mothers I knew. That was who she was. She could make wonderful pies, great cakes and had meals on the table on time, every time. Lord knows how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she must have made. Her three boys always took a lunch to school. Seventeen years of school lunches five days a week. She taught me to knit crochet and sew. In the fifties she made most of her boys clothes. Mom skills, they were, and even though it wasn’t strictly necessary after WWII, she still did them. My goodness, my grandmother Annie Shannon still darned socks into the sixties though there was absolutely no need for that anymore. They were comfort jobs I think, things that were done because you had always done them.
Moms played bridge or canasta, perhaps hearts, usually with the same women year after year. Florence Rust, Hazel Talley, Gladys Loomis, Edna Rowe, June Waller, Marge Nelson, Nancy Loomis and many others came to our house to play bridge. The boys were put to bed early and my dad disappeared as the hens cackled the night away. I believe my grandmother’s bridge club lasted over fifty years with most of the same women and only the deaths of the members finally forced a halt when there were not enough left to make up a table of four. Minta Brisco, Hilda Harkness and Doris Henshaw, they slowly faded away.
So that is the picture I had of my mother as a boy. Steady, dependable dispenser of kisses, bandages for boo boos and as many hugs as you could use. A spoonful of heart medicine if you said a bad word, protector and drill sergeant all wrapped up in one person.
My mom belonged to the Arroyo Grande Women’s Club. Many of the mothers in town did. They had bake sales, sponsored the Gay Nineties and later the Harvest Festival. They were always saving to build their own building too. Some of the money was given to support our little towns library which was located just behind the American Legion Hall on Orchard Street where they met. They were good people who worked hard for their community.
Club meetings were quite the thing in the fifties. Mom would dress up to go. Stockings, nice dress, she never wore slacks to those things, a cute little hat and gloves and off she would go. Dressing up was important then. My grandmother never left the house without her hat and gloves. My mom and Hazel Talley were at lunch with Gladys Loomis and myself in the Village Cafe in the late 80’s and they started talking about Womens Club. I was just a fly on the wall, of course and did my best to blend into the background so they would forget I was there. Moms didn’t talk out of school in front of their kids. Anyway, somewhere in the middle of their conversation the name of Leona Walton came up. Now the Walton’s weren’t from here and had just moved to Arroyo Grande in the fifties. Hazel in reminiscing said, “Do you remember the wonderful pink dress Leona wore to her first club meeting?” They all remembered exactly, down to the buttons. They spent all the rest of the lunch talking about outfits they recalled people wearing over the years. I’ve always been amazed that they would remember things like that for so long. How clothes punctuated their time. Formalities, like what you wore to club meetings were important in a time when ritual anchored life.
The women though, had a dark, dark secret. Or so it seemed to me when I was young and a stranger to the world of adults, particularly my own. Once a year the club would put on a show they called “Hi-Jinks.” Now, the definition of Hi-Jinks, Boisterous celebration, unrestrained fun and merrymaking surely seems at odds with the way my mom and her friends acted around us. I mean a joke was ok, you know, a play on words or some such harmless humor, but certainly NOT unrestrained or boisterous. We weren’t prudish kids, we were raised on farms you’ll remember but our parents lived in a different universe when it came to that kind of stuff.
Once a year the Women’s Club put on a private show they called HI-JINKS. It was for the membership only. Mom would get out her sewing machine, a Kenmore cabinet model with the machine that swung up out of the box, while the top pivoted to the side to make the run-off table. Without using any pattern she would begin cutting fabric, using the “never touch scissors and pinking shears” that could, and would, see you in major trouble if you even touched them; and in a mist of tiny pieces of chopped thread like dust motes floating in the air of our living room, magically come up with her costume. She would choose a son to be the model, and while you stood on the kitchen stool for what seemed an eternity, she made minor adjustments to her garment. Any wiggling might get you a swat or a poke with an errant pin. At the end she, this modest woman, modeled for the entire family what she was to wear. It was hardly to be believed.
Barbara Shannon, The Harem Dancer
Now I have no idea what went on at these events, remember “Women Only” was the rule but I suspect they kept things quiet only because a delicious secret is a fine thing to cherish. Husbands were allowed for one night only and I remember my dad and Oliver Talley in their best suits having a hi-ball in our kitchen and then laughing as they left early in order to get the best seats to see what mischief their wives were up to. Bawdy, mischievous, a little off color it certainly was but watching my parents at the kitchen table in the days after catching each other eyes and laughing for no apparent reason was our delight.
Of course, if any of these fine women were still alive, I suspect they would be embarresed by this story and I might catch a little grief. I will never forget the last time I saw Hazel Talley. She had outlived almost all of her friends; including my mother, but we spoke of the old times when her son and I were just boys. As we talked, for what turned out to be the last time, this wonderful and gracious women started to cry and said “Mike, I miss your mother so much and all the fun we had when we were all so young.” Such a sad thing, but also a memory that goes in the box, on the very top too.
Barbara Shannon, God only knows what, 1959