December 18, 2013

Memories of mother who never gave up

My mother, Lila, was a quiet, almost shy, woman who lived her first married life within my father’s shadow.

Not only was he the sole breadwinner (because that’s the way things were in those days of the depression), but he came from one of Brooklyn’s first African American families.

To make matters worse for my mother, Ken Sr. had excelled at track and football at Boy’s High in Brooklyn and was a national track star at Pittsburgh University.

As I noted, my mother was shy, not one of the social climbers who surrounded popular athletes. But she was light and bright and could pass for white, a quality that was important in those oppressive days.

And she was beautiful, with a smile that could persuade the sun to move the clouds aside.

While Dad went to work, Mom stayed home and tended to us kids, cooking, washing, ironing, shopping, cleaning and all those other housekeeping chores that fell to women in those days.

She didn’t complain about her lot anymore than my father complained about working two jobs to support his family.

Expectations for men and women were very different in the ’30s and ’40s and in today’s world would be looked upon with contempt. But that was all we knew, and most people tried hard to live up to expectations.

Mom was a wizard with a sewing machine and could make just about anything, from a formal gown to a shirt or a pair of pants for me or my brother.

We didn’t always appreciate them because anybody could tell you (and did) that clothes with a label are better than homemade stuff. So we wanted clothes from Macy’s or Gimbel’s, not those inferior concoctions sewed to perfection by my mother.

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