Mommy, Maman, Mami, Anychi, Mamo, Mamai, Mammina, Me Oi, Mare, Mamman, Mamusia, Mamica.
Whatever language you use, the word mommy can put a smile on your face or tears in your eyes. The word in any language signifies safety, warmth, and love for most of us. The older you get, the more you realize how important your mother was in molding you into the person you are now. She was your doctor when you hurt yourself, your friend when you needed one, and your disciplinarian when you required it.
I was fortunate that my mom lived to be 87, and I am grateful for this. Mom was the glue that held the family together. She never forgot a birthday, never missed an opportunity to hug us, and when needed, slap us in the face.
Moms put up with a lot. After all, in those days, each mom’s full-time job was taking care of the kids and the house. This was not easy because the appliances we have today didn’t exist back then. By the way, moms still have the brunt of the household chores and kid care, except now they also have outside jobs.
In many households in Kensington, if not all of Philly, male children were not expected to do housework other than taking out the garbage and the ashes from the coal furnace. I don’t remember ever washing dishes, or make my own bed, and rarely did I have to cook anything. I didn’t know it then, but I was in for a rude awakening when I joined the U.S. Air Force.
Female children didn’t fare as well as boys. They were expected to learn and do everything their moms and grandmoms did. The school system supported this through having home economic classes for girls. Boys went to shop classes to learn woodworking, car repair, and mechanical drawing. The idea was to prepare boys to take on a job outside of the house while the girls learned how to handle inside the house. They did have typing classes that mostly girls attended. These classes were designed to be a backup if a girl had to get a job.
My sister Berta was ten years older than me, so she was helping out my mom when I was born. Berta probably did things that taxed mom’s patience, but by the time my brother and I were causing havoc in the house, she was the model of the perfect 1950s housewife. On the other hand, my brother Bill and I fought like alley cats. He would smack me on the back of the head every time he passed me. I would be sure to do things he hated, such as smack my lips, eat pretzels making a loud noise, chew gum, or breathe heavily. This gave my Mom many opportunities to say, "Will you two shut the hell up" and administer a slap on the cheek. These were mild irritations for my mother. Believe me, we did worse.
When I was a child, we had a party line on our phone, which meant we were not the only household to share the same number. Sometimes you would pick the phone up and hear the other family talking. My Mom was addicted to talking to her friends on the phone, so she was on it all the time. I'm sure the other family was livid about that. She often sat on a small hassock located near the phone. Once, she got up to stretch, and I pulled the hassock away as a joke. Give me a break; I was just six or seven. Anyway, when she sat back down, the hassock wasn't there. To say the least, she was not happy.
My brother Bill did me one better. Once again, my mother was sitting on a hassock and talking on the phone. She sent my brother to the candy store to buy some bubble gum. You know those small, hard, rectangular-shaped pink chewing gums that pull fillings out of your teeth? She gave him a nickel, and he ran over to the store. He bought five pieces. When he came back, he was in a hurry to get out and play. So, in typical Bill fashion, he yelled, "Here, Mom," and threw the bag to her from 20 feet away. My Mom turned, and the bag of rock-like gum hit her in the eye. Yes, she got a black eye from it.
Mom's addiction to bubble gum only lasted until she became enamored with maple taffy that she made herself. She boiled maple syrup and put it in a flat pan. She would break it up when it cooled and ready to eat. She did this for some years until her candy addiction centered on chocolate. My mother and her mother ate ice cream every night. I mean, every night. My mother also ate chocolate every day. I once bought her Godiva Chocolate thinking high-quality chocolate would be tastier. She ate it but said she preferred Hershey’s kisses. When I was an adult and visited Hershey, PA, I bought her a five-pound Hershey Kiss.
The funny thing is that my mother and my grandmother were not overweight, and my mother, remember she ate Hershey’s chocolate and Breyer’s ice cream every night, lived to be 87 years old. My mother had a toy poodle who also ate chocolate every night. That dog lived to be 20 years old. I am just saying that maybe chocolate is good for you.
By the time my brother and I were teens, my grandparents lived with us. My grandmother, Ethel Hird, was an expert housewife and never stopped cleaning, cooking, and washing clothes. This gave my mom more time, so she decided to find a job outside the house. I remember my father being upset about this. I assume there was a stigma attached to the male who allowed his wife to work an outside job back then. Mom took the job anyway and started working at Gerald’s Electronics. She spent her meager earnings on house repairs and presents for her grandchildren.
Most mothers are our constant companions until we are teens and even after that. When we were hungry after a day of pretending to be soldiers, playing stickball, playing Jacks, skipping rope, or causing some havoc in the neighborhood, we could be sure there would be a meal waiting. When we put a nail through our cheek, as I did, or hurt your back playing street football, as I did, or needed someone to come get you out of the police station, as I did, you could count on your mom. When the polio vaccine was available, mom made sure we got it.
Moms are not only protective, but they can also be very supportive. When I joined the Air Force at age 18, I’m sure Mom was upset, but she didn't let me know. I was off on an adventure, and she was losing her youngest child. When I told her I was going to Vietnam, then came home and told her that I volunteered for a second tour, I knew she was concerned, but she didn't show it. During this time, my brother had joined the Navy, so both of us were out of the house. I’m sure my mom had the same bad memories as she had during World War II of sending her two brothers off to war. She never made me feel bad about it.
When I told her in a letter I was marrying a Vietnamese girl and later sent her a letter addressed to Grandmom Hallman to announce we were having a baby, she was nothing but supportive. God, I sound like an asshole. She and the whole family accepted my choice of a wife, even though it was uncommon back then for a North Philly boy to marry an Asian.
My brother and I were also lucky to have my grandmother and grandfather living with us as we grew into men. Nanny, our name for my mom’s mom, was a saint. If mom was at work, Nanny was there to feed and take care of us. She patched me up more than once, administered medicine when I was ill, and put up with my antics. Similar to my mom, Nanny supported my wife, teaching her how to make American food, showing her what to buy in the A&P at Front and Westmorland, and helping her take care of our son. My wife also changed how my mom and Nanny cooked. They learned that adding a small amount of soy sauce to meat cakes, meatloaf, and even chicken made these foods tastier.
So, Happy Mother’s Day, mom and Nanny. I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to have both of you as protectors, healers, and life counselors. And Happy Mother’s Day to all moms. That includes the moms of furry kids.
To help celebrate Mother’s Day, I scoured my Philly Tales photo album and pulled some fantastic photos of Philly moms with their kids. Of course, I added some of my photos as well. There are plenty more at https://mercyrow.com/pages/philly-tales-photos.
From a post first posted on Kensington Neighborhood Alumni https://www.facebook.com/groups/KensingtonAlumnae