With Mother’s Day in my future, I think about past Mother’s Days. Back in The Day by this time (Friday) the corsages were ordered, the presents bought, gaily wrapped at the department store in sentimental paper, and neatly stashed somewhere out of sight.
My family’s Mother’s Day routine was always the same. We picked up our flowers on Saturday. If our mother was alive, we wore red roses. If she had passed on, we wore white. My grandmothers were the only family members who no longer had mothers.
We dressed up to go to church, which was not at all unusual. Everyone dressed up to go to church in the lost days of my youth. We wore dressy outfits, hats, and white gloves. I had a drawer full of white cotton gloves, most of them wrist-length, and a few up to mid-forearm. On special occasions, such as Mother’s Day we wore a corsage pinned to the shoulders of our Sunday best.
After church, we went to our house, or in the early days to my material grandmother’s. We called her Dooley, for some unknown reason. She only had three grandchildren, all five years apart. My cousin Jeane was oldest, then me, then my sister. We lived in a matriarchal society. At the Sunday dinner tables, there were six or seven females, and never more than two men: my father and my grandfather.
Although the radio was one-sided, it didn’t matter much at the time. The women chitt-chatted among themselves. Pappy (our grandfather) didn’t pay attention anyway, but Daddy was often grossed out by the distaff subject matter.
We also had gifts for our grandmothers and Mother’s sister, my Aunt Mildred, for whom I am named. My sister and I adored her till the end of her days. She was our favorite relative. Jeane was her only daughter.
I didn’t pay it any mind at the time, but thinking about it in later years, I was proud of the three women on Mother’s side of the family. All three of them worked, and distinguished themselves in their occupations. Dooley worked at the Duck Head Company, sewing overalls; Aunt Mildred was a hair stylist and later a successful beauty salon owner; Mother was a secretary.
Mother was often praised by her boss as the best secretary he ever had. She was working at the Lily White Laundry when she met my father, who was driving a laundry truck. Shortly before I was born, she quit work, and her boss begged her to come back, but she wanted to be a full-time mother.
She went back to work when I was three years old, leaving me with Mama, my paternal grandmother, who lived with us. Mother had an interesting secretarial position. Actually, it was more interesting than she knew.
She worked at a large hardware company that dealt mostly in wholesale and institutional items. Unbeknownst to her, Mother’s boss was also the boss of the Nashville political machine. He was notorious. This was before Nashville had a metropolitan government.
There was a City Council and a mayor, all of whom did Mr. Fletcher’s (not his real name) bidding, no questions asked.
Years later after I was grown, she came home and told us that Sadie, who was a neighborhood friend, had an appointment to see Mr. Fletcher. Sadie had qualified to become a school crossing guard, and she wore her uniform to his office. I asked her why Sadie came to see Mr. Fletcher.
“I don’t know,” said Mother. “He sees every new city employee, but I didn’t know his interest extended to school crossing guards. He’s very civic-minded, you know. The mayor sees Mr. Fletcher quite often.”
Rumors about the city’s active, but carefully hidden untitled head of government were rampant. I became suspicious after Mother told me about Sadie’s interview. I decided to ask my sister, who had “connections.” I considered it the better part of wisdom to remain ignorant of the details, but curiosity got the best of me.
“I can’t believe you didn’t know,” said Pat (my sister). Paul Fletcher runs Nashville. The mayor is the titular head of government, but he doesn’t move without Fletcher’s permission.”
Wow! What a shocker! I couldn’t wait to tell Mother. The next day, I went to her house after I knew she would be home from work and told her the news.
“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard,” said Mother with a laugh. Don’t you think if that were true, I would know it? You and Pat should curb your suspicious natures. I don’t know where she heard such a thing.”
I did some more checking around, and found that it was indeed true. Paul Fletcher ran Nashville. We had a real political machine in a hardware store.
Soon after, Nashville and Davidson County were combined into a metropolitan entity. Fletcher retired, and Mother went to work with the Girl Scouts organization. I was glad she escaped with her impeccable reputation intact.
Mother passed away in 1991. She was 82 years old. Shortly before she died, I asked her again, “How could you not have known your boss was a political boss?”
“I told you the first time you said such a thing it wasn’t true, and you shouldn’t go around spreading such careless gossip. I don’t want to hear it another time. Do you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, meekly.
I have obeyed her lo these 23 years. If there are angels in Heaven, I’m sure Mother is among them. I can only hope angels aren’t interested in earthlings’ careless gossip.