Remembering a Mother Defined by Her Times

A mother-daughter moment prompts thoughts of a mother defined by the 1950s.

by Cheryl Cuddeback • Member { View Profile }

The Solitaire game on my iPhone is way cool. It has features that aren’t available on the standard Windows download for PCs. Namely, there is an unlimited amount of "undos" unlike the restricted one allowed on Windows XP. Plus, after you finish a game, you can play the same one all over again. After playing one game 17 times, I finally won. Sort of like the movie, Ground Hogs Day, starring Bill Murray, a story line that forces the main character to re-live the same day over and over again, until he grows up instead of continuing as the self-centered sensation seeker.

Last night, while driving my teenage daughter home on Queens Boulevard, I told her I was offered the opportunity to be the art director for a documentary. What was originally intended to be a film only to be shown at our neighborhood’s final Centennial Celebration is now being considered to appear on Channel 13, in affiliation with the renowned New York Historian, Barry Lewis. Samantha congratulated me and told me how proud she was of me. As I slowed down at a stoplight, I said, “I want to be a good role model for you.”

A pause hung briefly in the air until the traffic light turned green. I pushed my foot gently on the accelerator and resumed our ride home.

“Mom," Samantha said. The steady sound stream of cars passing each other was interrupted by my daughter’s gentle flow of words.

“You’re already a good role model to me,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thank you,” I said. I wanted to look into her eyes and say so. Instead, they began to mist. I continued looking ahead while responsibly holding the steering wheel. My thoughts drifted to my Mom. I wonder how her life would have been like if she didn’t adhere to the stereotype of her time. Back then, in the early ‘50s, if women graduated from college, the norm was to marry and become a housewife, which is exactly what she did. She was swept up by this trend.

She was a daughter of a secretary and engineer from Schenectady suburbia and a Grade A psychiatry major attending the University of Rochester on a scholarship. For whatever reason, whether it was the stress of living up to her parents’ expectations, if they had any, falling for my father's Ivy League charm, or just being swept up by the allure of joining the ranks of the privileged class, she made her move. Like placing the Queen of Hearts onto the King of Spades, she altered the final outcome of her life and married.

What if she chose the path less traveled, instead of following society’s acceptable route by marrying up in the world. Would she have continued her education by going to grad school? She could have become a formidable presence in the field of psychiatry. I see her living in a classically decorated pre-war building on Park Avenue, on a floor high enough so the sun can shine in. The walls would be ensconced with works of fine contemporary artists; maybe even a Monet or Klee. She’d be passionately involved with the arts; serving on museum boards and attending fundraisers for scholarships offered to promising painters. Not someone on the kitchen phone smoking a non-filter Pall Mall cigarette while waiting for the washing machine in the basement to complete its rinse cycle as John Gambling rambled on the radio.

Not only was she one smart cookie, she was also a real beauty. Her deep-set eyes and high cheekbones were a close match to Queen Nefertiti’s bust. Mom was tall and thin and carried herself with the grace of a ballet dancer. After she graduated she moved to my father’s neighborhood, Forest Hills, Queens and landed a job at Elizabeth Arden’s. She worked as a show room model mingling with the fashion elite. Who knows what untapped opportunities waited for her behind the famed Fifth Avenue red door?

Instead Mom walked hand in hand with our father off into the sunset. They had a no-frills wedding ceremony at the Fort Louis Army Base in Georgia, where my Dad happened to be stationed at the time. She eventually bore four children and attended to the day-to-day functions of household management through the years. A Bell & Howell home video camera documented our growing family and prosperity.

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