It is commonly known that most moms of the 1950s were stayed-at- home housewives that somehow filled up a day with taking care of a family. Not my mom. She was a working mom. A dressmaker with a full time job at a local dress shop and with clients on the side. She was very busy not just with her business but with cooking meals and taking care of me, my brother and my father.
But I was lucky. I had a surrogate mom and it was Aunt Alice. She was my mother’s first cousin but like many family relations who needed a title, she was the aunt. Unmarried and without her own children, Alice became the mother who did the fun things a mother would have done if she wasn’t busy being a mom. While my mother worked to make a life for us, Alice took us to movies, introduced us to New York City and even took me to my first rock concert at Shea Stadium – yes, the Beatles.
Aunt Alice would stand up for us against all odds. She argued with my strict father to loosen the chain and allow us to go to the movies. Our first time out was to see the Sound of Music. Not exactly the R or X rated stuff you might think would send a parent to a state of anger but my father had his own logic. Her defiance made her more likable.
She took us to Radio City to see the Christmas show. A yearly experience that started with lunch at Horn and Hardart’s. She again disobeyed my father’s instructions to hold our hands throughout. Giving us our nickels and dimes, we raced to the vending machines and out came the sandwich.
And then came the Beatles. Aunt Alice took me to Shea Stadium to see their first concert. She didn’t drive so I think the trip was longer than the concert. I could hardly make them out from where I was sitting and I didn’t hear a thing amongst all the screaming. Yet, I was in heaven just to be there and Alice made it happen.
In adolescence my arguments with my mother drove me closer to Alice as my confidant. When I had no one, I had Alice. She understood when no one else did.
In her later years, Alice had to go to a nursing home. I visited her as often as I could but not as often as I wish I did. When I did, she was again my confidant. There were times when raising kids, working and life in general would get the better of me. But I had Alice to visit and to pour my heart out to. I cried to her once that I felt unloved. Her response was, “I love you but I guess it isn’t enough”. I’d like to think she knew I loved her too.
I have fond memories of Alice and her ability to believe in me and make sense of what I couldn’t understand. I can only wish that every child has an Alice who can fill in the gaps.