BY SAM SLOM – Glass ceiling? My Mom never heard of it. All she knew was that a woman could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. And she proved it throughout her life. I have always been drawn to strong, independent women because of the lessons and mentoring from my Mother. I think of her every day.
My Mom, Hazel, grew up in Philadelphia, PA.
Mom was a twin, but her sister died at birth. She and her brother, my Uncle Ray (who is one of the main reasons I came to Honolulu in 1960; but that is another story), lost their mother at an early age.
My Mother had serious health issues most her life—some doctors attributed that to her being a surviving twin— but that didn’t deter her from becoming an over achiever. She suffered, but never complained. I learned from her that you don’t complain or blame others but instead make the best of what you’ve got. And as it turns out, each of us actually has a great deal to work with.
As a teen, my Mom was a rebel in many ways. She was definitely not a conformist in thought or deed. She was a trendsetter and a leader – and fearless.
Once she was on a date when an armed robber pulled over the car she and her date were in. The robber wanted her purse and she refused, instead kicking the robber and hitting him with the purse.
A newspaper reporter covered the event, and my Mom was more afraid her father would find out she had climbed out her window to go on the date, than she was of the robber. The story did appear and her Father was angry.
As a young woman, my Mom was always working. She was a beautiful woman, tall and regal. She was in retail, became a professional model, actress, dancer and singer. Later on, after she married my Father, she got involved in small business, real estate, was an office administrative assistant, a fashion buyer and head of the French Room in the then famous Hess Brothers Department Store in Allentown, PA.
My Mom was an accomplished artist, interior designer, regular bridge player, and a successful woman golfer. She was an excellent cook, homemaker and party giver. All my school friends wanted to come to our house for dinner—especially Mom’s spaghetti. She loved to travel and to try new things and meet new people.
However, you never talked to Mom in the morning until she “woke up” and had her coffee and Herbert Tarryton cigarette. Her English background gave her a certain formality, perceived stiffness and reserve. Especially compared to my Father. Mom did not show her emotions easily and very seldom cried. But you knew when she was upset. She also did not suffer fools easily. Patience was not her strong suit. You always knew where she stood on an issue and she was well read and opinionated.
Mom had a sense of humor and a million dollar smile but it wasn’t always evident. And you didn’t just drop in to our house. My Mom insisted on a clean, neat home and looking her best at all times at home and whenever she went out even to the grocery or drug store. She never owned a pair of jeans, or sneakers, until age 50.
Mom was a child of the Depression and like all who survived it, lived very frugally during WWII and beyond. (I still remember those sugar and butter sandwiches when meat was unavailable). Mom always reminded me, “waste not, want not”, “don’t buy what you can’t afford,” and of course, “wash those hands”, “turn off the lights” and “don’t waste water.” We didn’t need government force to do the right thing and to recycle.
We had years when our family benefited financially from the hard work of my parents. Our life style didn’t change very much. Neither parent was ostentatious; they didn’t believe in flaunting wealth and did believe in sharing it with others. We knew wealthy people and regular people; we were always more regular.
I learned racial tolerance from my Mom and I could relate to the book and the movie, “The Help” about “colored” housekeepers. When I was very little, we had a “colored” cleaning woman named Anna. She also sometimes cared for me. My Mother treated her as a member of the family. I loved Anna. We had meals together as a family. My Mother picked her up and drove her home and she and her family either came to Thanksgiving dinner or Mom dropped a meal off at her home. As Anna aged, we still visited with her and her family. When I first returned from Hawaii I took my new family to meet Anna.
My Mother was always fearful of getting old. She never let anyone know her true age if she could help it. She wasn’t vain – just concerned about her appearance.
After my Mom divorced my Father, when I was 11 years old, she worked, took care of me and we were very close. We were alone together for a number of years. However, luckily for me, my Dad always kept in touch, and was nearby whenever I needed him. That taught me lessons too when I later was divorced with my own children.
Mom loved pets, especially dogs. Little, loud dogs. But we also had cats, birds and fish and I once had a pet alligator on a leash in Philly.
Before I was born, Mom had a Chihuahua named “Chi Chi,” which was jealous and unhappy when I arrived. I was told the dog used to jump up and nip me in the crib. It got so bad, that my Father told Mom she would have to get rid of the mutt or me. Reluctantly, she kept me. Maybe that’s why, still to this day, I am partial to cats.
Her favorite dog was a toy poodle named “DiJon” which she acquired when I was a teenager. Neither my stepfather nor I liked that dog and the feeling was mutual. When I came home from Hawaii with my first son, years later, Mom offered to give him a haircut with DiJon’s dog clippers, and she nearly made him bald. I swear – that mutt laughed at all of us.
My Mom taught me a great many things including standing up and speaking out for what you believe in, to respect others, and practical things like grocery and retail comparison shopping. She never coddled me or shielded me entirely from risk; it was my choice. She was a good judge of people, if not overly critical.
Our affection was severely tested, however, when my Mom agreed to teach me how to drive. I was 15 and she had a small Renault 4CV at the time. My white buck shoes covered all three French pedals and I gave her many a bumpy, jerky, ride. She said things I never heard her say previously, but somehow we both survived.
My Mom did not want me to come to Hawaii or give up an education at the U of Pennsylvania. It was just too far away. She and my Father were in agreement for the first time in many years. Why not just visit Hawaii? Actually, my Mom and stepfather honeymooned in Hawaii during Statehood and were here for the Waikiki funeral of Alfred Apaka.
I knew Hawaii was my destiny and I was basically on my own financially, so I came to UH right after Statehood. The first nice thing I could afford to buy Mom from here was a turquoise cheongsam from Alfred Shaheen’s.
Eventually, she and my stepfather came to visit several times. They loved Ala Moana Beach Park, played golf at Makaha and Hawaii Kai regularly, and enjoyed Eggs Benedict at Tahitian Lanai.
We took family trips—in the day when you could actually afford them—to Maui and Kauai. I once gave them an anniversary gift of a stay at the Mauna Kea and golf on the Big Island. They enjoyed local food—especially Chinese— and became very comfortable here.
Back in my private pilot days, I took my Mom flying in my two-seater rented Cessna. She remained adventurous to the end.
After her death, my Mother’s ashes were scattered off Ala Moana Beach. (My Dad is buried at Punchbowl).
Happy Mother’s Day Mom and mahalo for everything you taught me; I hope I’ve learned well.