Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Maid's Daughter

It's never safe to be nostalgic about something until you're absolutely certain there's no chance of its coming back.~Bill Vaughn

I felt like revisting this old post from 5-13-06. I just came across it and I really enjoy remembering this about my mother.

My mother had a few careers during my life with her. When I was one month old she started selling Avon. She told me that she told my father that she needed a job where she could have me with her, because it wasn’t my fault that she had me late in life. She was thirty-nine and my father was forty-six. So off I went with her on Avon calls. I often think that she’s the reason I went into sales, because of her early influence in my life. I also know that my mother had a great influence on my drive and my desire to do better in my life, more than she probably realized.

I’ll never forget the first and only time I heard someone call me the maid’s daughter and the feeling that that invoked in me.

When I was around seven or eight my sister convinced her to take a job cleaning a woman’s house. My sister wanted a summer job so my mother agreed to take her to this woman’s house to clean it. Every week my sister and my mom would make the drive, that seemed very far at the time, to Bunker Hill.

When the summer was over and my sister had to go back to school my mom found that she liked the money and she kept cleaning for Mrs. Sears. This was the first of many customers that my mother would take on.

Soon my mother’s business grew. I never really thought of my mother as a maid. I thought of this as her business and these were her customers. My mother, the daughter and sister of businessmen treated it exactly that way. When one of her customers told her that she had a friend who also needed a cleaning lady my mother didn’t just say yes. She had to think about it, weigh her schedule, and figure out how she would work another house in. Before she knew it, she was doing two houses a day and she had to take someone to help her and would pay her a portion. She had made this a business with an employee now.

She had Mrs. Sears, Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. King, Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Drake, Mrs. Collins, among others. These are just the names I remember.

I’ll never forget the first woman’s name, Mrs. Sears, for a few reasons. First because I always thought of the store and second because she died. Soon after, Mr. Sears married his neighbor and one of my mother’s other customers, a Latina.

My mother wasn’t particularly fond of the new Mrs. Sears. She was demanding and would ask my mother to do difficult jobs that the other Mrs. Sears and the other customers, didn’t ask for. I seem to remember one of those was for my mother to get down on her hands and knees to scrub her floor.

There was some tension between them and one day my mother moved a decorative seashell on the bathroom vanity and it was broken. I don’t remember the details exactly, but when my mother told the new Mrs. Sears about the broken shell she either acted like she didn’t believe my mother or told her outright that the shell wasn’t broken before my mother had cleaned the house. My mother was extremely offended and it became a matter of principle for her.

It was the beginning of the end with the new Mrs. Sears. The situation culminated with my mother telling Mrs. Sears she couldn’t work for her any more. She also told her in Spanish that she had worked for many “Americanas’ and had a much better relationship with them. She told her that it was sad that she couldn’t work with a Latina.

I’ll never forget Mr. Sears calling my mother at the house and asking her to please reconsider. My mother told him that she was sorry it couldn’t work out. Although she really liked him and had really enjoyed working for him these years, she could not work with his new wife.

That was the end of that and it taught me a very important lesson. No one should put up with unfair treatment from any one, no matter who that person thinks they are. We all own our own business, the business of our self, and it’s up to us to decide what we will and will not put up with.
Another one of the women my mother cleaned for was Mrs. Fisher. She was a thin red headed woman with three children, two teenage boys and a little girl my age. I loved cleaning this woman’s house with my mom during the summer because I got to play with Cheryl and her friends. I also got to clean Cheryl’s room when Cheryl was away, at camp I think, and I loved looking at all the things she had. She had the perfect girls room with all the pretty furniture I longed for and all the games and toys. I would spend a long time dusting, arranging and rearranging her things.

One day I was in her room “cleaning” and her brother walked by with some friends on his way to his room. I saw them glance in to Cheryl’s room and they saw me. I heard one of the boys ask who I was and the brother answer, “Oh that’s the maid’s daughter.”

I remember standing there realizing they were talking about me. I was the maid’s daughter. Up to that point no one had ever verbalized that. I mean, I knew I was the cleaning lady’s daughter, but no one had ever actually called me that, especially not one of the kids of the homes where my mother cleaned.

Mrs. Burns and Mrs. King were always telling my mom to send me with a bathing suit, so I could swim in their pool while my mom cleaned. My mom only let me do this a handful of times. A couple of times their own kids swam with me. One day when Mrs. King’s teenage daughter had a few friends over and they invited me to swim with them and layout. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit, but Mrs. King insisted that I borrow one of her daughter’s suits.

When Cheryl’s friends came to visit Cheryl invited me to play with them. I knew I wasn’t one of them but they made an effort to make me feel welcome. Up to that time in my life I didn’t have any White friends at all. I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit in.

The moment I heard that boy call me “the maid’s daughter” was significant in my life. I think it shaped a lot of what I thought and as I grew up it probably drove some of my ambition.

My mother continued to clean houses until I was eleven and my uncle died. She then quit to help my aunt with my uncle’s bakery. After that she became a tortilla sales rep when she inherited the tortilla route my uncle had left their cousin Juan. Juan had decided to move his family to the Valley so he passed the “ruta” on to my mother.

Even after my mother took on this new career she kept one customer, Mrs. King. She and Mrs. King had developed somewhat of a boss-employee friendship over the years. Maybe it was because Mrs. King was always the one who gave her a raise and continued to give her raises every time my mother said she couldn’t work for her any more. They did this dance for a few years until finally my mother’s health became a factor and she had to quit.

I never told very many people my mother had been a cleaning lady. A couple of years ago I was talking to a co-worker and I asked her where she grew up and she told me Bunker Hill. That was the first and only time in my life that I’ve ever met anyone, outside those homes my mother cleaned, who lived in Bunker Hill. I laughed and I hesitated then I told her about my mother’s cleaning lady career. I felt funny telling her that I had been the maid’s daughter, but at the same time I found it funnier that I had hesitated and felt the same tinge of embarrassment.

How was this possible? Why should I feel embarrassed because my mother had owned her own cleaning business? It seemed ridiculous that I should feel this way, now that I thought about it logically. Besides, who cared if I was the maid’s daughter? This was a part of who I was and that had shaped who I had become as an adult.

The other day one of my very good friends and I were talking about this experience and she said, “You should write about it,” and I thought, “I should.”

In retrospect it was a wonderful experience. My mother was the example of running your own business, of standing up for yourself, and of what type of employment awaited me if I didn’t get an education. It also gave me a glance inside the lives of wealthy people, wealthy as compared to me. It taught me how to interact with people in a different social class and I know this served me well later in life. It especially helped me as I entered a new middle school, outside of my neighborhood, and met other White girls who became very good friends.

I hadn’t thought much of Bunker Hill until that day my co-worker told me she had grown up there. I often drive down I-10 but I never thought of driving into Bunker Hill. One day I decided to drive that direction. I saw how large the houses and the properties are. I was also surprised at how close to town Bunker Hill really is. It doesn’t compare to how far the suburbs are. I thought of my mother and her career here as a cleaning woman and I wondered how much these homes cost. Maybe, just maybe, one day I can afford to live in Bunker Hill and maybe I won’t choose to.

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