My Mama worked like a fish lives: constantly moving; never sleeping. It seemed to me, little kid that I was, that she had no fun; it was all about the jobs.

Her default setting was mending and hemming, so that even when she SAT she had a needle in one hand and a thimble on the other…

Sometimes when she sews I sit across from her in the breakfast nook and ask her about her “other” jobs “before us.”

Tell me how you made hats, Mama. You know, at college.

I was always on the lookout for ways to make money.

I picture a perky, Lois Lane type of Mama, shoulder bag swinging, high heels tapping, nose sniffing out yet another money-making scheme.

Hats were very important back then. You wore them everywhere. But women didn’t like to wear the SAME hat; so they either kept changing the appearance of their one basic hat, or they had lots of little hats.

I decided to teach myself how to make hats and then sell them to the other students. I cut cloth from the huge hem on my green Chesterfield. I layered bits of fabric around a metal frame, curving it nicely with lots of tucks and gathers. I tacked feathers, bows, buttons or sequins here and there. 

Did you get much money?

Well, it wasn’t nearly as good as waitressing.

Almost always at this point she’d put her sewing down and stand to demonstrate how she hoisted huge, round, heavy trays. I wore a little white apron and a bright red dress with high heels. Patent leather.

I picture a red-cheeked Mama pirouetting around a busy restaurant amazing the diners with her beauty and gracefulness.

This image lasts only a moment though because the next part of the story horrifies. One day I trip and drop the loaded tray. From that point on I always held my trays like this. She shifts the tray from over her head to waist level.

I didn’t like waitressing as much as tutoring, though.

Before catching the 5:15 train back to Woburn after class, she’d tutor Latin at the Boston Latin School. The most predictable language! For 25 cents an hour I had order. I loved it. 

The hem is almost done. Mama eyes me over her rimless glasses.

Watch; this is the most important part. 

She takes a tiny stitch on the wrong side of the fabric and, before she pulls the thread all the way through, sends the needle into the loop of thread. Then she pulls the needle until a second small loop forms; she sends the needle through that and pulls the thread taut. She bites the thread off.

It’s all about the finish.

I didn’t get that then, and I don’t now: If it’s all about the finish, what about joy for the journey, Mama?

(But then, my hems come apart; so what do I know.)


All these outfits were handed-down and needed altering and hemming. (I mean, she couldn’t stop sewing to keep up with it, I guess.)raymondlineup1Miriam

My mother before she met and married my father and had that slew of kids pictured above.

12 thoughts on “My Mama Hemmed But Didn’t Haw (at least in this story): Another Raymond Family Story in 500 Words.

  1. I LOVE this, especially with the pictures. I feel like I was sitting there with the two of you–that’s how real your piece seems to your reader. I think Lary Bloom’s advice about 500 words was some of the best guidance we received in those memoir groups. Loved the hem and haw!!! M.


    1. When my mother would tell stories about her “other” jobs, at some point my father would pitch in with his own tales, such as the job he had in the weeks before harvests on farms in Ipswich where he had to walk the corn fields and listen at the end of each row for intruders. A human scarecrow!


  2. Oh my, your Mama is lovely and quite talented. It’s amazing when I hear/remember the stories of the things our parents had to do to keep us all fed, clothed and a roof over our head. It sounds like your Mama got lots of practice even before she started worrying about you and your siblings. Quite the Jackie of all trades. Thanks for sharing your Mama with us.


  3. Sometimes I’d come downstairs in the morning and find a completely empty nonpareil candy bag in the trash. A bag I hadn’t seen in the food bags when Mr. Pelletier delivered that day’s groceries. My mother fueled herself by drinking tea and eating candy when we all had gone to sleep, my father included. I think it was a lonely job for her to “do” the kids 200% of the time in a day when women didn’t drive–we only had the one car and my father used that–and when women were supposed to be fully actualized (as if ANYONE used that term back then, for women anyway) by being homemakers. In fact she was out of control for periods of time–way too rough with some of my siblings–but, luckily, she started to get strokes from which she just as luckily recovered–except, of course, for the last one–and she took from that experience Her Calling. She became a stroke counselor. She spent hours in the local hospital talking to the patients, reassuring them that SHE knew they were still IN there even though they couldn’t more or talk. She formed stroke clubs which continue today with scores of people meeting each month for talks and companionship. So for the last 20 years of her life she was NEVER home. When I’d visit in Salem and walk around town with my mother, people would stop us, hug my mother, and tell me a story of how “Miriam saved my life.” The tragedy is that the woman the public described to me was so not the woman who was in charge of us for our rearing. I think going from a Summa Cum Laude grad of Radcliffe right to the diaper pail routine with no help was a terrible chore for her–broke her spirit, contorted her. I think this especially since I too had lots of kids, but in contrast had lots of help from my husband, a great job outside of our home, wonderful nannies, etc. As I turned 45, 53, 61, etc. I’d picture my mother at that same age and fill with sadness for her. So I’m going to try to write about her without being too tough.


    1. Patty, at heart, your mother was probably an artist, look at her sewing prowess. In addition to her brilliant mind. Sadly she didn’t have the choices we have today. And she didn’t have much time left over after parenting that brood to do much more than collapse with candy. She needed more balance in her life, like you did, the kind that keeps a mother from going mad. Hmmm,I wonder what the conversation might sound like if you were able to talk to your mother across time. Keep the stories coming….


  4. Hi,
    What a beautiful short story. I think that Mom is a looker! What energy and intelligence it takes to raise a “slew” like that.
    I loved your old photos . I could look at old photos for hours. I do Genealogy on my family so, other families fascinate me.


  5. Thanks all; I’m encouraged that after decades I can work on Mama stories and find joy in it. I think the “trick” is to remember that there were Two Miriams. And! I need to remember that very time I plug away at some hard task I’m showing I’ve got some of those Miriam work genes.


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