My mother had many interests. She collected antiques and would drive practically anywhere for an auction. I remember being dragged to some old lady’s barn in Vermont and hating every minute of it. She volunteered for various causes – the hospital, the Red Cross, and other charities. And she liked certain games.
One was mah jong, a game of skill involving dice and tiles with Chinese letters, flowers or symbols on them. It was popular starting in the 1920’s, but I don’t think it survived very far into the 1950’s, at least in my mother’s Claremont circle. Then there was canasta, a type of rummy game involving a tray, at least two decks of cards, and a lot of complicated rules. That, too, faded away at some point.
All of these games were social events (I don’t think she ever played solitaire), but bridge was at another level entirely. It was serious business, and she and the ladies of the Claremont “Bridge Club” took no prisoners. I used to watch the games, just for a few minutes now and then, and was struck by the fact that it was completely incomprehensible and there was always someone called the “dummy.” Odd name for a card player.
My mother’s lifelong hobby was needlepoint. I guess I was a pretty negative kid because I hated it too. The needles looked like weapons, and the house was overrun with the products of all those patterns and yarn – footstools, wall hangings, and other useless stuff. I just thought it was a waste of time. Nothing you could play with, or even wear.
In 1970, long after she became a widow, my mother decided to leave Claremont and move to Boston. Her father (the grandfather who taught me about baseball and much more) had recently died. She was approaching sixty, in good health, and ready for a new chapter in her life. So she put the house up for sale and located an apartment in the Prudential Center. She said she was going to get a job.
I explained to my mother that this was simply not realistic. First, she probably wouldn’t be able to get a job, since she hadn’t worked since her marriage some forty years before. Second, she really didn’t have any marketable skills,. If she did get a job, it would be doing something she didn’t like. And, third, driving in Boston wouldn’t be practical, so she would have to take the subway, and that would be a hassle.
At about that time, Roosevelt Grier, who had been a famous professional football player, appeared on television and let the public know that he had something in common with my mother: Needlepoint was his hobby. That created a bit of a needlepoint craze, just as my mother started job hunting. It didn’t take her long – she became the “Needlepoint Lady” of Lord and Taylor in Boston, a job she held for several years. She had the skill, she enjoyed demonstrating the process and selling the materials, and she didn’t have to take the subway – her building was next door to the store, and you could just walk across the plaza or, in bad weather, walk there underground. So much for having a know-it-all son.