This Mother’s Day, I hope everyone will honor their mothers whether they are still with them or, like mine, have passed on. I have always believed the hardest yet most rewarding job there is, is that of a mother. The memory I have chosen this week is to honor not only my own mother, but also those mothers who find themselves raising children on their own for whatever reason. Like many children who are growing up with a single parent now, I did not realize as a child how hard it was for my mother to finish raising two children by herself after my father died.
Most people, at least those around my age, remember “Rosie the Riveter,” the World War II icon who reminded everyone that women in no small way help win wars. My mother was a riveter, too, not during the war and not on tanks or airplanes. Like Rosie, mom did some hard work by hand for little pay, and it helped her win her own private war.
In 1947, mom was a young widow with two children to finish raising. When dad died, my sister was 12 and I was 9. Like many women of that era, mom had no training and it wasn’t easy finding work to pay the bills dad’s illness left behind. Job opportunities for women were few in Sedalia at the time — there was plucking chickens at Swifts, a sweat shop laundry, or J.A. Lamy’s Overall Factory. Mom felt lucky to land a job at Lamy’s even at less than 50 cents an hour, because that paid the rent, fed and clothed us; not in style maybe, but we didn’t complain.
Mom’s job at Lamy’s was to put the little brass rivets at the pressure points, and pocket corners of denim pants. There were no machines to do the job at that time so it was all done by hand with an odd-looking little hammer, a punch and a lot of perspiration.
The times made heroes of those women who worked in defense plants during the war, and rightfully so, because they worked hard hours to produce the materials the country needed to fight the war. They contributed in no small way to the eventual victory in WWII.
I like to think mom fought her own battles in that postwar era against enemies called hunger and need with her little flat-nosed hammer and punch of a riveter. I was a grown man before I fully realized how hard those times were on mom and the other widowed mothers of that period whether it was because of the war or other circumstances. Mom didn’t get medals for her blisters or a citation for the long hours she worked as a riveter, but she did raise two children during a difficult time when women had to work twice as hard as a man for less pay.
Women like mom may not be famous like “Rosie the Riveter,” but she won the war all parents must wage in order to raise children in a difficult time, and I believe she thought her children and grandchildren were her medals and citations for a job well done.
Jack Miller is a longtime Sedalia resident whose column runs in the Weekend edition of the Democrat.