Back in September 2022, I ordered a Social Security lifetime earnings record for my mother by filing form SSA-7050, available here. In addition to wages, it also lists employers which would tell me where she was working.
This form is available for living individuals – meaning you can order your own – or for deceased people under specific circumstances if you are:
- The legal representative of the earner’s estate
- A survivor
- An individual with a material interest (as defined on the form)
I ordered the information for both of my parents, but so far, only my mother’s has been delivered.
I provided a credit card number, and it was charged in December. The printed information arrived in March.
My credit card hasn’t been charged for my father’s report. I’m still hopeful, but I’m thinking I need to send a follow-up letter.
Social Security was designed to provide a safety net for retirees and has been expanded at various times to include surviving spouses, children under some circumstances, and people with disabilities.
The Social Security Act was passed in 1935, cards issued in 1936 and Social Security benefits began being issued in 1937. The first lump sum payout was 17 cents.
Widows and widowers, meaning surviving spouses are sometimes eligible for benefits, as were self-employed people beginning in 1951.
Social Security benefits, who can receive them, under which circumstances, and when has changed over the years. Medicare was added in 1965. You can read about the history here, which may help you determine whether or not there might be a benefit to ordering this information for a deceased relative.
Cash and Cashless Economy
Recall that the Great Depression occurred between 1929 and 1939 in the US. Poverty was unrelenting, and nearly every family was negatively affected.
My family was only one of many. In fact, they were probably in the majority. My maternal grandfather, John Ferverda, lost his hardware store and was unemployed. The family raised chickens and either sold, traded or bartered poultry and eggs for other goods. My mother said she passionately hated cleaning chickens because she cleaned so many as a child.
Few people actually had money, so a lot of exchanges occurred.
In a rural economy, farm workers worked for cash or goods, much like today’s “gig-workers”. Mom taught dance lessons as a teen and young adult, but she wasn’t employed by a company. Cash changed hands or maybe some labor or vegetables.
Mom graduated from High School in 1940, but I didn’t know when Mom actually had a “job” that would have been recorded as such.
I know now.
I requested mother’s wage records from 1937, the beginning of wages being reported to Social Security, though her death in 2006. Nearly 70 years.
I clearly knew about much of her employment, but not the early years.
In particular, I can’t find Mom in the 1950 census. She was living in Florida in 1949 and early 1950. I’ve struggled to discover much of anything about that time in her life, except, well, that she married a circus performer. Then he divorced her. She returned home, to Indiana, probably during the time that the census was being taken.
But I have questions. So many questions.
- Did she work in Florida?
- What about before that?
- Was she employed by a company when she danced in Chicago, or was she self-employed?
- Did she work more than one job?
- Where did she work?
- For how long?
- How much money did she make?
Needless to say, I was VERY excited when this envelope FINALLY arrived.
And wow, are there ever some very interesting surprises.
Where was Mom?
Mother, like many females in the early 1940s, married not long after she graduated from high school. It was expected.
Her husband, Dan, joined the Army during WWII and marched off to war.
In 1943, my brother was born. When Dan returned home on leave, it wasn’t to Mom, but to a girlfriend. In fact, Mom didn’t even know he was home on leave. My grandfather quite accidentally ran into Dan and his lady-friend. So had others. It was a small town and everyone, but everyone knew within hours.
For Mom, that devastating, humiliating episode was both an end and a beginning – even if it was a beginning she didn’t want.
Mother realized that she was not going to be a housewife, at least not to Dan, and she was going to be that much-dreaded horrible D word – divorced. Along with that in small town Indiana came incredible stigma. So Mom did the only thing she could do – sought work as a professional tap and ballet dancer – her only marketable skill. After all, now she had a son to support and $4 per week child support that Dan was ordered to pay wasn’t going to do it.
Mom’s official employment began in 1944 and thus began her first official career, although she had been dancing and teaching both tap and ballet for at least a dozen years. Both before and after she graduated, Mom taught at a dance school in Fort Wayne and also privately. I suspect she taught in exchange for her own lessons.
Unfortunately, the dancing photos of Mom during her teen years don’t include any recitals, only practice photos taken by my grandmother in the yard.
In the small town of Silver Lake, there was no job opportunities in 1944, especially not for a dancer, so Mom had to leave my brother with her parents and go to Chicago where she could find employment in the theater business. She returned home as often as she could, and a significant portion of her pay was sent to my grandparents for John.
This was a cascade of heartbreaking events for mother, on many levels, catapulting her into an unwelcome future – one she never sought nor wanted.
1944 – Chicago
The first entry in Mom’s social security earnings record appeared in 1944 with the employer listed as the Theater Service Corporation, 175 N. State, Chicago, Illinois. Earnings were listed by quarter. Her social security record also reveals that her card was initially issued in Illinois, so she had no Social Security wages reported before this time.
- 1st QTR – 262.50
- 2nd QTR – 238.75
I knew that Mom had performed in Chicago with the Dorothy Hild Dancers at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
However, based on this address – the 1944 income was not at the Edgewater Beach, but at the Chicago Theater which is located at 175 N. State.
That’s an entirely different venue.
I had no idea. What can I discover about the Chicago Theatre?
The Chicago Theater still stands downtown in the Loop today.
In 1944, the 7-story Chicago Theater’s sign was painted grey. Mom would have stood right here, in front. I believe I see a bus and trolley too, in addition to the trucks in front of Walgreen Drugs. Chicago was a world apart from Silver Lake, Indiana. I know she had studied and performed in Philadelphia with a prima ballerina at one time, but this must have been different yet. She was going to live and perform here, in a hopping metropolis, not visit to study and then return home to Indiana.
Chicago was now home, and she was performing in this magnificent theater – the best of the best.
When I realized exactly what I was seeing, my jaw dropped. The Chicago Theater was built and billed as “The Wonder Theater of the World,” a reputation it lived up to. Step inside the theater and be transported to Paris.
The stunning interior with its gorgeous murals is the same today as it was when mother performed under those chandelier lights to a capacity crowd of 5000 people. A 50-piece orchestra accompanied the live stage shows. Orson Welles exclaimed of the performance, including the Wurlitzer organ; “Oh, yes, it was mighty.” Sometimes mounted police were required for crowd control.
This must have seemed utterly surreal to mother. Did she have to pinch herself? From embarrassed and humiliated as the undesirable wife in Indiana – to this?
The plush environment, private boxes and very early air conditioning attracted wealthy patrons for live performances and early movies.
The five-story lobby and mezzanine, reached by the magnificent grand staircase is patterned after the Royal Palace at Versailles and the Paris Opera House. The crystal chandeliers and light fixtures were fitted with Steuben shades.
You can see the absolutely stunning interior, here and here. Old world opulence is the word that comes to mind.
Mom had been dancing and performing for more than a decade and had a voice coach in Chicago.
It was here, in this stunning 5-story theatre than that mother’s crystal-clear, angelic voice resonated, filling the chamber, with her dancing shoes tap-tapping across the stage to the sheer delight of patrons.
It was here that mother came into her own – her potential just beginning to be realized.
The stars must have glimmered in her eyes, brighter than the heavens. The hometown girl whose husband abandoned her for the girl next door had made it big in one of the most beautiful and renowned theaters, if not THE most beautiful theater in the world. As painful as Silver Lake was, here she was a beautiful star, shining brilliantly under the stage lights. Only she knew the heartache she left behind. Left behind on the surface anyway.
Mom walked through these doors for daily practices and nightly performances.
In the excitement of my discovery, I almost forgot about Mom’s pay. Yes, she was paid. If she worked a 40-hour week, and we all know that show business is never just a 40-hour week, she would have worked about 13 weeks in each quarter, or about 520 hours. In the first quarter, she made about 50 cents an hour.
Mom was paid better than average given that minimum wage in 1944 was thirty cents an hour, or equivalent to $5.12 in 2023. Ok, so maybe she wasn’t so well paid. Certainly, no place near a living wage today.
And much of that was sent back to Indiana.
The third and fourth quarter of 1944, and the first and second quarters of 1945, plus part of the third quarter – Mom worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
This was when she was performing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers. Mom is middle row, far right.
Of course, I can’t ask Mom why she changed jobs, but I bet I have a clue. Not only was Mom paid better, but she got to live at the Edgewater Beach hotel as part of her compensation package.
The photos in this article show the crowds at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in 1944, a very posh destination location. Mom opened for Bing Crosby and other famous big bands such as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey who played in the ballroom regularly. I think she has a photo someplace with Wayne King, although I had no idea who he was.
This video was shot in the fall of 1944 at the Edgewater Beach hotel. I can just see Mom there. In fact, she may have been there at this time.
I recognize those stair balusters.
It was here that mother fell in love again in 1944 with Frank Sadowski, the brother of one of the Dorothy Hild dancers.
Indeed. I can watch that video, then close my eyes and see Mother and Frank, her sweetheart, before he was killed in April of 1945.
It’s like I can see life through Mom’s eyes for a few minutes.
Frolicking on the beach, then beautifully dressed and out on the town. Life was good again, and her heartache healed. Frank was an amazing man, studying to be a doctor, which is how he served in the Army.
Everything was going to be alright. They would marry after he got out the service. John, my brother, would come and live with them in Chicago. Life was wonderful and the future was bright, filled with hope and optimism.
That is, until that bubble suddenly burst with a bullet.
Mom made twice as much money at the Edgewater Beach. The first two quarters, she made a total of $396 each quarter. In the first two quarters of 1945, she made $468 each. It’s no wonder she changed employers. Now, she was up to 90 cents an hour plus her room.
Mom worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel for the first two weeks of the third quarter, which would have been July of 1945. It was probably beastly hot and after Frank’s death, mother was not OK. I’m sure the very last thing she felt like doing was plastering what was assuredly, at that point, a fake smile on her face and performing nightly.
During this time, she also lost an incredible about of weight, and in most photos, appeared incredibly sad.
I’m actually surprised Mom didn’t go back home, but perhaps she realized there was absolutely nothing to go back to.
I have no employment record for mother from June of 1945 until the second quarter of 1950.
A record recently popped up on MyHeritage showing that in May of 1950, she applied for a replacement Social Security card.
I can, in mind’s eye, imagine her frantically digging through her belongings to find that missing card. Where was it? Or, had she perhaps left Florida in a hurry in the spring of 1950, packing only a bag?
A LOT changed in her life between 1945 and 1950.
I know Mom was performing in various theaters and clubs, traveling across the country on tour.
She amassed a suitcase full of scrapbooks that included newspaper clippings of her performances during this time.
She met my father on a train from Philadelphia, where she was appearing, to Chicago.
Mom broke her foot dancing in Cairo, Illinois as reported on October 18, 1947 in the Kosciusko County, Indiana newspaper, stating that her parents were going to retrieve her.
This was effectively the end of Mom’s theater career. A broken foot is a literal show-stopper for a dancer. Mom needed to reconsider and regroup.
Remember that most performers were self-employed, meaning that no one issued them a paycheck. Until 1951, self-employed people couldn’t pay into social security, so there would not have been a record.
Mom’s professional dancing career only lasted four and a half years, if you count from she went to Chicago. She began dancing as a child to strengthen her heart after Rheumatic Fever, and began teaching when she was 15 or 16.
She was just two months shy of 25 when she broke her foot.
Mom knew this chapter of her life was finished. On June 1st, 1949, she withdrew from the American Guild of Variety Artists.
In April 1949, Mom married in Florida and eleven months later, in March of 1950, she found herself divorced.
Not by her choosing, but she had discovered that things weren’t what they seemed or how they had been represented.
I was hoping Mom’s social security and employer history might lend a clue to the year she spent in Florida, but it did not.
This time, when she packed her bags and left Florida, she did go home, or at least near to home and found a job relatively quickly.
In 1950, Mom worked for the last three weeks of the second quarter, so the final three weeks of June, at the Lerner Department Store in Fort Wayne, Indiana for 80 cents an hour. Minimum wage was 75 cents.
Mom did well for herself. She earned $580 in the last quarter of 1951, or $1.12 per hour which provided enough income for Mom to rent a room in this cute yellow house at 534 Meyer and send money home to care for John who was 7 or 8 years old by this time.
I’m uncertain where the Lerner Store was located, but it was probably downtown. This video shows a drive through downtown Fort Wayne in the 1950s and is much like what mother would have seen.
Mom apparently worked part time during the first two quarters of 1952. According to the Fort Wayne City Directory, she was a saleswoman in 1951, but had been promoted to assistant manager in 1952. In the third quarter, she made $602, but was back to $580 in the fourth quarter. She worked at Lerner Shops in January of 1953, then was gone.
In 1952 when Mom was working part-time for Lerner Shops, it appears that she was also working part time for the Wayne Knitting Mills, located at 641 Knitters Avenue in Fort Wayne. She worked there parts of both the first and second quarters of 1952.
The Wayne Knitting Mills, a massive complex, was America’s largest producer of silk hosiery during the time when mother would have been employed there.
Women sat in row upon row, sewing, morning until night, as shown in the photo, here. The facility included a dorm at one time which might have served as an enticement.
That work must have been both backbreaking, sitting hunched over for hours, and mind-numbing, especially for someone used to being physically active. She didn’t last long there, but probably longer than I would have.
In February of 1953, Mom made a big move, beginning her second career. Her lifelong dream had always been to be a bookkeeper, not a dancer and not working in a department store or knitting mill. By this time, she was 13 years out of high school.
Mom never trained as a bookkeeper because her parents didn’t believe in spending money on education for a female – a common sentiment for the time. They had paid for mother’s brother to go to college, including a master’s degree.
My brother once told me that as a child, he and my grandparents had gone to visit my mother when she worked at that “home place” in Lafayette, Indiana, in the office.
Mother had never mentioned this during her lifetime, so I asked “What home place?” John explained that Mom worked in the office for a huge company that made houses. I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about, but here we are!
Indeed, Mom worked for National Homes Acceptance Corporation. Their last address was out of Dallas, TX, but she worked for their initial plant in Lafayette.
National Homes Acceptance Corporation was incorporated in 1952.
Imagine my amazement to discover that at one point in my early adult life, I had lived in this very home, identical to the one above – except the one I lived in was reversed left to right from the model and was painted red at that time.
Entire neighborhoods and subdivisions were constructed quickly. More than 70 years later, many of these homes are still in good condition.
National Homes were inexpensive, solid, and very popular with GIs returning from the service and starting a family. The homes were built in pieces in the factory, then loaded on railroad cars and trucks and assembled on site – reducing the construction time from weeks or months to days.
One of the keys, of course, was a reliable, repeatable pattern that was reproduced thousands of times.
Entire communities of these homes sprang up overnight across the country.
Mom worked in the home office. National Homes were manufactured in several locations in Lafayette, so finding the location of the offices was challenging. The mailing address was Earl Avenue at Wallace Street.
This building stands at that intersection today, and it looks like it might be old enough to have been the National Homes office building.
There’s also a lot of vacant space at this intersection. The train tracks run behind the parking lot, so at one point, there was obviously shipping that occurred from this location.
Today’s Wabash National Corporation produces semi-trailers and began as National Home Corporation. It’s located on Sagamore Parkway, shown above.
If you zoom out a bit, you can see that this entire area, on both sides of the railroad track were and are heavily industrialized. Warehouses at 1000 Sagamore Parkway, now Wabash National, cover most of that block and the next. The Earl and Wallace address (red pin) where Mom worked is just a block down and over – about half a mile.
Mom worked at National Homes from mid-January in 1953 until about the end of January in 1954, making $1.05 per hour.
Soon, however, she moved and got a substantial raise with a new employer.
In 1954, Mother moved back to Chicago where her employer is listed as Sidney Friedman & Meyer S. Smith etal Ptr Sidney Friedman Gen Ptr Cap Wine and Liq Regency Zimco at 2518 W. Coyle Avenue, Chicago where she made $1.58 per hour. Minimum wage was still 75 cents per hour. Mom was making the equivalent of $14.50 in today’s dollars.
I wish I knew why she left Lafayette. I’m sure the cost of living in Chicago was significantly higher.
It was during this time that Mom rented a room from a woman in Chicago that she called Mommie McKenzie, pictured above. McKenzie was a widow that rented rooms in her home to single women who needed some combination of safety and companionship.
Additionally, living with an older widow woman probably removed some of the stigma of being single, or worse yet, divorced, in a big city.
Mother’s employer’s address resolves to a residence although that only means it’s the last address of record for this company. It doesn’t mean that’s the address when she worked there, or that’s physically where she worked.
2518 W. Coyle is this rather large home built in 1931. Today, it houses the Michael Teolis Singers. Who knows, maybe the earlier owners were involved in the entertainment industry too. Based on the company name, in 1954 it seemed to have something to do with wine and liquor sales.
At first, I thought this property might have been located in close proximity to my father who lived at 1827 West Cermak in the 1950 census, or his mother who lived at 317 South Laflin, but it was quite distant, about 18 miles.
It was much closer to the Edgewater Beach Hotel, about 3 miles, and was clearly in a clean, lovely little neighborhood that was familiar.
Sidney Friedman, a lawyer, lived at this location along with his family from 1993-1997 according to the US Phone Directories. He was clearly living here or was somehow associated with this property in the 1950s. I don’t know, but I’d wager a guess that Mom was keeping the books for his company that just happened to have his home listed as it’s headquarters, at least when the Social Security Administration last had an address.
In the first quarter of 1955, Mom was making $1.66 per hour. She worked through most of June in 1955 when she left that job because she was pregnant.
In 1955, there were no provisions for either health insurance or maternity leave. I’m actually surprised she was permitted to work through the end of June when she would definitely have been showing.
Mom told me that she worked part-time for a department store in downtown Chicago, dressing mannequins, but there’s no record in her social security earnings. It could have been cash, or perhaps Sidney Friedman’s company was somehow tied to that.
I tend to think Friedman’s company was linked to the entertainment industry though, based on the “Wine and Liq” portion of the company name, and Mom was probably doing the bookkeeping for him. I wish I could ask her.
During this time, mother was also helping care for my paternal grandmother, Ollie Bolton, who died that April.
The next 2 years, July of 1955 through the spring of 1957 were consumed by a baby, diapers and moving, at least twice.
In November 1956, my father was involved in a near-fatal accident in Kokomo, Indiana that landed him in intensive care for several weeks.
The police came to get Mom and took us to the hospital. Apparently, the staff at the hospital also notified his wife. Trouble was, it was a different wife who lived in Chicago.
A few hours later at the hospital, as my mother sat bedside with her comatose husband, another woman walked in, also carrying a baby, and said she was looking for her husband. My father was in an oxygen tent that was cloudy, the light was off, plus the curtain was pulled. They didn’t think he would live.
The woman walked out, then back in again, quite confused. Her husband didn’t seem to be in either bed. Mom asked her husband’s name, and she replied, “Bill Estes.”
“That’s my husband,” Mom uttered in shocked disbelief.
Two life-altering sucker-punches in one day. Two wives. Two babies. One critically injured husband.
The two women sat side by side – probably more like collapsed – beside his bed, with their babies and shared information. Lots of information. Rivers of tears and red-hot anger directed towards that unconscious man that they were both grieving. Did they ever share – likely more than either woman really wanted to know.
It’s probably a good thing he was unconscious. I can’t help but wonder what he thought when he woke up. Did he think he was having a nightmare? Maybe he wished he had died. Maybe they did too.
The other baby was my brother, Dave, 4 months older than me. While Ellen was incensed at my father for cheating with my mother, years later, DNA would show that my father was not David’s biological father, so my father wasn’t the only unfaithful party. Not that that’s any justification.
Mother was utterly devastated. What was she to do?
Dad recovered, but Mom did not allow him to come “home” to her. He went back to Ellen’s house in Chicago.
Mother apparently managed to get through the winter somehow – and without going back home to Silver Lake in utter humiliation. I’d wager she was miserable.
My mother is one of the bravest women I’ve ever known.
About the middle of May in 1957, Mom began working for Mid States Electric Supply, an electrical parts supplier, as a bookkeeper. She was surprised that anyone would hire a single woman with a child. Not only was there a lot of stigma attached, even without “the rest of the story,” but also there was concern about “who would watch the baby?”
In addition to rent, food, utilities, clothing and a car, now Mom also had to pay a babysitter. She was still sending money to her parents for John, too. I’ve often thought that mother’s life would have been so much simpler if she had placed me for adoption. My heart still aches for her.
The building in Kokomo where Mother first worked for Mid States still stands at the corner of Monroe and Union. Her office was located inside the window to the far left in the photo. I remember her grey desk with its metal chair and sometimes getting to lick the envelope seals and stamps when she sent invoices.
At $1.13 an hour, her starting wages were less than she had made in Chicago, but more than 1953 in Lafayette, Indiana. However, she worked a minimum of 44 hours a week, because the store was open on Saturday morning. She didn’t mind though, because we needed that extra money to make ends meet. I remember Mom saying it paid for the groceries, and we never had anything “extra.”
Minimum wage was $1.00 an hour.
A few years later, Mid States moved to 309 E. Deffenbaugh Street, a more industrial area located a block or so from the Delco plant that purchased a large number of parts. The business had also expanded into consumer lighting, sporting a showroom and lighting consultant.
Mom worked most of April in 1957 and continued to work for Mid States for 14 years, until it was sold to Universal Electric in 1971. The office remained in the same location. The Kokomo office, warehouse and showroom simply joined a larger business.
In the 1970s, I began going to work with Mom on Saturday mornings to do filing, type invoices and earn some spending money. I was paid out of the till, plus a nice cold Coke from the chest type Coke machine. Was that ever good! I enjoyed working for Mom and felt like I was contributing something useful.
Mom had no wages reported for the first two quarters of 1971, but I’m absolutely positive she was working. I suspect a glitch in the reporting following the sale to Universal Electric. I know Mom did some side-work during this time, transcribing records and writing letters for a local attorney. She had taken shorthand and was concerned about losing her job. She was obviously paid cash, because that doesn’t show in her wage record.
Mom was making the same amount that she was paid at Mid States, except she sometimes didn’t reliably receive as much overtime. By 1972, she was making $2.50 an hour. Minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. Mom not only ran the office and had for almost 20 years, she essentially ran the business.
Mom worked for Universal Electric until the fall of 1972.
Not only did Mom change jobs, she got married that same month. Her good nature was being taken advantage of at Universal. Her employer knew she was single and relatively desperate for a job. That changed when she married. Dad, my step-father, encouraged her to quit and find work, if she wanted, with someone who appreciated her. She did just that.
Mom worked for Kokomo Land Company, a builder and land developer, through part of 1975, beginning either right before or right after the wedding. She actually didn’t make as much money in total, but I don’t think she had to work on Saturday which was a relief. She had worked six days a week for 16 years. By the end of 1974, her quarterly wage was $1575, almost exactly what she made at Universal Electric.
At that time, the Kokomo Land Office occupied the majority of the center portion of Forest Park Shopping Plaza. I remember meeting Mom at the Dairy Queen, at the left end, for lunch.
In 1975, she worked for the first quarter for another company, Raymond G. Murkowski out of Athens, Wisconsin. That’s interesting, because she went back to Kokomo Land briefly for part of the second and fourth quarters, probably working part-time. I vaguely remember something about oil speculation in Texas at Kokomo Land Company, but I’m not at all sure that’s connected.
Ironically, although I was an adult in 1975 and close to my mother, I have no idea who Raymond Murkowski is. She never went to Wisconsin, so I have to wonder if he was somehow involved with Kokomo Land Company.
In the last two full quarters that Mom worked in 1974 and 1975, assuming she only worked 40 hours each week, she made $2.93 and $2.58 per hour, respectively. The minimum wage was $2.00 in 1974, or equivalent to about $12.20 today and $2.10 in 1975, or about $12.01 today.
Mom’s retirement was rather unexpected, although not unwelcome, brought about by a health issue. She was becoming increasingly disenchanted with Kokomo Land and the owner, and the business was encountering financial issues. She was relieved to bow out.
Mom’s bookkeeping career spanned 22 years, 1953 to 1975.
Surgery fixed Mom’s health issue, but retirement didn’t agree with her, so in 1978, Mom began her third and final career as an Avon Representative. That gave her life a sense of purpose again, but not because of the sales.
Her Avon business was more of a mission than a job. She visited those in need, shut-ins, listened, helped, took food and more, all under the guise of delivering an Avon order or stopping by to see if someone wanted to look at the Avon book and place an order. She gave far more away than she ever made, and that’s not counting gas, wear and tear on the car, or her time.
Her Avon income was reported as self-employment through 2005 – a total of 26 years.
For the entire year of 1974, at Kokomo Land, she made $5,835. In 1978 and 1979, her first two Avon years, she made about $650 each year.
Her best sales year was 1987 when she made $6229. But that wasn’t her highest accomplishment.
In 1988, at the Avon President’s Club dinner Mom was nominated for and received the Spirit of Avon Award. This award is not earned with sales or through recruiting, but living by example. If I recall correctly, only one award was given per district, per year.
For three years during that time, 1983-1985, Avon paid Mom small amounts directly. $45, $180 and $15 respectively. I’m guessing she helped with training or something similar, but I really have no idea. She was always stepping up, going above and beyond. That’s just who she was.
In 1992, Dad and Aunt Verma (left) accompanied Mom to a dinner honoring Avon President’s Club Members. President’s Club membership was based on sales, not profit. Her 1991 sales were $4071.
Presidents Club members received Albie figurines. Not my cup of tea, but Mom cherished the Albies because of their significance. She was incredibly proud of those accomplishments, even though she was far too demure to ever say anything.
Trust me, Mom made sales and reported income, but she assuredly lost money every year. Working was no longer about pay, but service, charity and companionship.
Being an Avon Lady was her legacy.
Mom was absolutely determined to complete her 25th year with Avon, and she did. The photo above was taken by a customer on her last day. She was 82 years old.
Mom’s driving skills were deteriorating, and although we knew she would miss the people and her customers, it was time for Mom to retire for the third time.
When she retired, her friends, family and many customers surprised her with a party in the summer of 2005.
Mom was utterly thrilled – just joyful. She worried about who would take care of her customers – not take their orders – take care of them.
Then, she was gone the next spring.
I still have and use her Avon sample bag that she carried for so many years. She goes with me every time I transport a care quilt to be quilted, and often when I deliver the finished quilt to the recipient.
Just a small way to continue her legacy of service. Mom accompanies me.
Mom had one additional employer that I had forgotten about that made me smile.
In 1979 and 1980, I was working for Hendrickson Distributing as the IT director. Hendrickson Distributing was a farm distributor, building grain bins and silos. We were converting from one computer system to another, plus implementing an inventory management system, and I needed part-time assistance with data entry.
I asked Mom if she could help out, and she agreed. I knew she would be dependable and produce accurate work. Mom was a stickler for precision, thanks to all those years of bookkeeping, and fully understood the need for accuracy.
Until I saw her wage report, I had nearly forgotten about those months that Mom actually worked for me.
The Hendrickson’s office, now a car lot, was a glorified pole barn. The computer room which doubled as our office was located between the picture window and the first garage door, near that red car. The office was small, maybe 12X12, and there were either three or four of us typing away. The good news – because of the computer equipment, the office was air conditioned. The rest of the offices and warehouse facilities were not.
We walked across the street to the lunch counter at the drug store to eat or drove the couple blocks to the only little Mom and Pop restaurant in the small town of Russiaville, Indiana, neither of which exist anymore.
I hadn’t realized until we worked together at Hendrickson’s that Mom and I almost never had any time together, just the two of us.
This photo, taken in 1988 at an Embroiderers’ Guild awards banquet in Louisville, KY is a rare exception.
Our lives revolved around family. Between husbands, siblings, children, farms, pets, jobs, Avon, church and in my case, college, we were both always extremely busy.
I remember those days at Hendrickson fondly now, with a soft smile and perhaps a tear or two.
I’m so grateful for those few months of working side by side, closely together. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life would change dramatically in the fall of 1980, just a few months later. This time, it would be me that changed jobs and moved away.
Yes, indeed, ordering mother’s Social Security wage statements was well worth the effort. Not only did I discover things about mother’s life that I never knew, and never could have known any other way, I also got a complimentary trip down memory lane.
Mom worked for nearly seven decades, but what was her legacy?
Mom’s legacy, beyond Avon and her service there, was the inspiration and encouragement she infused into people around her. Mom was in many ways, contagious. She had quietly succeeded at pretty much everything she set her mind to, in spite of what seemed like dauntingly impossible circumstances.
After her death, I found these “10 Commandments” in her effects. They explain a lot. If you’re wondering about why there are only 9 – she apparently typed 9 and 10 together as one. #10 begins with “Survive in order to thrive.”
Maybe she just wanted to see if we were paying attention:)
Stars Over Broadway
It seems my mother was constantly conflicted between feeling she needed to conform to oppressive expectations, and the glorious freedom of reaching for the stars, literally, despite all odds.
She was a tenacious woman of many talents.
In addition to her paying jobs in three professions for nearly 70 years, she was a master crochet artist.
Mom had literally boxes and boxes of ribbons, People’s Choice, and Best of Show Rosettes from fairs and exhibits of different types across the country.
Every family member received cozy afghans, intricate heirloom shawls and beautiful Christmas ornaments, often with ribbons attached.
I designed and made Mom a quilt that I named Stars Over Broadway, using her ribbons symbolically mixed with a few of mine – subtly suggesting that indeed, Mom deserved her own Hollywood Star.
Not only for her dancing prowess, but all of her lifetime achievements. Mom was much too humble to share her accomplishments, except maybe for a ribbon or two at fair time. I hoped that this metaphoric quilt, which she hung prominently, would remind her every day how much she had accomplished, how valued she was to us, and that we recognized and were oh-so-very-proud of her achievements.
She didn’t have to be embarrassed by the recognition, because no one outside the family would ever know the real meaning unless she told them.
Mom was my inspiration, by example, even though I often didn’t realize it at the time.
These ribbon stars are touching at the points, essentially holding hands, representing the women who came before us, those of us who lived when she did and were part of the sacred circle, and those who will follow, joined through time. An infinity loop of sorts – always connected. Reaching out, holding hands, dancing in circles, sharing energy, bonded forever.
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Great story of a great lady.
I ordered my grandfather’s file in 1991 and received a letter it had been destroyed the year before. I know so little about him that it was such disappointing news to know nothing new. I’m glad you didn’t wait much longer!
Maybe that’s what happened to my father’s. When did your grandfather die?
What an absolutely touching tribute to your Mother! Thank you.
Absolutely lovely write-up.
Amazing story. Thank you!
Thank you for the SS information. Your Mom made 80 cents an hour in 1950, when the minimum wage was 75 cents; fast forward to 1961, I worked for The Louisville Stores in a small town and they paid me 50 cents an hour. How naive I was.
I remember the first time I made more than her and how guilty I felt.
I’m the daughter of a woman who had a tough life too. She was born on June 1, 1931 in Germany but later came to Canada. I’m sure she nor her parents could have ever imagined how her life would unfold. Early setbacks, even in adulthood, can really take their toll. I recall from another article you wrote, honouring your mother, that she did experience much more happiness and stability when she married your stepfather. – By the way, my mom tried different things too, to earn money while caring for her own children, including selling Avon products in the 1960’s. Sometimes my mom had to bring me along to her house visits. I was about 5 years old at the time and have a small memory of this. She was always loved Avon products… including the extra items they later sold, like jewellery, etc. It was extremely interesting to read your mom’s life story, as revealed by her employment history. (My first job with a “social insurance number” was $2.15/hour in Canada. I worked part time while attending high school at the age of 15, 1977. Yike!)
I still have some Availability n products that I bought from Mom all these years later. We buried her with an Avon chapstick tucked in her hand.
I can’t find my Mom on the 1950 census either. This may be a way to locate them-thanks for the tip! I’ll have to save up for the report but I will put it on my wish list.
My husband ordered his grandfather’s application for social security. We knew nothing about his parents. He is listed in the 1880 census as an orphan. It said that he
uses his mother’s name and her name was written on the form. This allowed me to trace his May family from Knoxville, Tn.back to Germany in the seventeen hundreds.
Such a great memory and beautifully written as always! I remember making 50 cents an hour babysitting in the late 60’s. Babysitting included cleaning up the house after the adults had left but I think I did that out of boredom after the kids were asleep. Different time.
What an enthralling and lovingly written entry. Perfect Sunday morning reading. Thank you for sharing. Even from afar, it’s clear that your mother had a great strength of spirit – both to endure the circumstances, and to choose to be kind and giving regardless.
I had never considered asking for a full Social Security report. This may be very helpful for a few people I have in mind.
Have a lovely Sunday.
Well done Roberta. Thanks for sharing!
I worked as a cashier at a grocery store during high school and college in the late 1960s. I remember being so proud when my boss told me I was getting a raise – obviously because of my stellar work ethic – or so I thought. Turns out it was only because New York State had raised the minimum wage!
Another part of her legacy is seen when you gift your beautiful quilts to others.
It is indeed. I remember quilting with her too. Charity quilts.
I loved your article. I wonder what happen to all those dance recital pictures I had of my girls. One of my daughters even after all the college degrees she has, recently quit her job to be a dance instructor. Just love it.
A very fascinating read, almost looking in on someone s resolve to keep up with a long line of life’s struggles. In a word Inspiring. I am a 72 yr old war vet that had found this to be something I had to read start to finish. Somehow it connected on a lot of levels, and I did grow up in Ft. Wayne, but it wasn’t that, it was determination. The human spirit.
This is my favorite post! Your mother was beautiful, strong, & courageous. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this! I didn’t know how to get my father’s SSA history, and you made it clear. He is unaccounted for for most of his life, and this will tell the tale, I hope.
Although, I see that sometimes they say the file was destroyed? Do they refund the $100 then? Do they wait until 7 years after death to destroy the file?
Mom died in 2006 so it has to be more than 7.
Roberta, Thanks so much for this social security source info.
Another great tool for the toolbox.
Thank you Roberta in recent years I have dipped into your family history saga back into the USA but nothing absorbed me as much as your story of your journey through your remarkable mothers life via the security service record. In the digital age we regard nothing as secret but back in the days of pen and paper shows there are still treasures.
I really enjoyed reading your mother’s story. I admire her strength and ability to carry on after tragedy. She seems to have lived a very full life with courage and dignity. How cool that she got to work for her daughter for a time. And I’m glad she lived in Chicago, I grew up there in the 50’s and 60’s and spent a fair amount of time at the Chicago Theatre and the Edgewater Beach, wonderful memories.
It was very easy to “pay attention” to this wonderful story about your amazing mother. Love your “Stars over Broadway” quilt. What a brilliant/lovely tribute! D-Cuz Harry
On your 1944 Edgewater Beach Hotel poster, there is a Mr Ballantine.
That would be Carl Ballantine, a comedic magician, who was a friend of my father, another professional magician. I have many scrap books of my father, and I will check to see if he ever worked at the Edgewater.
Carl Ballantine became well known as one of the regulars on McHale’s Navy in the 60s, as a magician/hustler as well as guest roles on many other TV shows.
Thank you very much. I had no idea. Small world. Would be amazing if our parents knew each other, even in passing.
I’m wondering the same thing. I got all excited that this might shed some light on a family member whose whereabouts are a mystery from 1947 to 1960—but she died in 1967 so I have a feeling we’re out of luck. Guess I’m back to hoping she was telling the truth about working for the federal government so I can get her personnel file.
In any event, this was a great story, written by a great storyteller! I especially tip my hat to the detailed research on minimum wage in then-and-now dollars.
Barbara: Thank you so much for this. I worked there (SSA HQ) for 40 years and never knew this special information could be asked for. I have many childhood memories that depend on what, when, and where my father’s job was. Were we in California and Texas these years. My wife and I have sent four inquiries, one for each parent, to check things out. We each will check our grandparents records later if we can prove our right to have the information. John