Mother's priorities, and mine

I had a modern upbringing, despite being born before World War II. Had a teacher at school asked everyone who lived with one parent to raise his hand, I would have been the only one in my class to do so. My father died weeks before my birth.

Had the teacher asked if any of us had a working mother, again I would have been the only person to raise my hand. Mother, the sole source of financial support for my sister and me, wrote and lectured on international relations.

There were many things to admire about my mother. She came to the United States alone at 16, a refugee of the Russian Revolution. Her wealth lay not in money or other valuables, but in the education she had received at home in St. Petersburg and in her gift for languages. She arrived on these shores totally fluent in English, Russian, and French.

She did brilliantly at college, in graduate school, and in her profession. She was happily married to Father, a lawyer in New York City. But soon she found herself a young widow with two infants to support. Once again, she was on her own. She never remarried.

Money was not abundant in our home. Mother had to earn every dollar. These were her spending priorities:

First and foremost, education. More than in stocks and bonds, mother believed in education as the best long-term, lifetime investment. My sister and I were sent to excellent schools. Alas, I was never a good enough student to win a scholarship, so Mother had to pay the full rate for me from first grade through law school.

While money went for education; we stinted on other things. We rented. No car. Modest furniture. Simple clothes.

Travel was another priority. For my Russian-born, French-speaking mother, it was a necessity to renew her European roots each year. I did not travel with her until my late teens because I enjoyed working at a summer camp in Maine. But once I began, the joy of travel quickly took hold.

Travel, of course, is a form of education; probably the most pleasurable. French history had made no impression on me until I visited the chteaux along the Loire River. Then the French kings came alive, and I could not read enough about them.

Restaurants were another of mother's spending priorities. This may seem odd for a family with limited funds. In a way, it was also a necessity for mother, since her cooking skills were nonexistent. Having worked hard all week at her job, the best she could muster on weekends was an occasional broiled lamb chop and boiled frozen peas.

Once we ventured into a very expensive restaurant. This became apparent only when the menu arrived. By then I had eaten two rolls. We withdrew from the premises as gracefully as circumstances allowed.

Lastly, my mother loved the theater. At college she'd had leading roles in amateur productions. Her sense of theater made her an excellent speaker and always a lively person to be with. How privileged I was to attend musicals during the golden age of the American musical, beginning with "Oklahoma!" and to see the plays of O'Neill and Williams.

Education. Travel. Restaurants. Theater. Mother's priorities and mine.

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