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Peggy Aiello

My mom was a young woman in the 40’s; those stylish days of silk stockings, beautiful wool suits and hats with feathers in them. WWII was entrenched in all aspects of her days. Her brother was in the Navy serving overseas, her best friend’s brother was a Marine, and when word of him being missing in action filtered it’s way to Chicago, my mom and her friend Anne Swan made their way to San Diego to find out more. They took “Rosie the Riveter” jobs to make a living while “Swanee,” as she was called by her friends, eventually found out that her brother was killed in action. Not having any more ties to the great state of California, the girls came back to Chicago and got jobs at Western Electric like most of the returning soldiers did − working in the office finally around men again.

Swanee was always my mom’s best friend; my middle name is Anne in honor of her. Their wonderful friendship and all their adventures were something that Mom shared with me, and one day when I was a teenager shopping at the mall with her she shared one of her favorite adventures that became something we did too. The memory is so fresh, as if it were yesterday, like the aroma a roasting turkey brings; it just conjures up a smile that feels good all over. We were walking through the Ladies’ Department at Marshall Fields and as we started sampling the colognes and looking at lipsticks, we turned around and there stood a display of hats. Black hats, feathered hats, hats with Highlighted quotestreamers, hats with veils, hats that weren’t more than a felt saucer, and some so big that you could hide inside — two big racks of them. She giggled and said, “When I used to shop with Swanee we’d go to Marshall Fields downtown and try on hats and we would laaaauugh.” So we began to try on hats. Black ones, feathered ones, ones with streamers — sideways, backwards (really — this is how this one goes?), and we laughed. We laughed so hard we attracted attention, never the good kind of attention. It was usually the kind that began with an older tight-lipped woman who would clear her throat, raise her eyebrows, and say through her teeth, “Can I show you something,” and end with an evil stare. We would politely say no and excuse ourselves, still laughing.

My mom was of another generation. She married my father in 1949 after they met at Western Electric. They had 3 children: me, my older brother Tom, and the middle child, Paul — who only lived about 10 days. To the day Mom died, I think she felt responsible for the birth defect that claimed Paul’s life.

I’m sorry I never asked her much about those days, but they always seemed so painful. Having children myself, I couldn’t fathom what she went through. I was born in sunny June, eighteen months later and all was right in the family. My mom continued to keep an impeccable house: washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday, bedding on Thursday. Friday was whole-house cleaning day — oh how I hated that day — and Saturday morning was grocery shopping day. Oh yeah — my mom never learned to drive so she was nearly always home.

She had other friends besides Swanee, went to the VFW with my dad, was occasionally room-mom, and belonged to a Friendship Club that played Bunko the second Wednesday of the month.

The end of the summer brought the end of Mom’s garden, and we spent many weeks putting vegetables in jars for the winter months. I could have done without canning the tomatoes, to this day stewed tomatoes don’t conjure up good memories, but we had fun canning. After my mom died, my dad moved down to Florida. He packed and moved several boxes of canned vegetables. I still have a jar of okra in my pantry that I guess my mom canned too many years ago, but I can’t part with it. It’s not hurting anyone there on the shelf. I promise not to eat it.

Mom imparted wisdom without lecturing. She had the wit of the staircase, which is why she probably had so many friends — dear friends like Aunt Swanee. I haven’t been able to put a hat on my head at Macy’s or Belk’s, even with my friends, but I wish one day to have a daughter-in-law or granddaughter to share this with and tell her what a funny lady her great-grandmother was. I hope that she inherits her sense of humor and the ability to wear a few different hats.