Always Have a Plan

Mary Lou Edwards

“Park your car, Doc! Right here, Doc! Park your car, Doc!”

Those sing-song words meant the White Sox were at Comiskey and my brother and his buddies were making money.

Never being included in the action bothered me so I went to tattle-tale to my dad. I found him tuned to his transistor radio. “Dad,” I asked, “Anthony gets an allowance like me so why is he parking cars for money?”

“It’s always better to make your own money,” he answered, “then you can be independent and take care of yourself.”

The seed was planted.

“When I get bigger, I’m going to park cars and make money to take care of you and Mom,” I promised.

“Girls can’t park cars,” he said, just as Bob Elson announced strike three. But the Sox were winning and he wasn't ticked off so he didn't shoo me away. “It’s harder for women to make money because there are a lot of jobs they can’t do.”
“So that means I get an allowance forever?”

“No, it means someday you'll marry a man who’ll take care of you and you'll get a good education just in case something happens to him.”

“What if I can’t find a man who wants me,” I worried, thinking of Angelina down the street who never married.

“Well, you’ll have your education to fall back on so you can be independent and take care of yourself. Go play with your sister. The Sox are up to bat,” he said, as he turned his attention back to the game.

Did he just say, I wondered, that I could only be independent if something happened to my husband or if I didn’t get married? If you were someone's wife, you couldn’t be independent? But what if a woman’s husband said she could be independent?
I had more questions, but I knew better than to keep bugging Dad when he was listening to baseball. Why couldn’t girls park cars? Why were the boys telling men where to park—they didn’t own the street. Why did so many doctors go to the ballgame?

There was no asking my brother. He’d tell me to quit sticking my nose where it didn’t belong. Besides, even though boys thought they knew it all, they really didn’t. He probably wouldn’t know why it was harder for women to make money or how I could find a rich man to take care of me.

Luckily I had a good brain, even my brother said I was smart for a girl. I’d figure this out for myself plus get an education just in case no man wanted to marry me. And if no one wanted to marry me, that wouldn’t be so terrible; boys didn’t impress me. I mean, God didn’t even trust them to have babies. If I stayed on the honor roll, maybe I could even skip the marriage part and jump right in to taking care of myself.

True, Dad handed over his paycheck to Mom every Friday but was it really hers? She didn’t go to work every day and earn it. I almost never saw her buy anything for herself. Did she figure she was lucky not to have a job so she was happy to stay home and just cook, clean, mop, sew, bake, grocery shop, wash windows, iron, do laundry, scrub floors, take care of us kids, drag around the Electro-Lux and drink coffee? Was she glad she didn't drive and that Daddy took her everywhere it was too far to walk?
She was dependent with a capital D. For years she’d wanted to move out of the old neighborhood. She'd say, "Jim, let's buy a house,." but he'd always say, “Mary, now is not the time. We’ve got three kids to put through college.” Couldn't they vote on some things? But voting probably wouldn't make any difference because it would be a tie and Dad was always the tie-breaker. Sometimes she could say what she thought but she really couldn't change anything. He was the boss.

Long before I’d heard the perverse version of the Golden Rule, “He who has the gold, rules.” I figured dependency was not a good thing so I just watched how it all worked and finally decided that I'd have to make my own rules. One day after school I made my list based on things my Mom did or didn't do and which I thought would make a difference.
1. Make a plan.
2. Go to college.
3. Drive a car.
4. Get a good job.
5. Save my money.
6. Dye my hair.
7. Smoke cigarettes and wear lipstick.
8. Don’t listen to men.
9. Don’t let a husband boss me around.
10. Make my own decisions.

I found my Mother in the kitchen slaving over the ironing board.
“Mom,” I asked, "could you read these and tell me what you think? I made some rules so I can be independent when I grow up."
She put the iron on its little metal resting plate, picked up my notebook and began reading. Her first "hmmmm..." sounded like she was thinking "OK, not bad" but her next "hmmmm...", as she neared the bottom of the page, sounded like "Really now? Is that so?"
She was quiet for a minute as she placed my notes on the table and retrieved her still hot iron. Finally she gave me one of those what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you smiles, and said, "What you wrote is very interesting. In fact, the first five ideas are excellent, but I thought you hated rules."
"Mom, I don't hate all rules," I informed her, "just stupid rules like only taking ten books out of the library at one time. These rules are different. They're my rules. They're for when I grow up.".
"So you decide which rules are stupid and which are important?" she probed.
"Yes, didn't you read number ten?" I responded in a voice like Sister Mary Perpetua, my teacher. " I'll make my own decisions. I decide if something is stupid. I'll use my own brain to decide if something is important," I ranted, wanting to add, "And I already decided that ironing is a waste of time," but I bit my tongue. Instead I continued, "Number nine says no husband will boss me around. Did you read the rules carefully, Momma?"
She probably was thinking, "Oh, God, this girl is never going to get married. She'll be way too much trouble," but instead she said, “Well, Honey, going to college, getting a good job and saving money should help you take charge of your own life, but why on earth would you want to smoke cigarettes and dye your hair?"
I didn't want to tell her that Red-Headed Ann, a very glamorous woman who lived on the next block and smoked Viceroys always seemed like she was having a good time. She dyed her hair (my girlfriend Donna said you could tell because it was almost orange) and drove a convertible; I was impressed. I was embarrassed to say that not only did I plan to be independent but I wanted to be glamorous and have fun too. I just knew Red-Headed Ann wouldn't waste a minute ironing sheets and pillowcases.
As if reading my mind, Momma said, while maneuvering the hot metal point of the iron into the corner of my father's shirt collar, "You probably think smoking and dyed hair are glamourous. Well, let me tell you something. Smoking is bad for your lungs and dyeing your hair is expensive and turns your hair into straw so you'd better find out what you're getting into first." Then holding the iron down on the shirt for so long I thought she was going to scorch it, she added, "You have a lot to learn, Missy."
I thought she might be getting irritated with me, and then I was sure of it when she gave me a fake smile and said, "Just wait and see what happens when you fall in love and get married, Miss Smarty Pants.”

I knew by the way she smirked “Miss Smarty Pants” she was telling me there were things I was too young to understand and that, even with a plan, life doesn't always go your way.
I wondered if she’d had a plan that changed when she got married. I wanted to ask, but I thought she might feel bad if that was what had happened. The thought of that made me very sad so I changed the subject. "You're the world's best Mother! I love you so much. I just wish you had time for a little fun," I said.
In my head, though, I said, "It’s going to be different for me, Momma. You just wait and see."

MLSE / 8/14/08

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mary Lou,

Love this story and your plan! It reminded me of the more loosely created plan of my own as a teen. Your writing style put me right there in that room with you and your dad. I truly felt your initial confusion/frustration, as well as, your triumphant discovery of independence. Keep writing and sharing your gift!

Kim B.