OPAL KARST, WORKING MOTHER
"It takes a community to raise a child" was introduced by my mother in the 1940's. She had spies all over the small town of Miller, South Dakota. If I smoked a cigarette, she knew it before the air cleared. If I said a cuss word in public, Opal, my mom, was aware of it before the echo died. My mom was a working mother, and she needed all the help she could get raising her second child. I needed a little less freedom and a lot more discipline than my brother and sister, so mom enlisted the whole town as my guardian.
My mother always had a job; she worked at Collins and Shaw Drug Store and became the first soda jerk in the family. Later, I followed in her footsteps. She worked as a sales clerk in haberdashery stores while raising three children. She sold overalls to farmers and dresses to the wives of bankers. She worked at J.C. PENNEY'S and met J.C. himself on one of his many trips to visit his stores around the country. J.C. had a way of making each employee feel important, and this was not wasted on my mother, although she already knew she was good at her job.
Opal worked on a commission basis, and her co-workers would rather mess with fire than interfere with a customer my mom was waiting on. My mother was a pleasant, likable lady, with a temper. In later years, she would say she didn't use profanity, but her children knew better.
Opal liked the idea of having her own spending money, and she was generous with my siblings and me. Of course, we were always well dressed. Decent was one of her favorite words. We had to look decent, act decent and talk decent when we were going somewhere decent.
We all had household chores to do, and they had better be completed when she arrived home from work. Because we had a coal furnace, washing walls was a big job we attacked all too frequently. I'm sure mom kept the Lan-O-Sheen cleaning powder company in business for years.
My brother and I slept in the same room, and we found a lot to laugh and talk about after the lights were out. This would irritate my parents until finally my mother would arrive on the scene with a belt and beat on the covers until we settled down. Years later, when she asked me if I ever got a tattoo while I was in the Navy, I told her she had left the imprint of a belt buckle on my butt that said "Made in The U.S.A.", so I didn't need a tattoo. She laughed and said, "It's a good story even though it isn't true."
My mother loved music and danced to the music of Lawrence Welk and his band when he was getting his start in the Dakotas. My dad did not dance, and I heard mom chastise him more than once for what she considered a personality flaw.
Dad thought Opal was a bit of a spend thrift and got on her one day about buying French's mustard instead of a cheaper brand. She ricocheted that jar off the wall and it made an awful mess. Dad said, "Well Opal, I guess you have finally lost your mind", on his way out the door. She didn't see the humor in it until after the mess was cleaned up.
My dad spent a lot of time at his Radio and Electric shop, and my mom was active in ladies clubs and church. Maybe their time apart is what made their time together seem so decent.
It certainly worked well for my brother, sister and I.
©2002 Maurice D. Karst
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