My husband likes to call me a “City Girl,” and when we travel, I like to add another city to my mental list of cities where I have walked, where I’ve stopped at a cafe for a cup of coffee, where I’ve seen the places that others recollect about having traveled to a particular place. Over the years, I’ve been happiest as a traveler when I’ve had time to simply walk a city; when Jeff and I stayed for several weeks in London as part of a “house exchange,” my happiest moments were the times we took the Tube into the city and walked slowly from one street to the next, noting the differences of that place, comparing what we were seeing to other places we’d been.
In my Junior Year of college, the University offered a trip to New York City to students during spring break. I wanted to go, that’s for sure. But how was I going to swing it? The $ 250.00 was more than I could see myself saving from my part time work at the carwash on weekends. One day, as the weeks to spring break quickly passed, my mother walked up to me in the kitchen of our flat, and from her hand, she handed me $250.00.
Where did she get the money to gift me the trip she knew I wanted? My parents’ habits around money were simple, working class habits. Dad brought his paycheck home every week, and Mom cashed the check at the grocery store, waiting in the line to the office booth at the front of the store, the booth where Green Stamps were redeemed, the booth where she paid the utility bills once a month. Later, at home, she carefully budgeted the cash in a folding paper folder made for that purpose; she and dad got an allowance, there was the money allowed for food, for utilities, and there was the money saved for Dad’s vacation in the summer, when we’d go to Door County for a week. She kept the budgeted cash in the bottom drawer of their dresser.
I’ll never know where Mom got the $250.00 she handed me that day, or whether it put her back a bit in the family’s budget. I don’t think so. I think she had carefully considered giving me the money, that she knew where it would come from, and I doubt it affected their budget.
I can see Mom’s face as she handed me the gift. I can see that she was opening a door for me, a door to a life she hadn’t had for herself, a door to some vision or dream she had for me, her only child to go to college. In her world, that $250.00 was an extravagant gift, certainly more than I had seen before. I’m still grateful for that extravagance, that gift with dreams and hopes – not spoken, but conscious dreams and hopes – attached.
I traveled to New York that spring on a bus with my friend, Vickie. There, we took in the Broadway show, “Hair,” we ate our meals in restaurants, at a New York deli, we walked and walked, and we lifted our hands into the street to get a taxi from here to there.
Later in her life, after my father passed and she had built a new life for herself, volunteering at St. Joseph’s Hospital, making new friends, my mother and her friend Mary took the bus trip offered by a local Senior Center to Washington, D.C. Later in her life, her world opened for her, and I’m grateful. After Mom passed, her friend Mary told me about the fun they’d had, traveling together, two elders, free women. Just like I had traveled to the big City with a good friend, many years before.
I’m grateful not only for the extravagant gift, but for the dream, the hope that was in and with that gift. Just as she’d passed the bills to me that day, she’d passed on that hope and that dream. In many, many ways, I’ve lived a life that my mother could not hope or imagine for herself. She dreamed it – for me.