The following post kicks off an interview series in which women interview their mothers, and ask what life was like when they were their age. Full credit for this idea goes to Bud Caddell.
The very first post? An interview with my mother, who talks about her life at the age of 33.
Laura Friedman (1968, 2010)
Where did you live?
I lived in a rented house on a hill at the edge of a very small town, Spurgeon, Indiana, with my teacher husband and five children, ages 2 through 12.
Describe your work or a typical day.
I was in my junior year of college. Teacher salaries were very low in the 60s, especially in small towns, and with so many children, it had always been necessary for me to work evenings as a waitress or in a factory to make ends meet. I decided the only way out of such a financial bind was to get a teaching degree myself, and to be on the same schedule as the kids while making enough money to help raise them. I had completed 2 years of junior college in Illinois, free to teacher’s wives, while my husband was teaching there. So when we moved to Spurgeon, I took the opportunity to enroll in Oakland City College, only 10 miles away, to complete my degree with a federal program that would forgive college tuition loans for those who would teach for at least ten years. (There was a severe teacher shortage at the time.)
A typical day saw me getting the kids off to school, packing up the 2 year old and driving to school in an old 1952 Ford with one door that wouldn’t open. I would drop my son off at the babysitter (my sister-in-law) on the way. I usually had an 8 o’clock class, but I loved school, so my days were enjoyable. After my last class, I would head home, pick up the baby, and start supper as soon as I got home. After that, I would spend some time with the older kids, maybe watch a TV program, or do a few chores around the house. After everyone was in bed, I went to my “study,” which was a small back room with a desk and typewriter, and spend at least two hours studying and memorizing my notes from that day’s classes. I was taking a full load, so there was always plenty of homework.
What did you worry about the most?
Money. I was born in 1934—the middle of the depression—and money worries were always part of my life. It was never my ambition to be rich, but my husband was very unstable (he could never stay in the same job more than a year or two), and I worried about providing a decent standard of living for the kids.
What did you think the future held for you?
I thought I would finish college, start teaching, we would buy a home, and lead a normal life raising the kids, and retiring to a comfortable old age. It didn’t work out that smoothly, of course. I did start teaching, we did buy a home, but in my third year of teaching, my unstable husband committed himself to a state mental hospital, and I was left to raise the kids myself. I couldn’t afford to make the house payments by myself, so I sold it for what we still owed on it, and to save the kids the embarrassment of staying in a school where everyone knew their father was in a mental hospital, moved back to my old hometown of Oakland City, Indiana. I rented a small house, and took a teaching position in another school.
Although finances were tight, it was actually a happy time. The kids never complained, and they took after-school and weekend jobs to pay for their personal expenses—even buying gifts for me. They had friends, and so did I.
How do you look back on that age now?
It was a time of sustained effort and learning which laid the foundation of the necessary survival skills I would need in the future. It made possible my current contentment. I do not believe I would be as happy as I am, had I merely coasted through life while somebody else shouldered the responsibilities. As Nietzsche so famously observed, that which does not kill us only makes us strong! My material wants are simple, and I derive my greatest satisfaction from the riches of the mind.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.