“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Bobbie, interviewed by her daughter Mimm Patterson (age 51).
[From the daughter, Mimm]
It’s funny how two people’s memories of a certain place and time can be different. I remember my mother’s drinking and multiple boyfriends. She remembers working hard and trying to do her best. I didn’t want to be like her, and in my mid-twenties I disappeared from her life. I felt that in order to survive—if I wanted a life detached from alcoholism’s dysfunction—then I had to leave. I ran away from home for 28 years. This past September I ran home again.
Where did you live in 1984?
Green Acres Mobile Home Park. Same place I live now. Been living here since 1976—after Earl and I sold the house.
I was sad when you sold the house.
Why? I moved here to be closer to work. And it’s smaller than the house. What do I need a big house for?
What did you do for work in 1984—what was your typical day like?
I was a waitress at the Pied Piper Diner in Trexlertown. Got up at 5 in the morning for a 6:30 shift. They’ve torn that diner down. Put up a big drug store. Remember the Eagle Hotel? Remember that night you and I went down there and you sang and played guitar?
They tore that down, too. And that was a historic building.
But what was your typical day like at the Pied Piper?
My typical day? Got up. Went to work. My shift ended around three. Tips were lousy, and once your shift started you were on stage for the entire time—no matter how sick you felt. Gee, I wish you could ask what I did after I quit the Pied Piper.
I quit waitressing and did displays for Hallmark and American Greeting Cards. Then I worked at Beauty World as a cosmetics clerk. After that I checked groceries at a supermarket. God, that job. I remember standing there thinking, I can do something better than this. I became a Certified Nursing Assistant in 1990. Must have been nearly 60 when I did that.
Who were you with? Did you have a boyfriend?
Earl [third husband] was gone, of course, so was Emil. I was with Billy then—country bumpkin—real simple guy. We were together three years. Then I met Tom.
What did you think the future held for you?
I don’t know. I just tried to live a good life. I was naïve like you are. I trusted everybody. I believed in love.
Did you want to be married again?
I don’t know. I guess. Sure. But Tom and I had an agreement—no marriage. We thought why ruin it. We were together 25 years.
When you look back at that age now, what do you feel—what were your hopes for the world, for yourself?
I was trying to pay my bills, keep my home nice. Practical things. There were no dreams in my life.
What about the music—when you were in the band with John? You were so popular. Did you miss that?
What else did I want to do with my life? I wanted to be a singer. When it was over, it was over. It was fun. It was over.
And the drinking?
In 1994 I said to Tom, “I’m never gonna have another drink.” But this is what you need to know: I never was drinking when I was working. I never stagnated except when I was drinking. But you have to understand—the loneliness is so extreme. You just don’t know.
When I saw my Mom in September she’d been sober for 16 years. Tom—the one love of her life whom she never married—passed away in April this year. I’m still looking for the love of my life. And I’m looking for the day when I can say, “No thank you, I don’t drink.”
Twenty-eight years ago I believed my mother and I were nothing at all alike. But she bloomed in her fifties, and I wasn’t there to witness it. I’m proud of my Mom— the late bloomer. And I have my fingers crossed I’m a late bloomer, too.
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.