“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 Gaby Levine, interviewed by daughter Becky Levine (age 48).
From daughter Becky
My mother started writing her memoirs a few years ago, so when I started reading this series, I thought it would be fun to see if she wanted to answer the interview questions—and she did.
I can see many things my mother and I share—she started my love of reading and is the reason so many British children’s books are on my shelves today, and I think I got a lot of my parenting values from her.
On the other hand, I had about as safe and sheltered a childhood as anybody could ask for, while she had moved across continents and oceans by the time she was a teenager. Also, she (successfully and happily) raised three children while running a business and working what I call at least full-time school hours, while I found that juggling act, even with one son, to be too intimidating and overwhelming to take on.
I think we do both respect and value each others’ way of “doing” life—I’d love to see more women accept and applaud all the choices we face and the decisions we make about them. One of the best things that happened to me in the past year was watching my mom get my book, read it, and actually share it with her writing group. A little surreal, but really fantastic!
Where did you live?
In the small farm town of Arroyo Grande, California. The diverse population at that time was about 8,000–10,000 people, and because we had the only veterinary hospital in the area, we met a lot of them! I loved the fact that so many accents walked through our clinic doors; a lot of the people had moved here from the dust bowl areas before WWII, and their Okie and Arkie twangs always represented part of our history to me. Then there were the second and third generation Japanese-American families, with their history of internment during that war. The Filipino families were mostly descended from the farm workers who immigrated here in the twenties and thirties, and many of the other farmers had roots in the Azores. We were part of the group of big-city people who were looking for a better place to live and raise their children.
Now, thirty years later, all these people have seen their children grow up and give them grandchildren, and we’ve all been joined by many retirees from other parts of California, as well as a few from other states. Arroyo Grande is still a community of family farmers and small businesses, and the influx of retirees has made it possible for the area to support some upscale businesses and activities; we have a Trader Joe’s and an up-to-date gym, plus many good restaurants!
What did you do for work?
My husband and I are both veterinarians. At that time we worked together in our small-animal practice.
What was your typical day like?
By this time, our youngest daughter was the only one left at home, and since she was a senior in high school, she could take care of her own breakfast and getting ready for school. She was on the cross-country team, so if they had early practice she could get her own breakfast.
But Ken (my husband) and I would get up about 6 a.m., so that we had time for breakfast and a shower, before getting to the office for early-morning treatments. All the inpatients were examined and treated, and prescriptions and instructions written up for those ready to go home. We began admitting surgery patients about 8 a.m., and then would see the office-call patients until noon.
Officially, we had a lunch break from 12–2:30, but most of that time was usually taken by phone calls, taking and reviewing lab work, assisting in surgery if necessary, paying bills, etc.
Office-call hours continued from 2:30 until 6 p.m., but I would usually leave early to be home by the time our daughter came back from school. She did have her own key, and she was actually perfectly capable of getting a snack and starting homework, and I did really trust her completely, but my husband and I had always felt that it could save a lot of trouble if one of us was home when the kids came home from school. We “knew” that our daughters were perfect angels, but young people can make errors in judgment, and peer pressure can be powerful.
What did you worry about most?
Making enough money each month to make payroll, pay the other bills, and put money away for the pension and profit-sharing plans.
What did you wish for most?
As a young child, I had moved with my parents and sister from Germany to England to escape the Holocaust. Many of my mother’s family died in the concentration camps; the rest have been spread all over the world. We eventually moved to California to join my father’s mother, but I think that all of this left some feelings of uncertainty and fear in my mind. Keeping our immediate family together and healthy was the most important thing that I wished for.
What brought you the most satisfaction?
Growing my life together with my very best friend as my husband, and raising our three girls to be kind, self-reliant, and clear-thinking women comes right after that. Professionally, making and keeping our small-animal practice up to date was also very important.
What did you think the future held for you?
It’s more what I hoped the future held for me! I “planned” that all of our family would have long, happy, and fulfilling lives together. Professionally, I wanted to always be proud of the way we practiced veterinary medicine.
How do you look back on that age now?
It was the time when our daughters were moving on with their own lives, at college and beyond. We still kept in close touch with them; we’d visit them at their schools and arrange for them to come home for the holidays, and the family still enjoyed a summer vacation trip, and a winter trip to the snow, together.
Life at home was a bit simpler with just the two of us there; for instance, I only had to consider two people’s likes and dislikes when planning meals, and I could stay later at the office if I needed to do that.
The most difficult part of those years was learning how to run a business with up to 22 employees—that was not part of the curriculum at the veterinary school. In addition to practicing veterinary medicine, I was doing most of the bookkeeping, and Ken and I shared the personnel management issues. Neither of us really liked these jobs. One thing that we both did like was travelling, particularly overseas, and we were able to begin to indulge this like during these years.
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 co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.
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.