Updated: 05/06/2014 1:46 PM KSTP.com By: Phil Malat
Friday was payday for most Americans in the 50’s.
This was also the day when most mothers would receive the weekly household allowance from dad; and typically this was the day mom would do her grocery shopping. Saturday was an option, but stores were crowded on Saturday and most closed early. Of course Sunday was out of the question as stores remained closed to honor the “Lord’s Day of Rest.”
This particular Friday provided the worst weather that Minneapolis has to offer. The snow was deep enough to make the Russians envious and with the howling wind the temperature would have been uncomfortable for a polar bear. It was a macho day, a day which provided Twin Cities’ residents with bragging rights as to their heartiness.
There were two grocery stores in close proximity to the family home. Gloria liked the Red Owl. It was well-lighted with roomy aisles and upscale services. It was a bit pricier, but nothing middle class America couldn’t afford. The second store, a National Tea, was a bit further down the road.
As the family car carefully negotiated the icy streets, Gloria noticed an elderly lady in a thin cotton coat fighting the wind as she trudged through the snow. It was not uncommon for this homemaker to offer a ride to those in need; however, convenience was not Gloria’s primary concern. It was for the elderly lady’s wellbeing on this harshest of winter days.
Once in the car, the stranger was asked where she was going. She said she was headed to the National Tea store for groceries. Gloria was now curious as to why she was walking the extra distance on such a miserable day. The passenger explained that she was a widow trying to survive on a social security check. She said she was trying to save enough money for bus fare to visit her son in the state prison at Stillwater, Minnesota and choose National Tea because the bread was a few cents cheaper.
Gloria drove the stranger to the National Tea, but instead of going back to the Red Owl, Gloria and her sons, Michael and Bobby, shopped with the stranger. As they walked the aisles, Gloria inquired as to the woman’s needs which consisted of nothing beyond the staples. Gloria, however, kept adding additional items suggesting that she was also shopping for her family.
When they reached the checkout counter, all the groceries were purchased by Gloria. When the elderly lady protested the generosity, Gloria explained they would separate the groceries and work out the cost once they arrived at the woman’s home.
When they arrived, Michael, Bobby and Gloria unloaded the bags from the car and presented them to the elderly lady. Gloria also slipped an undetermined amount of cash to the stranger as they engaged in a tearful good-bye.
Gloria then started for home. Michael asked why she was not going to the Red Owl. She explained that they didn’t have money for groceries that week. Michael then inquired as to what they were going to eat and Gloria simply said; “Don’t worry…we’ll get by.”
The events of that day were never heralded or discussed over the years. It wasn’t until Gloria’s funeral that her husband learned of this kindness. Gloria did not want any credit or praise for her actions. To her it was simply doing what needed to be done and nothing more.
Gloria also helped with the building of Children’s Hospital by working with a group of women who published and sold cookbooks and home-crafts to raise money for the project. This was an effort that extended over ten years… an effort that, on occasion, required the time and attention of a full-time job.
It has been suggested that the 50’s was a repressive era, an era of the chosen few.
Women were not part of the chosen and experienced levels of discrimination comparable to that of black Americans. Gloria could not have secured a position of major responsibility within a company and homemakers seldom received the credit they so richly deserved. Yet even in an era of repression, greatness could still be achieved. That mother, on that winter day, left an indelible mark on minds and hearts that would flourish way beyond her years. Now, hopefully, whenever someone references those “Fabulous Fifties,” we will also remember Gloria and the lessons she taught her children on that frigid Minnesota day.
Phil Malat is a columnist for KSTP.com.