My mother was the first woman bus driver in our part of England. But it came with a price. A price she chose to pay. This divorced, very pretty and feminine lady had two children to raise and her own mother to look after. With no child support, she needed to find the best job that paid the most. And that job was becoming a local bus driver. But, up until that time, all the drivers were men. This meant testing on cumbersome stick shift buses and driving those red double-decker buses that you see in the movies. And yes, she had to parallel park a double-decker bus on a hill with no power steering. This column honors my mother, one of the most courageous women I know.
Passing a series of complicated written and driving tests was the easy part. The difficult part came after she got the job. She was cruelly ostracized by both women and men. In the ladies’ rest rooms at work, Mom saw ugly, untrue things scrawled on the walls about her. And the men resented a woman driver, in this still very patriarchal world. It didn’t help that she was one of the few divorced women in the area.
Then there was the press. She was hounded and followed; her every move as a driver splashed on the front page. It was common for her to come home crying and take a cup of tea into her bedroom where she could be alone for a while. But, she didn’t give up. Each night, she ironed her uniform, the pants with crisp creases and the shirts a brilliant white, and went in day after day because of her two girls, because of us.
She rented an apartment in a nice area of town and kept it spotless. She took a second job as a tour bus driver to pay for it. We went to the library with Mom, and my sister and I would test her on the history facts in the different places she was to drive. Not only did she have to drive the tours, but also create them. Maybe this is one of the reasons I love creating all sorts of tours myself.
She sacrificed her happiness to raise her girls in a nice, safe area and we always had pretty clothes, many she made herself. She provided plenty of food to make those large English teas. We never went without. It would have been so easy for her to quit her job to find one less stressful for less money, and move out into a different area of town, but she didn’t. She went in day after day. For us.
Even with all of her problems, constantly working and coming home physically and emotionally drained, she was a voice to challenge school authorities when my sister or I were treated badly by bullying teachers (things were so different then). She wasn’t going to allow her children to be alone like she was in school. And when I was 12, my class went on a Mediterranean cruise. She worked longer hours at a place that made her cry, so that I could be with my class and see sights like the pyramids and the acropolis.
But one of the most courageous things my mother did was birthed out of difficulty. She realized that my sister and I would never get the education that the wealthy received in England at the time. Our mother made up her mind to leave the land she knew, and immigrate to the land of opportunity: To come to a land where it is possible to be successful because of talent and not just because of social/class standing or financial resources.
She worked overtime and scrimped and saved for years working at a place where they were unkind. She sold almost everything we owned for a pittance. I was 15 when we left everything behind, everything we knew for the unknown with the offer of hope. Our mother brought us to the United States to give us a chance of a better life. Mom still faced difficulties this side of the Atlantic, but she faced adversity with resolve, hard work and a determination to give her children a better life than she had experienced. And, on this and all Mothers Days, I am grateful to my mother and wish my mother, the most courageous woman I know, a Happy Mothers Day.