Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lillie's Loan by Toby Myers

I'm delighted to have Toby Myers' guest blog this week.  I know you'll enjoy this poignant essay she wrote about her mother.  I loved it when I first heard it and asked if she'd share it here.

Lillie's Loan
Having lived through the depression, many, including my mother Lillie viewed buying anything but a house on credit as a diabolical scheme contrived to put the borrower on a squirrel cage of never-ending indenture. She had to choose the early matriculating high school diploma reserved for those going right to work rather than pursuing further education.  She got the message loud and clear that education was the ticket out of the ghetto albeit reserved for males.  She and her sister, vaccinated with that needle, left school to contribute to their brother's medical school expenses.  Lillie worked hard all of her life.  She was a working mother when, rather than admired and supported, was looked down on because of the aspersions a working wife cast on main breadwinner competency.  She became an incomparable saleswoman.  She worked with my father in his men's clothing store though most of her pre-marital work had been in women's clothes.  An oft repeated legend about her was when a customer took a liking to a too-small-for-him suit in the store, Lillie told him she was not going to sell him that suit unless he made a solemn promise to lose weight.  He put the suit in layaway.  When he finished paying for it, he had lost enough weight to wear it; both fit and looked well.  He related the story whenever he wore his all-time favorite suit.

When my father died suddenly, Lillie was in her 50's and living in Amarillo with no family anywhere near.  Both my sister and I were in Houston.  At our urging, she moved to be closer to us.  Very quickly she landed a job at The Barclay Apartments at Kirby and Bellefontaine as one of their building managers.  She was then very near my Old Braeswood home.  With the job came a free apartment.  Abruptly, some years later, the owners decided no longer to have "mature" women managers, but couples were the way to go.  The rationale was that the man of the couple could help with light maintenance and it would still be only one apartment needed.  The unpaired women managers were let go.  For Lillie this was both hard and humiliating.  Never before had she been let go from a job.  For the first time in her life, she took government money in the form of unemployment.  She had to check in with the Texas Employment Commission regularly to verify her job seeking activities.  On one particular morning, fully dressed for an interview with Foley's in Sharpstown, she stopped by her friend Rose's apartment.  She told Rose she would be back very soon so to put the coffee on in about an hour.  No one, thought Lillie, is going to hire someone over sixty.  She could not have been more wrong.  When the interviewers at Foley's met with her, learned of her experience, and saw how she conducted herself, they were so impressed that she was hired on the spot and did not leave the store but went immediately to work.  Lillie had to call Rose to cancel the coffee and their visit.  She worked from then on in the couture women's clothing department called the Signature Shop.  Her best and most well-known customer was Miss Ima Hogg, who would allow no one but my mother to help her.

Lillie worried about having enough money to live on in retirement.  After my father's death, she received his modest, even for those days, life insurance policy benefit.  Her goal was to live abstemiously, except for getting her hair and nails done, to see if she could grow $30,000 to $100,000,  She figured she could sustain herself with that amount.  By 1984 when she turned 75, she was close.  Interest rates were then, right before the Savings and Loan debacle, inordinately high at 12% per annum which meant on $100,000 the earnings from a jumbo CD would be $1000 a month.  With $1000 a month, her Social Security benefits, and her long practice of frugality, Lillie would be able to retire and be comfortable.

On a typical evening in June, Bob and I were home watching television.  The phone rang and it was my mother Lillie.  I answered.  Inevitably, the conversation turned to how close Lillie was to her goal.  She was now only $2500 shy.  I came up with the idea of her borrowing the $2500 from the savings and loan and then applying it to the $97,500 she had and purchasing the jumbo CD.  Pleased and encouraged by the idea, Lillie would attempt it on her day off.  The evening of her day off, she called.  I could tell by her voice things had not gone well.  Crushed and dejected, she related the savings and loan rejected the plan.  Her disappointment was palpable.  My heart broke for her.  I hurriedly excused myself telling her I needed to go and would call her back in a few minutes.  I did not have that kind of money available.  However Bob always kept surplus cash in his account.  I looked at him and then asked if he had $2500 in his account that I needed immediately, and could I have it for several months.  Dear, wonderful, supportive Bob, without even a questions as to what it was for, he told me he did and I could.  He wrote a check then and there.  I called my mom back and told her I would loan her the money.  Had I told her it was Bob's money, she would not have taken it.  "I am coming right over with the check," I said.  On the way to her place, I deposited his check in the night depository to my account.  When I got to her house, I wrote her a check.  That was around the end of April 1984.  She agreed to repay the loan with the $1000 interest she would get in June and again in July and the last $500 when she got the interest for August.  August was the first month that she would have any of the interest for herself and the debt would be repaid.  Lillie paid the last of the $2500 off early in August.  Her having achieved her goal was a celebratory time.  No longer was she so agitated about retirement and the future.  Bob and I both took great comfort in having helped her realize something that meant so much to her; moreover, it had been pretty easy from our end.

On August 30th, she made dinner, did up the kitchen, and lay down for a rest.  I tried calling her about six in the evening and did not get an answer.  I did not give it too much thought, thinking that it was day off and she probably visiting with one of the neighbors.  Bob and I went to Target to pick up something. There we saw Hakeem Olajuwon. Still no answer.  I called my sister and she too mentioned that she had not heard from nor been able to reach our mother.  We decided to meet at her apartment to see that everything was all right.  While waiting for my sister, Susan, to arrive, I went to my mother's car and felt the hood to see if it was warm.  Maybe she had just come back from being out and now was in the bathroom not able to hear or answer my ring.  The hood was cold.  When Susan got there, we went in to our mom's spotless condo and found that she lay down after dinner and died.  Ever the ideal employee, Lillie conveniently died on her day off.  She looked very peaceful in her bed, above which hung our pictures and our college diplomas that meant so much to her. Susan and I sought and found consolation knowing that our mother died having achieved her important goal and died debt free.  Yet we were sad, knowing how hard she worked and had not gotten to enjoy retirement the way we had hoped she would.  But as we have all hear, it is not the destination but the journey, and maybe the journey was enough.  At least, we like to think so.



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