|Just one corner of Baker Food Co-op.|
Monday, January 13, 2014
A Mother's Work
Over the weekend, at the monthly soup and studio gathering I host for friends, we celebrated the impending motherhood of our friend Pamela. Part of the celebration involved sharing a story about a childhood memory of our mothers, and how it impacts our life, now. I thought I'd share mine with all of you. Like most folks, I didn't get exactly the childhood I wanted, at the time, but I got just what I needed...
When I was little, my mom got together with a couple of her friends to order organic food in bulk. We had the van to haul it, and the other two had driver’s licenses. After a few years, many more friends wanted to join in, but the van couldn’t haul enough, and nobody had room in their home to divide up that much, anyway, so they came up with a plan to form a food co-op. Those three women, along with a handful of other folks, met around our big dining table. They hammered out articles of incorporation, filled out non-profit paperwork, and discussed by-laws and boards.
My mother had no degree, and at that time, no real business experience. However, she had grown up with entrepreneurial parents, she knew food, and she was an absolute budget queen. She was starting to work part time in a local restaurant, but she still considered feeding her family to be her primary job (though as a 70’s feminist, you’d not have heard her say it that way). She held meetings, argued ethics, read everything available on sustainable, organic food production and consumption, and spent hours on the phone tracking down sources. This was long before internet and unlimited long-distance.
And where am I in this story? I’m the kid at the table, with her own cup of Seattle Spice tea, listening to it all, or in the next room, “holding meetings” with the children of those other folks.
What started as three women and a van grew into a true co-op, with a downtown location open to the public, and significant discounts for working members, which make health food in my home town cheaper than typical grocery store fare. Last time I was home for a visit, I stopped in for a few things, and the clerk ran them through on my folks' membership number. A clerk in training raised an eyebrow, and the other clerk explained who mom is. Still, the trainee looked unsure.
“Look,” I explained, half joking, “My whole childhood is invested in this place. I painted posters for the windows after school, I fell asleep to the sound of Mom balancing the books on an old fashioned adding machine, and countless family weekends were spent building shelves, hauling produce, and re-packaging bulk cheese. If mom and her friends had started it any earlier, my first words would have been “non-profit corporation”, and I’d have teethed on the drafts of the by-laws that covered every surface in our house for months. The co-op got my mom, so I get her discount, once every few years.”
Sure I wished my mom had come to more of my baseball games and been backstage for my ballet recitals. I wish now that I had a few more memories of Mom and me playing together, but I think no matter what our moms give us, we wish for something more, or other. I envied the kids whose moms brought cupcakes to school, and sewed the costumes for recitals, but in hindsight, I’d say I did alright. My mom taught me young to bake my own cupcakes and sew my own costumes, so she could get out in the world and show me how to be a woman with vision, passion, and tenacity. Cupcakes are overrated.