Back in 1959, I was a fraternity brother at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh. Members of Kappa Theta Psi took turns hosting the meetings, and I worried that when my turn came, my house might not measure up.
My mother couldn’t do much about the outside of our worn rental property, but she was good at making something out of nothing. Mother did everything she could to beautify our home with the few dollars she earned as a domestic worker.
When I told her that the next meeting would be at our house, she saw an opportunity to support her son. On the day of the meeting, my fraternity brothers arrived and seemed afraid to climb the rickety front steps and walk across the porch, which was missing banister posts and had several broken floorboards. After some hesitation, they filed in to the meeting at “Huckster’s” house. (Huckster was my fraternity nickname, because I worked part time in a produce store.)
Surprise, fellows! Mother had the house spick-and-span. She had washed and gently starched the ruffled curtains at the front and side windows.
The second- or third-hand leather-topped mahogany Duncan Phyfe lamp tables were carefully polished and still reflected high quality. The Queen Anne sofa, bought at a house sale, had an old-fashioned charm, and the classy used Oriental carpet gave warmth to the room.
My favorite piece of furniture was the mahogany buffet with a beveled glass cover. Mother placed fancy hurricane lamps decorated with reflecting prisms on each end of it. I remember walking 24 blocks with her to and from a “better” neighborhood to buy them.
About midway through the meeting, Mother announced that the food was ready: potato salad, baked ham, corn on the cob, baked beans and hot rolls. For dessert, Mother served delicious parfaits in sparkling cut glass.
My fraternity brothers were happy and comfortable in my home. As they began to leave, I heard comments that I have never forgotten: “Huckster, you got a real cool pad!” “When will the next meeting be at Huckster’s house?” “His mom sure takes care of you and feeds you good!”
Mother made the fraternity meeting a home run. I believe my fraternity brothers learned a valuable lesson that day: Don’t judge a book by its cover.