There are many who begin life bearing the misconceived impression that their parents would always love and understand them. Then there are those who are equally deluded in their impression that children they conceived and raised would one day conform and turn into the person they may have wanted...
The box was returned in the mail many weeks after sending it. Inside was a handwritten card atop the soft fur wrap I had sent. The card in my mother’s handwriting simply stated, “Since I don’t know how you got this, and because I’m not sure, I can’t accept it. So I’m returning it to you. Love, Mom.” That short note in the package along with the present I’d sent the woman who had given birth and raised me broke my heart.
I had once read somewhere that Elvis Presley bought his mother a brand new Cadillac with the first check he had received from his record sales. After several years of barely getting by on the little money, I’d earned from my music I had finally signed a recording contract with a major label in Europe called Decca Records. Following a few commercial flops, I had at last written, recorded, and released a single that was a hit. It even earned a gold record award for the number of sales it had generated. So when I got my first royalty checks from the publisher and the record company, like Elvis, I spent it on the gift for my mother; the one she that she had just returned.
Being born in Baltimore, Maryland, and into a family of what I guess was considered at the time as being economically in the upper lower-class income bracket, money, or the scarcity of it, was always an issue. Sometimes, after dinner or when a television show had ended, we’d fantasize about what we do if we had more of it. My father said he’d either take us on a trip to somewhere he’d never been or back to someplace he’d like to return to. My big brother wanted to buy a car. My little sister’s wish was for ice cream. I told them I’d use the dough to buy them all gifts, And my mother, with tears welling up and threatening to spill from her robin’s egg blue eyes, said she always wanted to wear anything made with mink.
These were those pre-PETA years when most women yearned without guilt to be swaddled in the fur of murdered animals. Luxury was a status symbol most Americans strove to obtain during the twentieth century. Mink was a luxury. It was also considered to be high fashion and beauty. In addition, their pelts felt softer than a newborn baby’s butt. It was what most women only dreamed of owning, including my own mother.
Not sure how much you know about royalty payments but I’d be happy to explain. It usually took around a year from the date of your first record sale and airplay broadcast for the record and publishing companies, as well as performing rights organizations, when enough funds had accrued that they’d finally send your first check. Thereafter, within thirty days after the close of each fiscal financial quarter, follow-up payments would arrive. Once sales and airplay had pretty much dried up, the checks for every record got smaller each quarter, until they would no longer arrive in the mail.
It took more than six months from the initial release of my modest little hit for it to really gain any notable traction. So when I got my first check it was for only a bit over $1,500. With that I paid a few bills and some people I owed money to, then the remainder I used to go on a shopping trip for my mom. The fact that I used the money to buy a present for my mother instead of my spouse was one of the many bones of contention that would be stuck in the throat of my relationship with the first wife for many years after.
On a recommendation from a friend, I found a furrier in the city. I was shown a selection of mink coats, jackets, and stoles by a salesperson who seemed to be put upon to have to attend to someone who looked the way I did. I was a young man with really long hair who dressed like the mods and rockers of that era. To put it more succinctly, I looked like someone who couldn’t afford to buy real mink. The coats and jackets were out of my then-current price range, but the stoles I could swing with what I had. There was one wrap I thought my mom would really like that I could buy for a little over $1,200. I bought that one. It wasn’t the most expensive, nor was it the cheapest. It was the one I thought would work best with my mater’s hair color.
My wife of that time helped me wrap it up for sending after she had tried it on multiple times while checking out her own reflection in the mirror as she told me how good she thought the mink looked on her. With the gift, I included a note that said, “Mom, for all the never-ending love, care, and understanding you’ve given me since the day I was born.” Next, I drove to the central post office building in the city, insured and paid the shipping amount for the package, and sent it off. Then I waited.
Back in those days, long before the monopolies of telephone companies had been broken, long-distance phone calls were very expensive. I was living and working in Europe. My parents were still residing in the United States. So after a month since I’d shipped the fur stateside I was not surprised that I hadn’t received a call from home to let me know it had arrived. But after six weeks I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t gotten a letter, or at least a postcard, confirming receipt.
That mystery was solved shortly thereafter when the package I had sent was returned to me with my mother’s terse little note. The stole was in the same box I had sent it in, but it had been opened and then rewrapped for return. Now, not caring about the cost I picked up the phone that afternoon to call home. My mother answered after about a dozen or so rings.
“Hi, mom, how are you and dad doing? Uh-huh, uh-huh, that’s good. Yeah, we’re both fine too. Hey mom, today the gift I sent you was just returned. Was there something you didn’t like about it? Because if there is I can try to exchange it for something you’ll maybe like better.”
I listened in silence as my mother explained when after receiving it that she and my father were worried about how I’d gotten the money to be able to afford something that expensive. I tried to explain to her how my career in the music business was really going well now and that I’d received my first check for a record I made that had become a hit. Her reply nearly made me drop the phone.
She told me she and my dad didn’t believe I could’ve earned that much money from working with my music to buy a gift like that. They were worried I had come by it by doing something illegal, like selling drugs or who knows what else. That’s why they returned it to me. They didn’t want anything to do with something that could’ve been connected with dirty money from any criminal activities.
I tried to explain again about the royalty payment and that I wasn’t a drug dealer or any other kind of crook. But she just couldn’t accept that and told me not to send back the fur, or for that matter, any other costly presents to her or my father. She then said she had to go because one of the shows that they liked to watch on TV was about to come on. With a hurried goodbye, she hung up the phone.
It hurt not to be accepted by someone I loved so much. But what hurts even more, was the fact that my own parents didn’t believe in me, or what I was doing with my life. Or, in the reality of me possessing enough talent and the work ethic to profit from it was incomprehensible for them to understand. That realization crushed my soul. I tried to take the mink back to the store I’d bought it from, but they had a no return after thirty days policy. So my first and later to be ex-wife happily accepted the re-gifting of it from me to her.
I have no idea if Elvis had the same problem with his mom. I somehow doubt it. She probably drove that Cadillac car until its wheels fell off and then he more than likely bought her another one. He was the King, after all. Me? I never got over the pain of how little faith and trust my parents had felt that I deserved, and hated what I was doing. When I’d originally announced that I had no plans to graduate high school or go to college my father warned me, “Hardly anyone ever made any money by playing music!” Well, in my case I may have proved them wrong about that, but along the way, they stole my heart.