Nancy’s Story, Briefly Told

nancyMy sister and I were 5 and 6 years old when my dad left home.  My mother, Nancy Painter, was left with two children to raise…alone.   For the next fourteen years she struggled, lied, cheated and worked to keep food on the table and heat in our house.  Rent, heating bills, electric bills, groceries or whatever.

On more than one occasion she rented our spare bedroom.  My mother did her best to see that my sister and I got to school on time…got to church on time..and arranged through our church to go to summer camp.  She was disabled and walked with a severe limp caused by a childhood disease.  Through it all, somehow, she kept her sense of humor…maybe because she was musician. What fun we used to have sitting around this old broken down piano singing and hearing funny and sometimes endearing songs she played.  In addition to a full time job working in the kitchen of a hospital, each weekend in and around Philadelphia my mother could be found playing in some local bar or saloon, most of the time until 2AM in the morning.

 As children, my sister and I weren’t aware of her struggles.  But…as we got a little older we noticed that we were the only kids in our school with holes in our shoes, hand me down clothes and always with no money in our pockets.   Sometimes, not very often, without lunch.   We were constantly embarrassed by our appearance.  But there was nothing our mother could do about this…so we just carried on as best we could.  Our phone was often turned off, sometimes we were without electricity sometimes without heating oil, sometimes without gas.  Still we carried on. Relatives tried to help but were only willing to do so much.  The three of us were basically alone and my mother was getting very tired.
A dancing school opened in the neighborhood and my mother wanted my sister and I to take lessons.  All the other kids in the neighborhood were attending and , not wanting my sister and I to feel inferior, she wanted us two kids to attend.   Her fierce sense of pride made her feel that her children were as good as anyone else’s.  But because we didn’t have the money, she went to Miss Virginia Cavanaugh’s School of Dance and asked if she played piano for the class, could my sister and I attend without paying?   Miss Cavanaugh agreed.  And so we went.  As it turns out my sister had no interest in dancing…felt embarrassed by the whole exercise.  She really didn’t want to go to dance class and avoided it when ever she could.  Me on the other hand….and much to my surprise…could do anything Miss Cavanaugh gave me.  I was soon her best pupil.   Thanks to my mother and her relentless persistence to improve her life and ours, I have stayed a dancer all of my life.    I went on to perform on Broadway, network Television and movies.  I have become a choreographer and have been nominated for an EMMY seven times…. And have been fortunate enough to win on three occasions.

BUT….I do know what it’s like to be “without”.  I remember all too well the bill collectors banging on our door in the middle of the night.   I know first hand what spousal abuse looks like to a child…I know the fear and loneliness a young child can feel when facing some or all of the above.  I lived it…and I know it never 100% leaves you.

Kids and Mothers that are facing these problems today are real heroes. It’s like being in a war that never ends.  You constantly struggle against the odds.  You constantly feel like you are “less” than others.  You become afraid of “you’re not sure what” only that you feel afraid.  Meals we can miss…the electricity and the phone will get turned back on…BUT…the childhood scars of being raised in this environment will never go away.

This is why we support and deeply care about: THE SALVATION ARMY NANCY PAINTER HOME

This home created in my mother’s name stands for all those moms and their children who are willing to keep “carrying on” just like Nancy did.  Just believing that some day things will get better..believing in themselves and demanding a better life for their children.  Certainly better than they got themselves.

There is no strength stronger than that of a determined Mother.
I wanted to tell this story because it’s important that volunteers and contributors know that there is someone connected to this Home, and has first hand experience with the difficulties of being a single mother with children.  We want them to know that what resources we do have will be spent and used in the correct direction…all for the “right stuff” and not spent or used on what doesn’t count.  I am that person….