This is a piece written by my mother in law Karen Chaiken Kavet. Karen writes it about her own mother, Evelyn Chaiken, who just passed away last month. My mother in law flies out every show and helps up sell the tickets, which is no small task. She has two grown sons, one being my husband. Karen has traveled and continues to travel, the world, mostly on a bike, she is 70 and I can only hope I’ll have half the stamina of her if I reach 70.

Before there was a Glass Ceiling

My mother, Evelyn Chaiken, who died at 97 last month, was born in the wrong time.

The fourth of five handsome children, she had a presence in her adulthood that was imposing. Standing 5’10” in her stocking feet, her posture was perfect (thanks to her dad who insisted she stand up straight), her hair was a pure black well into her late 50’s, her manner was no-nonsense. She did everything well: she was a great cook; she played a mean set of tennis; she created her own greeting cards; she wrote touching tributes that she read at every family celebration; she took up tailoring and made herself a gorgeous coat; at 50 she discovered painting and sculpting and produced show-worthy pieces of each; she was a “good” daughter, wife, mother and friend.

When I was 9 years old she went out and got a job selling The World Book Encyclopedia.

Women just didn’t work when I was a child, and certainly not in such a male-oriented business.  Her sales territory was in a depressed area of New Jersey where people could barely afford to put food on the table. She was a great saleswoman, relentless in her pursuit of sales, a great “closer”. She would park her car at the end of a block in some blue collar town and go knocking from door-to-door until someone let her in. She often had to return in the evening to these questionable neighborhoods to make her pitch to the “man of the house”. My father would hold his breath until she returned unscathed.

It didn’t take long for her superiors to know they had a “good thing”. She quickly became an “Area Manager”, overseeing and training new salespeople, and getting a small commission on their sales. Then on to “District Manager” she went. Now she had day-long workshops with visual aids and lesson plans. She loved it! A show-woman at heart, she had a venue to display her numerous talents and had an adoring following.

The impetus for my mother to start working was to pay her father back for a loan he had given her to buy a new black Buick. Despite the fact that commissions on sales of The World Book Encyclopedia were very small, my mother earned enough money over the years to pay off the loan, clothe herself stylishly, pay for my college education, and give me a lovely wedding.

One wonders what she might have become had she been in her prime in the 1980’s and 1990’s. She definitely had the business smarts, creativity, and perseverance to serve her well in any business setting.  As it was, she broke the “glass ceiling” for women before it ever existed and served as a role model for everyone in my generation who had the joy of knowing her.