Family Stories, Memaw

The Tupperware Lady

I sat at my mother-in-law’s dining room table and looked through a box of her old photographs.

Each picture, a tiny serving of frozen time.  Smiling faces peer out of a black and white world,  telling stories of the past and explaining something of the present.

At the bottom of the box I find a large brown envelope. Inside is a photograph of my mother-in-law. She is young, tall and thin, pretty. She is standing on a stage with her husband and two other official looking people in some sort of ceremony. In a manner slightly exaggerated for the camera, she is reaching for a set of keys.  Everyone is smiling and looking into the camera.


It is the late 60s in southern California.  She is a housewife in her mid-30s.  Her children are in middle school, high school and off to college.  When her husband encouraged her to sell Tupperware to make a little mad money, she discovered that she liked it.  And she was good at it — so good that she won a car and quickly rose through the ranks to become a sales director.

It wasn’t long after the picture was taken that her husband was thrown from a horse and suffered a serious head injury. He lingered between life and death for two days before he died.  And then the world that she knew spun completely off  its axis and crashed into a million pieces.

When all was said and done, she packed up the Tupperware car with two of her boys and what was left of her life and drove back home to Texas to find healing among her family and to try to figure out how to be a single mom.

It wasn’t easy, but she carried on.  She supported herself and her three boys selling Tupperware.

I’ve always admired that about her.

28 thoughts on “The Tupperware Lady

  1. Wow, it must have been incredibly hard for her. I now admire her second-hand!

    Totally off-topic, but I felt vague amusement at noticing that both women have their ankles together, feet at nearly right angles to each other. I see that pose so much, I think the stance was mandatory in those days!

  2. Good for her! As a sales director for another direct sales company, I must point out that she didn’t “win” the car… she EARNED it. =]

    And please tell your MIL for me: You Rock!

  3. Wow. I can’t imagine being good enough at selling Tupperware to support a family of four. Your MIL is amazing.

    I saw your post this morning as I was working on a post of my own about Judith Warner’s NYT essay today, and I ended up quoting you and tying your mother’s story into a larger post about the choices that families make. Hope you don’t mind.

  4. Wow – that’s such an amazing story that she was able to support herself through selling Tupperware! I have some choice pieces of Tupperware that belonged to my MIL. They don’t make some of those pieces anymore. Good stuff!

  5. I like to think that we’re still made of the same resilient fiber as our mothers and grandmothers. I read a quote somewhere that said something along the lines of “It’s not not the things, people and circumstances in life that MAKE us what we are but REVEAL what we are.” This story reminded me of that quote.

  6. That’s an incredibly story, told very well and I really enjoyed seeing the photo. Thanks for sharing.

  7. What an amazing story. Tupperware has been changing lives for many years! Your mother in law is an inspiration!

    * * *
    She really is. She’s 82 and still runs a business every day, although not Tupperware these days. ~AM

  8. Great story, AM! I love hearing stories about strong women like that–so encouraging. (Although I’m still trying to figure out how someone in their mid-30s had a kid in college–but that’s just me.) 🙂

    * * *
    If you married at 19 and had your first child at 20, not unusual in the 1940s, you could have a kid going off to college at 37. ~AM

  9. Doesn’t it kill what these O L D gals did when they were young? I always thought of them as practically being sold into marriage and they did have lives and careers before and during. My mom was a buyer for a woman’s clothing store in town. I never knew that till I was grown! She had a chance to go to New York and work and turned it down to marry dad! The rest of the story is a lot of love, guts, and plain hard work as dad got sick and became what is referred to as special. We survived and have fond memories. I’m a bit of a femmist though! I still feel my generation fought their way to the top and changed the ladder to success to todays standards which are actually a bit substandard compared to our old ones!

    We had pride and today they let the computer do it. Proof reading is out the door and it so needs to be done.

  10. Great tribute to a wonderful lady. It wasn’t so easy back then for a single mom to support her family. Thanks for sharing the “behind the scenes” story of the picture!

  11. I would call this a “God Thing”. God allowed your MIL to find viable employment and a new car, BEFORE she lost her husband. I was a widow in my early 40’s and not being able to provide for myself and my 3 month old daughter was a great concern. Thankfully, it did not become an issue. Thanks for sharing…

  12. Oh my gosh I have tears in my eyes and my heart just swelled up with pride for her ,thank you for sharing this famliy photo and story.
    I am new to blogging and family history and this story brought to mind things I need to get down on paper to pass on to my family.I actually bought a scrapbook earlier today to put together a few old photos with special little notes about the wonderful characters in those black and white photos ,I love so much. Thank you for the inspiration to stay on track.

  13. What great family stories! Yes, she is definitely to be admired. My mother had four of us as a single mother and sold Avon, among other retail and service jobs. And I also noticed the “model pose” with the ankles fixed at angles.

  14. What a great testimony to your MIL. I admire women like that – they have so much spunk and gumption and all kinds of old-fashioned values I aspire to. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Wow! Truly an inspiring story. My guess is that in spite of (or because of) her circumstances, she raised some amazing kids!

  16. Not to make light of a serious post (it’s my specialty), but hardy har har, you just KNOW that those gals took some class in school that taught them how to stand Just Like That, with their two feet at that perfect angle. I have several pictures of my mom standing the very same way. For some reason, it just makes me laugh to imagine one of us up on stage standing with such poise.

    I’ll have to go ask my mom. She’s visiting (from across the country). 🙂

    And speaking of totally inappropriate jokes, my parents always kid that they’d like to be buried in a big tupperware coffin. It’d save a lot of money, they say. But they always make sure to remind me that their coffins would need to be burped before they’re put in the ground.

    I think that paragraph right there explains what kind of classy stock I come from.

  17. Yes. My mom has spoken. She said that was “correct posture” for long-term standing. She learned it in school; specifically, choir. The knees were also supposed to be slightly bent.

    Man, I am going to have FUN with this. My stage presence has just jumped back a few decades.

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