THE "SHARING OUR STORIES" PROJECT
March's Story by Sherry Senior
Welcome to our March blog post written by Sherry Senior. Sherry’s story features her reflections on the life of her fabulously interesting mother, Gillian Senior. While many mothers and daughters have close and loving relationships, the relationship between Sherry and Gillian is such a special one as the two often bring their artistic synergy to productive and exciting new projects together. Sherry’s narrative about Gillian’s life and their relationship is heartwarming and inspirational and invites us to examine our own selves as mothers, as daughters, and as strong women.
Thanks for reading another beautiful SHARED STORY with us!
Love, Carol and VV
Sherry Senior is a woman whose creativity finds its way into everything she does. Through her design business, Sherry Senior Designs, www.sherrysenior.com. Sherry brings imagination and beauty to local homes and businesses. Roadhouse Studios, www.roadhousestudiosvt.com, which she owns with her mother, Gillian Senior, provides fun and educational opportunities for artists of all ages. Her Essentrics classes now on zoom use her teaching skills and elegant dance ability to get her students happily moving and stretching. A busy professional, mother of two wonderful adolescent boys and wife to a busy fellow entrepreneur, Sherry also uses her always positive energy for snowboarding, biking, climbing and adventuring with her family and friends.
Sherry's Story About Her Mother
I would like to thank Carol and Veronica for creating this platform for women to tell their stories. I am by no means a writer and feel completely out of my comfort zone whenever asked to write anything, but I quickly jumped to the challenge as I knew an opportunity like this can only mean growth. When thinking about what to write it didn’t take me very long to decide about the subject matter.
Have you ever wondered about the people in your life and how they have affected, influenced or impacted it? It may have been a coach, teacher, mentor, parent, sibling or good friend that has made an undeniable difference in the person that you are today. For me, it is without question my mother.
My mother, Gillian or as most call her “Jinx” is probably one of the most extraordinary people that I have ever known. Not just because she is my mother, but because of who she is and what she has overcome to be that person.
In 1931 Jinx was born in Mumbai India formerly known as Bombay. She was born to English parents and attended boarding schools in India and Switzerland. She rarely came home for the holidays and was sent to the same schools as her younger brother primarily to look after him. Her family life was remote and practically non-existent with her parents. They even divorced without her knowing until 4 years after the fact. My mother never went on to college as her brother did; back then it was often considered a waste of money to send girls on to higher education.
A natural beauty, in her late teens and early 20’s my mother did a stint of modeling for magazines such as Vogue and Good Housekeeping in India and New York. She met my American father in India at the age of 20, and they married soon after. My father worked for a large U.S. advertising agency which brought them to live in a number of European countries until settling just outside of Montreal Canada in 1965, where I grew up. During those early years of marriage my mother played the role of corporate housewife and mother to myself and my 2 older brothers.
Soon after moving to Canada my father decided to leave the corporate world and pursue a career as a fiber artist, fulfilling his artistic drive. Together with my mother, they started a weaving business out of our home, making wall hangings, large tasseled throw pillows and ponchos. They were mostly self-taught and learned as they went. Before too long they became very skilled at weaving. I remember as a small kid crawling around the looms in our living room and helping to stuff large pillows. It was an exciting and adventurous place to grow up. This business did well for a while and my parents earned national acclaim for many of their creations.
My father branched out and started making very large woven sculptures that were commissioned to hang in the lobbies and boardrooms of large companies, and my mother continued to make woven pillows, ponchos and other clothing items. After some very bad business decisions by my father and a fateful fire that burned down his studio, my parents were left in financial ruin. My parents divorced, my father moved to the United States to start anew and my mother was left to pick up the pieces. She was awarded no alimony and chose not to pursue child support as she knew my father was unable to pay. As a single mother this was a very difficult time being left to raise her three children on her own.
Over the next five years my mother built her weaving business, employing a number of people and had a series of retail stores in which she now sold upscale hand-woven jackets and sweaters that she designed. These items were also being sold to high end boutiques and resorts across Canada. As if this was not enough to keep her busy, she also opened a bedding store that sold antique beds and one of a kind handmade quilts of her design. Her creativity seemed to have no bounds.
In 1980 the financial recession hit and for the next several years my mother’s businesses suffered. As a resourceful business woman, she looked for ways to keep her business going and took a chance by opening up a satellite store in Marblehead MA. As a young 16-year-old girl my mother and I made the decision that I would run this store on my own for the next few summers. This was my first independent experience away from home and one of many experiences that helped to forge my independent spirit.
A few years later I moved to Toronto where I had been accepted to Ryerson University and started my studies in Fashion Design and Merchandising. Soon after, my mother sold her bedding store and moved her weaving business to Toronto to be closer to me and to seek a fresh new start. Within a short period of time she managed to get her woven clothing business (Jinx Senior Designs) back up and running. She moved her business into a studio warehouse, furnished it with looms, and cutting tables and before long had a flourishing haute couture clothing business in which she employed about 12-15 people. At this point she was selling her sought-after creations all over Canada and now into the U.S. This business was not without its ups and downs but what I witnessed my mother build was both inspirational and remarkable. What was even more unbelievable was that all of these accomplishments were born from a woman that had no formal training in either business or fashion design, just an awful lot of courage, grit and tenacity.
Her business grew and was very successful for another 25+ years. During that time a lot happened. I graduated from college, worked in Toronto and decided the fashion industry was not for me. In my early 20’s I moved to Burlington, VT and worked for a company my brothers had started. Me and my two brothers now all resided in Burlington, VT.
We have always been a very close family and my mother wasn’t happy just visiting us on holidays so she bought an investment property in Shelburne VT with my two brothers so that she could be closer to all of us. This property had a great retail storefront that allowed her to open up a boutique that was very cool and eclectic selling gift/home décor, while simultaneously running her clothing company back in Toronto. Fortunately, she had a wonderful business partner that allowed her to do both. Eventually at the age of 65 my mom decided to close her clothing company in Toronto and live full time in Vermont running her store in Shelburne and trying her hand as a watercolor artist. I was about 30 at this time and decided to start my own Decorative Painting Company following my mother’s entrepreneurial footsteps.
Together we bought a duplex which was just around the corner from her store. I lived with a roommate on the bottom half and we rented off the top floor apartment. It just so happened that my mother lived in the apartment behind her store so we were now living only a few hundred yards from one another. This was a wonderful time for both of us, as we got together almost daily for tea in the adjoining garden, sharing dreams of the future and bouncing creative ideas off of one another. My mom loved that garden and worked hard to make it beautiful. Did I mention that she found time along the way to become a master gardener? My mom’s gardens were and still are beautiful and so artfully created. Retirement really never suited my mother, for in her mid 60’s she went on to get her real estate license and bought several investment properties, a few of which she still property manages.
Throughout our lives my mom and I have always been extremely close, sharing similar views and sensibilities about so many things. When my parents divorced, I thought my world would end but somehow my mom managed to pick up the pieces and forge ahead with a strength I could not truly comprehend as a 12-year-old girl. It was only as I became a young adult did I come to realize the extraordinary sacrifices she made in order to make mine and my brothers lives quite normal, safe and loving.
As a young girl, when it was just me and mom she would often bring me along on buying trips for her stores. We would travel to the nearby cities of Montreal and Toronto and I would watch her wheel and deal with vendors like a pro. I loved these outings and was always amazed at what mom accomplished. I was so impressed and proud. She would have me work the trade shows, selling her creations to buyers from all over Canada. These were valuable experiences and would have a significant impact on the direction of my own life. It was not just that my mom was this amazing self-made entrepreneur but that she went about it with such grace, humility and integrity. She had very little training and no prior experience in what she was doing; she simply was learning as she went. She never seemed to let what she did not know slow her down. She was simply learning on the job and letting her innate talents guide her. Even when times were tough, and they were, she never threw in the towel, and rarely had a negative attitude about our situation. She had this inner strength and positivity that was unwavering.
My mom was very liberal and gave me a lot of freedom to explore the world. Very unlike the helicopter parenting that seems to have taken over today. She trusted me to a fault and in return I never wanted to let her down. She was fun and outgoing and I only have the best memories whenever we were together. She accepted me for who I was and never tried to push me to become someone I wasn’t. She made me feel grateful for all that I had. I remember on one occasion as a teenage girl playing volleyball on the high school team, I had come to her after a game and complained about my legs. I said something like “mom, look at my thighs, they are so fat. I hate them! Why can’t I have nice skinny thighs?” I will never forget her response, “you should be happy you have thighs!” That was a kick in the pants for me. She was right! I had great sturdy athletic legs that worked. She just needed to remind me. She was good at that!
My mother is incredibly well read. She has always had an affinity for books, not so much fiction or novels but preferred to learn about real people, their lives and events in history. Because of her passion for reading, her knowledge of the world is vast. I was always amazed by her breadth of knowledge. This came to be very useful on many occasions none more so than during my college years. I remember taking an art history class and I needed to write a paper about the Renaissance period. I was living at home during these years and I happened to go into my mom’s bedroom one night and asked her what she knew about that art period. Within about an hour or so I had all the information I needed for my paper. I had to write quickly! I needed to cut her off because she was going deep! Forget going to the library, I had mom.
I attribute a lot of my mother’s success to her positive outlook on life. To say she is an optimist is an understatement. Her positive can-do attitude is so uplifting that it’s hard to complain in her presence; she will always spin your negativity into a positive direction. At times it can be annoying because sometimes you just want someone to get down in the dumps with….she is not going there! I see this positive attitude on a daily basis and it is never lost on me and the importance it has had in shaping my own approach to life.
Over the years as I have grown from a young girl into an adult, mother and wife our relationship has taken on more of a friendship then that as a mother and daughter and in some ways, I consider my mother to be my best friend. I feel so fortunate that we have lived most of our lives in close proximity to one another as we have been able to share and enjoy so many life adventures together. We love to laugh, especially at our favorite brit coms and love to talk about travel, art and fashion among other things.
My mom has always had this great earthy yet sophisticated style that shows up in everything; decorating, fashion, cooking and gardening to name a few. Her home is always warm, inviting, beautiful and full of life. In high school I remember I loved to raid her closets and borrow one of her many flowing peasant dresses that I would pair with one of her big chunky belts then tie it together with my old Frye boots. I thought I looked amazing because I looked a little like her. All this style was very natural and real, void of any pretense.
What I love most about being with my mom is that we have an unspoken understanding of one another. We share similar sensibilities about so many things that we just get each other. We often never make big decisions without the input of the other. This can sometimes be annoying to some of our family members (mostly my husband). If mom decides on a new couch or I on a new paint color for my bedroom, a stamp of approval usually is required from one or the other. That’s just how it is! Sounds a little codependent but I assure you it isn’t. We just really like each other and respect one another’s opinion.
I have to mention the fact that my mom has a great sense of humor and is easily amused. She really enjoys finding the perfect greeting card for the right occasion. Before anyone opens their present mom always says “did you read the card,” and is usually laughing well before anyone has had a chance to read their card. This gets us all laughing despite what’s inside the card.
My mom is now in her late 80’s and as I mentioned still has her hands in many real estate investments and is still property manager for a couple of them. She lives independently, drives and shops for herself. She also makes a point to swim a few times a week. Mom has this amazing energy and of course her positive attitude that makes it difficult to see her as an older person. She is the matriarch to our entire family of siblings, spouses and grandchildren. There is nothing more important to her than the happiness and wellbeing of her entire family. She is a sounding board to all of our issues whether they be of business or of a personal nature. We value her opinion more than anything as she has lived this life full of challenge, risk and reward that brings perspective that is very wise and unique.
My mom has been an amazing role model and guiding light throughout my life. I feel so incredibly fortunate that she has paved the road for me and my brothers in such a remarkable way. So much of who I am as a mother, a wife, a sister and a business owner is because of her and the life she has shown me.