Children in that part of the projects knew. If you wanted to learn to dance, there was a room on the sixth floor. There, a woman had given up space in her cramped New York City apartment to build ballet bars. She did it for her daughter, a dancer who wanted to teach children for free.
The woman was Patricia Goff, now 61. Her daughter, Frances Rojas, is now in her second week of business with her Land O'Lakes shop, Nifty Thrift by Pat with Love.
It's a long name for a thrift store, Rojas admitted with a laugh.
But the name is for her mother.
Rojas opened the store to repay her mother, who supported her financially for years. Half the store's profits have been set aside for Goff.
Not that her mother will accept the money, Rojas said, shaking her head.
• • •
The store is organized chaos, easy to navigate but filled with haphazard odds and ends. Nail polish rests on a table in the middle of the store, placed on top of a cream, red and black rug marked for $30. Shelves Rojas built line the walls, stuffed with plastic flowers, jars and dolls. An Avril Lavigne poster hangs on one wall with a tag listing it at $5. Clothes line the aisles in the back.
Rojas sat on a stool in the middle of this jewel box of memories and recalled her own.
Rojas, now 47, moved to Florida seven years ago with her daughter. She was living in New York City, and she was tired. She ran a dance school with 400 students and very little help.
Every year, she brought her daughter to Walt Disney World Resort. Driving by palm trees gave her peace.
She packed her car and left her school in the hands of a friend. She planned to work in real estate once she reached Hudson.
She moved at exactly the wrong time for this country's economy. The real estate market collapsed, and Rojas, who had already purchased her home, was stuck.
The lights were shut off. Bill collectors called. Rojas couldn't buy food. She lived in a dream house, but she couldn't afford to keep anything inside it.
Rojas kept the truth from her mother as long as she could. It eventually came out, and Rojas buckled and asked for help.
"I remember asking mom for $50," Rojas said. "She sent me $3,000."
For the next few years, Rojas steadily pushed herself back to her feet, aided by her mother, who paid most of Rojas' bills.
Rojas opened Grande Jete Dance School in Land O'Lakes and slowly drew in customers. She went through a divorce. She expanded her real estate business. Now, driven to somehow try to repay her mother, she has the thrift store.
"You can't go through this alone," Goff used to tell her daughter when she avoided accepting help. "It will get better."
• • •
Rojas is reverent when she speaks about her mother. Goff didn't have it easy, either, she remembers.
Goff teaches third grade in the Bronx. Her family grew up in a rundown area of New York. Rojas' first stepfather, who passed away several years ago, was abusive.
Rojas remembered her mother waking her up in the night, telling her they were going to grandma's. Goff didn't say, but Rojas knew. It was because her stepfather was drinking. He got drunk, and he got mean.
Talking about those nights, Rojas had an uneasy feeling in her stomach. "She used to cry to herself," Rojas murmured. "I don't want her to be hurt again."
• • •
Rojas has two projects. One was the thrift store. The other is a dream house for her mother.
Goff wants to move to Florida a few years from now, when she retires, to be close to her daughter. Rojas wants to have a house ready for her by then.
For now, Rojas honors her mother with a photo on the counter of the thrift store. It shows Goff in a suit, a bulky briefcase in one hand, outside a convention in Baltimore. She looks educated, poised and confident.
The way Rojas has always pictured her.