My Backstory

 

mom's 80th birthday

This picture includes about half of our family (but not me) when they gathered to celebrate mother’s 80th birthday. Unbeknownst to all, it would be the last time she would be at a family gathering. I’m glad it was in her honor.

I’m on the downhill side of 60 and the oldest of seven with no children of my own so every child, especially babies, gets a free measure of love from me. When you add together my siblings spouses, my nieces and nephews and their spouses or significant others, and all the attendant children, we have some rather large and lively family gatherings. We all share a love of great barbecue (which my brothers have totally mastered), Cajun food, and country cooking. And we do have some very fine bakers and candy makers among us. None of us are wasting away from starvation.

 * * *

I knew my mother had a writing talent as I had seen and read many of her poems and other writings as I grew up. Unfortunately, none of her writings were ever published and they were among the things stolen out of a shed by some itinerant workers on the farm where we were living, a fact we didn’t discover until after they left. Because copies were given to my aunts, uncle and grandparents, the only physical record of mother’s writings is a poem she wrote about a younger sister who died as a toddler.

There’s a place in my memory that holds a line from a poem mother wrote about me as a toddler: “more precious by far than any pearl”. I remember asking her once if she meant what she wrote about me and I got this look (don’t all mothers have them?) and told me she wouldn’t have written it if she didn’t mean it. When I felt unloved, I just had to remember that line to know that I was loved. I hope that she is looking down on me now with pride.

In the seventh grade I learned I had apparently inherited my mother’s writing talent. Mr. Gee, my English teacher that year, gave us an assignment to write a poem—the style is a misplaced memory—and I discovered I could indeed write, and write well. From that day forward I don’t think I got less than a B+ on any writing assignment, be it poetry or story, at any school.

In my sophomore year of high school I began writing articles for my school newspaper, the Whirl (our ‘mascot’ was a Whirlwind). Though we moved halfway through the school year, I was able to get on the paper staff at the new school. In late January, 1968, I received a small package in the school’s mail. Puzzled, because it was from my staff adviser at The Whirl, I opened the package. Inside was stunning, but happy, news that I had won second place in the news division of the UIL competition. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Eudy had submitted an article I wrote on the seniors picking cotton to raise money for their prom. Enclosed with the letter and his congratulations was an inscribed silver charm in the shape of a shield. I no longer have my high school ring, but I still have that charm. I think winning that award was the validation I needed and I set my sights on a career in journalism.

I worked my way up the ranks from reporter at The Hornet’s Nest in my sophomore year to Features Editor my senior year. We produced the weekly papers using a mimeograph machine, which could be a messy, and smelly, task. I can still close my eyes and hear the clack, clack, clack of the mimeograph machine and smell the ink.

I wanted to go to Texas Women’s University, which had a spectacular journalism program, but by the end of my junior year I realized that wouldn’t be a reality for me, even with a scholarship and a grant. My family wouldn’t be able to help at all financially and I didn’t believe I would be able to hold up under the pressure of full-time school and full-time work.

I decided to join the Women’s Air Corps (aka WACS—the women’s branch of the Air Force at that time) so I could go to college. I passed all of my written tests and my physical with flying colors. The stumbling block became the existing statute stating a woman could not sign for herself until the age of 21. Which meant, of course, my parents had to sign the final papers. My mother was happy to sign the papers and give me my chance, but my controlling stepfather refused to sign. I cursed my stepfather for many years for that decision, as I saw it as just another way to keep me under his thumb.

Not being able to go for my dream broke me in a different way than the physical and sexual abuse did. I gave up on my dream. Until I started this blog the only time I used my writing skills over the years—maybe because I didn’t believe in myself enough—was for writing and editing a newsletter at one of the corporations where I worked.

 * * *

Without a college degree, I knew I had limited job choices. I didn’t want to spend my life working as a waitress or sales clerk so I went to business school and took a stenography course. It took a little while after graduation to find an office job as, ironically, everybody wanted someone with experience. Bringing that last point up to one prospective employer didn’t get me the job, but I got it off my chest. I finally got a job as a billing clerk at a hospital.

I advanced over the years from positions such as a general clerk or pool typist to secretary to Administrative Assistant in a variety of industries—including a restaurant and grocery food supplier, a construction company, temporary staffing services, and health care.

I never seriously entertained the idea of going higher than Administrative Assistant because I enjoyed what I did and I didn’t want the headaches that came with being part of management. I got enough headaches in the latter years working first for a church and then the USPS (thus my extreme distaste for government bureaucracy).

Advertisements