|Wet leaves on a sidewalk|
Grief sometimes brings a shaky marriage together, and sometimes it breaks it apart. My then-husband Derald and my two children were the center of my existence, and when Stephen died at the age of thirteen months, Derald and I could not comfort each other but went separate directions in our grief. My poor son Chris was four at the time, and he was just as broken but had no functioning parents to care for him, so he was scarred from those days, too. As an adult, he once forgave me for those awful years in a heart-to-heart conversation. Now he himself is gone over to the Other Side.
From the time I was 22 until I turned thirty, I divorced my husband, married a much older man who I thought would rescue me from my misery, and then left him for a younger man who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. The fortunate thing for me is that I had marketable skills and was always able to find work as a secretary. It didn't hurt that I was also pretty, and bosses in those days also liked to decorate their office with an attractive secretary. When I couldn't find a job immediately, I worked for temporary agencies, and thinking about those days brought back some buried memories.
Not long ago I heard someone talk about having been a Kelly Girl, and I remembered that I was one, too. I was a fast typist and knew shorthand. To be a Kelly Girl, you had to be able to take shorthand at a fairly fast rate. I remember sitting at home with a record player (remember those?), putting the needle on a record with typical office letters being read at varying speeds. I studied hard so that I could make top dollar with Kelly Girls. I knew Gregg Simplified Shorthand, and after awhile I was really good. I found the following piece of shorthand online and wondered if I could still read it, after all these years.
When I applied for Social Security, I remember looking at the amounts I earned year by year, and I could see the trajectory of my life written in those numbers. From the earliest days, when I earned $5/hour, which was good money back then, to the final entry, when I was no longer paid hourly but earned a salary of $63,000/year, showed that I worked at least a little bit every single year, starting in the early 1960s. I was in my mid-thirties when I went to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and I stayed there for thirty years before retiring in 2008. I began my career there as a temporary employee, although being a Kelly Girl was long in my past. It was Western Temporary Services that gave me my assignment. So, in a sense, I used the skills I learned during my Kelly Girl days to find my real career. I started as a secretary and ended up as a writer/editor, which is another story.
Yesterday I went to see Blue Jasmine at the movies with my friend Judy. It's a Woody Allen movie, one of the best he's made in years, although I did love Midnight in Paris. This is a much stronger movie, but it wasn't sweet and nostalgic like that one. It's well worth seeing, however, for the performance of Cate Blanchett, who I'm sure will be at least nominated for an Academy Award. She is stunningly good. But what I keep thinking of is how incredibly unsuited her character is for any actual work in the world. She plays a privileged New York socialite whose Bernie Madoff-like husband ends up in jail for his crimes, and she goes to San Francisco to live with her sister, who is as different from her as night and day. I won't go into more detail, but the salient point is that Cate portrays a woman in total denial about who she really is as she goes into freefall.
What if her character had learned some marketable skills? How different would her life have been? I know that the first thing anyone must learn is how to be open to new experiences in order to change. Jasmine (the character in the movie) attempts to drag her previous existence, a life of privilege, into a life of much smaller means, failing spectacularly. Maybe I've been more fortunate than I realized, having had to find a way to make a living from my earliest days.
As long as the government doesn't dismantle Social Security, I will be able to pay my bills and even have enough money to travel and skydive now and then. Although I have to pick and choose my entertainment, I have enough money to get by, and I give thanks for the years I spent being a secretary, which somehow or other led me right to this point in my life, a happy septuagenarian. I've been given the ability to communicate, the tools to help me (such as this blog), and even an audience (that would be you). Although I don't have much in the way of material goods, if that were the place I looked for meaning, I have what seems to be just enough.