Careers And Stuff, 2013


First, who I am not.
I am not an actress or a model. I don’t have big boobs or a tiny waist. I do not have enough hair to make a pony-tail. I do not have a book on the NY Times bestseller’s list. (Yet.)

I will never win the Nobel Peace Prize or invent a cure for alcoholism or mental illness, although my family would benefit and it would be a fine start toward world peace.

I do write women’s humor, which doesn’t pay, and I spent five years covering drag racing events, a job that did pay. I also took pictures at the racetracks, had a picture make the magazine cover and I sold my action shots to racers, so I suppose that makes me a professional photographer, although I still claim amateur status. I’ve won literary awards for my essays and my checking account is usually empty.

I got my first job when I was fourteen. I worked as a nurse’s aide until my mom found out that I had washed and dressed a deceased patient before the patient’s journey to the funeral home.

I was quickly promoted to weekend relief cook and given a raise. I slipped back into the nursing aide job eventually, and I continued as a NA for many years, but had to leave that field because I wanted to take home my patients and I did, mentally.

During this time, I was a hippie who shaved her legs and I was allergic to pot. I didn’t go for that free love crap and the boy that de-flowered me had to promise to marry me afterwards.

He did, so I was married at sixteen and not even pregnant. I was pregnant with my third baby, when I divorced my beer guzzling Prince-in-Dented-Armor.

I was a single mother of three, a poet, a dreamer and a sober alcoholic when I remarried three years later and from there, proceeded to raise three kids.

My new husband wanted me to stay home and play Suzy Homemaker. Since I enjoyed the role, I became a daycare provider and had other women’s kids calling me “mama.” (I know now that the Suzy Homemaker role comes with a very high price tag.)

I never planned for a career. I don’t know why, but one reason was that all I ever wanted to be was a mommy. Another reason could be that my family’s expectations were low. Stay out of jail and the mental hospital and you were a success. Marry a man who works and you were a spoiled success.

Still, as the kids got older, I dabbled in many different careers and some careers chose me. When I was in my thirties, I gave waiting tables and bartending a whirl and I enjoyed the short shifts, the furious rush hours and the high earnings.

Then, after several years of experience combined with my obsessive (OCD) work habits, I fell into management. At first, I just took over, organized and motivated the team, but since I was good at it and couldn’t be stopped, the owners gave me a title and more money. I was there so much I asked them to put a shower in the office.

I attempted to blend into the restaurant management world to earn the consistent salary, but I couldn’t hide my hippie roots. For starters, my nametag bugged me.

Second, I told employers when they hired me what I expected from them in return for my extreme dedication and excessive hours. Respect, honesty and appreciation. Many have hired me, unbelievably, and yes, only one delivered.

I have played the “hire the pretty girl game” and shown my legs to get the job, but that was the last time they saw them.

Then, there’s my casual style. You can dress me in a three-piece suit but it’s going to have fringe or patches and I’m apt to wear a tube top instead of a bra. I don’t do nylons (panty hose for you younger folks) and I don’t do high heels. Ever.

I don’t care if you’re the head of the corporation, if you lie to me or if you are rude, I’ll politely let you know it is unacceptable behavior. If you don’t tell me off in front of my staff, I won’t tell you off at the board meeting.

Hey, for thirty thousand a year, eighty hours a week, I have my limits. An employer can only take advantage of me for two or three years and then I’m gone, and I promise you, it will take three people to replace me.

Here’s a helpful hint for job seekers, if the pre-employment testing lasts two weeks and it is confusing, degrading and invasive–turn down the job offer. If they don’t respect you before they hire you…

I’ve been delighted to turn down several top-level management positions after proudly maneuvering through the employer’s hiring maze. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the money offer creep up and seeing the confused, human resources psychology major go down. I’ll withhold names to protect the guilty and I will admit that my husband doesn’t share my casual attitude about turning down lucrative job offers.

Life is not like a box of chocolates; it is more like bouquets of gorgeous sweet-scented roses and a massive amount of bloody pricks from hidden and not so hidden thorns. I have a weakness for thorns, so I carry Band-Aids.

It didn’t help that despite numerous evidence to the contrary, I was still naïve enough to expect honesty and respect from my employers.

When I became disillusioned with my jobs, my husband told me that I had to learn about the “real world.”

However, I knew the “real world.” I just refused to stop expecting the best from people and I wouldn’t play games.

In 2007, when we moved to Florida. I decided to stop writing for the magazine and now I work for myself. I’m a freelance writer, poet, author, photographer, graphic designer and journalist and I don’t allow for lunch breaks. Since 2007, I’ve only earned about $30.00 through my creative efforts, but that’s okay. I also bought out a bookstore and the contents are in my garage.

Pajamas, jeans, stretch pants and a fringed tee shirt are all I ever need to wear to work and the offbeat collection of business suits are getting dusty in my closet.

I think about giving them away, but I don’t do it.

I might be tempted to foray back into corporate positions if I ever forget how horrible it really was to play corporate games and the suits remind me, I am not a team player, not unless I get to pick my team.

The Bobbsey Twins, Dad And Me

bobbsey twins




I love hearing the soft splatter of rain against my bedroom window in those shadowy moments between sleeping and waking up. As I snuggle under the warm quilt, still half asleep, I feel silent anticipation surround me. It’s raining and from the rhythm of the drops as they splash the window it sounds as if it’s going to rain all day.

As I become more alert and in touch with reality, I realize that my happiness is flowing from the past. I learned to love the rain years ago. My dad was a bricklayer and when it rained he couldn’t go to work. I remember waking up on those rainy mornings knowing that it would be a bookstore day. I don’t know when the tradition started, but my memories seem focused on the year I learned to read. I loved books from the moment I could read, and my happiest childhood memories are of the days we roamed through the second-hand book stores, each of us searching for our favorite authors.

Dad would browse through the different cookbooks, and Mom would go digging in the dusty piles looking for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’d gather up every volume of The Bobbsey Twins that I didn’t already have, and I’d quietly spread them out on the counter beside my father. He would talk to the bookstore owner for what seemed like hours, but eventually he’d turn to me and ask, “Jean, are you really going to read these books?” As I eagerly nodded my head he would call over to my mom and ask, “Grace is she going to read these, aren’t these books too old for her?” (I was only seven.)

It was his standard question, but I wouldn’t breathe until I heard my mom assure him, again, that I’d devour these books. “Well, just pick out two of your favorites,” he’d say each time.

I’d whisper to myself, “I want The Bobbsey Twins At The Seashore, and The Bobbsey Twins At School.” As I returned the others to their shelf, I’d change my mind. I wanted The Bobbsey Twins On Blueberry Island, and The Bobbsey Twins On The Deep Blue Sea! I wouldn’t make my final choice until my dad was ready to pay.

After he paid a nickel each for them, I’d cradle the books in my hands, and a warm excitement would flood my body. During the ride home I’d arrange the two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins on my lap, slowly brushing my fingers across the faded covers. Peeking into the book’s yellowed pages was like eating a root beer popsicle in August.

As my father opened the front door I’d run past him, back to my bed; back under the covers with the sweetest possessions in all the world, two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins!

Bert and Nan, the older twins, did their best to keep Freddie and Flossie out of trouble, but it was hopeless. The two little ones bounced with energy, and they just ran wherever they pleased, charming everyone with their antics. I loved the two toddlers with their honeyed curls and round cherub faces. Their wild spirits and endless curiosity often led them into dangerous situations, but thankfully, their parents, or the older twins, always came to their rescue before they’d get hurt.

As I read each volume I knew that I could count on a sticky sweet happy ending, with hugs and kisses all around. Their escapades removed me from my life. As I absorbed the words my mind danced through each adventure with the twins. My eyes flew across the dusty pages, scanning entire paragraphs in a glance, and before long I’d feel the last few pages between my fingers. I’d force my eyes to slow down and then I’d try to read each sentence, desperate to keep the story from ending. It always ended too soon. I’d read both books the same day, and by supper time I’d be longing for one more rainy day and another visit to the book stores. I must have reread each book a dozen times.

The dad in The Bobbsey Twins adventures loved his children. He taught them in a firm, yet kind and caring way. My dad could be that way too; until late each afternoon when he’d begin to drink. I didn’t understand why my dad drank, but I learned at a young age how to fade into the walls. My books let me run away from home when I had no place else to go. They showed me another world, a world apart from the emotional violence and the verbal abuse. They gave me hope, and without realizing that it was survival tools he was handing to me, my dad bought me my books, until I turned nine and started to haunt the libraries.

So, that’s why I love to wake to the sound of rain drops splashing against my window. It reminds my heart of the love my father was able to show, the treasures he bought me, the surprise in his eyes when he first realized that his little girl could read, his reluctance to let me grow up. The soft wetness surrounding my ears soothes the bad dreams; it chases away the nightmares; and it lets me forget the angry, crazy man that my dad had become by the time I had children of my own.

When it rains I forget the names he called us, I don’t care about the things he smashed, the holes he punched in the walls. I remember the love and the pride in his eyes, a hidden smile behind his words, the rain pouring down outside the converted garage that we called home, and his playful question, “You don’t want to go to the bookstore today, do you Jean?”

Thirty years ago my ex-husband carelessly lost my entire collection of First Edition Bobbsey Twins along with my Nancy Drew mysteries. The books fell off the back of our moving truck, and although I searched the streets he had driven on, I never found them. I’ve refused to buy shiny modern reproductions. I want my softly worn, second-hand friends, the books that whispered my dad’s message to me while the rain fell around us, “I do love you.” The gifts that spoke the words he could never say.

A few months ago, as I browsed in an antique store in downtown Collinsville, I found a 1913 First Edition copy of The Bobbsey Twins At Snow Lodge, with the original jacket still intact. I bought that old friend for four dollars and fifty cents. That’s all it was worth to the antique dealer, but I felt as if I had won the lottery when I took that time-worn book home, and gave it a special place on my bookshelf.

The author, Laura Lee Hope, will never know how her stories encouraged my timid spirit, or how she set my mind on fire, burning with an obsession to read and igniting a lifelong love affair with words.

My dad? The men he worked for called him a genius. Whether his hands touched bricks and field stone, or pastels and charcoal, he created masterpieces. Sometimes he’d take my tiny hand in his, and we’d walk through the gorgeous gardens that he and my mom had designed and nurtured. He’d talk to me about the wildflowers they had transplanted from the mountains and the woods of New England. Then there was his cooking; he could out cook the finest chef. I can still smell the delicious aroma of his sour dough bread baking in our ancient, black wood stove.

My dad? Today he is homeless, lost in the crowd of mentally ill who roam the streets in every city and town across America. He is an alcoholic who first lost his mind, and then his family, because he couldn’t walk away from the bottle. Family members search for him, but he doesn’t want to be found. He tells the few people he talks to that he doesn’t have a family.

The cherished edition of The Bobbsey Twins catches my eye every now and then, and I pause to brush my fingers across the worn cover, especially when it’s raining.
He couldn’t say the words, yet the rain still whispers to me, “I do love you.” I whisper back, “I love you too, Dad.”


Update: My dad died in 2000 and was buried without a headstone, or family present because
family was never able to find him or his death certificate. Recently, my sister, with the help of two military friends, has found where Dad is buried.
October 16, 2019 he will be honored by the military and by his family. He will finally have a headstone. RIP Dad.