My parents were the wisest of people. Of course I never recognized that, when I was a little girl. They were just parents: no worries, no wishes, no thoughts, no concerns other than Dad going to work, and Mom working around the house. What they did all day had little to do with me, and was boring, with a capital B. Lots of times I heard them say things like ‘remember when there was a corn field here,’ or ‘he died so young, he was only 45.’ Proof that my parents were from the olden days. Of course they never knew how crazy-boring they were, ’cause they mostly talked to each other and other boring adults.
I heard Mom tell my friend Betty’s mom that she was a secretary back when she was alive; back before she was married and had kids that hated everything she made for dinner. A secretary? Holy-bejezzers, double proof, she was boring with a capital B. Betty’s mom wasn’t even anything back before she was a mother, so Mom had her beat by at least by a land-slide. I was never going to be like them.
I was never going to be a secretary. I was going to be something. Secretaries just do stuff for people. Kinda like practice for being a mother. Still, the special kind of writing Mom learned when she went to her technical high school, shorthand, was super-keen. Shorthand might come in handy for writing my own stories or for keeping secrets from other people. I liked writing stories, but that was easy. I was planning to do hard stuff like go to Mars, or cure diseases, or maybe help feed starving people.
When I got to high school, Mom said I had to take Personal Typing.
“You never know when you’ll need it,” Mom said.
“I’m never going to be just a secretary.”
“It’s a skill that might come in handy,” Mom kept on cutting the ends off the carrots to go with the pot roast she was getting ready for supper. “Maybe you will need to type your daughter’s term paper some day.”
She had me there. Mom was pretty good at helping me with that, and I always went the maximum number of pages, so I could see how fast typing might be handy. I knew enough to stop the argument right then and there. Besides, I hated disappointing Mom more than anything. I did plenty of that without even trying.
I signed up for Personal Typing. My guidance counselor, a skinny man with his pants pulled half-way to his armpits, got mad at me for signing up for Personal Typing. He looked me straight in the eye for about a whole 60 seconds without blinking.
“Why do you want to take Personal Typing?” he said at last.
“My mom said it might come in handy.”
“It’s inappropriate to take easy classes like this, just to improve your grade point,” Mr. G. Counselor said. “I’m sure you want to graduate higher in your class. It’s not right.”
“My Mom said I had to take it.” Moms are good for getting a kid out of arguments. If mom says so, that’s the end of the argument. I never understood what Mr. G. Counselor was getting at about grade points and class standing. I just took classes for two reasons: #1, I had to, #2, I liked learning stuff. A good grade in a class proved I learned a thing or two.
Later on, Mr. G. Counselor gave everyone a bunch of tests to determine her aptitudes and interests. Mr. G. Counselor sat down with me with a computer print-out of the careers that matched my aptitudes and interests. He told me I should pick some careers I might like to pursue at college.
“Biologist,” I said.
“That’s a career for men.”
“Just for men.”
“How about furniture upholsterer?”
“That takes a lot of strength. You can’t do that.”
“Let’s see. That leaves me nurse or teacher. I guess I’ll be a teacher.”
Mom said Mr. G. Counselor was all wet. I should work in a lab.
“What makes you think I’d be good at that?”
“You love science. You’re a natural.”
Mr. G. Counselor showed me a film about blood-banks. He said that was a good job for girls. I saw blood before, lots of times. I never got a bit squeamish, even when Deanna jumped down from a tree straight unto a nail sticking out of a two-by-four. Blood coming out of people: no problem; blood in plastic bags made me want to throw up. Nurses probably had to see bags of blood, too.
I guess I was going to be a teacher. So off to college I went on the Work-Study Program. I majored in Biology because Mom told me that’s the least I could do, since I liked all things about life so much. I got a job doing dishes and making agar in the Bacteriology Lab. If I was really quiet, I got to leave the door open and listen to the graduate class in the classroom next to my work area.
Holy Mitochondria, I loved every bit of what those guys talked about. I even got to teach those guys how to use the autoclave and how to know sterilization was complete, and how to make agar. (Easy as making Jello.)
Mom was so wise about so many things. Mr. G. Counselor was all wet. I belonged in a lab. I spent a life-time in a lab or managing a lab, or directing a lab. I have my own little laboratory at home that I share with the grand-kids.
I should have listened to her about Debate, though. Debate skills sure could come in handy. She was right, I do like to argue. It might be in my genes.
One other thing, if anyone is wondering: Secretaries (now known as Office Managers) are the heart of any business. They are the people who really run the place. I wised up to that one on my first real job, in environmental health at the Huron County Health Department. (Thanks, Eleanor.) And, I use my teaching skills nearly every day, even when not formally teaching.