Not Just for Boys

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.

Rose Mary Woods (1917-2005), Richard Nixon's s...

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.”


photo credit: Creative Commons; Flickr

“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.

English: Screenshot from Linux software KTouch...As for Personal Typing,  I  thank Mom everyday for that.  Thanks to Mom, I can close my eyes and let my stories flow out my fingertips.

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.

D.A. Driving

My Aunt Annie was way too young to be an aunt.  She was just a kid on a tricycle when my sister, Deanna, was born.     I have no memories of the little girl Aunt Annie, but I do remember the teenager Aunt Annie.  She was fourteen years younger than Mom.  She was nothing at all like Mom.  Aunt Annie and Mom didn’t even look like sisters.

Mom was the most beautiful Mom in the whole wide world.  She had soft wavy brown hair and a laugh that made my heart bubble around in my chest until nothing but happiness could exist.

Aunt Annie had a turned up nose because she pinched it between her fingers when she sucked her thumb back when she was my age.  Least that’s what Grandma said.

Aunt Annie had a D.A. haircut and she giggled.

“See,”  she said, and turned around so I could see the back of her head.  “See how the hair comes together in the back.  It looks like a duck’s ass.”  She combed  back through her hair on both sides and started singing “Kookie Lend Me Your Comb,” using her rat-tail comb for a microphone.

“Maybe I see it,” I said, tipping my head to one side.  I studied the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “We just have chickens.”

Aunt Annie giggled behind her hand,  mischief danced around in her eyes.  Dad had dancing eyes, and mischief, but Dad’s mischief was the kind that made everybody laugh loud.  Aunt Annie’s mischief was the kind that made Grandma say, “You little stinker.”  Everybody knows being a stinker is a bad thing.  Being a stinker won’t send you  to hell or anything, but it will make people stay away from you.  Well, maybe not all people.  Aunt Annie had lots of teenage friends.

I got to be in backseat when Aunt Annie learned to drive.  That’s because in summer I  got to stay one whole week at Grandma’s all by myself, with no brothers or sisters soaking up the limelight.  Of course I had to help pick raspberries, and help Grandpa out in his shop making inventions like rototillers that could work on both sides of the beans, and putting together movie credits for his home movies, and building secret things like boomerangs.  Helping Grandma and Grandpa was more like fun than work.  Anyways, Drivers’ Training happened in summertime, and that’s how I got to see Aunt Annie learning to drive.

“Put both hands on the steering wheel,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie, cocked one of her eyebrows at Grandma.  Aunt Annie’s plucked her eyebrows into thin arches, so she always looked surprised.

“Mr. Mann said to keep the left hand at nine o’clock and the right hand relaxed on my lap.” She smoothed her fluffy skirts.  Her can can slip rustled underneath.

“I don’t care what Mr. Mann says,”  Grandma squinched her bottom lids up.  Everybody knows that’s the signal for I’m getting mad.

“He’s the teacher,”  Aunt Annie said.  “He knows what he’s talking about.”

“I’m your mother,”  Grandma said.  The skin on her jaws rippled and her lips just about disappear. Aunt Annie kept on driving with one hand on the wheel and  the other in her lap.

Aunt Annie looked over at Grandma and arched the right eyebrow up, and pulled her mouth into a crooked smile.

“See,” she said.  “Nobody’s dying here.”

The little curl at the base of her neck wagged at me as Aunt Annie shook her head back and forth and clicked her tongue in the back of her mouth.

“I see it,”  I clapped my hands down on the front seat.  “I see it.”

“What do you see?”  Grandma said.  Her eyes darted all around and her hands flew over in front of nobody in the middle seat.  Mom always did that when she had to stop fast, so baby Frankie wouldn’t fly into the dashboard or onto the floor.  Aunt Annie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands.

“The D.A,” I said pointing to the back of Aunt Annie’s head.  “It looks just like a duck waddling.”

Grandma and Aunt Annie sucked in their breath.  Grandma threw her head back and laughed that same kind of laugh Mom did.  The kind that made the whole world seem happy.

“That’s a Duck’s Ass, alright,”  Grandma said.

Aunt Annie gave me the one-eye-brow-up look through the rear-view mirror.

“You little stinker,” she said.  Her eyes danced.

Being a little sticker is sorta fun.