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Monday, December 3, 2012

Role Models

            Recently, I spent an afternoon making fecalizers.  If you are a dog or cat owner, you know them as those little plastic containers you get from the vet so you can bring in the requisite “sample.”  While I was assembling these handy kits - plastic container, rubber glove, plastic bag  - I started thinking.
            In my 40-year career since my first job at Jeanes Hospital at age 16, I have been a food service worker, a cashier, a waitress, a teaching assistant, a proofreader, an administrative assistant, a features writer,  and a real estate appraiser.  I have even sold potholders and oven mitts over the phone for some spurious nonprofit organization and have taken telephone surveys for a bona fide public opinion research company. I have given tours wearing a poodle skirt. I have worked for a national company, for a regional bank, and for myself.  After 20 years running my own business, I am embarking on a new career as a veterinary assistant.  That’s where the fecalizers come in.  That particular afternoon,  I was questioning  the wisdom of this choice – low pay, no prestige – and wondering if I should be expecting more of myself.
            Then I started thinking about the Kelly girls.
            My mother was the youngest of the four Kelly sisters.  After marriage, my mother did not work outside the home.  Except for a brief stint at Charming Shoppes when all her children were finally in school, my mother has remained a homemaker. Until she married my father (her boss), however, my mother did have a variety of secretarial jobs.   As well as moonlighting as a dance instructor for Arthur Murray.   
Aunt Renee, the next female rung up the Kelly ladder, also held a few  jobs after high school.  From her stories, and from family lore over the years, Aunt Renee’s forays into the world of work outside the home resemble episodes from “I Love Lucy.”  Not that she didn’t work: Aunt Renee was a “homemaker” in every sense of the word.  Reen could hang everything from curtains to wallpaper.  Her handiwork clothed her children, adorned her home, and graced her table.  Just don’t ask her to punch a time clock.
            Aunt Marge, next up, was a divorcee when it wasn’t so fashionable, and worked for Curtis Publishing Company. Aunt Marge kept my voracious appetite for reading somewhat sated with copies of “Jack and Jill” magazine.  All while supporting three daughters of her own.
Aunt Mary, the oldest girl and childless, worked most of her life at Sears Roebuck and Company, that big building that sprawled along Roosevelt Boulevard.  She often shared coffee and cake with my mother in our kitchen after her shift was done.
No fanfare, no controversy:  they just did what they had to do.
            Still, the Kelly girls were not known for keeping their opinions to themselves.  As I grew up under their careful scrutiny, my choices were sometimes questioned.  Still, where my mother might leave off in her support, another sister might take up the cause.  However, I never heard anyone seriously discourage me from any career path.  No matter which path they had chosen for their own.
Now, my mother is the last living girl in her family. Yet, as I stood there making fecalizers, I knew what all the Kelly girls would think of my latest choice: if I am happy doing whatever I am doing, that’s enough.  Though in the world at large, the Kelly girls were no movers and shakers, I always knew they were proud of me.
I hope they know I was always proud of them.


  1. You need to label the photo so we can see which one was your mom!

  2. Mary, how wonderful for you that you've had these strong women in your life. I spent many weekends at the home of my mother's two "old maid" sisters. The oldest, Eileen, left high school to work for the family and continued to work until her death at age 84. She and the middle sister, Jean, both worked for a fan manufacturer in Dayton, OH called Lau Blower (when I mentioned this to a friend recently they thought I said "Loud Blower"). Anyway, Eileen never learned how to drive until Aunt Jean died. Eileen was 65, retired from Lau and got a job at a department store in accounting. So, in order to get to work, she had to learn how to drive. And at the age of 65, she did! She never made left turns but still managed to get where she needed to go! Thanks for bringing back those memories!

  3. Mary, thanks for reminding me about the influence of special aunts. Not all of my aunts were my mom or dad's sisters-my godmother Aunt Ann was my mom's best friend, but that didn't make her a less real aunt or any less special. I still cherish my first grown-up, heart-to-heart with her, and all she taught me about my mother

  4. Wow, Mary, what a slice of history!! No aunts to speak of in my story, but my mother did break the family mold and got a scholarship to a teachers college, the first one to go to college, and that accomplishment paid and paid and paid in more ways than one! She singlehandedly supported her own family (husband and 4 children), organized us to run the household, and benefited from the retirement plan very nicely! Of course, this made it much more natural for the next generation to pursue higher education, and lifelong learning. She was a whiz with Latin and when it came to vocabulary and diagramming sentences, it was all business. I think that mentality was fairly common in her cohort, but she probably set new standards. It was a gift that gave and gave and gave for many of us in my generation! Honestly, I think a bit of that approach would do wonders for the kids today. No one got thru 6th grade in those days without mastering the paragraph, and maybe the essay even. Now, I have college graduates, and you know...

  5. Mary, at one time or another, every job has fecalizer moments, figuratively speaking. I trust that more inspirational contributions outweigh the mundane ones in your new career choice. What matters most to me is the wealth of experiences you have gained in your life. You have always been learning and growing. Your memories of your aunts point out what really matters, the people in our lives who have loved and nurtured us.

    My mom is the last living sibling of 10. She left her job at the Bulletin right after she got married. None of her siblings went to college (male or female) and none of my aunts worked after marriage; on my dad's side, only the nuns went to college. My role models were my older cousins who went to college in the 1960s. I had no doubt I would follow them.

    I am grateful that my parents never discouraged us from seeking higher education and careers. Like your aunts, they were always proud of us.

  6. Thanks, Mary. I especially love the reminder of how important adults other than parents are to children. I was so blessed to have grandparents and many other adults who believed in me and encouraged me. I'm so glad my son has that too.

  7. donna matherDecember 26, 2012

    love imagining your mom as a dance instructor!
    xo. donna