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.