beginning at the end
Spring is meant to be the season of rebirth. Yet, Spring, 1968 found me unemployed — again – just as I had been the spring before.
A week after I turned in my resignation as the sixth-grade teacher at St. Henry’s grade school, the principal received an application from a perfect candidate. The prospect had recently left the convent after a decade of teaching middle school grades. She wished to continue teaching but not as a celibate religious. In different times, she would have been considered totally ineligible to teach in a Catholic school. But in the tumultuous end of the twentieth century the school staff welcomed her with open arms.
While leaving the classroom ended my struggle to attain “good teacher” status, it intensified my search for secure employment. I could not conceive of a life without work. Even though Jay’s earnings covered our needs and occasional luxuries, I had no wish to remain jobless. We knew that were I to become pregnant I would probably stay at home with our child. Yet, at that point in time, we had no assurance we would ever welcome a child into our family. I remained unable to conceive. Adoption agencies continued to reject us as “too young.”
For four years, I had run into a brick wall every time I applied for a position in
journalism. In their study of women in journalism, Seeking Equity for Women in Journalism and Mass Communication, Ramona R. Rush, Carol E. Oukrop, and Pamela J. Creedon note that the percentage of women in journalism rose from roughly six percent to eight percent from 1965 to 1970. I knew from age eleven when I first set my heart on becoming a journalist that there were fewer women than men in the profession, but even in 1968 I didn’t appreciate how great the disparity was. If I had majored in journalism, I convinced myself, I could have landed a place on a newspaper or magazine staff. But that degree had been unavailable at St. Mary’s, the college for which I received a scholarship.
Right out of school, I had “settled” for a position as a county caseworker. I loved that job but left the agency in the hopes that less stress in my life would allow me to become pregnant. Then, I tried teaching grade school, another of the “acceptable” jobs for women. Last week’s blog recorded that disaster. I wasn’t trained to be a nurse. After eight years as a waitress all through high school and college, I definitely wasn’t going back.
might as well try
There still remained one “suitable” woman’s job I might consider. I could be a secretary. I had learned to type and take shorthand in high school. In a quirky turn of fate, one of my other untried skills, speaking French, landed me the first secretarial job for which I applied. The editor of Building Construction, a trade journal for architects, engineers and contractors, had moved to Chicago from Paris. It appealed to him to hire a secretary to whom he could dictate in French if he so chose.
In late April I began my fourth new job since leaving college four years before. And I loved it. The office space vibrated with excitement. Everyone on the editorial staff had a passion for the world of building especially my French boss. Because it was my job to see that most of the articles actually made it to pre-print form, I often joined in the editorial discussions. My father and grandfather were draftsmen. So, I knew a great deal more about the world of architecture and building construction than most English Literature graduates.
Within six weeks, the assistant editor, an engineer as well as a journalist, called
me into his office. He offered me a position as an associate editor on the magazine. I never saw it coming. The irony hit me right away. Here like a gilded message on a silver platter was an offer of the very kind of work, I had practically begged for in the past. Yet, the offer no longer held the same allure. The intensity of my desire to conceive a child had swept aside all other ambition.
“I need time to think about this.” I told him.
He lifted his chin and squinted at me, “I thought you’d jump at this chance. We need an answer pretty soon. We’re going to hire someone before we chart the next edition.”
I sighed. Was I crazy to hesitate? “I am excited, but I want to tell my husband before I commit.”
“Okay, I get that. Think you can let us know tomorrow?”
Could I? Yes, dragging out the decision wouldn’t make it any easier. “Of course.”
no final answers
At five o’clock, without bothering to clear my desk for the next day, I grabbed my purse, ran down three flights of stairs and out onto Wabash Ave. Skipping the “L” train, I strode north, my thoughts too jumbled to make sense of them. I halted in the middle of the bridge that crossed the Chicago River, leaned against the broad steel railing, and stared at the water flowing backwards away from Lake Michigan, a reversal of nature created by a massive engineering effort at the turn of the century. At that moment it felt like my life also flowed backwards. This moment in time, the day on which I could walk into our front door and announce to my husband that I had an honest-to-goodness journalism job offer, came three years too late. Or did it?
For the last eight blocks of the walk to our apartment, I let myself daydream, envisioning building a solid resume at Building Construction and then moving on to one of the many other journals published by Cahners, maybe even Variety with all the excitement of being the front lines of the theater world.
Jay surprised me by being home when I got there. “Where have you been. I’ve been worried.”
The big cat-faced clock above our tiny kitchen archway read seven o’clock. “Geesh, Honey,” I said, “I thought I was rushing home. Time got away from me. We need to talk.”
Jay’s take on the dilemma lacked the ambiguity of mine. “Of course, you’ll take the job,” he insisted. “This is your dream. Go for it.”
“But what about a baby?” Journalism didn’t mix well with motherhood.
“Yulsey, you can’t keep drifting around waiting to get pregnant. It may never happen. But this job offering is real and right now.”
My gut twisted when he voiced, “It may never happen.” But I couldn’t deny his logic.
That night we celebrated at the Jewish deli just a block from our place.
The next morning, I accepted the position. No regrets, I told myself. I can do this.
Four months later, I became pregnant. Once again, quandary ruled my life.
“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” —Thomas Carlyle
Did finding your “life work” present you with a quandary? I’d love to hear how others experienced these times in their life.