Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Secretaries Week

It is a difficult job if it is done right. There are plenty of folks, mostly women, who are exceptional secretaries...... my mom was right up there with the best of them.
Mom was a secretary back when they were still called "secretary", when pencils, shorthand, carbon paper, little eraser wheels with a brush on the end, and typewriter ribbon were still in style. She took all the classes in High School that would enable her be competent. Back then, there weren't many choices for the girls.... College preparation for nursing or teaching, or Home Economics and Secretarial classes for the girls who were not college bound. Since she was a middle child of a small town Minnesota Meter Reader, higher education was not an option. She learned the skills that were taught in school, then took them into the world to begin a career. Her abilities were excellent, her attitude was exceptional. There was no room for error or mediocrity. She could type sixty words a minute. ... on an old manual machine. She took and transcribed shorthand, ran and repaired the mimeograph machine, addressed and stamped envelopes, and answered phones, taking messages, since voice mail and answering machines had yet to be invented.
Mom and Dad were married just as World War II had begun, and she went with him when he was stationed as a guard in a POW camp in St. Joe, Missouri. She worked as a civilian for the military commander, as his secretary. I remember the stories that she told later that sounded like episodes of MASH. Those simple skills were important; she felt that she contributed her best to the war effort.
When Dad went to Seminary a few years later, she put him through school and supported the family, working at Bell Aircraft, secretary to Larry Bell, himself. We lived with Grandparents to save money, since her wages were disproportionate to her skill level and work ethic. She never complained and we never felt that we lacked anything.
Dad became the vicar of a small town church, and Mom became the "church secretary", transcribing his sermons, mimeographing the Sunday bulletins, answering the phone and the mail, as well as being the pastor's wife and our mother. It was all done with the same level of excellence and personal pride in her work that set her apart from the average secretary.
Years later, when she was left on her own with teenagers to support, Mom went back to what she knew best, and until she was nearly eighty, worked for a doctor whose practice grew through the years to multiple offices and providers and staff. She ran the clinics, made appointments, answered calls, greeted patients, transcribed dictations, and ironed the Doctors' coats. She didn't like the way the laundry service did them. She brought the billing home, along with the coats, and would stuff and stamp envelopes while watching game shows. She changed with the times during those years; learned to use computers, copiers, and multi-line phone systems. The only thing that didn't change was the one hundred percent effort she gave to her work. After three attempts to retire, returning each time to clean up the mess, she was finally replaced by three newly trained Receptionists and Administrative Assistants, and the doctor had to wear wrinkled coats once again.
As I look at my Mothers' life and her work, I know that these are big shoes to fill. Not only because of how hard she worked, or the lack of technology, or the lousy wages, but also because of the integrity, work ethic, and personal pride that were the intangibles that gave her purpose and satisfaction. . She didn't have to have a fancy title, a briefcase, or a laptop. It was about a job well done, as a Secretary.


MarmiteToasty said...

Your mum sounds so wonderful.... and hey, I started my working life with a manual typewriter and dictation lol and Im not that old.... bugger, maybe I am :) - Ive worked and supported meself since I was 12..... left school at 15 and even thought I got my place at college my parents wouldnt let me go.... but I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to get a place......

Just think what I might of become if I had gone to college....

But left school at 15 and began to work for The Ministry of Denfence.... no dead end factory job for me..... I knew I had brains and had to use them..


Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute to Grandma. She always did so much. Thank you very much.

The Hendersons