Shared Stories: a career for a girl

Ginger Lane spent most of her years growing up in Texas before moving to California with her family. In this piece she describes her struggle as she tried to follow her parents' advice about the ideal job for a woman. Ginger ultimately went on to college, earning a Marriage and Family Counseling License. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

My parents had the idea that an ideal job for a girl was the job of a secretary (we were not called "women" back in those days). They truly believed that any girl who was equipped with typing and shorthand skills would never have to worry about having a job.

She would always be able to find employment in any city or town. Office work, to them, seemed glamorous and desirable, certainly a step up for their child. Going to college was unheard of in my family, particularly for a girl.

They described the privileges and advantages of having such a position. I would always have plenty of money and would not have to work hard physically, as they had had to do all their lives. I would be respected and admired, even looked up to in such employment.

Well, I did not question their wisdom, but fell right into their plans and signed up in my junior year for typing. In Texas, at that time, we were not allowed to take business subjects until our junior year and could not take the other related subjects until we had typing under our belts. This meant that most of my business courses would have to come in my senior year.

I dutifully took typing as soon as allowed. Very shortly, I learned that I had zero ability in this class. Everyone else was quickly typing the minimum required and more. These girls whizzed past me. I could not understand how they did it as I was struggling along, making mistakes in almost every word.

I worked as hard as I could, as I was determined to become an expert. I did not understand that one has to have good native finger coordination in order to achieve a high level of skill. Nevertheless, I remained in the class and fought to improve my performance. The teacher kindly gave me a C minus for the first semester.

However, to pass the class, one had to type for ten minutes reaching a speed of sixty words per minute with three or fewer mistakes. Fortunately, the instructor had compassion and remained after school for several afternoons to allow me to take the test over and over during the final weeks. I tried so very hard and truly almost made it. I did sixty words in ten minutes with about five mistakes and she allowed me to pass. I think I got a D plus. I was happy with this and my parents described the wonderful job I would have someday if I would also take shorthand.

After my junior year my family moved to California. When we settled in South Gate, I registered at the local high school. Of course, I signed up for the classes my parents had recommended: shorthand and bookkeeping. But after the first six weeks, I knew I was not meant for either of these classes and dropped them for other subjects.

Shorthand was as difficult as learning a foreign language and having no study skills. I was lost very quickly. I thought I was doing well in bookkeeping and was taken by surprise every time my figures did not balance. I thought I was doing exactly what I was taught, going step by step, and entering the numbers in the double columns required. Why didn't by books balance? Surely the teacher was mistaken. But, I resigned myself to the inevitable and dropped the class.

I got the message about my secretarial talents and opted for classes where I knew I would do well, radio and drama. And indeed I did well and made the highest grades, which certainly helped by grade point average. In addition, I had fun and made friends, but my parents were greatly disappointed and continued to extol the virtues of being a secretary.

They also informed me that there was no chance of my being an actress and that it was a very immoral job for a girl to have. The temptations were rampant and I would surely end up in a sinful and evil life.

I didn't listen to any of this and didn't really believe their dire predictions. After all, they had been way off the mark when it came to my secretarial aptitude.

Even though I didn't truly believe I would make it in Hollywood, at least I enjoyed my last year in high school. And, I did have the last laugh after all because no one has to have fault-free typing ability to be a secretary today because the computer erases all the mistakes. My productions are now perfect, or pretty nearly so.

Besides, who wants to be a secretary anyway? Not me.

********** Published: Jan. 2, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 38