I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.
Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.
Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.
Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”
She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.
The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.
So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.