Friday, March 09, 2007

A little break and a story

I'm taking a little break from my Mexico travelogue. There is more to come. I have yet to share my pictures of Taxco, which is another magical place. I have no projects to share. We are waiting for that baby. I am finishing up jobs with deadlines, painting the bathroom, uninspired for the moment. A lull.

Last night as I was falling asleep I remembered something that happened more than 35 years ago.

My career with the Singer sewing company
The spring after Ray and I were married I grew dissatisfied with my job, which was selling furniture and design services at a fancy furniture store. I felt like a fraud, selling expensive furniture to rich people, pretending I knew all about it, when, in fact I knew if they could see our apartment, furnished with my paisley chair and hand-me-downs, they would never take my word on the superior quality of hand-tied springs and down cushions over foam, or anything else I had to say, for that matter. Besides, the men I worked with stole all my customers and I wasn't making enough money on commission to warrant getting up in the morning and going to work. I quit.

I took a job almost immediately at the Nampa mall's Singer Sewing Store as a Sewing Instructor. My training was a week of instruction in Tacoma, along with 5 other women from other Northwest area Singer stores. Our instructor was an older, gray-haired woman, named Dorothy who made it very clear that she was the national training person for Singer, the highest ranking woman in the Singer company. One of the other women asked if there were any women store managers and Dorothy said, oh no, managing was a job for men. I thought about the greasy, weasely little guy who managed the store I worked for and wondered about that. Later Dorothy took me aside privately and asked me if I was pregnant. She said this was very valuable training I was getting and the company certainly didn't want to waste it on someone who was just going to be pregnant and quit right away. What?? I assured her I was not pregnant, but then I felt really self-conscious and insecure. Irrationally, I felt like I had done something wrong.

I shared a motel room with a woman named Carol from Longview. She had taken the job, she told me because her husband had had a mental breakdown and had been hospitalized after he went without sleep for more than a week and began hearing voices from the television set when it was not turned on. They had two small children. She said he was home now, starting back to work—he was a newspaper writer—and doing really well, but they had a lot of bills. She needed to work. She seemed scared and nervous and I felt bad for her. The second night I was awakened in the middle of the night by someone pounding on the motel room door and yelling for Carol. She opened the door to find her husband collapsed against the door frame sobbing that she had to come home. Now. He needed her. Bad. A little boy in pajamas appeared from behind him whimpering, "Mommy, I think Dad's sick again." Carol threw her clothes on and left, asking me to explain to Dorothy the next morning. I lay awake the rest of the night, every nerve in my body buzzing, miserably wishing I was home with my husband, wishing I was anywhere other than in a motel room in Tacoma alone.

Carol showed up the next afternoon, looking frail, pale and frazzled. Her husband was back in the hospital. She gathered her belongings and left and did not return. I remember nothing about the rest of the week.

Three weeks later I had successfully taught a dozen or so women to use their new Singers and I was looking forward to a friend's wedding on the weekend. Late in the day the greasy little weasel manager approached me nervously clearing his throat and tugging at his skinny little tie. Seems business was down and he had a directive to downsize the staff. He apologetically told me that since I was the most recently hired, he would have to let me go. That's what he said, "let you go," like a fish he was throwing back, I thought sadly. Then he looked really sad and sort of wailed, "I have to sell one of the vans too." I walked out the door and never went back.

I cried all the way home in the car about losing that wretched job, but by the time I got home it had started to seem kind of fortuitous and when I remembered Mr. Weasel wailing about selling the van it seemed funny—actually really funny. I decided to go back to school.

I heard the store closed a few months later.


  1. I love stories. I wonder what happened to Carol.

  2. Terry: It is obvious that the "Singer" experience never held you back. I have enjoyed looking at your work and this story was fabulous--so well written. I hope you continue on with your sharing of stories. I am dying to know what happened after the Singer experience.

  3. I remember the furniture store and I remember you working the short time with Singer, but I do not recall the training story. It sounds like a dreadful experience and to top it off you were in motel in Tacoma. When in the whole scheme of jobs did you start dressing windows?

  4. Terry, I also worked for the Singer Co. I sold machines and taught. But unlike you, they did not train me. They just took my work that I could sew and teach. They obviously were desperate at the time!!

  5. Ah yes, Carla, you were there! The Singer job was so short-lived that, as luck would have it, just a day or so after the end of the Singer job I got a call from the Bon Marche, about a job dressing their windows, that I had applied for before I took the Singer job. It was a really fun, though low-paid, job and I worked there for about a year while I took college classes to get my teaching certificate.

    Christine, I have often wondered what ever happened to Carol, her husband and her family. She was only a couple years older than I and had been through a lot.

  6. Anonymous7:36 PM

    You and I are the same age (give or take a few) and I find many similarities in our experiences. I think everyone has a "Singer" job in his or her history somewhere. Some job that was waayyy beneath our abilities and such a horrible fit that the brief tenure there becomes a forgettable blip on the job-o-meter of life. Amazing how vivid it remains in our memories though.

  7. Anonymous4:28 AM

    great story, and I also wonder what happened to Carol? what a terrible position to be in. Poor woman. I just hope she survived it. Funny isn't it, thinking back on old jobs? I used to speak in front of 100's of people, these days I can hardly leave the house.

  8. Ah, life! Haven't we all got some strange stories?