Tag Archives: Chris

The Working Life

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shamrock

Soon after moving to Beaver Island, I started my job at the Shamrock.

I was scared to death. I was shy, timid, clumsy and uncoordinated. In other words, I had almost nothing needed to be a good waitress. Still, this was a new place; I could reinvent myself, couldn’t I? Things did not need to be true just because they had always been true. That’s what starting over is all about!

So, I dressed in the ugly green and white pin-striped polyester seersucker uniform that had been provided. I rolled and twisted and safety-pinned the elastic waist of the slacks, to make them fit. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, and practiced saying, “Hello, how can I help you?”

I arrived on time. Barb, the owner, was there to greet me. She introduced me to her mother, Betty, who was one of the cooks, and Catherine who was the other cook. She taught me how to brew the coffee, where to get the ice for the bin behind the bar and where the cups and glasses were kept. She explained how to put placemats, napkins and silverware in front of the customers. She introduced me to Walt Wojan, the first customer in the door. She watched me bring his coffee, reminded me to keep smiling, and left.

I found, over the next few weeks, that Barb had a very minimal training style. A few pointers, and there you go, you’re on your own.

I nearly panicked, but didn’t. I fell behind, but kept going. I messed up, but not as bad as I could have. At one point, I did something wrong, and Betty came out and yelled at me, shook her head, disgusted, and said to the customer, “These dummies we get…they don’t know anything…” Well! The first chance I got, I marched right in to her kitchen. She started to tell me I didn’t belong there. I silenced her with a wave of my hand.

“I am new,” I told her, “I have never waitressed before. I was given very little instruction. I made mistakes. I will try my best to learn this job…but I will not ever again have you talk to me that way or talk to customers about me that way. If that happens, ever again, I will go home, and I won’t come back.”

“Okay,” she scowled, “Get out there. Get out of my kitchen. Go back to work.”

And that’s what I did.

That wasn’t the last disagreement we had. It wasn’t – by far – my last mistake.

It was significant only because it was the very first time in my entire life  I had ever stood up to someone in my own defense like that. For me, that was momentous!

I came home after my first day, told the girls to play quietly in the living room, and collapsed, exhausted, on the sofa.

Working at the Shamrock was one of the hardest jobs I’d ever done. I was not particularly good at it, not at first, anyway. Still, I loved it! I met wonderful life-long friends there. In that first year they were Emma Jean, Chris, and Diane. When you work with people in a stressful, difficult job, a bond is formed that supersedes differences in age or lifestyle. Catherine, it turned out, was my father’s first cousin. We found we shared an irreverent sense of humor and a love of word games. Though forty years separated us in age, we giggled and talked and shared secrets as if we were sisters. Even Betty and I developed a  respect and sincere fondness for each other, as time went on.

Customers, too, became like family to me: sometimes annoying or demanding, and always with their little quirks, but dear in their own ways.

Tips, in case you’ve never worked in a job where you might receive them, are fantastic! I do believe I could learn to love almost any job, if people would just toss money my way every so often. I felt appreciated. Eventually, I got to be very good at the job. Always, I felt my contribution was necessary to the smooth execution of getting coffee and breakfast to dozens of people before they went to their jobs or boarded the  morning ferry.

Working at the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant was a life-altering experience, and one of the best gifts Beaver Island brought into my life.

Enough of Hopefulness

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Enough of planning, optimal thinking and expecting the best.

It all leads to disappointment, I think.

My friend Chris is a die-hard optimist.

We are friends in misery.

With busy lives, we go weeks or months without a good visit. But, when her sons are arguing or her job is not working out or her husband is making her unhappy, she turns to me. And, when heartbreak is upon me, Chris will always listen, and understand.

Her catchphrase is, “It will all work out,” as she relates tale after sorry tale; “It will be okay,” as she listens to my tales of woe.

I have teased her that we should carve on her gravestone, “It finally all worked out”.

I have taken her by the shoulders and asked, “When?? You tell me when has it ever all worked out?!”

My sister Brenda is the most positive person I know.

She’s a strong believer in the power of thought and visualization.

She believes in always looking at the bright side.

When I am wasting too much time on self-pity and need a good pep talk, Brenda is the one I call. When I’m afraid of a challenge and want to hear words of encouragement, I always know Brenda has them. I have to be selective, though.

I once phoned her, heart-broken and sobbing over a break-up.

“Aren’t you glad that happened?”, she asked, “Better now than after you invested any more time…”

“I’ve gotta go,” I whimpered, “I’ve got to call Chris.”

Personally, I lean toward pessimism.

I prefer to be prepared.

I like to keep the “worst-case scenario” always in my mind.

The very worst rarely happens, so it’s a pleasant surprise when the outcome is something less than total disaster.

I think this attitude has kept me smiling through years of disappointment.

Recently, though, I let my guard down.

A job opening became available here: Director of the Beaver Island District Library.

I felt like I was born for that job. From my love of reading and writing to my knowledge of books and my lifelong haunting of libraries and bookstores…from my education in literature and the fine arts to my grant-writing ability and my work with children at the school…to my public relations skills and my generally smiling demeanor and my desire to please…it was the perfect job for me.

It would also be a life changer. With a pay scale of double what I’ve ever made annually, and quadruple what I am earning now, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

My social security would be pumped up, so that it might eventually be enough to live on. That would move my retirement up to six to ten years from now…rather than at death, as I had originally planned. It would allow me to make repairs and replacements that have otherwise been impossible…to pay down my mortgage…to, for once in my life, not have to worry about every cent.

Others encouraged me.

I allowed myself to dream.

It felt like every decision good and bad that I had made in life to this point had led me to this place.

It felt like validation…as if the universe was telling me I was worthy of good things.

I poured my heart and soul into it.

Though I’ve written dozens of resumes and cover letters before, I read three new books on the process. I spent two long nights fine-tuning my submission before sending it off to daughters and sisters to approve and make suggestions. I lost another night’s sleep when I realized – too late – that a misspelled word had gotten past all of us.

There was a long wait before the library board went through the submissions.

I researched libraries – small libraries in particular – to learn about organization, funding and management. I took notes; I asked questions. I filled page after page with ideas.

I made it through the first and second cut, and was scheduled for an interview.

My hopes soared.

“Don’t even think that it won’t happen,” I told myself.

Picture it. Believe it.

But be prepared for the interview.

I tackled sample questions over the telephone with my sister.

I continued gathering ideas.

I planned a library blog…Garrison Keillor-esque, Books in Northport-like, non political, newsy and fun. I wrote the first three submissions in my head.

By this time I had more than thirty pages of notes and ideas. I read them and re-read them so that I could speak from knowledge, not by rote.

I tried on every single thing I planned to wear, to make sure there was not a speck of hardware paint or restaurant grease anywhere.

I made an appointment to get my hair cut. Brenda advised me against it, remembering me throwing the brush at the mirror over bad hair when we were kids. We agreed, it could be a confidence builder or a confidence killer, depending on how it turned out. I opted to get the new hair-do, and it turned out well.

I got up at four A.M. on Friday, to prepare for my nine o’clock interview.

I ate a light, high-protein breakfast early.

Took the dogs for a short walk.

Visualized success. Thought only positive thoughts.

Went over my notes, once again, before going to the interview.

I maybe talked a little too much at times, and stammered over a couple questions, but I felt good about it.

Brenda and I talked that night as if I already had the job. I planned kind letters to the other interviewees, and letters of thanks to all who had encouraged me.

I did not get the position.

The news was delivered halfway through my lunch shift at the Shamrock yesterday. As the news hit the social media sites, people came in to tell me, or to ask if I’d heard. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying not to cry in public. When they’d try to hug me or say, “Sorry,” I had to warn them away. Too much kindness would break down my guard, and I would fall apart.

I did that when I got home. I cried so much that my jaw aches and my cheeks are chapped. I have a headache that is probably the result of dehydration from shedding too many tears. That doesn’t often happen.

It feels unfair, but the entire process was more than fair.

It feels like I was cheated, but that’s not the case, either.

The problem is not in the result.

The problem is that I was not prepared for it.

Jack Kerouac said, “Accept loss forever.” That’s good advice.

I’m done with hopefulness.

Blazer

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I like a blazer.

A blazer is nice to throw on this time of year, as a jacket. They usually have good pockets (always handy) and add a touch of class to whatever else I’m wearing. I’ve had a couple blazers that I purchased new, but I’ve also gotten a lot of good use out of some that have come to me in other ways.

About twenty years ago, my friend, Chris, and I stopped into the Re-Sale Shop here on Beaver Island. The Re-Sale Shop was still in its old location, in the old Livery building. Chris was looking for rags, for her husband’s garage. I was just keeping her company. My daughter, Kate, could spend twenty minutes and two dollars there, and come out looking like a million bucks. I could spend a lot more, and would look like I’d dressed out of the rag-bag. I just didn’t have the knack for it. On this day, however, someone had just dropped off a pile of suits. I bought three jackets: two in different shades of gray with a very subtle stripe, one in a nice tan tweed. I still have them, and still get compliments whenever I wear  them!

The blazer pictured here is not one of the new ones, nor one of the treasures found at the Re-Sale Shop. It is one that my daughter, Jen, bought…new…a long time ago…when this look was stylish. She gave it to me more than ten years ago. It’s obviously seen a bit of wear. It has snags and tears from being worn on my walks through blackberry brambles. The elbows are worn; the lining is torn. Still, it’s a nice jacket to throw on as an extra layer, when looks don’t matter. Turns out, it still manages to dress up a look, in a pinch.

Last Sunday, I had a ten o’clock flight scheduled, to go to the mainland for the day, to visit my aunt in the hospital. I had planned ahead so that it would be a stress-free day. Then I overslept. Eight o’clock, Sunday morning. I had to make coffee, shower, dress, and walk my dogs. I had to leave myself enough time to stop at the farmhouse to pick up several books and a robe for Aunt Katie, and the keys to the mainland car. I’d promised her I’d also take her dog out for a walk while I was there. I had to be at the airport by 9:30!

Okay, I started the coffee brewing. If I was going to fit everything in, I had to walk my dogs right away. I was in my pajamas. The dogs didn’t mind. We took the path through the field to the logging road, then crossed Fox Lake Road to Cotter’s trail. We walked the half-mile down to the cabin, then circled around by the pole barns, then on the trail through the woods to the new Murray place, and back out to Fox Lake Road to head back to my house.

I was almost home when I heard the car. I checked to make sure Clover was off the road, and swooped Rosa Parks up into my arms. Dogs safe, I then remembered how I was dressed. Brown jersey pajama bottoms, sagging at the fanny, bagging at the knees; pink flowered T-shirt top; navy blue and gray argyle socks pulled up over the cuffs of the pajama bottoms; red and black slip-on Hush Puppies. And the blazer. I hadn’t brushed my hair; I hadn’t brushed my teeth. There was no place to hide.

The car drove up, slowed down and came to a stop. The window came down. “You look awfully nice,” I heard, “All dressed up to be out walking the dogs!”