Thursday, March 02, 2006

The choices you make - the begining

On Discourse, Prof. Michael Froomkin's blog, a law student has expressed an interest in the personal choices I have made in my life that leave me with the job I have. (One that he finds unacceptable and u nnecessary apparently). So I have told "Buster", the anonymous law student that I will lay out in detail the choices I have made in my life that have brought me to this point.

So if you don't want to know the boring details of my life please log off now. If you are however, curious to know the rationale to how and why I am doing what I am doing then continue reading.

Please understand that this will be long, but it willnot be a "poor pity me". I have basically been challanged to defend my life and I will do so. If it will get me into heaven with Merele Streep then it's worth it.

So, where to begin? The first choice that lead me here?

Well there were circumstances that were not my choice like the fact that my father died when I was 11 and that my mother died when I was 19 after 7 years of a long and expensive illness. But perhaps I should start in high school.

I went to St. Theresa of the Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia PA because in those days (1962) the catholic schools were free if you were graducated from a catholic elementary school. So I graduated St. Joachim's Grammar School and was tested to see how I could be placed, and ended up in Little Flower (LF). I didnt' think I did well, after all I didn't have the same advantages as other kids. My mother was an 8th grade graduate who worked as a waitress, when she could and we lived on the social security survivor benefits we got from my father's death.

But that's beside the point. The point is that I am trying to make is that I did well on the placement test and was placed in the second highest academic group. I attended LF and was given in Latin I as my language. ( the really smart kids got German, the lower scoring kids got French, Spanish or no language - in that order) I also had Algebra I, English, History, General Science and Religion and of course Gym.

I did well in everything but Latin and had to repeat Latin in summer school. That year my mother had only 1 heart attack. You know waitresses dont' get paid sick time, or collect unemployment or have health insurance on their jobs. If they don't work they dont' get paid and after the heart attack this time she couldn't work. On weekends my cousins got me a "job" as a cleaning lady for some rich women who lived in Cherry Hill NJ. I took a bus, then the elevated train and subway to Center City Philadelphia and then got the bus for New Jersey. I got paid $1 and hour plus bus fare and lunch for cleaning houses on Saturdays.I used the money for my own books and records since the money my mom made as a waitress was no longer coming in after her major heart attack and we were living on only the social security survivor benefits. I was 14 years old.

Since we had no right to make any decision in our academic career the following year I was given Latin II, Geometery, History, English, Biology and Religion classes, and of course Gym. I was also picked from the English class, for somethimg I had written, to be on the Newspaper staff, the Theresian. Yes, you didn't get to choose your extra curricular activity either. If you had music you would be in band or glee club or orchestra. If you wrote well you were assigned to either newspaper, year book, or literary year book. If by chance you were athletically inclined the gym teachers informed the coaches (if they weren't coaches themselves) and you would be picked for a team, like basketball, bowling, swimming or field hockey.

At the end of the 2nd year I was told I could "pick" the focus of my diploma for years 3 and 4. In those days it meant one of 4 choices: Strict academic (because you were destined to go to college), Commercial A (because you could take typing, shorthand and still manage a few academic classes "in case" you wanted to try to go on to a junior college), Commercial B - typing and bookkeeping (because you were not considered good enough in communication skills to be a stenographer and you'd probably just get a job until you met some nice man and got married and raised lovely catholic kids anyhow) or Economic - (which gave you no chance to study a language or any other academic classes except those specified by the State of Pennsylvania as minimum requiremetns for a diploma. You were selected for Economic classes and given classes that would help you in life, like Sewing, Cooking and Home Economy)

I "picked" Commercial A, hoping I could somehow mange to get a good paying clerical job, maybe for a big firm downtown like Bell of Pennsylvania, or maybe a law firm or insurance company, and maybe if I could save a bit of money go part time to a place like Pierce Business School or Manor Junior College get a junior college diploma so that I might be able to become a journalist,or just be a clerical worker, working for one of the 3 Philadlephia newspapers, the Bulletin, the Inquirer or the Daily News. It was my dream.

I had found that I was a natural reporter from my stint on the newspaper staff and I was hoping to be able to get enough of an education to do it for the rest of my life. I was told, however, I was not qualified for the Commercial A program. I could write for a high school newspaper because I had the skills, but apparently I couldn't spell well enough to be considered for stenography. Alas, destined to be a bookkeeper in Commercial B because I had no spell check.

My mother protested for me, She came to the school saying that my English grades were above average, I carried an 85 average (it would equal a B in a letter grade) but he nuns would not budge, my reading skills were above average, my cognitive skills were above average, however I couldn't pass a spelling test with above an 80. I was obviously unqualified to do such important work as learning how to make scribbles on paper transform themselves into real words as they would pour forth from the mouth of some junior executive at any firm in the Philly and magically appear from those squiggly lines through my fingers as I transcribed them on a manual typewriter keyboard. So the decision stood. I would take Commercial B in my Junior year. I did get to make one decision on my own, my only choice was an elective - and I took Spanish. My mother had another minor heart attack at the end of Sophmore year.

That summer I was old enough to work, and the Great Society was in full swing. I was recruited to take a job as an assistant summer camp counselor, at $1.25 an hour. I got a nice tan and worked in the inner city helping to set up camping experiences at playgrounds. Most of them in ghetto neighborhoods, which weren't so far lower economically than my own. As a matter of fact one of my postings WAS in my neighborhood. I used my earnings to do things for myself and my sister, like buy her glasses, and school clothes, who was 5 years my junior.

While working that summer I met college students. They were the supervisors of the high school kids. I asked where they went to school, learning about the process of applying for admission. I learned what classes to pay atttention to and what kinds of things colleges look for in an admission application, something that I would never have found out on my own, I was mentored by soem very ovservant, intelligent and attentive, black women. I learned a lot about black history, which was never even taught back then the the differences in hair styling. I learned where not to apply and why, and what were my best chances for scholarship and acceptance. By a quirk of fate I was set into a learning experience that I needed.

In Junior year I took the classes required of me, but as the year went on I became more and more upset. The Algebra 2 nun, Sr. Aurelia made a point of pointing out my faults. I had a Polish last name. Sr. could not understand why someone who cam from a heritage filled with great mathmeticians could be so inept at Algebra 2. The History teacher made sure I knew how little I knew. The Commercial B English was not the literature and Shakespeare I expected but more like "practical English - more spelling and grammar" because that's where my deficiencies lie.

I used to get migraines. I became so upset by the prospect of facing these classes, all of which were post lunch, that I usually lost it. My lunch that is and had to be sent home. I was so upset and in such pain that the principal told my mother to take me to a doctor, to see if he could "calm me down" or find a way to correct my behavior. I. E. give me some tranquilizers to keep me from worrying about such silly things as my choices in life. My mother had another heart attack, I was taking care of my little sister and cooking, keeping the house (apartment) paying the bills, doing the laundry (taking things to the laundramat)while going to school and visiting my mother in the hospital. In case you are wondering our only relatives were my uncle (my mother's brother-in-law and his wife and 10 kids who lived in New Jersey. All the resto of our family lived in Pittsburgh, several hours away. My mother didn't wnat to inform them of her illnesses, she was afraid that the family or the state would take us away from her if she did.

My mother took me to the Dr., nice old guy named Dr. Walsh, he gave me a few pills, I took them when I needed them, but I didn't want to live my life in a fog. So I only took the pills if I had real physical pain in my head so severe I couldn't see. When I was almost out of pills I went back to the Dr. I told him I didn't need more pills. He asked me why I was so upset. I told him about my school situation and my dreams, which seemed to be slipping further and further from my grasp.

His sage advice? Drop out of school if school was making me sick. I told him NO, I would never drop out of school. Then he said (in front of my mother naturally) that I should change schools. Go to public school if the Catholic School is causing too much anxiety for me.

So during the Christmas Break in 1964 I left Little Flower and transfered to Frankford High School, the public school in my district.

My first decision that has lead to my current life.

To be continued, but not right now. I am tired and want to go to bed.

I TOLD you it would be long and boring.

Comments:
The short answer: you're a woman, brought up Catholic in a traditional community. Your "choices" were heavily influenced by society's expectations: be supportive, have a family,

I too worked as an assistant in an large corporation. During one of my evaluations, I mentioned to my boss that he could not do his job without me, yet I was being paid a very small fraction of his pay. True, he said, very true that my work made it possible for him to work efficiently. But, in fact, assistants are plentiful, and engineering managers are scarce. Thus, supply and demand determine my low wage.

(What, no whining on "a Little Place to Whine"!
 
Yeah but this kid Buster doesn't want the short answer. So he's going to get the long one, which I may keep forever and eventually turn into a book...my life take it as it comes.
 
You are most definitely NOT boring. If I were as literate as you, I'd do my bio blog so that you could see just how much we parallel each other. Can't wait for the next installment.
 
I'm working on it. Went backwards today to fill in some family background.

Notice. I still can't spell.
 
I graduated from Little Flower in 2006 (and also worked on the Theresian, by choice). This was a fascinating read. Thank you!
 
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