“Who do you think you are?” I remember my Dad asking. “You’re just going to get married and have babies.”
Most of the details are fuzzy—it’s been almost forty years since I was in college—but I remember being offered an internship at a magazine. In New York City. I was so excited I was levitating. My Dad thought it was ridiculous. I had received the same reaction as a senior in high school when I said I wanted to apply to Columbia. I ended up at a state college, majoring in English.
“I’m not going to pay all that money for a college education that’s not going to be used.”
But it is going to be used.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have babies, but in my plan, that was in the future. I envisioned a Mary Richards kind of career, just like the character Mary Tyler Moore played as a single, professional woman making her way in Minneapolis. But I’d be in New York.
I’d start out as a Gal Friday—a glorified secretary, but with a snazzy title. In the publishing world, I hoped my college degree as an English major would qualify me to be an editorial assistant.
But no, there wasn’t an internship in NYC. Instead, I interned at a small advertising agency in Longmeadow, the next town over from where I grew up in western Massachusetts. As luck would have it, Lois, the office manager in the three-person agency, quit without notice my second week.
“You’re it,” Earle greeted me with a laugh as I came in one morning.
Earle was the friendly graphic artist. His partner Art, the crotchety writer, had gotten on Lois’ bad side one too many times. I learned everything from how to change the ribbon on the Selectric typewriter to how to closely proof copy for the ads they created for the Totsy Manufacturing Company.
When it was time to apply for jobs as a college senior, I applied for anything and everything, but was not having much luck until a communications assistant position became available at the local chamber of commerce. My resume of work experience was a bit thin, but I got hired, I learned later, in part due to a helpful phone call from a friend of my Dad’s, who worked there.
I am the youngest in my family. My Dad didn’t stop calling me “the baby” until the day he mentioned to my Auntie Olga that he and my Mom had dropped the baby off at college.
“Huh?” she asked, probably looking bewildered.
Wiping his eyes, he explained they had brought me to college. My aunt always laughs when she tells the story, but it’s just one example of how my father struggled as I grew into a modern young woman. I have four siblings; with eleven years separating me and my sister, who is the oldest. Susan was the baton twirling, hairstyling, stay-at-home mother, who didn’t come into her own professionally until her kids were grown.
I knew I wanted to go to college, but didn’t have a clue how to pay for it. My three brothers had all gone, but it wasn’t until my Dad and I sat in the financial aid office, that I got the full picture of my family’s finances—or lack thereof. All three of my brothers had received academic or sports scholarships. My average grades and experience on the cheerleading squad narrowed the possibilities. My parents wanted to support us, but the money only went so far, and my father’s perspective was that women were homemakers.
That is, until me. My father was a proud Italian man, who considered himself successful if his wife could stay home, raise the children, and have dinner waiting for him. But no one was prouder than my Mom and Dad when I went on to build a career, while also getting married and having two children. Doting grandparents, they would sometimes help with the daycare drop off or school projects, and never once suggested that my choices should have been different.
My career never included book publishing, but I have spent most of my work life in marketing, advertising, and communications-related positions—helping to sell everything from pizza to high tech ophthalmic equipment. While book marketing may be different, I’m intrigued with the field of publishing and think it may be an ideal next chapter for me some day as I transition from full-time work.