I’m grown up now, so I should be able to answer at last the question that was so frequently asked: “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
The only role models I ever had, the only women I knew or met, were mothers or teachers. But even back then, in the thirties, in the Great Depression, I suspected there might be something more, something liberating or exciting that might match my capabilities. And I really did feel capable of nearly anything,
It was important, I thought, and was taught by my family, to do well, no matter what you were doing. So I went into my various activities with a dedication and determination to excel. The only question was, at what? I was willing to try anything. I would close no doors. I would make a career out of whatever I was doing—whether it was an occupation I was born into, or one that was forced upon me, or one that I could choose and explore.
What follows is a description of the careers I’ve pursued. I’ve chosen only the “brilliant” ones, those which at one time or another felt fitted to me—something I was born to do, and was worth doing. A brilliant career for me, either short or long-lived, was an activity that defined me as a person. It was what I grew up to be. So there’s nothing here about my years and years of earning money by baby-sitting or selling groceries, or waiting table; those were “jobs.”
Why have I chosen to write these memoirs? For my heirs, of course, in case someone some time might like to know about how his or her aunt or mother/grandmother/greatgrandmother/greatgreatgrandmother/etc. lived.
But I am writing them also because my life—my middle class life beginning in middle America—mirrors a different and disappearing way of life, another time from now. I haven’t had any great adventures, nothing out of the ordinary. The most extraordinary thing about me is my birth date: 10/20/30.
The world these days (how old that makes me sound!) is so rapidly changing the way we live that someone might like to catch a glimpse of an earlier age without electronics. We had telephones and mail service and passed surreptitious notes in school—and that was enough to communicate.
We rolled down the windows in our cars by hand for fresh air. We used folded maps to find out how to get where we were going. We got out of a chair to change the radio station or later the television set. We went to a theater to watch movies, and to the library to pick out books to read—books printed on paper, with pages to turn.
But mainly I have written these stories to assess my life. What is the measure of a man’s life—or a woman’s? I think it is marked, not by words, not by religious beliefs, but by what one has done.
I don’t know why I’m on earth, or what’s the purpose of my existence, or what I’m supposed to have done with my life. I tried to do no harm. I tried to be kind—mostly—and honest, always.
Here is the essence of what I did with my life—my brilliant careers.