Wednesday, 02 October 2013
By Dani Ferguson Phillips of The Cataract Club
When I was a little girl, I aspired to be many things. In my early years, my aspirations were simple. When asked at age three, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My understated response was simply, “A train wheel.”
By the age of six I had learned that becoming an inanimate object, no matter how much you enjoyed the sound, was not an obtainable goal. So I began to aspire for more practical professions such as a Howdy Doody Ice cream Lady.
I could think of no better career than making children and adults happy by delivering ice cream in a little yellow truck while ringing a bell.
But in 1956 I discovered Private Secretary played by Ann Southern. I’d watch Susie MacNamara type away on her big black Underwood typewriter and take dictation from her theatrical agent boss Porter.
I loved everything about her. She was fashionable and organized. She answered the phone on her desk without even picking up the receiver. From the moment I discovered Susie I started playing secretary.
Before I learned to write, I would just scribble on little notebooks pretending to take dictation. I used my mother’s recipe boxes for my files and my toy telephone sat on my TV tray desk just waiting for a call from my boss.
Because of my fascination with the TV show, my uncle gave me a huge Underwood typewriter. It had no letters on the keys so a finger chart was hung on the wall for me too look at while I typed.
Eventually I learned all the keys and the correct finger placement. I was typing fairly efficiently by the time I was in the 6th grade but my only problem was my hands were a bit small to gain much speed. My pinkies weren’t even strong enough to suppress the keys.
By the time I was in high school, I had taken every typing class offered, short hand and business communications and if I say so myself I excelled as a typist. I typed more than 90 words a minute my senior year and with better than 90 percent accuracy. My highest speed reaching over 100 words per minute with 100% accuracy.
When I started college I found that it was fairly easy to avoid the typical food service jobs by utilizing my typing skills. My first job was a part-time position at the local tag agency typing car titles. This job required accuracy because any mistake on a title resulted in the title being destroyed.
This is where I learned to type numbers. The vehicle identification numbers were quite long and since typos were not allowed you had to be accurate as well as fast.
I never planned on being a professional secretary but because of my typing skills it’s the path that I most often followed. When I married in 1969, I left college to work and put my husband through school. But after he finished his MS degree in accounting he was also finished with the marriage.
So, I continued working as a secretary only this time it was in order to put myself through school and to support my children.
Juggling motherhood, a full time job and school turned out to be harder than I could have imagined. By the time I finished my degree I had acquired almost 20 years experience as an executive secretary.
I had worked so long that I was making more money as a secretary than I could make as an entry-level journalist. With two daughters approaching college age it made no financial sense to leave my current position to start an entirely new career.
And so it went. Susie McNamara was more than a tv character; she was my career advisor!
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]