“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief.” Everyone knows the nursery rhyme. Along with “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker,” it was the only career counseling I received in my youth. And the fact I was female ruled out most of the above.
At one point it looked like I might turn out to be a thief, one of the few equal opportunity professions back then. At the age of six, I stole a roll of Five Flavored Lifesavers from the Handy Andy grocery store where we “traded.” When my mother discovered them in my sock drawer, she took me back to the store, asked for the manager, and had me confess my crime and beg him not to call the police and have me arrested. That experience pretty well cured me of a life of crime. As an adult, I once went back to HEB in a driving rain storm because the cashier had given me too much change.
My parents made it very clear there were only two occupations open to proper young ladies, my mother’s Number 2 goal for me and my sister. Number 1, of course, was getting married and having babies (in that order). On the off chance we had to work a few years until we could retire to housewifery and be “taken care of” the rest of our lives, we could consider only teaching and nursing. We weren’t choosing a career; we were just killing time while waiting to be taken care of.
It’s not that I was a feminist in those days. Being taken care of didn’t make me nauseous back then. I did wonder if women ever worked at jobs they enjoyed and weren’t ready to ditch at a moment’s notice. I had seen pictures of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter, dressed in pants (!) assembling aircraft and tanks to lick the Axis. I also knew those women left the factories in droves, supposedly happily, to return to the kitchen and nursery when Johnny came marching home.
My choices were further narrowed by my mother’s ban against being in the same room with naked people. Hospitals were full of the naked and near-naked, and were not the kind of places for me. That left teaching, and it was understood that if I wasn’t married within a week of my Senior Prom, I would go to college and double-major in teaching and virginity.
My point is, if I had told my parents I wanted to be a writer, they would have taken me to the family doctor for a penicillin shot. If I had persisted, they would have checked me into one of the places Mama went when she became “nervous.” They could have more readily pictured me as a candelabra-carving Native American.
I tried hard to fit in, to be what they wanted. I refused to become a teacher, mainly because they were so determined to make me one, but I did conform enough to get married, have a baby, and make a stab at caring about dirty yellow wax buildup and collecting recipes involving ground beef.
But writers have little choice in whether they write. Mostly, we have to do it, like fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. I finally succumbed in my 40s. Both my parents had passed, blissfully unaware of my latest trip down the road to Perdition. I started writing for real in 1997, and I’ve been feeding my writing jones ever since.
Making enough money as a writer to call it a career happens to only a very gifted few. The rest of us have day jobs, night jobs, or sugar-daddies/mamas. And still we soldier on, filling up pages of paper or cyberspace with words that will hardly live forever. Mine have the life expectancy of a May fly, not a Hemingway. Not that it will stop me. And I’m grateful I don’t have to convince people to lay out good money to read my words. Getting them to read them for free is hard enough .
Like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” I’ll continue to write as long as I can stick two thoughts together with super glue. When I can’t write anymore, it will be time to move to a nursing home, and I hope you’ll come visit me. You’ll recognize me. I’ll be the old lady wearing a Cheyenne war bonnet.