Katharine Valentino, 11/13/2017
Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: My former occupations, in order, are: baby sitter, sales clerk, Rockette rookie, mail sorter, maid, assistant trainer for the blind, administrative assistant, so-called dancer, waitress, newspaper and newsletter editor, technical writer, IS specialist and literary editor.
Contact Information: Katharine Valentino, mother and grandmother, worked for 25 years at menial jobs before acquiring a BA degree in journalism—summa cum laude!—from Indiana University in Bloomington. For the next 20 years, she worked at slightly more interesting jobs and occasionally was even allowed to write some technical thing or another. She retired in 2012 and moved to Eugene, Oregon. She is writing her memoirs, each of which, when done, she reads to her grandson. She also occasionally edits and publishes memoirs for others. Her Website is I Write [and Edit] for You.
Throughout more than 60 years of work, whenever I’ve been asked, “What are you?” I’ve always answered dutifully, “I’m a … [whatever I’ve been doing lately to make money].” But in my mind, I have vowed never to be whatever I was doing at that moment just to make money.
Want to know how to get a kid to go to bed without fuss? Ask which stuffed animal they want to have tucked in with them. They’re so busy deciding on Elegant the elephant or Freddy the teddy bear they don’t even think to whine while you’re buttoning pajamas and tucking tonight’s best companion under the covers with them.
The kid doesn’t like tomatoes or cucumbers? No problem. Put a teaspoon or two of sugar into a little dish and let them dip bite-sizes pieces of vegetable into it. Before you know it, the sugar is all gone and so are the vegetables.
I could also fold diapers better than most mothers. I could imitate all the characters’ voices in bedtime stories. And I could usually convince a fearful 4-year-old that the good monster under the bed does a good job of scaring the bad monster away.
I did babysitting once or twice a week from age 11 to 15. I was good at it, but it didn’t mean much. There were better jobs in the world. I knew that, and I was going to get one of those jobs when I grew up.
Beginning at 15, I worked summers in a toy store until I left home to go to college. Too much of my time on the job was spent digging Matchbox cars out of linty pockets and jacks out of greasy purses while delivering the standard lecture on stealing. When I first took the job, I was shocked to discover how many kids tried to steal. Taking things that didn’t belong to me had ceased to be an option for me at age 5 after my mother marched me back to that bakery with two by-then ruined doughnuts, which I had to pay for. Then, I had to pay Mama back out of my allowance.
Sales at the store were rung up on a manual cash register that went “ker-chunk.” I‘ve always liked sounds—bike click, dog snuffle, waterfall—perhaps beginning with ker-chunk. I also very much liked being in charge of the store. But sales clerk? I didn’t think that was all that was in store for me.
At 12, I was just about to graduate to toe shoes. The class I was taking was taught by a friend of my mother’s who had been a Rockette in her youth. The Rockettes, in case you don’t know, are … well, let me look them up on the Internet: “The Rockettes are America’s most iconic dance company, captivating audiences for decades with precision dance performances at Radio City Music Hall.”
Radio City Christmas Spectacular! Beautiful long legs in a “kickline”! Huge billboards with billowing neon lights! Quick costume changes! Glitter! Makeup!
It took me and 11 other little girls in that dance class weeks to master raising our hands above our heads in exactly the same way at the exactly the same moment at exactly the same height. I don’t remember that we ever managed the iconic eye-high simultaneous leg kick in a chorus line. But we did try.
Rockettes had to be good at ballet, tap and jazz. They had to practice a lot, so I practiced. Ballet was the most difficult of the three dance genres, but I was ready for those toe shoes. I was ready, really. I could walk across a bare floor on my bare tiptoes.
“Ouch,” you say? Oh, yeah. From that time on, I wore shoes a full size shorter and somewhat wider, and now that I’m old the dropped bone in the ball of my right foot gives me no end of trouble. So I have advice that nobody else should ever be stupid enough to need: Never wear toe shoes with no toe shoes on.
Anyway, six years after deforming my feet but before the deformities became bothersome, I took dance classes again as a freshman in college. One semester of extra hard work, to try to make up for my years away, was followed by a “required different sport.” I reluctantly chose tennis. Three weeks later, the ball I never could see hit me in the face, breaking my glasses. So I was allowed to go back to dance class and continue there for the rest of the year. Three more semesters of plies and chassés and assorted kicks gave me a leg up on the competition in my sophomore year.
By then, I was in dance class 10 hours a week, watched carefully and corrected mercilessly by a former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (you can look it up if you want to, but trust me, it was prestigious). I learned not only that could I really dance but also that my being tall and leggy was actually for the first time in my life to my advantage: I could keep up with the male demonstrator and was his choice in a partner when he needed to demo couples or chorus steps.
Then one day I could no longer keep up. I was pregnant.