Katharine Valentino, 11/20/2017
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.
I had three seconds to snatch a letter out of a huge sack, check the scribbling on the envelope and toss it into one of maybe 80 slots so a mail carrier could deliver it the next morning. Along with a hundred other people, I toiled in a basement for nine hours a day—eight hours paid plus a lunch break of precisely 36 minutes plus two bathroom breaks of 12 minutes each. About half of us were female; you should have seen the rush to the women’s bathrooms when the break siren sounded.
The person to my left was a huge peasant who allowed as how he simply tossed each piece of mail toward the slots without even checking where it was supposed to go. I, however, was determined that Mary Monroe should get her own electric bill on time, and that newly-arrived Sergio Martinez should hear from his Aunt Mariana within a week of her writing him. Somehow, it seemed the least I could do since I was not going to be able to become a dancer.
A month into this job, my boss found out I was going to have a baby and fired me. I was not sorry to go.
Straight A’s in high school and a year of college, and I couldn’t get a job. I was told over and over that I could not be hired because, pregnant, it would not be safe for me to sit and answer a phone or type a letter. I insisted I’d be safe enough if I could just pay rent and eat, but stridency got me nowhere in the face of company policy.
After weeks of unproductive job interviews, a neighbor recommended me to some of her overflow clients—as a maid. I washed dishes, vacuumed, scrubbed floors, cleaned windows and did mending. Sometimes I was there when kids came home from school. Sometimes I was needed just to make an old person’s home more livable.
I’ve worked as a maid several times since that first time when I was 20. It’s a good way to supplement unemployment benefits, and it is work that needs to be done, honest work where you can see the results of your labor. To this day after I vacuum and dust and mop and wash, I say with some satisfaction, “I don’t like to clean my house, but I sure do like my house clean.” Just don’t call me somebody’s maid.
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