* * *
PR, 52, considers herself a patriot owing to her long service in the United States’ defense industry. She talks about her picture perfect childhood in a strict Catholic upbringing in Virginia, her young adulthood as a member of Young Life, and her life as a working woman for Flag officers in the Military. At her home, as we sit down, she shows me a picture of her grandniece, her sister’s granddaughter, and beams. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with her.
Heart: So, is it just you and your sister?
PR: Me, my sister and two brothers, I’m the baby. My sister’s 62. And my brother Michael’s 60, Tom’s 56 and then its me. My brothers live in Virginia near my mom. My mother’s 86. But, you’ll never know by looking at her. She drives and she says she goes to “work” everyday – she volunteers at this place called Echo, and they help poor families. They come into Echo to get stuff like clothing and housewares. So, people make appointments with her and she walks around and she goes like, “Oh, you need pots and pans, you need sheets,” that kind of stuff. She does this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Heart: How cute. So, how did she take it when you moved from Virginia to Atlanta?
PR: She was OK with that. You know, she lived 50 miles from me, we didn’t see each other that much anyway. We talk on the phone probably two or three times a week, we did that in Virginia and now here in Atlanta, so there’s not much difference. We didn’t see each other that much especially since I was working full time.
Heart: How was life in Virginia while growing up?
PR: I had a picture perfect childhood. I mean, it was the best childhood anyone could ever have. I lived on a street like this, and everybody who lived on the street was my parents’ age and they all had atleast 4 kids if not more. So, the street was filled with children. We played outside from sunrise to sunset. Some of these parents still live on the same street that my mom lives on. My mom still lives in the same house that I grew up in. They bought the house in 1964 and I was born in 1965. I had all these friends there with whom I would go to the pool all day, we’d play kick ball out on the street and we’d play hide and seek and kick the can at night. Everyone who lived on the street, we were friends, and we’d vacation together. My parents would sit on lawn chairs, I remember when I was little, with other parents and have cocktails in the summer and put the kids to bed and they’d open up the windows in the bedrooms in case they heard a kid crying and the mom could get up and go see what was going on.
But, it was picture perfect. You know, my parents were not divorced, they were married for 53 years before my dad died. Yeah, I’ve incredible memories of my childhood. I’ve been very very blessed in my life. The only tragic thing that’s ever happened to me was my father dying.
Um, he died probably about 12 years ago, and I was a daddy’s girl. It was sudden, unexpected, he had a massive heart attack. The paramedics said that when he hit the ground, he hit the floor, and he was gone. But, I mean how great it that. Everyone wants that, you know. (Both of us laugh) He told my mom, he was going upstairs and “I’m not feeling OK, I’m going to lie down” and she heard a, coz he’s a big man, he was 6 foot 5, she heard a thump and she went upstairs and he was gone. But, that’s a blessing to go like that. So, that was very shocking.
Heart: How resilient was your mom to pick up and move on afterwards?
PR: When I was growing up, my father had an incredible work ethic. You know, we grew up in a different time. My mom stayed home, didn’t work and my dad worked. He sometimes worked 2 to 3 jobs, so that he could pay for everything. My dad grew up in a time when you paid cash for everything. You bought a car, you paid cash, you send your kid to college, you paid cash, everything was cash. He had a credit card, for emergencies, but if you didn’t have cash you weren’t buying it.
Heart: I want America to remember those days and get back to it.
PR: Yeah, he was not in any kind of debt. They only paid for their house in 1964, they paid, 29,000$ for their house. And my mom used to say that she would lay awake at night worried about how to pay the mortgage because the mortgage was 150$ a month. And she wasn’t working and my dad was working 2 to 3 jobs, so he literally worked 6 days a week, but he was like, “I’m sending all my kids to college” and he was going to pay for college in cash.
Heart: So, he believed in education for all four of you?
PR: Yeah, but, by the time he got to me, because I was the last of 4, he was a lot more lenient than he was with my sister who’s the oldest.
Heart: Wait, don’t tell me you didn’t go to college.
PR: I didn’t go to college.
PR: Yup, I didn’t go to college, but I loved high school. Loved it. I loved the social aspects of high school. I’m horrible in math. I remember my mother, we would sit at the kitchen table and we would’ve all this money out on the table, and we would sit there for hours and she would be like, “OK, I come into your store and I buy something for 13 dollars and 37 cents, how much change do you give me back if I’m giving you a 20?”
Heart: So, you’re literally the blond? (Laughs)
PR: Yes, I had no fricking idea. And we would sit there for hours. She’s like, “Why don’t you get this?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I’ve no idea.” But, let me tell you, you ask me to spell anything or diagram a sentence, I can do it like that. (Snaps fingers) You ask me anything about history and I can rattle anything off. I was in remedial math since 7th grade through 12th grade. (Laughs)
Heart: I guess you had your strengths. You just need to know what you can and can’t do.
PR: Yeah, and so what my parents said to me was, “OK, you’re never going to make it through 4 years of college.” I used to volunteer a lot with the Red Cross in high school. So, I would work at their chapter house, which was like their administrative building, and I would sit at their front desk and answer their phone and type letters and file paper work. And I would greet visitors when they would come in. So, I thought I really like this. My mother found out about this very prestigious secretarial college in DC, called the Washington Business school. And so we went and visited the school. And, I was like, wide-eyed that they taught typing, short hand and accounting, which I failed miserably. (Laughs) They taught business development, business management, professional development, those type of things.
Heart: Is the college still there?
PR: It is, but its totally different than when I went there. I went there in 1983 and back then it was all girls, and there were three different types of diplomas you can receive. An Executive secretarial diploma, a Medical secretarial diploma, or a Legal secretarial diploma and I took the Executive route. And the diploma depended on which classes you took. So, I would take typing for 2 hours, short hand for 2 hours and I went to school from like, 8am to 3pm, same like high school. You had to wear either a dress, or a skirt everyday with hose and high heeled shoes, certain type of jewelry.
Heart: So, you were preparing for, um…
PR: Business. So, I walked in, and I had like flat shoes on, “Excuse me, but you’re gonna home and change.” They would send you home to change. I was living with my parents while I went to college and I was 18. So, I went for a year, for all 12 months, and I graduated.
So, its an equivalent in their eyes, which I don’t think it is today, to getting an Associates degree. So, I got an Executive secretarial diploma. And then you know, they had placement people there to help you get a job. So, I took up a job, my first job at General Dynamics as a receptionist. Back then, they were the largest Defense contractors in the United States. I then worked my way up from a receptionist to a junior secretary and then to a senior secretary, that type of stuff. I left that place after a couple of years and moved onto another job, because you know back then, when I graduated in 1984, I was making 13,500$ a year. And that was a lot of money. With my first job, I moved out of my parents house.
My brother came home to visit my parents one night for dinner or something and I happened to be there and he said, “This girl I work with is looking for a roommate. You gotta talk to her.” And I was like, “Live with somebody I don’t know?” And he said, “You’re gonna love her.” And so, I went over and met her and to make a long story short, we clicked and I ended up living with her for 8 years. Until, I met my husband and moved out.
Heart: So, she was employed?
PR: Yes, she was working as a contracts person, my brother was in finance and she was the contracts person at his work place. And her roommate had just moved out and she was looking. It was her town house, like literally 2 miles from my parents house. She was fun and cute and we ended up being the best friends and lived together for 8 years. And I used to say to her, “You know, we’ve been living together longer than some marriages have lasted.” (Laughs) And I was renting a room in her beautiful town home and we actually ended up moving in the 8 years I lived with her, we moved from a real small town house into a larger town house and then she bought a single family home and so I moved into that home to rent.
Heart: So, what about female friendship and bonding, you think, gave you the strength to carry on such a long, deep friendship? Usually, women we can uplift one another in the broader sense of society, but one to one, there can be jealousy or something else that crumbles friendships. So, you and her are still best friends?
PR: Aargh. She didn’t like John. She didn’t like John at all. So, I kind of cut her out of my life. Its funny because, she and I lived together for a long time and we introduced another girl into the mix. And so three lived together for a long time. Neither of them liked John very much and so I was like, OK, didn’t invite them to my wedding.
Heart: What was the problem? You think she was jealous?
PR: I don’t know, you won’t believe it, to this day, is still not married. Lets see, she probably 55 years old and she’s not married. And the other girl, she’s not married. And I don’t know if was jealousy or what. But, forward I connected with the new one in our group three or four years ago on LinkedIn and I said, “Hey, lets meet up for lunch.” And so we met, first question out of her mouth, “You still married?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m still married. To John. Same guys you thought would never last.” (Laughs)
So, I don’t have a lot of female friends and as I get older, its harder to make new friends. I do have friends back in Virginia that I miss terribly. But, I do have a friend that I had in high school, and she and I had met in 10th and we are freinds to this day. We talk atleast once a month. She lives in Greenville, and now we’re only 2 hours away from each other, so we’re trying to hook up.
Heart: Do you remember any part of the hippie movement when you were growing up? Was there its influence in Virginia?
PR: My sister’s 12 years older than me. And I remember her coming home from college and she would have these bell bottom pants and she’d have the long hair parted in the middle and she’d have the smocky kind of, tapestry kind of outfits, the macrame handbag and on her wall, we shared a room, because our house was small, she’d have the peace sign. Peace, love and all that stuff. And my brother Michael had this really long hair and he used to drive a motorcycle, which my mom didn’t approve of.
Because my family, you’ve to understand, incredibly conservative family. My parents were staunch Republicans, my mother’s a devout Catholic, you know, mass every single Sunday, catechism and everything.
Heart: Sorry, what’s catechism?
PR: Its like Sunday school that’s for Catholics. My dad used to say, you come home pregnant and after I pick you up off the floor.. I mean, there’s a level of fear there that we never did anything wrong, we never back talked our parents, because my dad never laid a hand on us, but he was 6 foot 5, and he had this humongous hand and we would be all like in our living room and rough housing and kicking each other up in the summer or after school and he would come in from work. And he would go (snaps fingers) and yell “Settle down!” and we would be all like, have you ever seen Sound of Music, it was like that.
And if you were sitting at the dinner table, you better have answer. He would go, “Hey, what did you do at school today?” And kids nowadays are like, “Eh, nothing.” Oh, no, no, no, it was like you better make something up and it better be an intelligent answer. And we ate dinner every night at 5:30pm, my mom cooked dinner and we would all sit down at the table, if you weren’t there at 5:30 you better have a good excuse. (Laughs)
So, I’ve this quick story. Its summer and we were in the basement one time and we were playing ping pong down there, whatever and its me, my brother Michael and my brother Tom. And my mom must’ve yelled down the stairs three times. Michael Joselph A******* (last name redacted), take out the trash, he had chores. You just wouldn’t do it right, and she yells down, “I’m going to tell you this one last time.” And Michael’s walking up the stairs, Tom’s behind him and I am last. And Michael’s looking down and walking slowly on the steps, I don’t know what possessed this guy, (Laughs) and he’s going, “Nag, nag, nag woman, all you ever do is nag me.” He gets up the top of the stairs and he looks up and there’s my dad. And my dad’s like Clint Eastwood, he never yells. He says softly, “What did she tell you to do?” And he starts backing down the stairs when he’s hitting tommy, and tommy’s falling over me and we’re all falling down the stairs. Michael shoots up those stairs so fast, grabs the garbage, he must’ve stayed outside for 3 hours that night.
Heart: That’s just too funny.
PR: Yeah, there was a level of fear. I think that kids these days don’t know. And my parents house had a pantry in it with the Louvered doors, you know, with the slats in it. And one time, Michael must’ve said something to my father, like back talked him, and my dad picked him up by the shoulders and slammed him into the pantry doors and they cracked all the way down. So, years and years go by, “Can we please buy some new Louvered doors?” And my dad goes, “No. That’s a constant reminder of what will happen if you cross me.” He was not gonna fix it.
Heart: I miss that old school part of parenting. In India, kids were beaten to shit by the parents and the teachers. It was wonderful. So, I just wanted to get back to the story about your brother, your mother and the motorcycle.
PR: Oh, the motorcycle. My mom hated that motorcycle because you know, it can be dangerous. So, Michael gets up one Saturday morning and that its gone. So my mom, to this day, she won’t fess up to it. She told him it was stolen. I’d bet you any amount of money that she got rid of it.
Heart: She probably got a new hand bag that you guys didn’t pay attention to. (Laughs) Whatever happened to your hippie sister and brother.
PR: Yeah, they both were hippies and eventually grew out of it. Thank God. But they grew up in the hippie generation and I grew up seeing that type of thing.
Heart: So, they were not that far out hippies that they would go live in the forest or something?
PR: No, because they knew that my father would kill them. I mean, everything was about not disappointing my father. My mother was like the peace maker, she hid stuff from my dad, because he was very very strict. It was like living in the military. But, I appreciate that. We didn’t do drugs, we didn’t drink, now, I’m sure my sister and my brother did drugs growing up in that sort of an era, and my brother would do underage drinking but he never got caught. This is one of his sayings, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.”
So, I would grow up thinking, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” We would be like, “OK.” (mouthing words)
Heart: I don’t know, this all sounds like an Italian mafia upbringing.
PR: My dad was German and my mom’s Irish. They were first generation. My mother’s parents came over from Ireland and my father’s parents left Germany when Hitler was coming into power. So, they left Germany in the 30’s.
Heart: So, how did your parents meet?
PR: Both my parents were living in Washington DC and my mother was going to the Catholic school and my father was a pubby, he went to Public school. And that was something my mother would look down on. And my dad lived a street over from my mother, like a block and half. So, she knew him since elementary school. She would kind of turn her nose down. He would tease her like when her mom would give her a nickel to go up to the store and get some milk and she would’ve to walk by “these boys” and one of the boys at the street corner was my dad, you know. And when she just started college, which back then not many women went to college, my mother went to Georgetown for a degree in nursing. And my dad asked her out and they went out and that was it. And they end up getting married.
Heart: How did she decide to stay home after going to college?
PR: Its just the thing they did, you just keep having kids in the 50’s and 60’s and you don’t work. My parents were very traditional, somebody’s gotta be there when the kids came home from school, and got them a snack and helped them homework and all this was before dinner.
And nowadays, kids have this soccer, tennis, swimming and all these activities and stuff. And we didn’t have that. It was come home, get a snack, do your homework and you can go out and play with the other kids in the neighborhood. I was a swimmer, from age 5 all the way through high school, I was a competitive swimmer. When I was really little, my mom took me to the pool and dropped me in it and you just learn it. And I just loved the water and so she put me in the swim team when I was five. I just loved it. So, in high school, I would get up at 4 in the morning and go to the pool, and in the winters we would swim inside, by 5 I was at the pool, swim for an hour or two and then shower and put my clothes on and go to school. And swim after school. And that’s what I did. And all my friends were people that I swam with. I mean, I took ballet and I was in the Girl Scouts. I was a nerd. I was a brownie and a girl scout all the way through my senior year in high school. I was a big nerd in high school.
Girl scouts was a huge part of my existence, that, and I was part of the Young Life. Have you heard of the Young Life?
PR: Young Life is kind of a Christian organization. Now, I went to public school. My brothers and sister went to Catholic school, but by the time I came along, the waiting list to get into Catholic school was like 3 years. Coz, the community that I grew up in was mostly Catholic. Huge Catholic community. So, when I was in high school, the folks from Young Life had to be very careful because of the separation of Church and State. This organization taught you the Bible, and relate your current life situations to the Bible. So, every Thursday night, there will be a Young Life’s meeting at somebody’s house.
The guy who was running Young Life, along with his wife, had to be super careful. So, they would come to our house and leave maps of where these meetings were going to be at that week. And they would give them to us, so that we can pass these at school. He didn’t come onto campus, he cannot do that. Let me tell you, if you went for a Young Life meeting, you go to somebody’s house and the basement would be packed with high school kids. You cannot even squeeze through people in there. They’ll be singing, playing the guitar, reading out a verse from the bible, relate it to our every day life, you know. So, how he got people to go was, he would say, “Do you want to meet some boys?” And we would be like, “Yeah, I want to meet some boys.”, and he would say, “Come to Young Life.” (Laughs) So, I would go there every Thursday night. I would do everything I could not to miss Young Life.
Heart: So, that was your dip into spirituality? And your parents were OK with it?
PR: Yeah, my mom was like, “Do it. Do it.”
So, these are the kind of things I did in high school. I swam, I attended Young Life meetings and Girl Scout meetings.”
I hung out with a very preppy crowd. We were 5 girls including me and our signature was, we would wear pearls around our neck including pearl earrings. It didn’t matter if we had sweat shirts and jeans on, we had our pearls. That was our thing. We wore pearls with everything. (Laughs)
Heart: Are you in touch with any of the girls?
PR: Just the one in Greenville. She was one of them, and she kind of got me into Young Life. And um, it was funny, we were 5 girls, and we all married a guy named John. And, I’m the only one that’s still married. All rest of them were divorced. And I thought, sure, I’ll be too.
Heart: No, it all depends on individual temperaments, and how far you’re willing to go for the other person. Two people have to come midway for a marriage to work, so I guess, it depends. And divorces are a byproduct of our modern life when we have less patience with everything.
PR: See, my sister got a divorce. And in my family that was scandalous. My mother’s a Catholic, and divorce doesn’t happen. I mean, that guy came home to my sister and said, “The only reason I’m coming home is that my key fits the lock.” And he was having an affair.
He wanted to have a baby and she kept putting it off, and he kept pushing her, pushing her. Long story short, my sister got pregnant, had my niece, and three months after she was born, he says, “This is not as fun as I thought it was going to be.” And he left her with a 3 month old. My niece is in her 30’s now and she’s never seen her father.
Heart: How did your sister support herself and the baby?
PR: After she left Hugh, she moved in with my parents with the baby. Eventually, she got a job and moved into her own apartment. Few years went by and my cousin set her up on a blind date with Michael and they ended up falling in love with each other and getting married. Michael is the only father that my niece knows and she calls him daddy.
He never adopted her because my sister wanted her ex-husband to pay child support. And she made sure he did. My niece doesn’t know her real father. And looks exactly like him. But, its so funny, but when she and Michael who’s not her real father were walking down the road when she was a little girl, people were like, “Oh my God, your daughter looks exactly like you.” Michael would say, “Oh, thank you.” She does have his personality. Its shaped by him, not by biology.
Heart: That’s really cute. So, tell me more about your work. Did it shape your life? Did being a working woman define you?
PR: Yeah, it defined me. Its where I met all my friends, and for the majority of my 33 years of working, I worked in the defense industry for major defense contractors, working for various branches of the military. I classify myself as a patriot, because even though I wasn’t in the military, when I think back now, I should’ve been in the military. I regret not being in the military.
Heart: Not enlisting in the military, is that what you mean?
PR: Because I thoroughly enjoyed working for military people, I enjoyed the regimen of it, you do things a certain way, you do things by a certain time, its very structured and its very methodical. Its very much kind of a perfection kind of environment.
I’ve supported a lot of flag officers, Brigadier generals, Major generals, Lieutenant generals, admirals and all of them are incredible leaders, but they’re very very needy people. I mean, people always ask me, “Why did you never have children?” And the reason I didn’t have children was because of the career path I chose. Because, I’m basically taking care of a child all day long. Taking care of this child who can’t get to this meeting because he doesn’t have written directions on how to get there. He needs bios printed on who’s meeting with. He needs his presentation material and I’ve get him lunch, oh, I’ve to get him his cup of coffee and I’ve to make more copies for him. I’ve to file his expense reports and I do all this stuff for him. I tell people I used to work in an adult day care – all day. And, I couldn’t do that all day long from 7 in the morning to 5 at night and come home and take care of a real child. I couldn’t do it.
And the other thing is I feel very young. Even when I was 35, people would say, why don’t you have children, and inside I felt like I was not mature enough. I can barely take care of myself, how can I take care of a child? And I particularly don’t like children. In high school, all my girl friends would baby sit for extra money but I didn’t.
Heart: Its OK, atleast your choice was clear for you.
PR: Exactly, and just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean you’re a good one. But, my parents never pressured me. My dad would say to me, because all my siblings had their own children, he would say, “You’re the smartest out of the four. You’ve got the most sense in the family.” (We both laugh) And I told John from the beginning, “I don’t want children, and I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. And if you want children, you’re marrying the wrong person.” And my husband was an only child.
Heart: Do you’ve any regrets?
PR: One thing is, I should’ve gone to college. I should’ve said to my mother, “I’ll figure it out, I’ll get a math tutor or whatever.” And finished college. Or, I should’ve gone to the military and I would be pulling in a retirement by now! You know what I’m saying. Those are two regrets that I’ve. If I had gone to college, I wouldn’t have been an executive secretary. Now, after doing it for 33 years, I can’t do it anymore. I don’t have that giddy up anymore. I was telling John, I can’t wipe noses and butts anymore. And you’re doing it to a grown person whom you can’t put in time out, coz, he’s your boss. (Laughs)
Heart: The young women now, who’ve replaced you in the workforce, do they have what it takes?
PR: No, I don’t think so. This guy I was working for in downtown DC, Leesburg to DC is 40 miles each way, and I was working there for years and years and one day, I was like, “I can’t do this anymore, the commute’s killing me.” And so he hired a girl, Lindsey, and she’s a 23 year old college graduate, sweet girl. But, long story short, he calls me a month after I left and he goes, “You trained her and everything, but can you teach her how to anticipate my needs?”, I go, “No, Perry, I can’t!” You either have that skill or you don’t. So, the girls who now have my job are college educated, why would you have a college education and become an admin assistant, is beyond me in the first place.
Heart: But no college degree can give you real world intuition.
PR: Exactly. Exactly. When I was looking for a job on Indeed.com, I would see these ads for executive assistants, 8 to 10 years experience with a bachelor’s degree. If I had a college degree, I won’t be working for that job.
Heart: So, I guess your job can never be really automated?
PR: Correct, but more and more of these executives are becoming more self sufficient. They’ve got their emails, their smart phones for reminders, and that kind of stuff. And when I started out, we didn’t have cell phones.
I mean, at my first job, I was using a type writer. And my boss would come out and ask me to come in with my steno pad. And I would go in, he would dictate, and I would write it in short hand and then come to my type writer and type it up and give it to him. He would make corrections and I’ll have to type it back up, retype the whole thing. We would send letters by mail, we did inter office memorandum. But, my type of job is really becoming extinct. Obsolete now.
Heart: What’s next?
PR: So, I went to the dentist and they asked “Name of the employer” and I wrote, “Retired”. So, I don’t think I’ll go back to work. I just don’t have the same drive that I used to. So, I think I gonna do is volunteer. I’m looking into going back and working for the Red Cross again because I started out with them. And I like “Dress for success”. This organization is for women who are poor, who have been in abusive relationships that are looking into removing themselves from those situations. And what Dress for success does is couple of things. Donate clothing, so that they can put together an outfit to go interview for work. So its helping women put themselves back together. Teaching them how to create their resume, and teaching them interview skills, teaching them how to use Microsoft Word or Excel. These people come from homes, or shelters and they’re trying to break away. So this concept really interests me.
Heart: Is making a difference important?
PR: Yes, more so now, now that I’m not working. When I was working, I was making a difference in somebody’s else life, or the life of my country indirectly. Now, I want to make a difference in somebody’s life directly.
Heart: Does life have a meaning?
PR: Yes, it does. I think you make your own life, you make your own choices, your own sacrifices, and life’s what you make it. I truly believe that God has a plan for each of us, but you kinda have to build on that. I think everything happens for a reason. When one door closes, another one opens, and I truly believe that. You’re responsible for your own actions or inactions.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto™.