Am I the only one whose mother made them apply for a proper job at 13 years old, because, “We black people have got to get ahead.”?
I’m not joking. They were her exact words. I had only just become a teenager and was barely getting used to using spot cream, when my astute mum noticed I was taking an avid interest in Erin from the Waltons. For those of you not old enough to remember, she landed a job as a telephonist at her local ‘I don’t know what you call them.’
She would sit with headphones on, in front of a large board filled with holes and a pencil-like rod attached to a wire would be pulled out of one hole and placed into the other; thus connecting a call for the stranger on the other end of the line. She pulled and plugged all day and it fascinated me.
I had made up my mind that “I want to be one of those.” Within two weeks, my dear mother had written to British Telecom – the UK’s largest telecommunications company (and still is) and procured me an application form.
Quick! Get the address!
Not very long after that, she discovered that my older sister’s best friend had obtained a job at the local bank.
With a pen and pad of paper in her hand, my mum got on the phone to her. The scenario then repeated itself and I was handed a 4 page sheet to fill in and post most urgently.
I remember her dictating to me the covering letters, word for word and I cringed into my boots at my over-humble request for these Mr. Importants to promise me a post in 3 years time, no matter whether I stayed in school or not, did my exams or not, got the appropriate grades or not, was still alive or not.
Now, I must admit that some of this paranoia came from the awful time mum suffered when she first came to England in the late 50s and received a tirade of racial abuse as soon as she got off the banana boat.
The first job she had was in a factory, stuffing tights (panty hose for USA interpretation) into plastic bags. There were many other black women working there, who had shipped in from different Carribbean islands. One day it became evident that one white lady was going about touching up all the bottoms of anyone with tanned skin. She would stand up close behind them then start running the palm of her hand around their bum cheeks. It turned out that someone had joked that all black people used to be monkeys and she was feeling for the stub of the tail.
Knickers and notes
So, with intense maternal concern and fearing that I would be pushed aside when I reached 16, my mum decided to be efficient and ‘jump the gun’. After I reluctantly posted the two applications forms, my mum, preferring the bank job because it make her look better, insisted that I wrote the full contact details in my knicker drawer, so I did not forget it. So, for 3 years, every morning when I reached for some underwear, I was face with:
Mr D.G. Waring
Trustee Savings Bank
34 Market Place
I resented this humiliation immensely and even more so when I received the two rejection letters, imagining the hearty laughs that must have gone across the offices. But one day, I read a scripture which said,
“Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” “Honour your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise.” (Exodus 20:12 & Ephesians 6:2)
I guess if I didn’t have this story I would have one less thing to laugh at. It’s good to have a right old laugh, isn’t it?
Let’s have a chuckle
And now it is a sweet memory that I can look back at with much mirth. I realise now that my mother’s mis-placed enthusiasm was just her way of looking out for me because she loved me dearly.
So…I know what you’re going to ask. Did I end up working at either of those places?
No and yes. Naturally, I did not ‘get the jobs’ but at 17 I did end up working for a rival bank and I stayed with them for 15 years. One day my manager met my mum at a school event that his son and my younger sister were attending. “Did Sharon always want to work in a bank?” he asked.
Now, if he had asked me that question directly, I would have said ‘yes’, because children have a strange way of forgetting about the influence their parents have on their lives.
“No.” she said. “We talked her into it.”