Have you ever wanted to find someone from your past yet knew that would be simply impossible? Someone who meant more to you than you realized at the time? I have someone like that in my life. She is a very distant memory yet one of the key figures in my life. I can’t fully picture her: blonde, on the thin side, and she was a social worker. I can’t remember her name. Grrr.
Well, I went on several dates with her in 1966. One night we were parked. In the 60’s when you had a date, frequently a couple would go to a movie, get something to eat and then find a dark street and park. And then you‘d talk and listen to music and “make-out”. Now that term might not be familiar to you if your under fifty. But it would involve kissing and fondling and rarely lead to sex or a blow job (altho that might happen). But we did not go that far, but just some light kissing and mostly talk.
I was working for Davenport Bank and Trust at the time in the Trust Department as a management trainee. My Dad got me the job and it was a well paying, professional job that my Dad was very proud of. Me…..not so much. I hated every minute of it. Numbers and accounting are not my thing.
But at that time in my life I didn’t know what my thing was. But I was dying at the Bank. I had a bachelors degree from the U of Iowa in Sociology.Not exactly Wharton School of Finance. So I was ill prepared for this job and all the trappings that go with working at a bank.
As my friend and I sat and talked she began to tell me what she did as a “social worker”. She worked in protective services. That is perhaps the most difficult work one can do in the field of social work. It meant removing kids from their home, going to court and testifying against parents who had abused or neglected their kids. It was low pay, being on call, entering dangerous situations and having people hate you. But you also were saving kids (or at least one might think that).
She was passionate about what she did and loved it. As I listened to her something began to happen to me sitting there fascinated by a job that was so different from what I was doing at the bank. It seemed important. It seemed exciting. It meant caring about children and peoples lives.
I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but my heart and gut were literally feeling things I had never ever encountered before. It was something I wanted to do. In fact in retrospect it was something I had to do. I didn’t know that at the time, but I know that now. I had to get out of that bank and do something that had meaning and value. She then went on and explained that if one worked for the State of Iowa for a year in the Department of Human Services, the State would send you to a graduate school of social work for what is called an MSW and not only pay your tuition but pay a stipend which would cover living expenses.
I decided that night to leave the bank. I had to do this. I had no idea how or where I would go or even if I could get in to a graduate college. But I knew I had to tryThe rest is history. Soon after I applied for a position with the Department of Social Welfare for the County in Davenport Iowa. I was hired. I took a 50% cut in pay. I went from wearing a suit in a art deco bank to a cubicle in a smoke infested building serving the poor, people of color, people deemed “poor white trash” and welfare mothers who were on food stamps. But I felt at home. Perhaps initially I could relate to being poor, which my family was desperately when I was young. But my father understandably had trouble with my decision to leave the bank. I’m sure it made no sense to him and in many ways objectively it didn’t make a lot of sense.
He once asked me “why would you want to work with a bunch of niggers?” That sounds awful but he wasn’t actually that prejudiced. He helped many people of color as he was the driving force in organizing a union at his foundry. His energy as a union organizer helped the quality of life for many foundry workers and they respected my Dad for what he had done for them. And I also remember sitting with him watching our black and white television in the summer of 1964 as congress passed the Civil Rights Act which my Dad fully supported. He was glued to that television. I was always an enigma to my father and again I can appreciate why, as he and I were so different.
I take great comfort in knowing he would be proud of the success I have today. But in 1967 there just was no way of predicting that some of my choices would lead me anywhere. But sometimes when you are listening to your gut and take crazy risks, they lead you to places you could never predict.
So I am so grateful for that woman who sat with me that summer night telling me of things that completely turned my life around. She was a good social worker. I could tell.