Like many young adults, I was enthusiastic, energetic, and naive. So I went to my new job at the local public television station, all of 20 years old, in a bright orange, double-knit, bell-bottomed pantsuit. I was looking fly (sometimes you just know this about yourself).
Mr. D, a plain-spoken, kind man from another town in the Midwest was my boss. He also became my mentor. He reminded me of the late actor Wally Cox
We clicked immediately in the interview. We both enjoyed reading and connected immediately as kindred spirits, so much so that I never took the typing test. If I had, he would have discovered that I knew the keyboard, having taken typing in high school, but only typed about 30 wpm for a job that required 55. (I also knew note hand – a version of shorthand that came in handy for taking notes in college and at this job.)
That orange pantsuit day, Mr. D called me into his office. “That’s a lovely pantsuit,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied and smiled. (Who doesn’t like compliments?)
“I want you to look out the window.” (His office had a door with a window that looked onto the office floor with its cluster of desks.) “Tell me what people are wearing.”
“Do you see any orange?”
“No, Sir, I do not.”
“Do you see any bell-bottoms?”
“No, Sir, I do not.” By this time my face was turning red from embarrassment.
“We have a dress code and this lovely orange outfit doesn’t fit it. Look, “ he continued, “What you’re wearing is perfectly fine for your non-work activities but we are business professional.”
“Should I go home and change?” (It was a long but not impossible walk to my house.)
“No. Finish the day.”
I did finish the day, self-conscious now about my clothes. Looking back, my Angela Davis round Afro and my youthful voluptuousness was why I garnered so much attention that and other days. I went home and scoured my closet and my mother’s for more suitable clothes. I had quite a few to choose from – a collection of navy and black skirts for when I sang in the choir at church and other church outfits.
My late Uncle Richard gave me another bit of mentoring when he counseled me to keep the job when I wanted to quit. Mr. D had already spoken to me about my lack of typing speed.
“You’re a good note taker and pretty accurate typist, Miss Silva.” (He couldn’t quite pronounce my first name.) “But you’re slow. It’s my fault that I didn’t have you take the typing test. So, I’ll give you a month to get up to speed.”
I went home that evening all in a tizzy and told my Mom I wanted to quit.
“No, you won’t be quitting that job,” she told me in a tone that let me know in no uncertain terms that I definitely wouldn’t be quitting. Later, my Uncle Richard stopped by our house. He told me that I would have to go in early and stay late to make sure I got all of the work done. A typewriter was produced – it must have been from him. Tape was put over the keys, like my typing teacher at high school had done.
I practiced typing night after night. Within a month, I was typing about 60 wpm. I then went on to become a very fast and accurate typist. My typing skills have come in handy although I did have to slow down a bit when I first started using computers and learn a lighter touch. (Sometimes, I actually type with my eyes closed to see how much I can do before I make mistakes. I know, that sounds a bit weird.)
I have to thank Mr. D and Uncle Richard (RIP) for their kindness, direction, and patience helped me immensely as did my Mom’s tough love. “You will not quit!” Young people need caring and principled adults in their lives and I am lucky and blessed to have had that.
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