Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Like a Fish Out of Water (10/24/13)
TITLE: It's A New World Out There
By Deborah Engle
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Sally was happy to oblige. “It was the day of our high school graduation. I can still here the tremor in Tom’s voice as he clutched my hand. ‘Dad says there’s a job waiting for me down at the plant. We’ll be able to get us a place with plenty of room for children.’ Turning to face me, he continued. ‘Would you like that, Sally?”
“Tom’s proposal could have been more romantic, but I knew he would be a good provider and a loving father. Marrying my high school sweetheart was exactly what I wanted. Within ten years, there were five of you children to care for. Daddy and I both work hard every day, but we can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Twenty years later, Sally and Tom have found out what real challenges are.
Laurie sat down at the kitchen table to talk with her mother. “Tell me again, Momma.”
With a sigh, Sally relayed her sad news. “The plant finally got their wage concessions. After that, Daddy took all the overtime he could get just to make ends meet. At least we have his pension to see us through our retirement years. He’s not doing well at all, though. We kept the bill collectors satisfied, but it cost Daddy his health.”
Another five years have brought the cruelest blow of all.
Laurie followed along behind her mother as she wandered through the house, distracted and forlorn. “Tell me again, Momma.”
“You know Daddy loved the life we had, and he thanked God for it every day. He used to say, ‘Sally, just look at this family you’ve raised. Who could ask for brighter or more capable children?’ He wouldn’t admit it, but he cried when each one of you moved out on your own.”
“Momma . . . ?”
“When daddy was off on medical leave last spring, the plant declared bankruptcy, and then two weeks ago we got that letter stating that the pension fund was gone. His heart just couldn’t take it.”
Sally sat down in her rocker, then looked up at her daughter. “It’s time for me to face facts. At 57 years of age, I’ve got to find a way to support myself.”
“Maybe I could work in an office.”
Within a couple of months, Laurie sensed there was a problem. Office work did not turn out to be what Sally had expected. She had done well in her high school business classes forty years ago, but ten-key adding machines and Selectric typewriters were nowhere to be found in her new workplace. While she was busy keeping house and raising children, the Age of Technology had introduced computers into every facet of the business world.
Laurie folded towels while her mother started another load of laundry. “Tell me again, Momma.”
Confusion, pain and determination contorted Sally’s face. Finally, she sat down and looked at Laurie. “Do you remember when you were taking Algebra, and you couldn’t make any sense out of it?”
Wrinkles lined across Laurie’s brow. “Y-e-e-s. My counselor had put me in an Algebra II class before I had taken Algebra I. I didn’t get any of it.”
“Well that’s how I’ve been feeling.” Sally shook her head. “Nothing makes sense to me. Did you know that nobody uses shorthand to take dictation anymore? They have a machine to do that now. In that whole office, there is not one ledger. All the records are in a computer. Everything is in a computer. I didn’t even know how to turn a computer on when I started.”
Laurie’s mouth dropped in surprise. “Mom, you’ve had a computer for years. What do you mean you didn’t know how to turn it on?”
Sally’s eyes widened. “I thought it was just another of Daddy’s toys that would be obsolete within a few years. I guess I should have let him show me how it worked.”
Laurie’s heart ached to see her mother’s discouragement. “Momma, it sounds like you’ve been placed in Computers II when you really needed to be taking Computers I. How about if we go power up that computer and you can show me what you’ve learned? Then we can work from there.”
As mother and daughter moved to the computer, Sally muttered, “All right, but the only thing I’ve learned so far is that they don’t like me any more than I like them.”
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