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Working—sort of

Author: Mary Calder
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I work if you can call it that…. I’ll explain in a minute.

My husband of several decades passed away 12 years ago. I froze and starved for most of a year without a job, no car, and living 16 miles from the nearest town. Past experiences with “helpful” social workers left me preferring cold and hungry to applying for help ever again. After a year old friends gave me a little car.

It took me four months to get four used tires and a battery, and then get it registered, insured and licensed. Three weeks later I was employed with the same hospice program that had helped care for my late husband. I worked there, sometimes driving as much as 500 miles in a week to visit clients and their families. After a year and a half they were going broke and I was laid off.

Four months later I landed a job driving kids to appointments for the State Children Youth and Families office in a city over an hour away from my home. So now I drove an hour to get to work where I drove for most of an eight hour shift, then drove home another hour. I moved to a pile of blankets in the corner of a social workers home. I paid $250 a month, bought the groceries and cooked for three to sleep on that floor. After 8 months I was offered $3 more per hour to go to work for a Sprint call center. I quit and started the six weeks of classes….only three weeks into it I knew trouble shooting handheld devices was never going to be a fit for me so I quit.

A week later I went to work for a company that operated group homes for mentally handicapped adults. I was sent to work immediately before the required prerequisite training. Honestly, once I was working I loved my job most of the time. I worked five nights a week, twelve hours per shift. We were supposed to always have two people or more on any shift. After a little while it was just me an awful lot of the time. Sixty hours of cooking, cleaning, laundry, inventorying medications and setting up the meds and giving them in the morning, cooking breakfast, getting four unmotivated guys up and going. Some of them needed to be bathed and helped getting dressed… and then transporting them to their day service site.

I eventually did get all the required training and passed it easily class after class. Three years in I was called to the office mysteriously. It was great news. We’d all been called salaried employees but that was crazy because we were treated like any other hourly employee except we were never paid overtime. They had a check for each of us mandated by the Labor Department of our state. That was terrific but from then on working conditions got steadily worse. More and more demands and wages and hours were being cut as state and federal support for the developmentally disabled were cut back.

I was alone with the most violent men routinely. I had a torn rotator cuff, a back injury, a damaged throat from being strangled and finally a broken neck. I did get some medical care and therapy but I’ll never be out of pain again. I worked from Saturday morning to Tuesday morning with a broken neck because it was a three day weekend and no one would ok going to an emergency room. So I waited and went to the group that provides care for on the job injuries. (A co-worker was injured and went to an emergency room and her bills have never all been paid.) A month short of five years there I quit.

I earned an insurance license as the recession was hitting its depths. Selling life insurance didn’t work out so after a few months of selling a little and driving a lot … I quit. I have memories good and bad from that job. One guy set an appointment to get even for a salesman that had been not too nice…when I left he hadn’t bought but I’d had a cute little girl sitting on my lap and her “mean” daddy dug a beautiful cactus and put it in a box for me to take home.

I took unemployment. If I hadn’t remarried by this time I’d have been homeless. I looked for work, anything, even part time but found nothing. I exhausted all my unemployment and extensions. I also turned 65 so I took survivor benefits from my late husband. (That was available because I was past 60 when I remarried.)The survivor benefits cover the mortgage and most of the cost for my Medicare and supplemental insurance.

A few months ago I found work again….caring for senior citizens in their homes or assisted living apartments. I’m now working for two companies. I work a few days one week and nothing for the next week or two. In the past two weeks I’ve work one six hour shift. I cook, clean, do med reminders, provide companionship, dress, bathe, transfer and do whatever is needed. It’s an average of 45 miles to most of those jobs. Mostly I wait hoping for a call to go to work.
I’ll never be able to completely retire. I’m 66 and my “new” husband’s 74. His ex-wife wiped them out financially by committing fraud and the court took their home and most of what they had owned. He’s working 30-40 hours a week as a security guard for stores and construction sites. If he retired we’d be without utilities and other necessities.

He’s a retired electrical contractor and has worked high security places like air force bases and nuclear power plants. I have a doctorate in a field that never paid much but was a satisfying career in years past. We’ve work hard and been productive people but life and this economy are just what they are.

I’d still be happy if I could get three 12 hour day shifts a week caring for senior citizens.

I’ve done yard work, owned a restaurant, volunteered teaching crafts to children, decorated cakes from home and in a bakery, co-pastored and been a senior pastor of Native American churches, run a K-12 mission school and taught every grade in it for 22 years, and helped start a wholesale bakery.

I have a work history of 54 years of working since I was 13 but I can’t find a real job. When I hear people pass judgments on the homeless and unemployed I have to own up to getting angry. I’d rather be working.

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