Even though she was really young and didn't have a lot of education, my mom started her career as a CNA (because back then I think you only had to read a brochure and you were considered certified). She took a break from her career because of kids and stuff and went back to the hospital to work, but her CNA certification had run out and the requirements were a lot more demanding to renew, so she started work in the housekeeping department. That's where she worked for the entire time I was a little kid.
She had all kinds of gross stories that I won't get into here, but she worked hard and tried to make the housekeeping department the best it could be. She even got a night gig cleaning the hospital's business office five blocks up the road for extra money. Somehow she roped my brother and I into going along and helping her do the work, which was completely against every child labor law in America. I think we got home at midnight on Thursdays on the days when we did that.
After a decade at the hospital, Mom had risen to supervisor, but the federal prison had just opened up down the road from our town and the government money and benefits were way better, so she applied to be a prison guard. Yes, that really happened. My mom was a prison guard for a couple years with the feds.
After getting tired of the social circles at the prison, Mom quit, but struggled to find the next thing. She worked in commercial laundry, made dental equipment, provided room service food for NBA all-stars at a fancy resort (not kidding, I have autographs to prove it), cleaned hotel rooms, delivered phone books and probably a half-dozen other things.
|Mom and I around that time|
I was in my mid-teens and mostly what I remember is that the job was swing shift, so I never saw Mom outside of the weekends and that the lost and found of the school was loaded with all kinds of expensive stuff that would eventually be brought home to me. The kids at the school were pretty wealthy, so I remember wearing crazy-looking shoes and at least one Armani shirt and getting a free Discman. It was an amazing perk.
But the commute was crazy, the workload was unreasonable and the schedule was disastrous for our family. I remember we were all kind of disappointed, but Mom looked for another job during the day and worked during the evening. Around the time I turned 17, she finally found the job she was looking for.
Mom got hired as a janitor with the local housing authority and started cleaning the housing projects off of Columbia Boulevard in North Portland. It probably was a pretty miserable start for what she knew was a good opportunity that had potential for advancement (and once again government benefits). I'm sure you know that Mom kept on cleanin' and looking for her shot to move up.
She got it after a couple of years of biding her time (and biting her tongue) with a promotion to the mid-level position as a "laborer". That mean she had to learn how to take care of the grounds and landscaping, but also meant she had to get her CDL and learn how to drive the garbage truck, because housing has their own trash service for all the residents. Yep--not my dad--my MOM was a prison guard, hospitality for NBA stars and drove a garbage truck for low-income housing.
But her break at the laborer tier at housing didn't stick her with the garbage truck. Instead Mom got the more desirable gig of being able to drive the RECYCLING TRUCK! By the time I was in college, Mom was spending her days driving a 25-ton recycling truck around Portland, but still looking for the next opportunity.
Around the time when Anne-Marie and I got married, a position on the maintenance team opened at Housing and Mom got the job. So far she knew the best way to mop a floor, stand down an inmate, and activate the compactor on a garbage truck. This job was the one where she learned how to do everything else.
Mom spent the final 17 or so years of her 20+ year career at the housing authority fixing bathtubs, light fixtures, doors and learning when to just run back out the door and call the exterminator. When I renovated my house these last two years, she was involved in every step using that knowledge and experience she'd gained. (Or pretended she gained, because when it came down to it she would never say it couldn't be done.)
She spent most of my adult life working as the go-to maintenance mechanic at different properties around Portland and watched the residents move in, move out, get arrested, die. You name it. She's seen it all.
And she's nearly done it all in these more-than-forty years. Done it all, but now she's just done.
Congratulations on your next chapter, Mom! I hope that now you get to spend a little time doing something other than working. Matter of fact, I think we need a babysitter week after next...