Monday, September 5, 2011

Dream Job

I had a dream of a job once. And I worked a full fall season there and so it is only natural that when August gives its page over to September, and my current position is so increasingly unsatisfying, that I reminisce on what was the best job in the world for me. Ever.

I targeted the dream employer and when I discovered that a position was open at the women's union, a place steeped in history and women's lore, I rattled the cage of the venerable institute until they interviewed and hired me. I was the Gal Friday for one year, a job that entailed everything from managing the housekeeping staff to fixing the copy machine and everything in between. But soon, my love for the history of the place had me working in archiving the union's massive photographs and documents. In a nutshell, this Victorian young woman got to spend her eight hours per day playing...
The union was housed in a very old brick building. One of the founding members was Louisa May Alcott, who took part in the union's efforts towards dress reform. One of the early clients was Amelia Earhart, whose application I touched and filed - the one where she wrote "zilch" under the accomplishments section. I cataloged and filed away old photographs of the union's cooking school which was once the seed of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School. In between archiving, I hosted teas for the Fragments, a group of vintage girls (median age, 80), who came to the union once a month to knit for babies, having dispensed with WWI knitting a number of years before. They were a charming little group of elders, in print dresses and carrying bark cloth knitting bags, who paid $5.00 to use one of the union's many function rooms. I helped the housekeeper polish the large silver tea and coffee set and ordered petite sandwiches for the Fragments. We hosted other groups too; book clubs, support groups, the French Club, and we once hosted a press conference to announce something I can't recall. I only knew Hilary Clinton was there that day and she signed my program, "Be kind to one another". The building also housed the oldest needlework shop in the country and the annual needlework show I helped with has set the bar for every exhibit, antique fair or ephemera show I've ever been to since. We brought in New York knitwear designers along with sheep farmers from Vermont. I loved the juried needlework competition and the lovely needle art that has all but disappeared from the 21st century.
As well as the needlework shop, there was a mezzanine of antiques, a stationery shop, and a decorative arts shop. Ethel Kennedy bought her water goblets at the union shop and I am pretty certain my grandmother may have shopped there or at least I imagined she did. During my lunch hours, I would tear myself away from cataloging and other responsibilities and "window shop" along the hardwood hallways of the shop, perusing books, considering wooden knitting needles and came home one day with a set of antique alabaster busts that still shyly smile at me from my dressing table.

And the characters I worked with! It would take me reams of paper to describe each and every one. Joan, the housekeeper, who worked in beautiful trousers and silk blouses befitting of such a well respected institution's chatelaine; Anita, a former piano teacher who was responsible for putting together the needlework show, all the while listening to Mozart and Beethoven as she made endless phone calls to sponsers from her tiny office; Edith, the 87 year old shop salesperson, who worked for the union for over 40 years and put two fabric covered jewelry boxes aside for me one Christmas Eve when I was in need of last minute gifts for my daughter and my neice, sisters of the heart. I have never forgotten these women and all the others who ran that place and kept it something special.

Alas, a new director was hired during a vulnerable time and for reasons I and others never understood, turned the place upside down with her personal agenda. Today the union is a mere storefront for what seems to me a cold government agency with a new name. But for all the reasons I have given, working at the union was a dream job one fall for an impassioned young woman possessed by the past. It was the best gig I ever had.