I have to get this off my chest. I have a strong memory from when I was a kid, probably the 2nd or 3rd grade, standing around in our big kitchen talking with my mother. Somehow, we were discussing jobs. I have no idea why this topic had come up, but I do remember talking about one of my favorite places in town, the Post Office. My Uncle Al worked there. He had been a police officer but then switched careers to work for the Post Office. Everything about the Post Office was great — I loved the building and the large WPA murals, especially the one of John Brown who had lived in my town. I loved looking at the “wanted posters,” and the high counters, and how much like a bank it felt. I loved banks, too.
When talking about my Uncle, my mother used the phrase, “Civil Servant,” and I didn’t know what she meant. It’s funny that I remember her saying that phrase. She then told me that if, when I grew up, I took a test and got a job with “The Government,” it would be a “good job.” From what I knew then, a “good job” was one that paid you well and gave you “security.” I thought that meant you didn’t get fired.
A “good job” was nice, but “I remember wondering if I could get a “big job.” Important people had “big jobs.” My Aunt Bea always talked about people with “big jobs.” But the part of the conversation that impressed me most was when my mother said, “If you get a job with “The Government,” “The Government” will take care of you.”
“The Government” will take care of me? I figured it must be a big deal to become one of these Civil Servants, because you have to take and pass a test. I knew Uncle Al was a smart man. The test part scared me. But my mother assured me I would get a “good paycheck and have insurance.” I remember feeling happy that my mother thought that I could pass this test. I had no idea where one took the test, but I figured she would tell me when I was older.
I remember, too, wondering about the insurance part. The only insurance I knew about was the [life] insurance payments my parents made to the man from “The Insurance Company” every month. He drove to our house in a nice car wearing a suit and a smile. My parents had a little payment book and he would fill in a page every time they paid him. They would sit around the kitchen table. I liked him. He gave me and my brother a shiny new penny every time he came. When my mother talked about insurance with “The Government” job, I didn’t know if she was referring to another Insurance Man, but I figured it must be important. I also especially remember thinking it would be nice to work for the Post Office in that fabulous building, just like my Uncle Al.
As I reflect on this, I find myself thinking something sad. There have been a few moments during some very difficult times over the years that I have thought, “I’m glad my father/ mother isn’t here now to see this.” I especially thought this after 9/11; my dad, a World War II veteran, died in 1996. I remember feeling strongly that the horrors of that awful day and the ramifications of what happened would have been so overwhelming, so upsetting for him, that I would have had to shield him from them somehow.
My mother died several years ago. And today I find myself thinking, with profound sadness, “I am glad my mother isn’t here right now to witness this shutdown.” Many people, including a close family member, work for “The Government.” Someone I know not only has a “good job,” he has a “big job.” But he can neither work nor be paid. My mother’s trust, her faith, her knowledge that “The Government” will take care of you, has been proven false. This shutdown would have rocked my mother to the core.
I know it’s rocking me to my core.
January 15, 2019