28. September 2015 · Comments Off on A Step to Independence · Categories: NMM.Trajectory.

Muriel asks me how I manage my finances.

I don’t.

I can’t begin to explain that when I left home at sixteen, money was abstract to me.   It is even harder to say why I avoid dwelling on the subject to this day.

So Muriel asks me what jobs I have done.

I worked from the day I arrived at Grailville.

You were just a child of sixteen, weren’t you?

Yes, I had my birthday on the boat.

From the first day there I served large groups of people, cooked, cleaned rooms, did laundry, canned food, milked cows, raised calves, pitched silage, mended fences, baled hay, painted houses, and did too many other chores to name.

Your sister said you had servants at home and never washed a dish or made a bed.  Did anyone tell your family what you had to do at this so-called school?

No.  They thought I was going to a finishing school similar to the one my cousin went to in Switzerland.

I didn’t really mind the hard work so much.   I know that most Americans do chores at home.    A few of the girls I worked with really enjoyed cooking or caring for animals or even turning messes into rooms fit for meditation.   Their spirit was contagious.   They taught me how to be efficient, how to take pride in a job well done.

Once, for a few weeks the staff sent me to their city center where they have something called Family Service.  After a course on caring for babies I went to people’s homes to take care of families while the mothers were in the hospital.   I really liked that.

Was that a free service?

No, the families paid the center on a sliding scale.

Were you ever paid?


What about those paintings that got you the scholarship?

I don’t know what happened to them.   I was told to create six large paintings with an Easter/Passover theme.   All I have are a couple of sketches.

I was surprised when they told me that a college offered me a scholarship.   Since I was not allowed to put my name on anything, I don’t even know how they found out I was the artist.

I don’t think of myself as an artist.   I just produced art on demand, such as greeting cards that were sold at their gift shop.  Sometimes I was asked to help other artists with reproductions of their work which they sold.

So, they dole out to you only what they think you need or you did without?

You know, they are religious people.

Muriel will have none of that.

Listen, she says, I learned a hard lesson from my own uncle who is a minister.

My father was a country veterinarian.   He paid for my nurse’s training.   When I decided to get a college degree, I knew I had to pay for that myself.

My uncle was celebrated for his sermons and was much respected.  He and his wife had no children.  They always held themselves aloof and a bit above the rest of our family.

However, when they heard that I was going to put myself through college, they said they admired my ambition.  They began to do nice things for me.   They invited me to their home.   I went to church with them to hear my uncle preach.   He really could move a congregation.

They showed me off to their friends.  They took me out to dinners and an occasional show.  They bought me clothes and little luxuries.

They were so kind that I sometimes brought a friend along and got her a new dress too.

After I earned my degree, my uncle and my aunt handed me a summary of all that they had spent on me.   There was my share of all the dinners, the shows, shopping bills, even bills for telephone calls and laundry.    Every penny was accounted for.  This is what you owe us, they said.

I was flabbergasted but I did not protest.  Something told me that if I made a fuss I would be put in the wrong.   I swallowed my disappointment.   It took me quite a while but I paid them back every penny.

Look, Muriel says, you don’t have to explain another thing.   I get the picture.    I understand why after so many years you don’t even want to talk to your own family about what happened to you because it’s demoralizing.   It shakes up people’s faith.

Well, by some miracle they didn’t break your spirit, so you are right not to dwell on it.   You are still young, but you have to take a stand right now.  I have no reason to think that your situation is going to change unless you stand up for yourself.

Next time you earn money, keep it!

Don’t be afraid.   You have us now.  Bill and I will help you whatever happens.



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