Life Change; Saved by a Career of a Lifetime

When I decided to make a life change I looked in the paper as to what jobs were getting posted. It seemed Word Processing came up a lot and offered a decent wage. Enrolling myself into Sawyer Business College, and choosing legal word processing (realizing later the school chose this direction as it garnered the most government funding), I quite both my waitressing jobs. My manager at the time gave me a look of judgement and a snicker assuming I was going to rest on my laurels and take advantage of the state. As a single parent I always had food stamp or WIC assistance. Making poverty level wages, in spite of working two jobs at the same time gave me little choice. I was going back to school, but that is not how his subjective eyes saw it.

The day after I graduated from Sawyer, as promised, they had a job placement for me. No matter what the position, I felt I should take it. Walking into what would soon be my new office, the gal I was replacing was right there packing up her things. This told me the owner of this business waited until the last minute to find her replacement. The owner/manager rented out office space to various people & businesses, and their rent included the receptionist’s time-that was me. My office was a 12X12′, windowless cell. The only art in my office was a photo of a deep water oil platform, and the view included the entire drill to the ocean floor. The men from the other offices felt coming to my office to smoke was the norm. I had to request twice to NOT smoke, in this space…I could feel the eyes rolling as they would exit the room. Although it was the 80′s, it felt more like 60′s “Mad Men”.

My first day I had several tapes to transcribe, which were extremely difficult for me because of the dictator’s heavy Louisiana accent. It turned out he was, indeed, a dictator-condescending, dismissive, abusive. In less than a month, I had had enough. I went to the owner, broken. Preempting my declaration, he said there was clearly a problem, however the Louisiana oil fellow said he could work with me. Emotional, I stated that I could not work with him. “I had worked really hard to get my self esteem where is today, and I’m not going allow someone to chip away at it. I will stay as late as it takes to finish everything on my desk, but today is my last day.” Although my spirit was still fragile, choosing not to take this abuse was a huge step for me. I didn’t feel I needed to give the usual two weeks notice, because he didn’t use the previous notice for diligent reviews or employment searches. I knew when I left that job, that the good employment I would end up securing was the one I found myself. And it wasn’t going to be just any job. I was ready to find my career.

I Love cloths. No really, I L-O-V-E cloths. Our town isn’t exactly L.A. (thankfully), but it did have a small outdoor clothing business. The stickers on the parking lot cars said “SoftWear”. I had just had foot surgery, a result of waitressing, being on my feet, that required inappropriate shoes for such a demanding job. A friend, Mary, had worked at this company, and she was cool with me using her as a reference. I applied, and when I got a tour of this beautiful campus, with a daycare, on site cafe’ and within walking distance to the beach, I knew I had found my home. Now to get hired… I followed up with calls often, careful not to be a nuisance. At one of those calls where I got through I said I’ll take anything. I’ll work as a temp, but I can not do that for too long as I’m a single mother and need to secure a job soon. I was told to come in and I soon started in the company’s R&D (Research & Development) Dept. cutting and tracing patterns.

After a month, I was moved to the retail store basement to receive & stock goods. This was extremely difficult for me in the beginning. I’m claustrophobic, (trauma induced) and I had anxiety about being in such tightly-packed enclosed quarters. I used “Bradley” labor/birth breathing and “The Serenity Prayer” daily to get through it, and in time, I had no problem being in what became a familiar place. Within a month I was hired as GPIW retail store cashier at a starting salary of just under $9k a year, even less than the $14K annual income I made waitressing. Coincidentally, I was hired around the same time as a girl climber who would become my best friend at Patagonia, touch-stone, confidante, eventual manager/work wife. For years it was just the two of us in the Photo Department; “Felix & Oscar”, “Lucy & Ethel”.

Prior to Jane picking up the torch as managing Photo Editor, there was Jennifer. Jennifer interviewed and hired me; yet another taking a chance on this young, business novice, socially unpolished, with little decorum, terrified single mom. Patagonia’s own Jackie O, taught me the Love of words, among many other things, as her vocabulary is vast. As well as helping me navigate through the valley of frogs to find my prince.

Most of my life, I felt I was a misfit. The business world seemed unattainable to me, so if I couldn’t make it work here, I wouldn’t be able to make it in the real world. And, if I failed, I was certain I would be pushing a shopping cart. After a couple of years I started to feel somewhat confident. One day, after stepping out of the ladies’ room, I remember thinking to myself “I’m doing it! I have a good job!” “I’m supporting my daughter!” In my mind, I’m blowing kisses as I confidently strutted down the halls of the corporate headquarters. At the time, Jane was working in another department, but our desks faced each other. As I walked past her, getting ready to sit at my chair, she stopped me and said “what’s that?”. I made 2-3 circles trying to look behind me to find out what she was referring to. The toilet seat protector paper had gotten caught in my pants waistband!!! I had walked the ENTIRE hallway with it attached to my backside! Any false feelings of awesomeness were quickly diminished, humbled, once again. Jane and I had a great laugh out of that faux pas.

There would be nearly 30 years together; laughs till we cried, secrets, marriages, birth of her daughter, divorces, many family and friends, professional and personal, passings, (including the deaths of both our precious parents), and, later, an unforgettable trip to Italy together to attend a wedding at a thousand year old castle. I have often said I’ve been with this company longer than all my husbands put together. (By the way, my wonderful husband accompanied us on our 2011 Rome vacation)

In less than a year after my hire date, my second husband, what I like to refer as the “Speed-Bump” in my life journey, was acting out with extreme immature selfishness – imploding into a fight – whether or not “women who get raped deserve it, or are “lucky” because they wouldn’t get laid otherwise?” That was just too much… I told him to leave. He must of been planning it himself, or maybe even picked the fight, as he had already drained my savings of my $10,000. Before he left he also took a hoist to rip-out the engine out of my car – leaving hoses, tubes & electrical cords dangling. Additonaly, he stole my valuable jewelry. With the help of my neighbor I was able to keep my sewing machine, otherwise he would have taken that too as he chased after me when I was caring it across the street to give to Dennis. Dennis stopped him and said “you’re kinda being an asshole. Why don’t you just leave?”

After Charles left, I spent my lunches taking his cloths or whatever was left by him, to consignment stores. At the same time, my first husband, Grant, hadn’t paid child support in seven years. I was privy that Grant’s sweet grandmother had paid up all his back child support. So, along with trying to sell my second husband’s possessions, I was also trying to reach my first husband’s probation officer for due child support. Grant’s probation officer wasn’t any help – convinced I was just trying to get Grant thrown in jail. Why on God’s earth would I want to do such a thing to the father of my child? Beside, Grandma Dale’s generosity prevented that from happening. Today, because of homeland security, I would never be able to walk past the probation officer’s offices and go directly to their supervisor, which I did with no problem. Their I found a empathic ear. He said to me, “it would be nice for you and your daughter to get your due child support for Christmas” and assured me the paperwork would be fast tracked.

The unreliable AMC Pacer my girlfriend Gigi gave me (noted one of “The 50 Worst Cars of All Time”) to get around had stalled, yet again, in front of the work parking lot as I was leaving to go pick up my daughter from day care. It was all too much and I lost it. It had nothing to do with the car and everything to do with everything that wasn’t working. The first, and founding CEO at the time,  Kris, stopped, listened and comforted me. Soon, I was called into the retail office, and I was certain I was getting fired. My eyes welled as my manager and his assistant proceeded to tell me “You’re just too sad…, and it’s Christmas”. That did it, I was full blown weeping and agreeing with them. Then Mr. J said, “we’re not firing you. We are moving you to the back of the store”, and he handed me an envelope. I was bewildered. Then opened it. It was a card of a cartoon-sketched women-half “Super Women”, half “domestic mother”. The hand written inscription said, “in a year this will all be a bad dream”, signed the steering committee, which I knew was the co-owner, then found out later, along with our retail VP, Peter. Also, there inside, was my rent, $400 cash – making it possible to go to my parents for Christmas, as I’d never missed one with them yet. Although my Mom & Dad owned the house I lived in, I just couldn’t face asking them to pick us up, still no reliable car, at Christmas, AND with no funds for rent. My daughter and I were able to spend the holidays with my family, which is what I needed most.

I also had to come to grips that I couldn’t afford the company day care that we were lucky enough for Marguex to be accepted into. I went to the daycare administrator to tell her that I couldn’t afford to keep my daughter in the daycare and would find an other option. But, before I could speak, she told me not to worry about it. I didn’t understand completely, nevertheless, Anita assured me that my daughter was welcome, and anything could be worked out. I was stunned.

Well that did it! I’m loyal to this good, kind women and company she and her husband founded. I never forget an act of kindness, and I have this philosophy/part religion, that “the greatest sin of all, is NOT appreciating one another.” Whenever possible I make an effort to repay, or honor each heartfelt kindness. It took quite awhile before my wages as Patagonia Art Buyer increased up from the original $8,643 retail annual salary, but after some years I was supporting my daughter and myself. Once, I got a bonus that exceeded paying off my credit card. I took that $400 first given to me as a vote of confidence, assurance and support, and donated it to our company’s daycare. Additionally, every year since around Christmas, or sometimes New Year’s, I make a humble donation to our daycare.

I am forever grateful for the kindness that came at such a difficult time when I was trying so hard to turn our life around. The owners of Patagonia are the real deal. I am just one of a hundred(+) personal stories of generosity, not to mention all the global good they do through their company, in addition to the 1% for the Planet program. Patagonia’s corporate policies are an enormous economic boost to our local economy, be it; events, venues for meetings, catering, English lessons to some of our Spanish speaking employees, high quality daycare, daycare provider training to satellite child care facilities, free yoga class and film events through our retail stores, the list goes on and on. They are a pillar of positive change, both socially and environmentally.

There are many employees who I’m honored to call my friends. This tribe can be more supportive than some churches I’ve attended, and more than just a job. For me personally, no one inspires me more to be an environmental and political activist than this very humble, somewhat shy, passionate, small in stature, powerhouse. She is the “women behind her man”, giving credit to everyone else, who cares as deep as the ocean and as wide as the sky that she so earnestly is trying to save. I am forever grateful for Malinda giving me a chance, and more than once lifting me just enough.

And then, there is Jane. Through it all, I just couldn’t imagine working the day-in and day-out without kind, compassionate, Loving Jane. “There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

On our 20yr. anniversary  PHOTOGRAPHER:  Tim Davis

On our 20yr. anniversary


One thought on “Life Change; Saved by a Career of a Lifetime

  1. Karen Raffa says:

    K, oh my, after working with you for only 7 years and nowhere near your department…I never knew your story….but, I always felt you kindness and compassion for so many. I have been gone from Patagonia for 20 years, but you still stay close to my heart and the company that we both call “home” will always harbor so many incredible people with amazing stories and LOVE…I will always remember the Love. K

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