Sometimes you just have to say no

For over twenty years my mother did the bookkeeping for a seed company in Twin Falls, Idaho. The salary was low. Hours were long. She worked five and a half days a week and never got more than a couple weeks of vacation.

I don’t know if she loved the job. I do know she was loyal and hard working. She was a bright woman who earned every bit of praise that came her way. She never complained about working conditions. She was proud of her position in the company.


Mother just before she set out on her own, with two children to rear

There were few perks, but there was one we loved. The company had a trial ground where they grew out the vegetables they were experimenting with, the new varieties of corn, beans, and peas that were their specialty. When August rolled around and they had finished whatever tests and assessments they needed to do, employees could glean the corn left on the stalks. Most didn’t bother, but we stocked up for winter.

That was before the days of corn that stays sweet no matter how many days have passed since it was picked. We would fill the pot before heading to the trial ground with our gunny sacks. August was always hot and sunny, but visions of sweetness popping in our mouths kept us picking every possible ear.

We’d load the heavy, bulging sacks into the car, drive home, and turn on the stove. While the heated to boiling, we’d husk enough corn for dinner. Tomatoes ripened at the same time so we’d slice a few of them.

That was dinner. What more do you need when corn is ripe and tomatoes are at their peak? Some salt, a bit of butter. Heaven’s in the eating.

The seed company’s small salary kept our small family—Mother, my brother, and me—afloat through elementary school, junior high, and right through our graduation. Mother would have stayed until she retired, but my brother moved away, married, and started a family. The lure of grandchildren trumped job loyalty.

So Mother turned in her resignation. I’m sure she felt a strong twinge, after so many years with the company.

The hunt for a replacement began. I don’t know how many people the company interviewed. I do know they found someone and asked Mother to train him.

The position was upgraded to a managerial spot. The salary was dramatically increased. The tasks were the same. I doubt Mother had ever questioned the position she held in the company. She was given occasional raises, but the job was never re-classified, and it never paid enough for her to live in anything better than small, rented houses. Money was always tight, but Mother didn’t complain. She was happy to have a good job.

She would have been even happier to have a job that paid the salary her replacement was being offered. My mother was a strong believer in social justice. Being asked to train a well-paid manager to do the job she had done as a clerk violated her sense of what was right.

And so she said no. I admire her for that. It took a lot of courage for someone as loyal and hard working, with years of stellar service, to look the boss she liked in the eye and tell him she would not train her replacement because the whole thing was unfair.

I’m sure he was taken aback. This friendly, competent woman, who always did what she was asked, and did it well, drew a line in the sand.

The episode cast a shadow over her years with the seed company, but she didn’t spend the rest of her life in bitter memories. She moved on. She found other work, which also paid poorly, and once again did it well.

She had more important things to do than nurse regrets. There were, after all, grandchildren to love.

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10 comments for “Sometimes you just have to say no

  1. June 8, 2011 at 8:56 am

    What a fantastic story!

    I’m sorry that that happened to your mother but I’m so glad she stood up for herself in the end.

  2. sterling haynes
    June 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Loved your story. This is what happened to women in America over 50 years ago, my mother included. They had no recourse.
    Jessie and I have four feisty daughters and they stand up for their rights in our changing times.

  3. Kath Comber
    June 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Her character was worth more than money could buy. No wonder you love the farmers markets – the smells and anticipation run deep…… is just so interesting,don’t you think. Little Tiley # 7 grandchild came home last night. Between teaching in Pre Primary and have 4 of the 7 under 2 years old I am surrounded by children and I was the eldest of 9 so nothing new really…….Love from Perth

  4. June 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I found your blog through Mary Tabor. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. I admire her courage, and your storytelling!

  5. June 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Lydia, thank you so much for your response. My mother died at 75. Nearly twenty years later, I still miss her terribly. But I know how lucky I was to have her example.

  6. June 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Sterling, you and Jessie have contributed such a beautiful legacy to the world, with the way you brought up your four extraordinary daughters.

  7. June 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    How lucky the little ones are to have a grandmother who welcomes them so wholeheartedly into her life. They’ll be telling stories about you the rest of their lives, Kathleen.

  8. June 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Any friend of Mary’s… How happy I am you stopped by the blog, Joanne. Your comment made my day.

    Your “welcome” on write time, write place, write now really resonates with me: “Here’s what I know: writing in community, in a safe and sacred space, gives you the courage to tell your truth, creates the magic that allows powerful stories to emerge. Writing, especially writing with abandon, can reveal things we didn’t know we knew, insights that enrich our understanding of who and where we are.”

  9. Miriam
    June 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Hearing stories about your Mother always helps me to love and understand your strengths just a little bit more 🙂

  10. June 16, 2011 at 7:31 am

    This apple didn’t fall far from the tree. 😉

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