A Few Little Words

Dedication: For my mother, Mary Kay Flannery

It was a Saturday morning. I was 16 and had just finished my morning chores and was in my room, getting dressed to meet up with a girlfriend and walk together to the Woolworth’s, downtown. And then I heard my grandmother outside my door saying to my mother,”You spoil that girl. She should stay and help you around the house.”

What did she mean? I wondered. I was the second of an eventual ten children, and I helped fix dinner every night and cleared and did dishes. This morning, I had already changed and made up my bed and dusted and vacuumed the living room and dining room. I was spoiled? This was 1964, and women hadn’t made the gains in job opportunities and such that we have today. But Grandma was out of line.

“She should be doing up her brothers’ room, not off galavanting,” she continued.
What? The boys always got away with murder. This was not fair!!!
I was all ready to burst out into the hallway and protest, when I heard Mother say, “She is not their maid, Mother. The boys are perfectly capable of making up their own beds and picking up their dirty clothes. She helped enough for today.”

I got to meet up with my friends, after all.
I know it was little things like this that helped me feel confident to face the world as men’s equal, even back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Although discouraged from majoring in business, I eventually earned an MBA in 1981 — a time when any women on the class list were assumed to be the wife of a student and invited to join the MBA wives’ club. (I declined.) I pushed along through job interviews where people wanted me to take a typing test, when I was applying for a managerial job in finance. (I refused.) All I really wanted was to be able to provide for myself and my daughters. I persevered, often paid less than my peers and overlooked for promotions, but I eventually achieved some business success. I retired recently after many years as a senior vice president and chief financial officer of a good sized bank.

Through the past forty years, I have often been the only woman, or one of very few women in the room, but I have never felt like I was the maid. I had as much right to be there as anyone. And I know I have my mother’s words to thank for it.

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Katherine Flannery Dering

Katherine Flannery Dering holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College. Her memoir, Shot in the Head, a Sister’s Memoir a Brother’s Struggle, which reflects on her brother’s schizophrenia, was published in 2014, and her poetry and essays have appeared many small literary journals and newspapers. Earlier in her career, Ms. Flannery Dering earned a BA from Le Moyne College and an MA in Spanish Literature from SUNY Buffalo, where she was an instructor of Spanish. She also holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota. After a 25 year career in business, she is the retired chief financial officer of Provident Bank, (now Sterling Bank) and serves on the board of directors of The Westchester Bank as well as a volunteer director of The Katonah Poetry Series. She blogs at www.deringkatherine.wordpress.com