Selling A Dream – Where Are They Now?

Elizabeth Harper 1979

Elizabeth Harper – Woolco Department Store -1979

In 1979, I worked briefly in Woolco department store which was owned by a name you may more easily recognize as Woolworth’s. While my job title was ‘Camera Department Manager’ the only thing I had to manage beyond inventory and sales was the boredom I felt on the job everyday. (See goofing off image above)

Woolco was well into its decline when I landed there as most of its potential customers had moved on to the new malls that offered more excitement than our discounted merchandise and a long-term lay-away plans.

While I did my job well enough to receive an employment offer from a local station (religious broadcasting, as I remember it) for finding some dated equipment that they had not been able locate anywhere else, the biggest deal I closed was with two young men about my age who were passing by the camera counter during a slow day in March of 1979.

After realizing pretty quickly that they were not interested in camera gear, I remember talking about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, I was secretly considering joining the military. Having graduated early from high school and spent six months studying commercial photography by the time I’d turned 18, I was back at home with my parents while working and trying to decide what to do next.

I probably told them that I had three immediate goals which were,  to see more of the world, save money for school (University) and become independent. I can’t remember what they said or how I convinced them that three years in the army might give them opportunities they could not get by staying where they were, but by the end of our across the glass counter chat, I had talked two strangers into a life changing decision.

A few days later, they met me at the recruitment office and before anyone could say, ‘ I’ve changed my mind,’ we were all in the employ of  our Uncle Sam. I came in at a higher pay grade having earned one stripe for bringing two qualified candidates in with me which fit the requirements for the Buddy program in place at the time.

All this occurred 34 years ago this month and I can’t help but wonder how things turned out for the daring young men who joined the army after talking with me. I guess I was doing a bit of life coaching before it was trendy.

One of the things I like about Facebook and the internet is the ability to see what folks you haven’t heard from in years have done with themselves. I enjoy seeing who they’ve become, what dreams came true, and what new ones are in front of them. I wish I could remember the names of the two young men who enlisted with me so I could see if the leap they took on an afternoon in March was one that helped them live a bigger life than they had imagined possible in 1979.

I know it sounds crazy, but I thought with the internet being what is today and the way we can share information, if you could pass this along to your social network, then perhaps someone who has heard a similar story from a man, describing how a young woman with a dream talked him into a bold adventure at a camera counter on an afternoon in March … maybe I might find out how things turned out for them.

Thank you.

Day Seven – The Larger Life Lesson In Teaching My Daughter How To Spit

Elizabeth & Miranda - 1993

Life lessons from spitting … if you’re someone who actually reads my blog titles, you’re likely thinking, ” What in the world could she mean by that! ” Let me begin by saying that I am afraid I have not been the most conventional of mothers over the last (almost) 23 years that I’ve had the good fortune to mother my daughter Miranda.

Teaching my six-year old daughter how to spit might look like page from a ” Bad Mothers R Us ” book unless you consider as Paul Harvey used to say,  ” … the rest of the story.”

Joining the army at eighteen opened my eyes to many things. Despite having lived in different states on the east and west coasts of the US while growing up, I was shockingly naive to the differences in cultures and habits in the mix of people I worked and served with in the military community.

As enlisted soldiers we all had our different reasons for swearing to protect and defend, some of which were very personal and not easily shared. I quickly became known for asking what some considered to be too many questions as I was always more interested in the part of the story that people were less likely to want to reveal. I knew my own reasons for joining were more complex than the snappy answer I would toss out when asked what made me want to become a soldier and I wanted to know their real motivation as well.

Adjusting to a world dominated by men and too much testosterone was difficult for me right from the beginning. Being the sixth female in a unit that had only recently begun to allow women a place in its ranks, I found myself challenged on a daily basis by the men in my platoon as to my worthiness and my ability to compete beside them as a soldier. When you are part of a team that might be called on to protect each other in battle, the expectations can become a bit more fiercely defined. Things you would not have considered important can be magnified and your performance evaluated in even the smallest areas.

Although I was good at many things in the military, some of my obvious deficiencies were cracks in the carefully constructed armor I tried to create in order to keep the jokes and disrespectful comments to a minimum. I did not want to be one of the boys, but neither did I want to be considered one of the girls. Being female in the military in the late 70s and early 80s was a burden for most of the women I knew who served then and one way to keep harassment at bay was to stand out only in the best ways.

While I excelled in most areas, my physical readiness was clearly a weakness. Lacking in the ability to run as far or as fast as I should have during our morning PT runs, I was usually at the back of the platoon and frequently would end up by the side of the road with a tubby guy who never could complete a run without falling out of formation either.

After taking a lot of grief for my ” wussiness,” I set a goal to get past the barriers that were mostly in my head when it came to running and within six months went from struggling over morning runs with my unit to completing my first marathon, a race of 26 miles that taught me that I really could do what I had once considered impossible.

What I did not do well during all of my training runs was something that embarrassed me despite my achievements as I piled on the miles leading up to my big race. What special skill did I lack you say … you know what’s coming here don’t you? I was miserable at spitting. I’m sure many of you are thinking … spitting, really Elizabeth!

That said, I need to paint a picture for you. Imagine you are running in formation moving along at a fast clip, you are singing whatever awful cadence is being sung by the folks you are running with and you are hanging tough, not falling to the back, but right there with the men who’ve previously made fun of your weakness. So you’re singing and running and looking strong and suddenly, a bug flies inside your mouth hitting the back of your throat so hard you cough instinctively and move to spit it out.

Having been taught that spitting is nasty and ill-mannered, you are totally lacking in practice so you end up spitting so poorly that you either spit in a way that it slides down your own chin or worse, you spit directly on the guy running next to you.

In one motion you undo months of hard-earned respect in less time then it takes to clear your throat. Suddenly, all the things you were taught that ” ladies do not do ” begins to look more like holes in your education rather than lessons for living in the real world.

In an ideal world, women wouldn’t have to be one of the boys to be valued nor would we need to be perfect ” ladies ” to be respected. In an ideal world we could be ourselves and spit when necessary instead of swallowing that bug or choking back something we really wanted to say.

Growing up as I did set my feet on a less conventional path, but I recognized fairly early the balance needed to live within the rules of polite society and how and when to break those same rules.

In the photograph above you can see a mother and daughter acting silly putting on our best monster faces for the camera. We had just finished our lesson in spitting … a sort of how to, where to, and where not to spit primer that was really more of life lesson than she could have known at six.

I remember explaining to her that spitting was a skill that required a mix of precision, timing, and discretion and thought then as I do now that some of the best things we can teach our children are the lessons that deal with self-care rather than group acceptance. I mean after all if the guy next you wouldn’t swallow the bug, why should you?

Oh Atlanta – An English Rock Band Sings Me Home

Georgia State Capital

In March of 1979, the English rock band Bad Company released their fifth album, Desolation Angels which contained a song that many Atlantans may recognize called, ” Oh Atlanta.” For those born too late to have caught the Bad Company version, Allison Krauss included it on a CD of hers in 1995 along with covers of some of her other favorites.

By April of 1979 I was on my way to basic training leaving home at eighteen after joining the US Army right around the time ” Oh Atlanta ” hit the southern airwaves. The irony now is not lost on me that a song I fell in love with 31 years ago was written about my hometown by an English band that I loved as a teenager. While I dreamed a lot of dreams growing up, the one I am living now was never one I considered back then.

As my flight leaves my home in England for my old one in Atlanta, there’s at least one song I know I’ll be listening to once we are airborne. I’ve been humming it for days now and if you’d like to have a listen you can click on the link below.

Oh, Atlanta, hear me calling, I’m coming back to you one fine day.

~ Mick Ralphs