Olive was not family. She wasn’t a family friend. I’m not certain I could pick her out in a line up. I remember her as old with curly hair that was starting to grey. Likely she was younger than I am now. She would tell you that she had “lost her figure” like it was something you had left on a bus and hadn’t been to pick it up at the Metro Transit Lost Property. Yet, Olive has persisted as a constant in my life since my first job.
My cousin came to live with my mom and me after my aunt died. Although the circumstances were fraught with stress and sadness, she brought a vitality to the house that broke the silence of my sister’s final departure to live in Los Angeles with my other family. She was filled with ideas of what we would do next and being two years younger, I followed her lead. Her approach was “Of course, you can do that!” Life opened to include new possibilities and the excitement of new risk-taking ventures.
Darlene had looked in the newspaper and found a job that only lasted during tax season and paid higher than minimum wage. The task was to add up columns of numbers on an adding machine to make sure the tax submissions were accurate. Finding errors and fixing them appealed to her desire to bring things to closure. Right here. Right now. During the next tax season, she decided that we could both work there.
“What if I can’t do it?” was my first response.
“Of course, you can do it. You’re my cousin. You just have to add up numbers on the adding machine. It’s easy.”
I was not convinced. I went to my mom’s work to practice on the adding machine. My Mom didn’t really help my confidence when she demonstrated her speed and accuracy. She was a Private and Confidential Secretary who prided herself in typing 95 words per minute. I had taken Typing 9 and spent most of the time going to the store during with my friends under the guise of “really needing to go”. I took no pride in my speed and accuracy and looked at the keys during drills. I did come to regret this transgression when I was completing my master’s degree and the speed and accuracy would have come in handy. However, my cousin brushed aside my trepidation and got me the job, even though I hadn’t turned 16 years old yet.
The job was one bus away. Two possible routes. In Kitsilano, where my mom’s family grew up and gravitated to whenever possible. That part was straightforward, as was the actual job. Darlene was faster on the adding machine and clearly found satisfaction in finding errors. I would find an error and second guess that it was in fact my error and check again and again. That would slow me down. I was most driven by my “completed pile” being bigger than my “to be completed pile”. I was driven by being able to conquer that adding machine. At the end of the day, it was the first of many boring jobs to come.
Olive had a family and had worked every tax season for years. She liked coming to work to get a break from her beloved family and to earn some pocket money that was just hers. Olive didn’t care about making mistakes.
“You worry too much. If you find a mistake, it was because someone else was the dummy. If you don’t find the mistake, it’s their fault because they shouldn’t have made the mistake to begin with. Now tell me, how was school today.”Olive taught me that perspective is everything.
As the weekend approached, the pub across the street would fill up and as the drunk got drunker, they would take notice of the young hottie’s working in the upstairs office across the street. I was young, naïve, and didn’t know I was a hottie. Olive would step in. She would send one of us downstairs to make sure the door was locked. Then she’d go stand in front of the window, shoulders back, and stare down the loudest and most raucous. One she’d get his eye, she would wag her finger. If they persisted or ventured towards our door, she’d pick up the phone and wave it at them.
“Don’t make me do it.”
And they didn’t. I wished that she could take the bus home with me. Although I had some scary times at bus stops, I would never tell my mother because I knew that would be the end of the job. However, I had internalized the rules. Don’t look scared. Shoulders back. Stare down the person scaring the shit out of you. Have a back up plan.
Part of the ritual conversation if you worked with Olive always included food. She would detail what she made for dinner. What she was thinking of making next. What she would like to eat right now. One of my favourite things to do was to go to Bino’s on Broadway and Arbutus for a giant bran muffin. It was the muffin of all muffins. I had been trying to replicate those muffins for years. Well, of course. Olive had a recipe. Good thing since Bino’s is long gone.The recipe is handwritten and tucked away in a battered red duotang with my favourite recipes from high school and beyond.
It has been many years since I have worked adding up columns of numbers on an adding machine. Yet, I think of Olive every time I bake bran muffins. It makes me smile. I wonder how life turned out for her. It’s a big recipe, so there are enough bran muffins to share widely.
“Uhmmm. Good muffins.”
Sunday’s Child – This is the memoir thread in my blog. Many of my “aha” moments of life emerge from my reflections of the past. This is my place to do just that.