So, what kind of work history did I have prior to all this happening? I think I have an eclectic resume of employment that never bored me, and always challenged me. I began my employment history, like almost every small town gal does, as a waitress at the local diner. After all, my parents ran the Stop Light Café in Cambridge, Wisconsin for years so that meant the “Curve Cafe” was a perfect job fit for me! There, great local food was served to a lot of long time local folks. I worked there throughout my junior and senior year of high school and had a great time enjoying the patrons wonderful humor, appreciation of a good meal, and of course, the tips!
After high school I attempted college in Milwaukee at Cardinal Stritch majoring in Special Education. From that experience I learned how important it is to be committed to higher education before attempting it… I made it through the first semester. I then went to work in a local nursing home (given my current stance on independent community living for all, this produces a gasp from my belly, however, at that time, in the 1970’s institutionalization was alive and well but challenges to end it was beginning).
I also volunteered a lot by assisting community members with disabilities in their home through just visiting, helping with chores or simply listening to their amazing stories. I volunteered at St. Coletta school (where the Kennedy’s sister Rosemary lived), and the then named “Wisconsin Central Colony”, both “homes” for persons with significant disabilities. Here I provided comfort, shared conversation, a caring touch, a share of love. I must say these experiences fed my heart compassion and love for all people. When you look into the eyes of someone who is in a place of forgotten, you will never forget it… I weep as I write this….
Following what seems to be a pattern, I began working at Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, WI. I was assigned to work in a wing where approximately 20 adult men with a wide variety of significant disabilities lived. This, again, was in the 1970’s when de-institutionalization was beginning to be quite a movement. I knew this going into this job but something pulled me into being there, to experience life inside an institution, perhaps so I could fight against as I do today… Out of respect for the residents I cared for, I will say only this, having shared so much time with the men on that wing, and seeing real life people behind hidden eyes, I shall never forget how the inside of disability looks.
I did a very short stint working at an egg processing plant. Hint, never work at an egg processing plant.
I worked as a CNA in nursing homes, as a receptionist at a real estate office, a couple seasonal stints at a cheese and gift distribution center and outlet, to finding my path into office reception, management and outside sales representative coordinator. I then had the opportunity to grow into international export control and management. Here is where I had the grand opportunity to travel throughout Europe and to South Korea, what an amazing experience that was! I then moved over to the domestic side of inside sales and marketing. This is where I was when the noise of disability captured me.
I very much missed working as I loved my job and my co-workers were the best, especially my supervisor, Scott. He was truly wonderful to work for from his great attitude, knowledge of everything animal health, to really being a good friend. I really missed being around people… Because of my surgery and my lovely introduction to disability, I had been out of work for almost three months. With one round of PT completed and in the midst of another, I returned. Yes, I drove myself to work – but that was short lived when I was able to work out a ride share with a co-worker… thank God…
I worked at Holt Products, a leading Animal Health Products Distributor. I did a lot of my work in the wild bird product division selling to stores nationwide, but also with several privately owned animal health stores. From horses, to cows, to chickens, pigs, and pets, I had a customer base all over the United States. I had the best time working with all my customers and never did a day at work feel like a chore. I could multitask like no one’s business, two phones and two computers going at the same time and punching in orders for shipment the same day. It was awesome!
So, first day back to work… I used the wall as a guide to try and keep myself from stumbling as I made my way to my work area and to somehow stop the feeling I was floating away into space. My eyes were fixed on the floor taking in short upward blurry glances to confirm I wasn’t going to run into anything. I felt flushed from the heat coming from the unintentional stares of my co-workers. I fought back the tears as I tried to make out the blurred and moving objects in front of me. I see a person, but I cannot make out who it is. I feel a big hug and hear, “Welcome back Cheryl!” Not until I completely stopped moving and held my breath could I recognize that it was my supervisor, Scott. As I held my breath, I also held in my fear. This was another notch in my making believe belt…
“Thanks Scott, it’s good to be back.”I lied. Who was I kidding? I was terrified and another verse of noise was added…