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funny isn't it
by jeanne charters

When I was 15 years old back in Ohio, I told my mother that I wanted to be a newspaper columnist when I grew up. She said, "No, Jeanne, that's a job for men." This was in the fifties…that decade that looks so great in retrospect. My daughters think it was a perfect time and wish they had been young then.

That's because they grew up on "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best", TV shows that glorified the simplicity of life in small-town America. Those programs revealed the fifties as a time of blissful satisfaction when everyone respected each other and all problems were solved by parents within 30 minutes of raising their ugly little crew-cutted heads.

Folks don't often talk about the underbelly of the fifties, although the movie Pleasantville did, in my opinion, a pretty good job.

Women really did wear housedresses all day and spent their time cleaning already spotless homes, while preparing three full meals each day for their "hubbies" and kids. They were truly judged for the shine on their floors and furniture, and were neither required nor requested to think. Does this sound good to you in this time of two-job families, kids in multiple sports, all of which require transportation both ways, and meals grabbed on the fly or at a fast food joint?

Yes, I'll bet it does; but let's look at that underbelly a little more closely.

Men worked — women stayed home. Men walked in at 5:30pm and sat at the kitchen table waiting to be served their dinner. My father would as likely sign up for a shot on a space ship to the moon as get out of his chair and pour his own coffee. This was true whether my mother had a raging flu with a temperature of 102 degrees or had spent the afternoon baking him his favorite black raspberry pie.

Women truly were objects in those days; and while they were not easily discarded, they were easily disdained. And it wasn't totally the men's fault. After all, they were out all day doing the important work of commerce…selling, writing, banking, insuring…while the little woman needed only worry her tiny head about taking care of the house and kids, clearly simple matters on a scale of importance.

What in the world did they talk about in those days? He spoke of his view of a world reaching far beyond the front door of their home while she commented that Alta, next door, was hanging out her laundry just before the storm broke and never even bothered to bring it in. And, by the way, Alta's wash was looking a bit grey. Maybe Alta's husband, Beanie, was drinking away the money again and there was not enough left to buy Tide™ and Clorox™, so poor Alta had to make do with the cheap stuff. My father's eyes glazed just as he picked up the evening paper.

I don't remember my mother reading that paper. I do remember her listening to soap operas on the radio, though. Then, when TV came in, she would watch a program called Queen for a Day, in which women would compete to determine which one of them was the saddest victim. Then, weeping, she was crowned and given flowers and a cape and a year's supply of Tide and Clorox, and maybe a new washing machine. Too bad Alta never got on that show. Her laundry would unquestionably have improved.

Anyway, back to my desire to be a columnist. My mother said, "You can be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. Those are suitable jobs for a girl until she gets married." Since I didn't think I could stand the sight of blood and didn't relish the thought of being around sick people, I figured nursing was out of the question. I really didn't like little kids, so I didn't think I would be a very good teacher. That left "secretary". That seemed the right solution, my mother thought, because it would be a good place to meet a successful husband.

After two years of college…enough to say I went…but not enough that I would be wasting money on a useless career, I married Ed, my high school sweetheart. Ed gave me 18 years and 4 wonderful daughters. I wouldn't change that. I would change, if I could, the fact that Ed became a raging alcoholic and died early of smoking-related emphysema.

That's when I found out what a "girl" can do if she has to. How she can make money to send four daughters to college while still demanding that each of them contribute financially to the effort. I started as a secretary, went into TV sales and marketing jobs, and ended up as a V.P. of Marketing for a major television conglomerate. Hated that job. I was the token female to end all tokens. One day, after returning from a visit with my stress-management psychologist, I was called into the "big guy's" office and informed that my department was being eliminated — it was the downsizing of the early 90's. My present husband, Matt, (God love him.) poured me a glass of wine to celebrate and told me to start my own business. That's what I did. I've successfully run television campaigns all across this country for the past 11 years.

When we moved to North Carolina, Matt was retired from his old job and was working for me as a business manager. That's worked out well, but somehow, it seems time for a change.

So, guess what? I'm going to become a columnist! You are my first readers. I promise you some fun and as honest a look inside me as I can muster. Funny, isn't it? I'm finally doing what my mother said girls could not do. I think she'd love it!

Jeanne Charters moved to the Asheville area from upstate New York last September. A former V.P. of Marketing for Viacom Television, she started a successful broadcast agency in 1990 and continues serving her clients in areas of writing, production and planning. In her most recent incarnation, she plans to become a syndicated columnist.

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