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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 12:04 am | Fair 53º


Marc Dion: My Mother Was One of the Girls in the Office

My mother, Margaret Munroe Dion, who died Feb. 16 at 2:55 in the afternoon, was one of the girls in the office.

That phrase, “one of the girls in the office,” was how she described herself during a career of unnoticed, generally poorly paid, clerical work in banks and doctors’ offices, as a payroll clerk in a factory, and in a public library.

She was 90 when she died with Alzheimer’s disease. She worked until she was 82, and, even in those last years of work, still called herself “one of the girls in the office.”

It was a phrase from her youth, when she wore three-inch high heels to work, and it lasted into the days when she wore black sneakers to work.

She was in a nursing home for two years, and hadn’t recognized me for the last six months, but I went to see her every day, because I still recognized her.

She was very much like everyone else, and that is not meant to be demeaning. Members of her generation did not believe that everyone was “special” and “unique.” They believed that it was best to fit in, to blend, to be like everyone else. It was perhaps their greatest strength, a strength that could be used to build armies, to man assembly lines and to construct stable 50-year marriages.

We moved a lot when I was a kid, moves we made for my father’s job, and in each new place, my mother would go out and get a new job. Sometimes, it was a job she’d never done before.

“I don’t know how to do that,” she’d say to my father after getting hired. “But if the other girls can do it, so can I.”

She believed everyone should have good manners, and cause as little disruption in the world as possible. She believed you should always try to act one step above your economic class, particularly if you were working class, as we were.

Writers tend to mythologize their parents into either monsters of uncaring or quirky, interesting people. It gives you something to write.

My mother was none of those things. She was one of the anonymous hands that turn the world’s wheels. She was the voice on the telephone telling you that the doctor had an open appointment on Thursday at noon, and she was the person who answered the phone at the bank, and told you your checking account balance was $165.37.

You would not have looked at her twice, back there in 1964, in the grocery store, putting a package of five pork chops into her shopping cart while keeping an eye on 7-year-old me.

She worked because she needed the money, and after work, she like to come home, eat dinner, put on a bathrobe and watch television until it was time to go to bed.

And my father loved her until he died, and I love her, and I wrote her obituary in 222 words, and they printed it on the second page of the local newspaper.

I buried her this morning in a snow-covered Massachusetts cemetery, and she can go where she likes now. Maybe there is nowhere left to go.

I told her once that some people said her generation was the “the greatest generation,” because of the Great Depression and World War II.

“That’s foolish,” she said. “We just did what we were supposed to do.”

The office is closed. The hallways are dark. The desk is empty. The phone doesn’t ring. My mother is done for the day.

— Marc Dion is a columnist at the Fall River (Mass.) Herald News and author of The Land of Trumpin’, a collection of his columns about the man who heads what was once the mightiest nation on earth. Contact hin at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter: @MARCMDION. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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