In the early 90’s I was living in Dallas, Texas – where I was born and had spent a good part of my life. I had moved back there in 1983 when my husband and I separated, but even after nearly ten years in Dallas I still missed the northwest and wanted to go back before I got too old to move at all, let alone across the country. I loved Montana where we had lived, where our children had grown up, but I knew the chances of finding a job that would do more than keep me off food stamps was probably next to impossible. So, I moved to Oregon, to Portland and fell in love with the city and with the state, with its incredible coast line and magnificent mountains. Now, the only question was, would I be able to find a job? I was just about to turn sixty. It was the early 90s and the economy in Portland wasn’t the best.
I did find a job – finally, as office manager for a landscape architect’s two man business. Not the most promising employment for an old broad, but I had some money put back, I finally found an inexpensive little apartment belonging to one our contractors and I settled in to see where the fates would take me next.
After two years it became painfully obvious that I was not going to be able to prepare for my elder – more elderly years where I was, so I took another one of those deep breaths, handed in my resignation and I began searching for something with a little more future – even short termed future. I decided to work as a temp which would give me a better chance to check out the work environment before accepting a position. The economy was in much better shape by then with numerous high tech companies moving into the area.
Things just felt right the first day of my first temp assignment. It was with a Japanese silicon wafer manufacturing company – an old company in Japan, a new venture in the US. They had been selling silicon wafers to computer companies for years and had finally decided that the time had come to build a plant in the US, manufacture the wafers, as well as have a sales office, engineering department – the works.
I was hired to handle the phones and the front desk of the small, crowded office space they were using while the new $450 million dollar plant was being constructed. But my time on the front desk was short. My boss came to me one day and told me he wanted the company to take part in a job fair and he needed someone to take it on as a project and would I be willing to do that. I was thrilled at the opportunity, one to get out from behind the front desk and the phones, two, to be able make the most of my several years of experience in the Public Relations department of GTE to work for me at my new job with Komatsu. They had me hire a replacement for myself on the front desk and I went to work having a brochure designed, organizing space at the job fair and pulling it all together.
It was exciting and fulfilling because they left it totally in my hands, signed off on everything I requested and it was soon organized. The Fair was very successful and so were we and two months later the CEO called me in and offered me a permanent position as assistant to the new President.
Looking back I have to say that other than the job with the Independent Living Project, my job with Komatsu was the best, the most exciting, fun job I’ve ever had. I studied Japanese so I could at least be able to exchange greetings with the many executives and officers from the home office in Japan when they came for business trips and it was my job to help entertain them. We had many Japanese engineers that arrived to help get the plant up and operating and I arranged housing for them all. I helped get their families settled in, find doctors, schools for the children. I planned the parties, meetings, conferences and handled much of the publicity.
One of the lovely things about the company was the fact they hired young and old – I wasn’t the only sixties person, they hired people from many other countries – Russia, China, the US as well as Japan. And everyone seemed to feel the same excitement and enthusiasm at being involved with this new company. I was able to travel, to take classes in various aspects of the business that took me to San Francisco, Atlanta and always a chance to learn, to be involved.
We moved into the new building and it was magnificent! But isn’t it strange how things happen? Three years into this new project there was a big downturn in the Japanese economy and it soon became obvious that we would have to cut back and numerous jobs were eliminated. I managed to survive the first cut, but a little over three years after the exciting beginning, the plant was shut down. A $450 million dollar white elephant!
By that time I was sixty-seven and it was obvious even to me that my working days were about over. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. I wasn’t ready to stop or even slow down, but it was soon apparent that there was – is such a thing as age discrimination whether anyone wants to admit it or not.
But I took a deep breath, rented an apartment in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and spent a fabulous year nursing my hurts and disappointments in the high desert county south of the border. Two of my kids came down for Christmas that year and we had a fabulous time. I slipped into the 21st century that December 31 and watched the world celebrate the beginning of the year 2000.
I returned to Oregon and settled down to try and make the most of retirement and I have to admit that life is still good – different, but good. It’s all in how you choose to see it.
Friday and Lunch at Big Cheese
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