One More Little Mystery
I’ve written lately about a few little mysteries that have bugged me for a long time.
Some important – like I NEED some answers concerning the assassinations that changed our lives.
And another from my childhood – the Betsy Ross tale of the five-pointed star – that I was able to solve in a few minutes, now that we have Google. (Of course, it took me much longer than a few minutes to duplicate the solution.)
So here’s the last in my little series of unsolved mysteries. And in addition, I get to pay tribute to a sweet woman that I knew for a short time back in the 70s.
In 1976, I got a job.
This may not seem like a big deal, but getting a job in 1976 was no easier than it is right now. I was 25 years old, a BA in English, living with my parents, earning pocket money by tutoring a kid in math. I searched for months for a real job. The economy was not exactly booming, and although I was well-educated, I had no real skills. I finally (accidentally) used my lack of experience to get a job. In the job interview, I responded with frustration to the perpetual remark that I was overqualified: “I am not overqualified, I am over-educated. I can’t really DO anything!” The interviewer laughed so hard, he gave me the job.
And so I became a clerk for a health care program. The company was funded by a grant from Medicare, using Medicare funds to cover services for the elderly that were not currently covered… to see what might be cost-effective, and how Medicare might evolve.
Mostly, I typed purchase orders and filed medical papers. But I was actually pretty smart in my over-educated way, and soon I began to assume more responsibilities. Supervising some of the work, and trouble-shooting issues with Medicare reimbursement. I liked it. And they paid for me to go to grad school and I ended up as an English major with an M.B.A.
Another woman was hired shortly after I started. Her name was Rose.
Rose was my mother’s age. In fact, she was exactly my mother’s age – she realized that she had attended elementary school with my mom. My mother remembered her. She said Rose was a sweet little girl who was painfully shy.
She still was.
It took her months before Rose spoke at work. She did her job quietly and carefully. She wore unassuming clothes and an unassuming demeanor. But in time, all the clerks at the company (all all the nurses, social workers, and executives) came to see that she was smart and kind and interesting. She didn’t speak much, but when she did – it was always worth listening.
Rose had not had a easy life. Her folks were desperately poor, and not the best parents. She’d been belittled and made to feel unattractive and had married a man who did not treat her well. She had tried very hard without success to have a baby, and she and her husband finally decided to adopt. When the adoption looked imminent, her husband left her. The adoption fell through. She had been alone ever since.
Rose kept her head down as she worked. She covered her mouth when she laughed. She had the most reassuring manner when dealing with our elderly clients. They often called just to talk with her. “I can give them five minutes,” she’d say. “I might be the only person they talk to today.”
She had three pairs of shoes, in exactly the same style. Thick flat loafers. Black, brown, navy.
I had been working with Rose for a few years – and grown to love her like the precious woman and gentle surrogate auntie she was, when late one afternoon she confided in me that she was having man-problems (as she called it).
She had met a widower – (I can’t recall how) – and he had been repeatedly calling her and asking her out. She repeatedly turned him down. But he kept calling.
And the day before she told me this story, she had come home from work to find him sitting on her porch. You might be thinking ‘Oh, no…a stalker!’ but it was not exactly like that.
This man had said to her, “I am a really nice man, and I like you very much. So I think maybe you should give me a chance. But if you say no to my face, right here in person, I won’t call you anymore.”
And Rose told me, “I said okay. And we went out to dinner. I think it was a mistake.”
I said, “What if it isn’t?”
And Rose gave me one of her rare smiles that was open and not shy, and made her plain features quite beautiful.
And it was not a mistake. Within the year, she and Tony were married.
It was not long afterwards that Rose was diagnosed with cancer. Tony cared for her through her illness that progressed with an unfair vengeance. She died within the year.
I wish the story had a happier ending, but I guess it is happy enough. Rose and Tony had found each other. At least for a little while, Rose received and felt the love that she deserved.
Before you think that this story is too sad, I want to share one of the best laughs I ever had – and it was courtesy of Rose. She and the other clerks processed Medicare claims, which we sent to the Social Security Administration for payment. This was long before computers. The claims were batched by type (Dentist, Home Health Aide, etc.) with a cover transmittal sheet listing what was attached. It was my job to review the batches before they went out. I would correct any errors, and also let the clerks know of their mistakes.So that we could improve our rejection rate. Because of course, the Feds would not pay anything that was not perfect. Paperwork was Everything. (still is.)
So one afternoon, in reviewing the batches, I saw that Rose had attached a gynecologist’s bill with the ear, nose and throat doctors’ invoices.
I said to her, “Rose, this guy is not an ENT. He’s a gynecologist.”
And she said, in her tiny voice that rarely rose above a whisper: “He’s a specialist. An ENT-H. Ear, Nose, Throat, and Hole.”
That’s my Rose.
I promised you a mystery. Here it is – a little mystery that Rose left me:
A year or so before she met Tony, she told me that she had an idea. A simple one. She had invented something. It was a new box for tissues. Not just a cover, or a different way for the tissues to pop out of the box, but something completely original.
“It’s ingenious,” she said, blushing from her own tiny rare immodesty. “I’m going to get it made and sell it to Kleenex. “It will make a fortune.”
But Rose never made it, as far as I know. And she never revealed what her innovative idea was.
I think about it every now and again, as I reach for a tissue. I think it is a shame that Rose didn’t get to see the success of her invention.
Maybe it was nothing.
I tend to think it was the most wonderful, earth-shattering Kleenex box the world will never know.