Thursday, June 30, 2016
©Linda Goodman June28, 2016
Recently one of my friends saw a photo of me in a colorful dress that I had worn to my oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation.
“You know, you don’t have to dress up like an Easter egg just because you’re getting older,” she advised.
I objected to that remark. “What do you mean? How do I dress like an Easter Egg?”
“All the bright colors,” she replied. “Old people think bright colors keep them from looking washed out. But they don’t. They just make them look ridiculous…. like human Easter Eggs.”
I resented that. I did not wear bright colors because I was getting older. I wore them because I liked them. “I love lime green, hot pink, and turquoise. And I was wearing those colors long before I got old,” I explained.
My friend just shook her head. “Well, you still look like an Easter Egg,” she sighed.
As I later pondered this exchange, a memory was jogged.
In 1999, I was browsing through the merchandise in a vintage clothing consignment shop in Richmond, VA. I was drawn like a magnet to a flowered suit that I found there. It was a cream color, splashed with bright purple and pink flowers, just like the suits that I had admired back in the seventies. I loved it enough to pay a ridiculous price for it.
That same year, I decided to stop dying my hair and let my silver roots grow. I liked my silver hair, but I resented the fact that all of a sudden, every place I shopped was giving me its senior citizen discounts without even asking first.
In 2008, the international corporation that I worked for decided to declare bankruptcy. I decided to be proactive in applying for another job. I called an employment agency and asked for an appointment. The counselor that I spoke to on the phone asked me for references, so I gave him the name of one of my previous managers. The counselor was impressed. “If T.K. recommends you, you must be good!” he declared. “Come in tomorrow afternoon to fill out our application. Be sure to wear a suit.”
As an accountant with more than three decades of work experience, I had never been required to wear a suit on the job; but the managers that I knew who interviewed accountants for jobs preferred that interviewees wear suits. I was hip to that; even grateful. Finally I would be wearing my flowered suit to some place other than church.
The next afternoon, I drove to the employment agency. The receptionist took me to a room at the back of the office and gave me the paperwork to complete. I was on the third page when the counselor that I had spoken with earlier walked in.
“Oh, my God!” the counselor blurted, just before his face turned a deep shade of red.
I was startled. What had I done to make this man recoil so?
He quickly back-tracked. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “You’re not quite what I expected.”
“I’m not quite finished with the application,” I told him. “I have two pages to go.”
“No worries,” he said. “I don’t need the full application. After all, you were recommended by T.K.”
He took my papers from me. “No need for an interview. I will call you if something comes up. In the meantime, don’t stop looking on your own.”
Two months passed, and while I had managed to secure some interviews on my own, I never received even one call from the counselor who had shooed me out of his office so quickly. Then, one afternoon, I got a phone call from T.K.
“Found a job yet?” he asked.
“No. Not even close,” I confessed.
“Then maybe this is my lucky day. I’d like you to come to work for my CPA firm. Are you interested?”
Was I interested? T.K. was the best manager I ever had! I gave my two weeks’ notice to my employer and reported to my new place workplace the following Monday.
I was happy in my new position, but my experience at the employment agency haunted me. At first I was confused. Then confusion turned to resentment, and resentment turned to anger. Since T.K. knew the counselor, I told him what had happened between the counselor and me.
“That’s odd,” T.K. commented. “I wonder what got into him.”
“I know exactly what got into him,” I boldly claimed. “He took one look at my silver hair and decided I was too old for his clients. He does not want to represent old people.
“I really don’t think he is that kind of guy,” T.K. asserted. “I have always considered him to be a prince among my business colleagues. There has to be more to it than gray hair.”
T.K. could think what he wanted. I knew better.
A few weeks later, I was having lunch at Wendy’s when a shadow hovered over my table and asked, “Do you mind if I share your table?”
I tuned in my chair and recognized the employment counselor who had hurried me out of his office months earlier. “Of course. Have a seat,” I reluctantly assented.
He and I chit-chatted for a few minutes, and a lengthy period of silence followed. Finally he cleared his throat and said, “T.K and I saw each other a few weeks ago. He told me that you were upset at my reaction towards you when you came to my office to be interviewed. I have been feeling pretty embarrassed about that myself, but do you really think that I cut your interview short because of you gray hair?”
“Of course it was because of my silver hair. What other reason could there have been for you rudeness?” I answered.
He stammered, his face turning a deep scarlet. “I suppose that I am not doing you any favors by not telling you the truth. My rudeness, and I deeply apologize for that, was not sparked by your hair. It was that suit! The colors were so loud and obnoxious they startled me. I completely lost my composure. Obviously you have never been taught how to select proper business attire.”
“I resent that remark,” I countered. “I am the consummate professional in all areas of my work, dress included.”
“Do you think what you're wearing now is professional?” he asked.
I was wearing a knit dress with horizontal red, white, green, and orange stripes from top to bottom. I had thought it was professional that morning. Now I conceded that I could be wrong. The counselor and I shook hands and parted ways.
“I know you are a good accountant,” he said as he left the table. “T.K. recommends only the best. I know he is thrilled that you came to work for him.”
That afternoon, I asked T.K how he felt about the way I dressed.
“Linda,” he said, “I am interested only in the quality of the work that you do. Wear what you want. Besides, you're in your office with the door closed all day. Who’s going to see you?”
I am now retired from accounting and am telling stories full-time. I have found that children love loud colors, and not just on Easter eggs. I dress more subtly for grown-up audiences, though. Black dresses are just the thing to highlight my silver hair.