A Woman of a Certain Age: Stories From Higley Hill


I sometimes feel guilty now that I live in Vermont and am devoting my days to writing. My husband and I are not well-off. We do own our house, have no mortgage, and have reduced our expenses considerably but we could use some extra cash, and a lot more savings.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. I applied at the local coffee shop after I moved to Vermont and was spending a lot of time there because I was off the grid. I hadn’t filled out a standard job application in years. I usually just bring my resume. It took me an inordinate amount of time to fill out the form. I had to look up phone numbers in my cell phone for references. What was the street address of my college? What’s the zip code for Pompano Beach? When you graduated in 1979 does it really matter? I should have used a pencil. I had to cross out a few things.

I didn’t get the job. I’m not sure if it was due to my sloppy application or they considered me overqualified. Or under-qualified. I don’t know how to operate those hi-tech cappuccino machines. But I didn’t mention that, and I am a quick learner.

My hairdresser told me about a man who owns several rental properties in town. She gave him my phone number and we set up a time to meet. He looked like Hemingway and we wasted a lot of time talking about his sailing trips throughout the Caribbean. When he finally got around to telling  me he’d had five bookkeepers in eight years he was losing me, but then he said he was willing to pay me ten dollars an hour.

When you get to be a woman of a certain age you can pretty much say whatever you want so I replied, “Well, that explains why you can’t keep a bookkeeper.” He laughed. I held firm at twenty five an hour. I later heard from several people in town that he is a slumlord and known for his bad temper. Having graduated from college in 1979 I am old enough to regret the fact I will never get that afternoon back.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. When I lived in New Hampshire, I met with a man who imported old floor boards from Holland, refurbished them, and sold them to clients like Restoration Hardware and Anthroplogie stores. The boards were all over his house, leaning against the walls and the sofa and the dishwasher in the kitchen. He told me he could only pay me eight dollars an hour.

“We’re talking about your money,” I said, outraged. “I’ll be taking care of your finances. My sixteen year old daughter works at Panera and makes nine dollars an hour. I’d rather get a job there. It’s less responsibility.”

I’ve worked at so many jobs and had so many bookkeeping clients I can barely keep track of them all. I started working at twelve, six days a week, delivering newspapers on my bike. In high school I ran the brake at the kiddy roller coaster at Rocky Point Amusement Park, worked my way up from usher to box office at the Warwick Cinema where The Sound of Music played for a year, and served burgers and fries at Howdy Beef ’n Burger.

Recently I saw a job opening for a four day consumer survey at a local gas station right here in Wilmington, Vermont. I would be asking customers questions about purchasing food items while in the gas station – slices of pizza, pre-packaged sandwiches, steamed hotdogs, and Green Mountain coffee.

In the cover letter I sent, I played up my experience one summer after junior year in college working for a market research company. Yes, as I’ve mentioned, I graduated in ’79 so this would be the summer of ’78 but it’s still relevant, right? I had experience approaching strangers in shopping malls and offering free samples if they answered a few questions about shampoo and razor blades and other consumer goods. Sometimes I worked in the office and made phone calls. On one big project, I went door to door trying to get people to give me forty-five minutes of their time to answer questions about the Providence Journal. You wouldn’t believe how many people said yes, even if I rang their bell at dinner time. One night an older gentleman asked if I wanted some beef stew. Jimmy Carter was president back then, and the nation was experiencing a gas shortage, leading to long lines at the pumps and irate motorists. Only on designated days could you buy gas depending on whether the last number on your license plate was odd or even. People had strong opinions about the news coverage and they were more than willing to answer my questions regarding the Providence Journal, particularly if they pertained to the op-ed page. We didn’t have Facebook back then where we could bitch every day.

The marketing guy for the gas station survey called me and told me I had the job. Score! The following day he called back to tell me the gas station canceled the survey. Bummer! I was really looking forward to the work, if only for the stories I would hear. I have a series of Stories about Gas Stations on my blog. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with while filling your gas tank or buying coffee at 7-11. Or maybe this is just me.

A few months ago I applied for a job at the Chamber of Commerce. They needed someone to answer emails and promote the town of Wilmington on their social media sites. Come on now, I am highly qualified for that type of work. Look at me, I’m everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The want ad said experience with WordPress would be a plus. Hell yeah, I’m typing this blog right now on WordPress!

I not only emailed my resume through the job site Indeed, I also delivered it in person and pitched myself to a receptionist behind a tall counter. I never heard from them. Whatever happened to the days when you got rejection letters and taped them to your dormitory wall? Yes, again, that was 1979. Those days of common decency and respect are long gone. Just another discarded common courtesy. And why is that? It’s easier nowadays, just plug in the applicant’s name and shoot off a form rejection email.

But then again, just look at our president.

I wasn’t surprised by the Chamber of Commerce rejection. It’s one of those jobs where you need to know someone. Once, during a fourteen month layoff, I worked at the Exeter town hall as the tax collector for six weeks. I sat behind one of those old-fashioned bank teller windows with the metal bars. I enjoyed chatting with so many of my friends and neighbors and they were all surprised to see me there.

The people I worked with weren’t as friendly but I didn’t really have much contact with them, until a woman told me she wasn’t going to pay her real estate tax unless her assessment was adjusted. She felt it was too high.

“Let me get someone who can help you,” I said.

I knocked on the assessor’s door and told her about the problem. She stepped back from me with her hands up, as if I had the bubonic plague or was looking for a fist fight, and said, “That’s your job, not mine.”

My job? I was the tax collector, a temporary one at that, and I had been on the job for a mere two hours and was still learning the computer system. I didn’t know anything about assessments and it said right there on her door, Town Assessor. I went back to my bank teller’s cage and told the woman to knock on the assessor’s door. “She’s here today. She’s in her office,” I said.

I worked my butt off for six weeks, came back from a 4th of July weekend on Cape Cod to work on the 6th – the day taxes were due – although we had been invited to spend the whole week, and on the 7th the town administrator told me they had hired someone else. At the end of the day, a woman who worked with building permits and had a sign on her desk that said “Crying children will be beaten” told me a police officer’s wife was offered the job but they didn’t want to start her until after the tax rush because she had no bookkeeping or office experience.

I really wanted that job. It was close to home, had great health insurance benefits, and a pension, and I had been been laid off for twelve months, making COBRA health insurance payments to the tune of $1250 a month while looking for full time employment with benefits.

I recently went through the query process for my finished fourth novel, searching for a literary agent who might get me a traditional publisher. Seventy-five percent of the agents I contacted do not send rejection letters. Instead they say you will hear from them only if they are interested in seeing more of your novel. It seems arrogant to me but I gave it until the 4th of July, which was three months from the time I sent the queries. After all, I graduated from college in 1979. What am I going to do, wait ’til I’m seventy? When I can self-publish?

Through the magic of social media I know a blogger who is friends with a published writer I follow who is extremely well-connected in the New York literary world and the Ivy League buddy system. She breezed through the doors of traditional publishing. Now her friend, the blogger, has been picked up by the writer’s agent. Apparently traditional publishing is like those cushy town jobs. It’s not what you know but who you know. But when you reach a certain age, you already know that.

As Sam Ryder says in my 3rd novel, Life Is All This, “Fuck the man.”

On one of my recent road trips this spring, I met a woman at a bar in the Phoenix airport. I had a three hour layover so I had time for nachos and a margarita. She was my age, lived in Phoenix, and was flying to Sacramento to help her aging parents. Her name was Marcia and she told me her mother had Alzheimer’s so I shared some of my mother’s stories. I also told her about the inn Rich and I managed in Connecticut.

“Although we were disappointed and angry about the way we were treated by the inn’s owner and how it all went down, I believe it was meant to be. The job brought us back to New England and we left the inn just as my mother was failing,” I told the woman from Phoenix.

“But all of that is over now. It’s been a year since we left the inn and I haven’t found work, if we don’t count the hours I spend writing. It’s not that I haven’t been looking for a job. Just before I left for this trip I applied for a job at a farm stand set in the middle of a large apple orchard. I was very excited about it because it seemed like a fun place to work and it’s seasonal so it wouldn’t really interfere with my writing. I told the owner all about my social media skills, my bookkeeping experience, and the five years I spent working as a sales rep for speciality food sales in supermarkets. She seemed really excited and told me I could help her with so many things, from setting up displays to doing payroll. And she told me she hadn’t posted on her Facebook page in months. I told her I’d be happy to help with all of that but it’s been over a week and I haven’t heard from her.”

Marcia grabbed my arm and said, “It’s age discrimination, you know. I’m having the same problem.”

She was laid off from a job as an office manager at a doctor’s office and had been looking for another job for over a year now.

“You’d think the medical field would have lots of jobs,” I said.

“Yes, you would. And they do. But I’m a woman of a certain age. They don’t want to hire women our age. But now, after talking to you, I’m thinking it’s meant to be. You know, now that my parents’ need me.”

“That could be true,” I said, not really believing the bullshit pep talk I had given her about leaving the inn at the so-called right time and how it was meant to be. We both ordered another margarita and continued along the vein of convincing ourselves it might not be our age. It might be fate.

On Monday I have an interview at a temp agency in Keene, NH. I have a lot of marketing plans for my new book including taking the book on the road and meeting with book clubs. I need the funds.

I’ll also be needing your help. Obviously I want you to buy the book when it comes out. If anyone is interested in hosting a book club or a reading sometime in the fall please contact me at sheilablanchettetheauthor@gmail.com

You may be surprised at how far I will travel, or maybe not if you regularly read my blogs. I am a road warrior.

I also will need those all important Amazon and Goodreads reviews from you. I can never emphasize enough how important they are to the success of a book. And if you enjoyed my previous books and haven’t written a review yet, by all means get on there and write one!

Thanks for your support over the past few years. More is on the way. Stay tuned.

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” ~ Rumi





2 thoughts on “A Woman of a Certain Age: Stories From Higley Hill

  1. I finally had a moment to read this heartfelt, and heartbreaking, piece, Sheila. Age discrimination obviously is illegal, but the powers that be are subtle, whether it’s getting hired or being the victim of trying to be gotten rid of. It’s exhausting and discouraging for older folks who still have much to offer.


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