Monday, June 9, 2014

A Very Special Worry Stone

Do you still have a worry stone in the back of a drawer? Or maybe you still carry one?

These small stones with the thumb shaped indentation were popular in the 70's. The idea was to hold the stone and rub your thumb back and forth as a self-soothing relaxation technique.

The story of my worry stone is one of fear, friendship and naivete. It is a story I have hinted about telling many times. This is the very special worry stone I have had for forty-seven years.

It isn't one I bought. It came out of the Cedar River near Palisades Kepler State Park in Linn County. It is a bit of amber (supposed to provide protection) tumbled smooth by the ages and the river. It is a natural worry stone, not one man made. It even has a hole through it, meant to stimulate health, luck and blessings, especially if found near water.

In the spring of 1967 I separated from my first husband. I took my little boy, our clothes and some personal possessions and rented an apartment in town. I was working at the Municipal Utilities for minimum wage. After taxes, insurance, etc., I remember my biweekly net check as less than $70.00. Even though my apartment rent was only $30.00 a month, by the time I paid for child care, a small car payment on the used '58 Ford station wagon I bought for $225.00, a bank loan for a used refrigerator, which even though was still in possession of my husband I felt responsible for paying, and groceries, there wasn't much left. In fact I clearly remember crying because my son wanted an ice cream cone and I didn't have a dime to walk down to the Clown and buy him one. That was when I began looking for another job. In those days that meant hunting through the Des Moines or Omaha Sunday classified ads and sending out letters of application, one of which was for a receptionist position with a construction company in Eastern Iowa.

My boss at the time hated to see me leave but understood I needed more money and that a change of scene would probably be a good thing. He thought it was odd though that the owner of the company I had applied to wanted a picture of me and wanted to know how long my hair was. It should have made me wonder, too, but all I could see was the proposed salary of $100 a week! Dougie could have an ice cream cone every day!

Moving to that small town near Cedar Rapids meant I was four hours away from the only support system I had - friends and family, mainly family. At that point in my life I thought I was quite grown up. I was taking responsibility not only for myself, but for my child.

I moved during the summer and started my new job. My new boss decided to pay me $110.00 a week and helped me find a furnished apartment. I had no idea my starting wage was the same as the other two women who had been working there for years which quickly alienated them. But after a while they relented and became friendly. Thank goodness, because I needed friends.

It did not take long for me to realize I was in a bad situation. First of all, there was almost nothing for me to do. I answered the few phone calls and was given some small busy work. My boss kept wanting to take pictures of me in his office. This is one. My daughter says I look like someone from the TV show Mad Men. And actually that is very much what that era was like. Women were definitely objectified.

I don't remember how my friendship with Fred, the company mechanic, started. I know he had a little boy the same age as mine. He was a good listener, not that he did not already know what was going on. One time we took the boys fishing. Another time we took them to Burger King in Cedar Rapids. It was coming home from there one night that we met our boss going the other direction. Oh, I forgot to mention that in addition to owning the construction company, the guy I worked for was also a Linn County Special Deputy. He had his car equipped with police radios and lights including a spot light. Fred sped up before our boss got turned around and managed to lose him, but he was definitely after us. As we neared my apartment I jumped out of the car carrying Doug and made it to the porch just as the spotlight was turned toward us. I was scared to death.
The next day my boss, Wayne was his name, threatened me. He told me if I had any more to do with Fred that he would see to it that I lost custody of my son. He threatened Fred, too - told him he would lose his job if he saw us even talking to one another again.

I was so afraid of what Wayne could do. He knew every lawman and judge in the area. I called my lawyer and drove to Oskaloosa to see him. I gave him the details and asked if I could lose my child. He reassured me that wasn't going to happen, but that I needed to get out of there. Once again I began looking for a job and as soon as I found one I left.

I did see Fred one more time which is when he gave me his worry stone. He had had it a long time but said I needed it more than he did. I only lived in the Cedar Rapids area a year before moving to Des Moines. I had always thought that someday I would return Fred's worry stone to him but he died eleven years ago. Maybe I'll have my son give the worry stone back to Fred's son. Or maybe someday I'll leave it on Fred's grave.

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