by Nicki Harper
During my second year at University, I ran short of funds. I took a job at The Pillsbury Company’s research laboratory. I was a typist in their publications department. Four of us took scientific scribbles and turned them into specifications for every ingredient, packaging material and process needed by every one of the products Pillsbury used or was in process of developing.
The job was great. As a chemistry major, I loved visiting the analytical lab. I continued to take courses at night, and the chemists were a great help as I struggled with organic chemistry. One of my experiments for a psychology class involved the impact of color on taste. Even the most experienced food chemists had trouble distinguishing lemon from lime without the green and yellow color cues.
Food for the Gemini space program was developed at our lab. The items made there all involved a process one of our scientists had developed, called micro-encapsulation. Each molecule of food was surrounded by a single layer of fat molecules. It was great fun to take powder in my palm, squish it to removed those fat molecules, and have water! We all pitched in to make space bars when mission deadlines loomed.
I was soon made Publications Supervisor, revamping and streamlining our processes and giving my department more writing responsibility. Outside of the Betty Crocker Kitchen and its home economists, I was the highest ranking woman in the company. I reviewed and approved every specification, and every piece of package advertising, meeting regularly with the Board of Directors, its attorney, and the advertising honchos. It was heady stuff for a girl of nineteen. Returning to school was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve made.
I was pondering that decision when I ran into an old school chum, Kitty. I hadn’t seen her since graduation. Among thousands of students registering for class, we happened to be next to one another in line.
Kitty lived in a boarding house near the campus, and a room had opened. Those rooms were like gold–affordable, within walking distance, and private! I jumped at the chance.
Among my roommates was Rita, a graduate student in library science. Both bookworms, we had an instant camaraderie. Three Filipino women lived in the boarding house. One afternoon, they were having coffee with Kitty and I in the kitchen. We were talking about Filipino customs. One of the girls said, “At home, some women think they can get pregnant if they leave their clothes outside on the clothesline overnight.”
“But that’s just a superstition,” another girl said. Yes, they agreed, and a foolish superstition at that.
Just then Rita came into the house. She was going to make supper for her brother, Jerry. She invited us to stay. Everyone but me had other plans. As Rita and I putzed about getting supper ready, she told me about Jerry. He was an accountant with one of the major firms, a baseball fan and long-time player for their home-town team. Rita was famous for her match-making. Was she doing it again?
I wasn’t a big fan of baseball, and an accountant seemed terribly dull. But he was single, and close to my age. The only date I’d had while working with Pillsbury was with the corporate attorney, who was twice my age and quite surprised to find I wasn’t old enough to have a glass of wine with dinner. Whatever Rita’s schemes might be, I would reserve judgment. I had a heavy class load and not much time for a social life anyway.
And then Jerry came in. He was good looking, with the refined musculature of a baseball player. We talked about books, movies we’d seen, the symphony schedule. As we sat down to eat, I heard a voice in my head, “You will marry him.”
A year later, I did.
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