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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Mollie Kaplansky – A Tribute

PROSE.EVE.07While one of my long-time US friends in Israel barely avoided being caught  in the New Year’s Day terrorist incident in Tel Aviv, it is my  sad duty to report the passing of another American émigrée and fellow writer in the Galilee.

Mollie Kaplansky, who would have celebrated her 90th birthday in November this year, was instrumental in founding the Karmiel Women’s Writers’ Group which in the past 12 months has expanded and evolved into an inclusive group welcomimg all local writers, working in every genre.

A long-time resident of  Yodfat,  a cooperative village in the Misgav region south of Karmiel, Mollie graduated from the Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas, in January, 1944.

Ill—health had prevented her from attending group sessions since May 2014, but she still took a lively interest in its activities. Mollie’s own work was  warmly entertaining, reminiscent of the material enjoyed by scores of women’s magazine readers.

I conclude by reproducing her amusing account of her disastrous experience as a young stenographer (specialist in shorthand dictation).

May Mollie rest in peace.  The photograph above shows her with actor and drama teacher, Sheila Silver, who read a piece on her behalf at a group presentation in January 2014. Sheila has since returned to live in the US.

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'The New Stenographer’

It was January, 1944, and WW11 was still raging in Europe, when my classmates and I received our diplomas and were graduated from Central High School. There we were, those of us who were not conscripted for the military or off to college, ready to step out into the workforce full of eagerness, patriotism and the thrill of using our newly acquired skills.

Going to college, for me at that time, was out of the question. My eagerly awaited salary was needed to help out at home so I took a commercial course in high school to prepare myself for a stenographer’s job when I graduated. Gregg shorthand came pretty easy to me and I did very well in that class. I was ready, I thought, to put my education to work.

The word was out at school that there were short term government jobs to be had for clerks and stenographers and that the pay was phenomenal! Needless to say, many of us headed for downtown to fill out applications at the Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation as soon as we could get there. They hired us right on the spot. We were fingerprinted, of course, as this was a government programme with high security and that made the whole experience even more mysterious and exciting for my first real entry into the mature business world.

I was assigned to the office of Major Cochran of the Armed Forces, a tall, handsome man wearing his army uniform with all kinds of ribbons and medals on it. He was head of the department that purchased machinery and arms for shipment overseas.Continental Aviation Certificate

As soon as I began my first day on the job, the major asked me if I could take shorthand. In those days our bosses didn’t use tape recorders or dictaphones as they do now.

“Oh, yes” I replied. “I got all ‘As’ in shorthand.”

“Good” he said, “let’s get started then.”

With that he proceeded to dictate letter after letter (very rapidly, I might add) which contained highly technical, scientific, confusing and totally unfamiliar terms to me. I wrote as fast as I could, trying to improvise shorthand symbols for all those terribly confusing words, hoping that when I began to type the letters I would be able to decipher them and maybe remember some of those words. At first I thought it was a hoax and that the major was just testing my abilities but soon I realised he was very serious. For a fleeting moment I thought I might ask him to slow down for me but I was so intimidated by his stature, his title, his uniform; too embarrassed and insecure. I concentrated as hard as I was able and prayed that I would remember what I needed to.

As soon as he finished dictating, the major left for a meeting saying:

“Can you have those letters on my desk by the time I get back from lunch?”

“I think I can do that” I meekly replied, shaking in my boots.

I sat down to type and once past the salutation I was totally awash in tears. I looked at my notes stumbling over this thingamajig and that whatchamacallit until I couldn’t go on. I was emotionally undone, tears running down my cheeks, fearing immediate dismissal from my very first day on the job. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just get up and leave. I sadly sat there at my desk waiting for the major to return from lunch.

Shy, immature little high school grad that I was, I couldn’t stop the tears as I apologized and told the major I just couldn’t handle the stenographer job. He was so kind and gentle. He chuckled at my tears, patted me on the shoulder and asked if I was good at filing. I couldn’t believe it! He didn’t fire me right there on the spot!

“Oh, I am an excellent speller” I replied, wiping away the tears. “I know I can handle that kind of a job with no problems.”

He took me by the arm and led me to another office in the same building, made sure that I was placed there and at the same salary as a stenographer. I had no problems with that job. And - we won the war! I worked there until the Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation government programme ended.

I shall never forget Major Cochran and the compassion he showed for me. As for Gregg Shorthand: I never trusted myself enough to ever use it professionally again. I became a clerk / bookkeeper/ office manager instead! 

**  The illustration is an  engraved specimen certificate from the Continental Aviation and Engineering Corporation (now Teledyne). This historic document was printed by the American Banknote Company and is surrounded by an ornate border around it. This item has the printed signatures of the Company’s President and Secretary.

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© Natalie Wood (02 January 2016)

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