Looking for work in the real world

March 28, 1997

(Editor's note: This is the first of a series of occasional columns on one Washington County woman's struggle to find a job after being unemployed for seven months.)

It's taken me more than a year to find Regina Graber. It would have helped if I'd known her name when I began my search. But all I knew then was that I wanted to interview someone like this 42-year-old Washington County woman who's coping with life and trying to get back into the work force after being unemployed for seven months.

I've been employed almost continuously for the past 24 years, so I've never been in Graber's shoes - needing to work, but uncertain what it would take to get an employer to give me a chance. Until someone does - give her a chance, that is - I'm going to write a continuing column about her life and how she reaches her goal.


The column won't appear every week, but often enough, I hope, so that readers get to know her and maybe respond to what's going on in her life with some constructive comments, suggestions or maybe a few stories of their own. Using Herald-Mail's site on the worldwide web, we'll also try to present information about how to do things like writing a resume, where to get training and tips for doing a good employment interview.

Graber is one of seven children who grew up in a little bungalow on the east side of Frederick "out in the country where life was simple and there wasn't all this craziness in the world, or at least you didn't hear about it so much."

By the time she was 8, her father had left home, putting the full weight of raising the family on her mother.

"It was very hard and I have great respect for my mom, because she did everything in her power to raise me up right," she said.

Mom knew all the old proverbs, Graber said. Things like, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." And she always managed to have the right one handy for any situation.

(Her mother doesn't think this column is a good idea, Graber says. Instead, mom says a more youthful-looking hairstyle might do the trick, a change Graber is resisting because she's not sure it will work).

Her mother has been unhappy before, however, like in 1972 when Graber dropped out of Frederick High School to get married. Graber is sorry she let her mother down then, but proud that she went back five years later to get her high-school diploma.

It was the first of her three marriages. Now she has what she calls a "blended family" that includes four children whose ages range from 24 to 11.

She met her present husband when her second marriage was on the rocks and she was coping with the impending break-up by spending a lot of time at work.

"My second husband and I knew it was over, and I was working some long hours at the Frederick Truck Stop. My now-husband literally swept me off my feet and took me to Florida," she said.

That was before most of the kids were old enough to be in school, and so she and her husband, a long-haul trucker, took them on the road, which she loved.

"It was like being on vacation and getting paid for it," she said.

Florida was like another world, she said, where you didn't have to worry about snow and winter coats. The problem with going to another world, though, is that you have to leave a lot of people behind to do it. And the kids were getting older, so they had to be in school and they missed the dad they'd left behind in Maryland.

And so they came back to Maryland, where their luck seemed to change for the worse. Her husband was stricken with chronic mylogenous leukemia.

"He had a bad pain in his side, bad enough to make him go to the doctor, which he normally would not do," she said.

The pain was from a badly swollen spleen. His blood count went from a normal reading of 12,000 to 300,000, and a search was launched for a bone-marrow donor. Fortunately, said Graber, her husband's oldest sister was the perfect match.

On Dec. 1, 1995, he had the (bone-marrow) transplant and is in remission now. Graber is thankful that the ordeal took only a year, considering some of the cancer-battle stories she's heard, but it was tough for her husband while it lasted, because it forced him to slow down and stay still for so long.

"Being still was the toughest thing, because he is always on the move, in hyper-space really," Graber said.

(Recently, she said, he put up new wall in the boys' bedroom in just one day, drywall and everything, not stopping for anything until he had the job done. Sometimes, she says, she's got to watch him, because he'll finish projects she's started on her own, projects she would rather finish herself.)

She is glad things are back to the way they were because during his treatments she felt responsible for not letting any necessary job go undone. I know the feeling: Like one of those guys on the old Ed Sullivan show who kept a number of dinner plates spinning on tall skinny sticks, you run back and forth, making sure nothing you've already started falls apart even as you begin something new.

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