Carmella Revisited


(Uncertain when this was written)


Carmela wasn't as old as she appeared to us at the time.

She reminded me of some of the nuns who taught me at St. Brendan's, a woman who may have been born a spinster and whose life seem to revolve around spinster sister I never met or don't remember meeting if I had.

Carmela was the most dependable person in Donald’s operation, someone on whom Donald was able to count on for the letters we needed sent, the billing, the typing of labels, arranging of interviews and so much more.

Carmela was fiercely loyal and perhaps this is why she felt so put out later on after we moved to the new location and Donald brought on other people to help her with office chores.

The expanded business meant a lot more paperwork and such and he clearly did not think she could keep up.

This was particularly true later when Donald installed the computer in his office around 1977 or early 1978 and did not see her as having the ability to handle such a new innovation.

Although Carmella for the most part was soft-spoken her voice tended to grate when she got excited although to some degree, she was amazingly shy. She still managed to do all the jobs he was assigned to while we operated out of the warehouse in the Pia Costa warehouse Park on Bloomfield Avenue.

Hers was the first desk you came to after coming in through the tiny lobby from the front.

There were two doors: one that led straight ahead from the front door down a narrow passage to a door leading to the warehouse in the rear. This passage also had access to the restrooms which were doors on the right. Across from the bathrooms was the door to Donald office. He used this door to access the warehouse unseen by guests waiting to see him in the front or as a shortcut.

Most guests, when they came into the front lobby, turned immediately to the left into a tiny space Carmella occupied, her desk located to the left coming in with her back to a couple of small windows looking out onto the parking lot.

The whole front office section reminded me of a maze with another door to the left of Carmella's desk and across from the door from the lobby. This lid to a tiny meeting room with chairs and an overlarge table where Donald met with clients or salespeople. A door to the right off this room led back to his office.

Carmela served as gatekeeper and kept anyone from seeing Donald without seeing her first. She was better than a bulldog gentle but firm -- attributes guest came to respect.

Her desk represented most of the business issues with a typewriter, phone, and trays for in and out mail laid out before her while around her -- against the wall filing cabinets contained files on various businesses that Donald did routine business with.

On her desk was also a very large Rolodex from which she could draw the name address and phone number of all but the most secretive Donald contacts.

I remember her office as well as the outer lobby as being relatively dark, paneled with dark wood typical of that time, later redecorated to seem less oppressive yet the earlier version best represented Carmella's strange character.

Although a calming force in the office early on, Carmela struck me as a person with significant inner turmoil, filled with private issues we could only get clues of, family tragedies that helped cement her somber moods.

I got the sense that she was more outgoing of the two spinster sisters in that she could come and go and hold a regular job though she disliked driving after dark -- an issue that loomed over her during winter months and required her to leave early so she could get home.

She apparently did not live far from either of the two warehouses somewhere in West Caldwell or at least I believe that at the time.

She seemed to enjoy the fact that she could work in the real world without risk, protected by both environments. She seemed not to feel comfortable with the world and most likely would have felt more comfortable in her father's or grandfather's time a Victorian like existence denied people in the 1970s.

What struck us most was the car she drove, a 1960s Barracuda we all envied, something a family member had apparently purchased for her. This was ironic since this was considered a hot car on the street. But she drove it the way old ladies drive with ultimate caution.

How Donald stumbled on her I still do not know perhaps a friend of a friend or family. She was not Jewish and so in some ways seemed out of place with him.

She was small, dark and I guess an Italian woman, sturdy and slightly plump. She had dark eyes that seemed friendly yet seemed to vail personal secrets. Her dark hair framed and oval face with wide-set eyes thick eyebrows and a squat nose. She had a wide mouth and thin lips and sometimes the good cheer her mouth expressed was contradicted by her I thought I saw in her eyes.

She tended to walk the way an old woman might slowly with great care as if expecting a sudden fall. She dressed decades out of date with pin on earrings, the kind with the twist in back, and sometimes wore a necklace of pearls over which on cold days she wore scarf -- sometimes even inside the office.

In winter, she wore a cloth coat, scarf, a knit or old ladies’ hat. In summer she shed the hat gloves and coat, but generally wore dark ankle-length pattern dresses, practical low-heeled shoes and stockings all of which seemed appropriate to a World War II era or earlier.

If she ever talked about her parents or her upbringing, I don't recall hearing it. She spoke about her sister with whom she lived but only in passing and how she had to get back to her.

Neither she nor her sister ever married, and it is unclear if there was ever a love in either of their lives. Both were apparently well educated since Carmela had all the skills needed to run the office. This suggested her parents had provided for her and probably educated her sister. I vaguely recall her sister may have worked in a library.

Since Carmella did not talk politics the way most of us did, I don't know what she believed in. But since Donald was a liberal Democrat who voted for Jimmy Carter 1976, Carmella’s views must have fallen somewhat in line with those -- even if she seemed and looked like a Nixon conservative with the old-fashioned Republican cloth coat etc.

Carmella seemed not want anything more than the job she had and seemed to generate importance from it and so got put out later when Donald hired other people to help her when he expanded the business. He was right in believing the workload was too much for her, yet he was not sensitive enough to realize these hirings undermined her -- partly because the new women did not see her as important, but a relic and they did not treat her as a boss going to directly to Donald or Stanley if they needed something.

Carmella began to think of herself as useless piece of furniture in the expanding operation this included people hired to work in the outlet with whom she had running conflicts those were still unresolved when I left Donald's employment in the spring of 1978.






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