A Dee-lightful Change

Working at the nursing home wasn't the glamorous job I'd dreamed of. But it positively changed my life.

By Lacie Graf Hansen, Rancho Cucamonga, California

As appeared in

Sleek black trousers? Check. Teal silk blouse and patent-leather pumps? Double check.

I was dressed to the nines, but really didn’t know why. It was my first day at my first job out of college. I’d dreamed of a career in fashion, maybe as a style editor at a magazine—something thrilling and glamorous.

But from the minute I settled in at my desk and looked around, I saw how far I was from that dream: gray walls, gray carpet, gray furniture. This was no glam gig. I was a receptionist at Rockwood Retirement Community in Spokane, Washington. What am I doing here? I’m way overdressed!

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A few months before, I’d graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in public relations and English—full of optimism, ready to conquer the world. That summer my wonderful boyfriend, Jeremy, asked me to marry him—a romantic surprise proposal with the promise of a Caribbean honeymoon.

It felt like a fairy-tale beginning to my life in the real world. He had graduated with degrees in journalism and sports management, and now had a job he loved—selling tickets for his favorite minor-league hockey team. I was certain my big break in fashion was right around the corner.

July passed. August too. Still no job. No leads. Nothing. One morning, I buffed up my résumé for the umpteenth time and prayed, Please, God, I appreciate all the blessings you’ve given me, I really do. But can’t you lead me to my dream job too?

By fall I’d gone from aiming for a job in fashion to scrounging the web and classifieds for a job, any job. I was trading in pencil skirts for pajama pants, confidence for self-doubt. Why wasn’t God listening? Why wasn’t he giving me an opportunity to shine?

The job market stayed bleak. In late September, I came across a listing on an online job site: “Receptionist needed at Rockwood Retirement Community. Greet and assist visitors and residents, operate the telephone system and direct callers to appropriate personnel.”

Okay, it wasn’t a position at Vogue. But it was something and I needed a paycheck, so I applied. They offered me the job.

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Now here I was on my first day, wondering what I had gotten myself into. A woman’s voice startled me. “Hello, who’s there?” she asked.

Right away my eyes lit on her elegant red-and-black silk scarf. Christian Dior, if I wasn’t mistaken. Now that’s a girl after my own heart, I thought.

“Hi, I’m Lacie, the new receptionist,” I said. “I absolutely adore your scarf. Can I help you with anything?”

“Thank you,” the woman said. “I was hoping you could read this card to me. I’m partially blind. By the way, my name’s Dee and I’m in apartment 712.”

“I would love to! It’s wonderful to meet you, Dee,” I said.

I read Dee’s card for her, and over the next few days we chatted more. Her life story was fascinating! She’d grown up in Minneapolis, then worked for 20 years as a flight attendant for American Airlines back when air travel was luxurious and glamorous.

She married a man named Mel, a general manager for Kaiser Aluminum. His work took them to Ghana and, six years later, to Spokane when he got a job managing the 1974 World’s Fair. Mel died in 2003.

“I still miss him every day,” she said. I told her all about Jeremy, how romantic he was, and about my hopes for a career in fashion. One day I mentioned that I’d taken 15 years of dance classes and still found it to be a great stress reliever. “The time step is one of my favorites,” I said.

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“I know the time step!” Dee shouted. “My sister was a dancer on The Burns and Allen Show and she taught me a long time ago. Let me see if I remember how it goes...” Right there by my desk, Dee hopped and stomped through the step. Of course I had to join her.

We wound up bent over, clutching our stomachs, we were laughing so hard. After that, Dee would occasionally saunter over to my desk. “Is anyone around?” she’d ask conspiratorially. “I feel like doing the time step.”

Word of our shared talent got around and other residents at Rockwood would ask us to perform. It became our signature showpiece.