Monday, October 21, 2013

One of the Women Who Made Me

Spin-Off and the Editor's Wife
In a lot of ways, I have lived in a wonderful age to be a woman.

My parents expected me to go to college (and paid for that education), and there were no limitations on what I could choose to study. I was single until I was 29 years old, and had plenty of adventures before I met Husband and knew he was The One. Then we decided, together, that I would stay home with the Boys until they were beyond infancy, and were agreed on when I would go back to work. Then I was in the right place at the right time to become the first long-term woman vice president at Small College.

I have been so, so lucky, and one of the reasons I was lucky is because Christine prepared me to be lucky.

Christine was my first real boss, the one who hired me when I was a junior in college. She and her husband, Tom, ran a small-town weekly newspaper, and they brought me on as a two-days-a-week summer intern to write up county commission reports and club meeting minutes. The first of those two days I would write furiously from the time I arrived at the office until I left at the end of the day. On the second day I proofed pages, made last-minute changes, and became addicted to the combination of adrenaline and questionable coffee that fueled deadline days.

A small-town weekly newspaper, even an award-winning paper like that one, does not have a large staff. Tom and Christine were doing all of the writing, and while I'm sure having another set of hands on the electric typewriter was helpful, I'm still astounded at the breadth of stories they turned over to me. News reports. Features on fascinating people who populated the county. Coverage of politicians (although Tom was really the master at that).

The best moment, though, came the very first week I was there. That was when Christine turned to me and said, "You know, Tom and I both have columns on the editorial page. Wouldn't you like to write one, too?"

And with that, a weekly column was born. For four and a half years, every single week (even the weeks when I was back at school and before I worked for this newspaper full-time) I churned out a page and a half of blather. It was Empty Nest Feathers before there was even a nest. This gift, the space and the responsibility to fill it, were perhaps the defining moment in my professional life. Chris also named the column (Spin-Off) and soon people in the tiny town were calling me by that rather than by my given name.

I slept on the daybed in Tom and Christine's den that summer, and I watched Christine spend a full day at the office then come home to cook supper and do laundry. I saw her juggling the responsibilities and deadlines with the carrying of emotional baggage that comes with being a wife, a mother, a business owner, a boss--a woman.

Please remember that this was just the beginning of the transition of women out of the home and into workplaces that had expanded beyond teaching or nursing. Christine had to push against the unwritten rules that said that women shouldn't work outside of the home, and that women were too emotional to own businesses, and that women were second class citizens. And because she and others like her pushed, I never felt limited by my gender.

Saturday I attended Christine's funeral. Tom died a decade ago, and in the intervening years I had not seen Chris until a year ago when she was a guest of honor at a convention I attended. I stayed an extra day at that convention just so I could see her.  I wanted to tell her how important she had been in my life, that I was still writing, that after my mom and my sisters she was probably the most influential woman I had ever known. Her family and friends had warned me that her once-brilliant mind had been slipping but I wanted to tell her anyway.

She walked in the door and I took her hand.

"Christine!" I said. "I'm so glad to see you! How are you?"

She smiled at me sweetly, but clearly had no memory of me, or at least did not connect me with the girl she had known 30 years ago. She didn't remember me, but that was okay.

I would never forget her.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to a defining woman in your life. She sounds simply awesome. As a 40-something small business owner and CPA, I so appreciate Christine and her peers (and you too!) paving the way to make it really no big news that I am a woman with my own business.

  2. I remember those years you were in Washington. Such nice memories of a young women out on her own. I couldn't even image me on my own, but still would have loved to. Thanks for the memories of Tom and Christine and the newspaper.

    1. Thank you, Judy. They were wonderful years--I always said if I'd had a family I'd never have left there.

  3. I have been reading your blog for a while now. I found you through another blog I read...quite by accident. As I followed along, you started to mention things that sure did sound familiar. The organ at the church that sounded a lot like the church my grandmother attended, the small town newspaper where I worked "stuffing papers" as a kid, the small "mom and pops" restaurant where my sister worked and knew Tom's breakfast order by heart. I didn't comment because I was never sure until I saw Christine's face. We lived down the street from them. I grew up in Washington as did my parents and my grandparents. Such a small world we live in! I do enjoy your funny stories and your writing prowess.

    1. Oh, my gosh! Wanda, it is indeed a small world.Thank you for reading--I love having people out there who know exactly what I'm talking about.