We had gotten up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to make it in to work. It was cold and a morning better spent snuggled up next to a loved one, but others with work to do needed support from our office, and so here we were… just me and the man who is now my assistant.
“What time do you think she’ll be here?” Glenn asks in his Detroit yankee accent. He was just recently promoted to our department.
“About 6:00 Monday.” I’ve been here 4 years now.
” Hahaha… What? But she told us to…”
“I know, man.” I cut him off. He seemed a bit surprised at my lack of outrage or even the most minor bit of annoyance.
“Aw. She’ll be here. She’s just running late.” He’s still an optimist to this day.
“M’kay.” I continued working, entirely unconcerned.
It was about 10:00, I think, when I got the call.
“GOOD MORNING, MY FRIEND!!!” Came a cheerful greeting through a cacophonous background of cheers and what sounded suspiciously like a marching band.
“Hey, Tina! How’s it going this morning?”
“Scored tickets to the Notre Dame game! Sorry I couldn’t make it this morning.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ve got things tied down. No worries.”
” ‘preciate you guys and your hard work.”
“Have fun, Tina. See you Monday.”
“See you there, brother!”
If anyone else had done that to me, it would’ve thoroughly burned me up. I might have even made a call to corporate. But Tina was different. She just had this kind of weird energy that you couldn’t help but enjoy watching. She had a wonder and enjoyment of life that was usually contagious even when the vehicle of enjoyment wasn’t.
And she always had our backs. She never hesitated to toe up to some self-important wannabe managerial demigod on our behalf for some real or perceived slight against her employees.
I first met Tina at the job interview I had with her. My first child was on the way and I had just been laid off from my job as a mechanical engineer at a company where I designed aerospace simulators. That job loss was one that really smarted.
The job I was interviewing for was basically a career change- which had to have been obvious to us both. I didn’t mention the baby situation to her. It was a really good interview and we hit it off pretty well. Two weeks later, I had the job that has turned into a 7 year career.
Tina spent the next 4 years training me for her position. She had a part in me achieving a level of success in my career I hadn’t expected. She encouraged my conscientiousness and meticulousness. She enabled me to try new things and trusted my decisions… and expected me to own them. And she owned hers.
I think she knew she didn’t want to be there long. She was good at her job, but it was a career she didn’t want to be tied down by in a field she didn’t particularly savour. She had a lot of respect for H&P- especially the Helmerich family. “They’re good, mid-western, conservative people.” she once said of them. Tina was a die-hard “hippy liberal” to use her own words.
That was the other thing about her. She was a classical liberal. She just wanted to live and let live. We had wildly opposing political and religious views, but could always talk about them without despising each other afterward. I like to think we both came a little closer to understanding each other’s perspective.
Tina always had a good heart. Any anger she showed was the kind of passionate anger aroused in people with good hearts against injustice and cruelty toward her fellow man. It was the angry, impudent face of the 80s punk rock we both loved, but behind it was the more contemplative, soulful heart of the depression era folk music we also both loved. It was a weird amalgam of temper to go with that weird energy. And more often than not, we all had a good laugh over it… after the terror subsided. We still laugh our heads off about the Notre Dame game.
Tina and I laughed at a good many things others didn’t. We invented the Bastard-gram, but never sent one. We couldn’t find a hairy, drunk old man willing to show up at someone’s office and hurl verbal abuse at them. We shared a very eclectic taste in music and loved simple artwork.
This last year was full of heartache for her. In February of 2016, her nephew Blaine Wells, was murdered in a case of mistaken identity. From what I could tell, she had all but become his mother during his teenage years and young adulthood. She’d been a great positive influence in his life- helping him turn from a life of drugs and delinquency. It was one of those painful labours of love. His murder devastated her, and may have quite literally broken her heart, I suppose.
I just found out she died of a heart attack- barely into her 50s.
I’m sorry I never got the chance to commission a set of teaware or a pickling crock from her pottery studio. But the large earthen dragonfly vase she gave us still sits in a place of honour in our home. I’ve been wanting to give her a call and have her out for sushi with my wife and kids. She hadn’t met my youngest yet. I wish I’d gotten to it a bit sooner.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” -James 4:14.
Go out and have a pint with a friend. Give them a call and laugh about some stupid memory. Especially if it seems like it’s been forever.