Monday, July 18, 2005

In Memory

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted last. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but it’s probably more than a coincidence that the day of my last post is the day I found out that my college mentor had moved to heaven.

Thirty years my senior, Melba was a “tell it like it is” kind of woman who actually made a polyester pants suit seem perky attire. A petite woman with one of those easy to manage salt and pepper hair dos and ‘70s style huge lens glasses, she was as direct in her walk as she was in speech. And although she spoke to all in a no nonsense kind of tone, Melba always seemed to have a chuckle in her voice as if she knew something entirely hilarious about the situation that the rest of the world didn’t see. In fact, she had the gait and manner of a woman that one would expect to see in a college basketball coach rather than in a public relations director for an out in the middle of nowhere, tiny private college.

I got to know Melba when I worked in the public relations department while I was earning my BA at that school. In her other career, she was an English teacher, so she let me know right away that my writing sucked – and she took the time to put me on the path to becoming a better writer. We talked about all kinds of stuff those many hours as we worked in that tiny closet of a public relations office. Most importantly, she taught me how to use a copier, a computer, and Word at a time when much of the world was still technologically in the dark. I listened intently while she directed and instructed me in things relating to work and school.

But soon enough my learning extended beyond the context of work and school. Melba was in need of a housekeeper. Her house wasn’t messy, mind you, but it was big enough that the vacuuming, mopping, and deep cleaning of the bathrooms, etc. was getting to be quite a chore. So a few days a month, Chandy and I teamed our efforts to clean for Melba. I wasn’t a novice to household chores, but she gave us all kinds of tips for doing our tasks better and faster. I even learned how to replace a plug on a worn out appliance cord once. It’s kind of funny how she was able to diagnose the problem for the ill working appliance and had all the necessary replacement parts and the know how to fix it now that I think of it.

At her home is where Melba became my friend. We often chatted about life and such after the workday was over while she fed Chandy and I lunch. We raked piles and piles of leaves in the fall, scrubbed down miles of windows in the spring, and listened along the way to the touching narrative of a woman struggling to give the necessary support to her four grown up daughters and to nurse her elderly father-in-law with all the love and patience a person can muster in tough times.

When I was ready to move away from that college town after I earned my degree, Melba gave me one of her prize textbooks. Seeing it reminds me of how she casually intervened in a power struggle between Dr. Clinger and I, the professor who was in charge of the student teachers at my school. Dr. Clinger was one of Melba’s chums, and over tea confided to Melba how she didn’t really care for my teaching style or for me. (I was not surprised to find that out at all; in fact, I feared that my grade would suffer because of it – which is something that had happened to one of my friends who was a good teacher but was disliked by Dr. C.) Melba let me know that she came to my defense that day. “Well that may be, Pat,” Melba pressed her, “but you have to admit that she’s going to be a master teacher some day.” Finally Dr. C relented and conceded, “Yes, but she’s got a lot to learn.” I earned an A- for my student teaching that semester.

Even though Melba had a profound impact on my life, I didn’t really keep in touch with her. I saw her when I went back to visit a few times, but I’ve allowed myself to be too caught up with daily surviving to keep in touch. She sent me a Christmas card a few years back, and I had been meaning to call her. Last year my family even drove though her town, but we were too busy visiting my husband’s family to make time to see her.

Melba died of cancer last month. I didn’t get to say goodbye or to tell her how much she meant to me. Somehow, though, in all her confidence, I am sure she knew. I am also sure that she is having a hoot in heaven – and she is probably teaching the angels a thing or two about the developing a better layout and design for the Heavenly Newsletter or maximizing the shine on those pearly gates.


Mimi said...

What's to say? Nice remembrance.

just thank her when you see her.

bluesugarpoet said...

Thanks, mimi - I will definitely do that. :)

Maria said...

wow - made me cry!

Ch@ndy said...

I remember the first Decmeber we were cleaning for her and when we showed up on our usual Saturday morning, the living room was filled with boxes and instead of scrubbing the house top to bottom she had us decorate her Christmas tree.

It never felt like a job with Melba, it always felt like we were going over to help our Auntie out for a few hours.