This blog post is a draft of comments I plan to make at my mom’s retirement party today. I’m sure I will make some changes in it as I say it — I am really bad with scripts! — but it will probably be close to what I say/said.
When I was asked if I or a sibling would mind saying a few things, sharing a few stories today, I smiled at the idea of doing a top 10 list of things I learned by having a mom who works at a church or thoughts on being raised a church kid, etc. And while I will get to some of those funny stories that I am sure some of you may remember once they are brought up. I want to start with a bit more serious mindset. Don’t worry, it won’t go on too long before I hope we are all laughing.
My siblings and I have been blessed with an incredible mom. She’s had such energy for work and we long wondered when or if mom would retire, knowing whatever path she chose would be the right path for her. We hadn’t discussed it in any detail so when she popped out an email in December, all of us were surprised and happy for her at the same time. I think that was probably a pretty common reaction to the news. And I’ve heard a lot of you say it is hard to imagine DTCC without Ada in the office. That’s because there is no clear line between my mom & the church…. they are interconnected in amazing ways.
In careers today, a lot of experts tell you to work on your work-life balance. Well, my mom never talked about it and I’m not sure she would even advocate for that. She’s shown our family that you can have a work-life combination that is really fulfilling. She taught us to do things you are passionate about, to find good people, to make a positive difference for others. And she taught us that you don’t have to focus on on work or home — you can do both really well and be happy. What a great role model!
Mom grew up in Decatur and brought her kids up in the same congregation. She started working here when I was starting school. Think about that. My biggest concern in life was whether my favorite Toughskins were clean (yes, those were all the rage) and whether I’d do a ponytail or pig tails for school. Ray and Cheryl were a few years older & ahead of me in elementary school. Leslie was spending several hours each weekday at a babysitters.
DTCC has been one of the most constant influences in our lives. We grew up coming here, not just on Sundays, but pretty frequently during the week. And since the minister for the first decade plus was our cousin Harold who lived in our zip code, family and church were integrated too.
Having such a combo of work & home sometimes makes a houseful of kids pause or flat out laugh about your work. And there may have been some times when home may have left a mark at work too. In talking with my sisters and brother, we came up with a few things that stand out from childhood.
Mad Office Skills
Having a mom who totally rocked the secretarial world shows itself in a few ways for my siblings and I. We learned at the earliest ages how to answer the phone professionally. When at the church, if mom stepped away from the desk, there was no voice mail so kids were to answer and take good messages. That meant being taught to say “Decatur-Trinity, Janice speaking, may I help you?” Even if you and your sister had just been in a massive argument about who needed which crayon.
The need for those phone skills freakishly followed us home too. And Leslie will tell you how frequently we would get major belly laughs out of mom saying “Decatur-Trinity, this is Ada” even when she was at the house! Although a decent amount of those callers weren’t bothered at all because they were calling to find phone numbers, addresses, etc. It seems like the cause the “call Ada” was always the first life-line many people would use. We all got used to finding the CWF or church directories to help whoever was on the phone.
We also had a go to for typing in the days when typewriters were the way to do papers. Mom never would write our papers for school but there was more than a few times when she’d go back to the church after work to type something for us since we didn’t have a typewriter at home. I can remember trying to do those silly typing drills…. always on some scrap paper so as not to waste.
A Love of Blackberries
Pretty sure my siblings and I can attribute my love of blackberries to DTCC. Every summer some of us would go to church, run in circles in the hallways and pick berries while mom worked. Of course, there was that need to get on the far side of the fence and that one time when a horse left its hoof print on Patty…. Weren’t sure how bad that was going to be but we wanted to be sure we still got some yummy blackberry cobbler!
Joining Lots of Activities
Mom & dad signed up for all sorts of stuff at church whether she was working or not. One of the long-term ones was choir. Choir was a big part of our childhood… Wednesday nights meant going to the church. With mom & dad both participating and frequently coming from different directions, we were always dividing and conquering. The one occasion that really stands out? When the second car of Persons arrived home and everyone looked around and realized Leslie had been left behind. Luckily someone else was still there and brought her home.
We learned early on that hospitality was part of the everyday too. Ray reminded me how mom, Dot, and Judy helped with many wedding receptions before mom began working. There were tablecloths to put out, personalities to balance and lots of spritz cookies and ham biscuits to be made!
Lots of Chances to Volunteer
We were always volunteered / voluntold to help…. Some of the best opportunities was washing the old church bus at grandmom’s house years before mom worked for the church, the family was working for the church. I can still picture a couple of us up on top of the bus slipping and sliding as we scrubbed off figs that had fallen.
On Tuesdays, before there was Carol to help out, summers frequently meant one of us would be out there working in a small closet in her old office. Picking out the color for the Visitor that week and then cranking that mimeograph & smelling up those purple fumes! We would frequently be back on Friday to do the church bulletin too!
I got into photography in my teens so that meant I could be on point for photos for the church directory or as the new sanctuary was built. All of us had stints in various plays and musicals, setting up sunrise services, etc.
Lots of Mischief!
A day at the office with mom routinely meant grownups entertaining us. I can’t imagine how many times someone would come around one of the three corners to have someone jump out with a scream! Harold and Louis particularly loved playing that game on us and us on them! We learned Cajun jokes. There were hours of paddle tennis played, untold laps run in the triangle, and more than a few great lunches enjoyed across the kitchen or workroom table with whoever happened to be in that day.
Life Events All Tied to Church
To say that major life events were often tied to something at church.
- Need a babysitter? There’s a church member for that (still think of Dixie when popcorn balls come to mind)
- Graduate high school? There is a Bible for that
- Going to college? There is a service for that
- Getting into your first car accident? There is a regional assembly for that
- For Cheryl, church camp helped her find the love of her life — and helped the rest of us add more family.
- Summer heat getting to you? There’s a summer camp, Bethany Hills, for that. And it became such a major part of our lives that mom, her kids, grandkids and great grandkids all anticipate the family reunions there every other Thanksgiving!
Can’t imagine growing up any other way!
Whether some of that would have happened whether mom worked here or not isn’t clear. I’m sure we would have had close ties to Decatur anyway, but I can’t imagine growing up differently. I think Ray, Cheryl, Leslie and I grew up with the greatest mom and her job here was part of the environment that shaped us all.
Great writing Janice
Loved reading this! And thinking of so many situations and events that took up all of our lives back then! Memories have filled my mind and heart as I read! We will forever be so connected through the church. For this I am forever grateful! I loved your family, long before you came into the picture! Our lives will always be connected through the many events in the life of Decatur! I am grateful for that and will be interested in the life of that church always! And in the lives of the members of your family! As I have kept up with all of you through the years, I have added some memories of my own, too. Decatur and Bethany Hills will always hold a place in our hearts! I have so many that you do not know about as you also have ones that I don’t know about, but we are forever connected. Know that I am always interested in what you are doing and thinking! —Eleanor Slaughter Kuss
Janice Person says
Thanks Eleanor! Bethany Hills certainly has a massive place in our hearts!
What a wonderful Aunt we have and how when we would come up there,to Memphis, it was always fun, having the feeling of belonging to the church because of aunt Ada and Harold. Also fun and crazy memories of Decatur VBS, wearing a robe to do the candles and of coarse all the sweet families, who welcomed the out of town loud family ( probably cause they loved Ada so much). I’m sure Decatur will miss her so much!! Love you aunt Ada and thanks for being a great sister to my dad and a wonderful loving aunt to us !! Libby