I’m hanging out with some of the bravest writers on the planet today at Crystal’s place for Behind the Scenes. That’s where we take those Pinterest-perfect photos and tell you the story behind them. Come join us?
She was my boss and my friend, and most of all, she was my mentor. And in some ways, I was hers.
Carolyn hired me as her part-time assistant way back in 1990. My job was to help her process payroll, and as a young mother with no college degree it was a great opportunity. Despite our 15+ year age difference, we became friends. She had never had children (and never wanted them), but she was maternal with me. We bonded over our mutual affection for cats.
I had worked with Carolyn for 18 months when my then-husband decided he didn’t want to be married anymore. She was there for me while I went through my divorce and she kept me from letting my emotions overwhelm my reason. She gave me practical financial advice, earned through her own divorce many years before, and she let me sit in her office with the door closed when the tears just couldn’t be contained any longer. And when it became clear that I needed to work full-time in order to support myself and my young daughter, Carolyn made my case to management and brought me on full-time.
She was there cheering me on during my courtship, engagement, and marriage to Jon. She took great pleasure in hosting a bridal shower for me at work and coordinating our reception.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many ways she mentored me at work, but it was largely because of her training that I was able to later become an HR Manager at another company, despite that fact that I had no college degree. Beyond the payroll, benefits, and human resources training, she taught me business etiquette and how to navigate the often choppy waters of an office work environment.
But I’d like to think I taught her a few things too. We talked a lot about faith, and Carolyn told me that she just didn’t believe all the things that I believed about God and the Bible. Some of it didn’t make sense to her and she couldn’t understand why a loving God would allow so much pain in the world or send people to burn for eternity. We used to joke about our funerals and she told me that she wanted the song “Spirit in the Sky” played at hers, and as I understood it that pretty much encapsulated her beliefs: she wanted to go to the place that’s the best. One thing that spurred a LOT of discussion (because we were good friends) was my and Jon’s decision to wait until our wedding night to… well, you know. She just couldn’t believe I could marry a man without knowing whether or not we were compatible in that way. I told her that I believed that God brought us together and I trusted Him enough to know it would all work out.
The very first Christmas that I worked for Carolyn, she asked me what I’d like as a gift. After some thought I told her that what I’d really like was a nativity set that was sturdy enough for my then 2 year old to touch and handle without breaking. That was the year she gifted me with Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.
Every year after that she gave me two or three more pieces in the set. She joked that she knew I couldn’t leave her because it would take years for me to collect all the pieces, but sadly, I did choose to leave the year after I was married. This set is definitely sturdy enough to be handled because it has survived roughly 20 years more or less intact. (The nutcrackers you see in the picture were an addition by my nine year old daughter. I’m sure there were no nutcrackers at the birth of Christ but there were no wise men either, so there you go.)
I’ve lost touch with Carolyn except for the occasional Christmas card, but I think about her every November when I unwrap the pieces of my nativity set. Maybe this is the year I’ll sit down and write her a long letter to thank her for all the ways she mentored me as a young working mother. I think she needs to hear that, and I need to say it.