Mom at work at Pres House in the 1960s.
I guess it’s natural to think about the special people in my life from strictly my own perspective. Obviously, that’s how I know them. I’ve written about my mom several times in this blog. Long-time readers of my blog know what she was like – at least from my perspective.
A couple months ago, I came across something that enabled me to see my mom from someone else’s perspective. When Mim was keeping a low profile, trying to recover from the flu, she decided to page through some old family scrapbooks. She came across a 1972 newsletter from the Presbyterian Student Center (Pres House) at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s the article that caught her attention:
Pres House – the Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison – where Mom worked during most of my growing up years.
Elsie Korth Retires June 30
Mrs. Elsie Korth, secretary and bookkeeper and receptionist at Pres House for 16 years, will be retiring June 30, 1972. I doubt that we will see the likes of her again. Surely the only secretary in existence who complains to her bosses when she has nothing to do; she has kept me, Jim Jondrow, and the entire present MCM staff hopping to find work. So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled!
By the fact that so much of the news in this newsletter has come addressed to Elsie, we can see ample evidence of another kind of service to us which Elsie has performed over the years. As an ever-listening and concerned friend of so many Pres House people, she provided a part of our student ministry that will not be forgotten. A member of the oldest Scandinavian Methodist Church in the world in Cambridge, Wisconsin, she certainly represented Willerup Methodist Church to this campus. And who can forget those delicious cookies and treats which Elsie delighted in surprising us with, or the terse commentary on the events and times permeating our ministry over these years. Oh, Elsie, we will miss you indeed.
The Pres House board surprised Elsie with a picture, in green, of U.S. Grant, lots of praise, and a sad farewell. When the staff asked to take her and her husband Carl out to dinner as a going away occasion, she asked instead if we could attend a Sunday afternoon buffet on their farm with our families. True to Elsie! We only ask, Pres House friends, that with Elsie’s departure you also continue to write to us at Pres House! You may continue to write to Elsie at: R. 2, Cambridge, Wisconsin 53523.
I smiled and got a little teary when I read that tribute to my mom. I remembered that fourteen and a half years later she was still receiving Christmas cards from some of those former university students and co-workers. I went through the Christmas cards sent to Mom in 1986 to let the senders know that she had died in October that year. Some of them wrote back to me, explaining how much they had appreciated knowing her.
As I was thinking about the Pres House newsletter article, I remembered the summer Mom taught me her work standards very clearly. It was the summer before I started my junior year in high school. I was asked to take over the job of preparing the Sunday bulletins for Willerup Methodist Church. The church did not have a secretary back then.
The process in those days (the 1960s) was:
- Using notes provided by the pastor, type the bulletin on a mimeograph stencil.
- Ink the mimeograph machine by squeezing thick black ink from a big toothpaste-like tube onto the roller drum and turning the crank of the mimeograph machine a few times to spread the globs of ink evenly.
- Literally crank out about 150 bulletins on special bulletin paper stock.
- Wait for the ink to dry and then fold the bulletins in half.
The pastor showed me how to type the stencils and work the mimeograph machine the first Saturday I did the bulletin. I thought the bulletins looked a little messy, but I was proud that I had learned how to do it. My mom was horrified at the quality. I think that’s the only time she was really embarrassed to be my mother. Well, maybe there were other times, but I never knew about them. This time there was no doubt. She was mortified when the pastor announced to the congregation that I had prepared the bulletin and had agreed to do them for the next couple years. After that first bulletin, Mom realized that if she wanted me to produce bulletins that met her standards, she’d have to teach me herself. So she did.
She taught me to start the process by typing up a draft of the bulletin from the pastor’s notes. (This was in the days of manual typewriters.) Then I would carefully proofread it, and if necessary, retype the draft. The next step was right justification. Wherever there was text that was more than one line long, such as a prayer, I had to figure out the best places to insert an extra space to ensure an even right margin. Mom taught me the best places – after periods and commas, between phrases, and around long words – in that order. I penciled in a mark on the draft for each place an extra space was needed.
Then I was ready to type the stencil, which was a blue, heavily waxed sheet. I had to type exactly as indicated on the marked-up draft. If I made a typo, I used a little bottle of liquid wax to brush over the typo, wait for the wax to dry, and then retype the word. If the wax was too thick or if the typo introduced spacing issues, I’d have to start a new stencil from scratch.
Our bulletins had a pretty picture on the front cover and a story on the back cover. I tried to fit all the worship and announcement information on the inside. Otherwise I had to do even more stencils for an insert.
When I complained to Mom about how tedious the process was, she told me I had it easy. At Pres House the bulletins had three narrow columns to right-justify instead of just two wide columns, and her typewriter had increments, not just spaces, i.e., an “i” was one increment wide, an “m” was three increments, and most other letters were two increments. Try right-justifying that manually! I guess I did have it easy.
Mom also taught me two different methods for folding the bulletins. Either method produced perfectly folded bulletins – no unmatched corners, ever!
After a few weeks I got to be just as picky as Mom, and she was no longer embarrassed to see the bulletins in church on Sunday mornings. I guess I have to thank her for having a high standard for any work I produce to this day.
“So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled.” I guess that’s how Mom’s boss saw her. I liked reading the Rev. Dr. Jim Jondrow’s perspective of her from 1972. I also liked reading “ever listening and concerned friend … delicious cookies … terse commentary …”
Most of my memories of Mom relate to family times. It was good to read this newsletter, to see Mom from someone else’s perspective, and to be reminded of long-forgotten memories.
Everyone sees life and everything in it from a slightly (or greatly) different perspective. It’s always worthwhile to try to see someone else’s perspective on things, especially things close to us, including ourselves. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in “Friendship in the Twilight Zones of Our Hearts” in his book Bread for the Journey. He said,
There is a twilight zone in our own hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves – our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives – large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. …
Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility but also to a deep trust in those who love us.
Different perspectives. I’m really glad Mim paged through that old scrapbook, and shared with me the treasure she found. Seeing my mom from someone else’s perspective was enlightening and heartwarming. Now I’m more thankful than ever for Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day!
When I lived in Chicago and drove up to the farm in Cambridge to visit, Mom always sent fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me. (Along with bags and bags of whatever vegetables were ripening in the garden.)