Puppies and Politics

I returned to work from maternity leave as Manager of the Word Processing Center. In June of 1985, I hired a friendly woman named Peggy. Debi Morris came to the bank to have lunch with me one day and was introduced to Peggy. Later, Peggy asked if Deb and I were sisters and I explained that she was my sister by choice and that we had been dear friends for over twelve years. For some reason, I told Peggy that Debi’s son and only child was adopted that that Debi really wanted more children. Peggy volunteered that her neighbor was expecting a child and planned to give the baby up for adoption. I could not believe it. Debi had been looking for another adoption opportunity for many months. To make a long story short, just three months later, I had the privilege of being there when Debi brought her beautiful daughter home from the hospital. I then found the grace to completely let go of the bitterness over being terminated from the Star-Telegram and gave thanks for God’s blessings in the storm and His hand on my life. I had new skills, new experiences and respect within my company. Most of all, had I not been working at the bank, we would have missed many years of joy with that precious baby girl.

As memory equipment was purchased and training was completed throughout the bank, the need for the Word Processing Center declined. I felt unemployment snapping at my heels the day the closing of the center was announced. However, instead of a job hunt, I found myself offered the open position in the Documentation Department. This department was responsible for documenting bank policy and procedure and was of great interest to me because it involved writing. The job description did include that formidable phrase “four-year degree required.” I did not have that degree but, my reputation as a wordsmith preceded me. The division manager, Joe, told the Documentation manager, we will call her Cheryl, to hire me. The department was located at the operating center in Bedford so I said good-bye to downtown and settled in to the new position. Cheryl would prove to be the most interesting boss of my career.

“A Tiger by the Tail” could be the theme song for the years I worked for Cheryl. She was slight of stature with a mighty roar and perfection was the bottom rung of her expectations. And, she was not happy to welcome an “uneducated” person to her writing team. Right away, I noticed that the other writers were polite but distant. I was not invited to join groups going out to lunch and any questions that I had were met with minimal response. About a month into the job, I gained some intel and insight. Laura, my cube mate, was a very sweet, pretty, recent college graduate. After I helped her with something one day, she told me that I was different than she had expected. When I asked in what way, she told me that, prior to me joining the department, Cheryl called the team together to apologize to them for having to work with an unqualified, under-educated writer and to tell them not to worry, that I would be gone within six months. Acutely aware of the very real truth that a boss will find a way to get rid of any person they do not like, I knew I had work to do. My degree-less self had to win Cheryl over. She was a good person, proud of her daughter, good sense of humor and fun to talk with – if she liked you. If she did not, approaching her office made one feel as if they needed to stand back and first throw in a shoe. So, charming her with amusing conversation was out. I needed to come up with the unexpected.

The department had a board with a list of projects. Some were automatically assigned and some were waiting to be picked up. One project that no one wanted involved the inventory and status assessment of disaster contingency documentation. The project was huge and convoluted with conflicting details. It was also a high priority with Joe, the division head. I started working on it on a Friday after Cheryl left for the day. I took it home and worked nonstop all weekend to have it complete and on Cheryl’s desk by Monday morning. She walked in her office, quickly reviewed it, and went directly to Joe to report the project done. Joe was happy. Cheryl was happy. Her demeanor toward me thawed a good bit and then, I had opportunity to gain her confidence and respect. We began to have lunch together from time to time, sharing the vicissitudes of life as working mothers and challenges of navigating the business world as women.

I enjoyed my work family. It was sometimes interesting when work family encountered home family. The English language was secondary to my husband, therefore his pronunciation and comprehension often produced comical results. Once at a company picnic, he was asked what he had been up to, he replied “Oh, very, very busy painting the chicken.” Until that moment, the similarity of the words “chicken” and “kitchen” had escaped me. Then there was the day one of my coworkers came to our house to possibly adopt one of the eight blessings our dog had produced. Kay was from Georgia, an intelligent young lady working to put her husband through the local Baptist seminary. She was the epitome of southern manners. My husband was really doing a sell job because he wanted rid of the little furry creatures. She thought they were adorable but seemed doubtful. “Do they shed much?” she asked in her gentle southern accent. Before I could reply, my husband, who did not know the word “shed,” had a comprehension malfunction and, gesturing with his hand as if holding a chunk of something, replied “Oh no, no, no, it’s little bitty – I just run over with lawn mower.” I bit the inside of my cheek to keep a straight face. Her expression did not register shock or humor. I never learned if she understood what he thought she said. She graciously took her leave. She did not take a puppy.

My career continued to advance in the banking world. I earned the title of Officer and became Cheryl’s assistant. I also became co-harts with Joe in coming up with “presentations” for company gatherings. These efforts usually involved singing custom songs for the event and yodeling. This aspect of my company interaction also laid the groundwork for a special assignment from Cheryl. As I said, she was my most interesting boss and the assignment was, by far, the most interesting assignment of my working career. One might even call it outrageous.

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