Where to begin? First off, I’m at 30K feet again. This time traveling with my wife Jane, to Indy to participate in memorial services for her mom. Lots of emotion, but looking forward to great family and friend time and celebrating a life well-lived. Barb was 92 and in hospice at the end, so none of this came as a shock or surprise. She battled many ailments in the final few years of life, proving once again what a tough lady she was. Even though she was ready to go meet Jesus back in Aug, she hung on until December. The human fighting spirit—it’s an amazing thing.
Barb was a tall, gracious woman who served her family and community for the better part of 7 decades. Living on the northside of Indy in what used to be a small town, called Carmel, she and Vaughn raised 3 girls in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. She was a career 5th grade school teacher and lover of all sports.
What’s amazing however and the reason I am taking time to put these thoughts down is how she treated me. The short version is I met, fell in love with and asked her youngest daughter to marry me in about 6 weeks, nearly 36 years ago. The part that strains credulity is Barb and Vaughn didn’t laugh me out of the house, or pull out a shotgun or even (to my knowledge) counsel their daughter that this might not be the wisest of decisions. Instead they took a kid barely 6 months out of Butler University with a classic sales major (French and Political Science) and offered him hope and a home.
After graduating in May of 1982, I was a bit lost. Possibly a gigantic understatement, but there really wasn’t anyone in my life pointing me in any clear direction. I stayed on with the restaurant where I’d been working during college and they made me a kitchen manager. Not glamorous, but lots of free food and drink and a steady paycheck, plus access to myriad of the fairer sex. What’s not to like for someone thinking small and short term? Jane was waiting tables, I was cooking, our first kiss was in the walk-in freezer. Not sure if that’s ultra romantic or pathetic...
After bouncing around too many relationships at college she represented something different. Don’t know why, but it just clicked between us. And so it began. I asked her to marry me after a few too many one night close to Xmas that year—slimy thing to do, not well thought out or planned. She should have slapped me and sent me packing, but after a few days she said yes. Best decision ever in my mind—maybe not so much in hers.
I was soon offered a similar position in Worthington, OH at the same restaurant chain and decided to take it in January of ‘83. Long story short, I moved over to an apartment and within 45 days I was back, after having been fired along with the entire management staff because they discovered someone was selling drugs behind the bar (which was news to me). Wish I would have known a good lawyer back then. In any case I came back with my tail between my legs, still engaged miraculously, and found another restaurant job, but had no place to stay. Guess who jumps in and says “yes, we have room and he can stay with us until he gets on his feet.” That’s right, Jane’s mom, Barb. What a lady. What could she possibly have seen in me back then that I could not see myself? Who does that? Who takes in a wandering cook with no apparent future or even a plan of attack? I can’t imagine the conversations she and Vaughn must have had over those early months in the spring of 1983, as Jane and I were figuring out who we were and what to do.
I kept working a few restaurant jobs until we were married in June of 1983. We got our first little apartment (actually a couple rooms in an old house), a puppy (bad mistake) and Jane got her first teaching job. Late that summer I met someone who helped me get my first sales job and the world took on a different hue.
As we say in our business, so what? Who cares, right? But that’s just it. Someone did care. Someone (God) did have a plan and someone else (Barb/Vaughn) was willing to invest to make a difference. They hung in with me until I worked through that awkward stage and landed my first sales job and began to figure out that I was actually made for something better.
In the end they took a brash, arrogant, young man with little direction even less sense and helped him become something more. No preaching, just leading by example and offering up words of encouragement and wisdom as needed. I had a hard time just getting past the fact that their beautiful daughter was actually choosing me. They were thinking further out. I couldn’t wait for the weekend, they saw potential for a lifetime. Someone who could be molded and presumably provide for their daughter. The “building blocks” Barb would later say to me, “were there, they just had a lot of dust on them.”
I am indebted to Barb and Vaughn. We shared many excellent times together across the years. And, even though we lost Vaughn in 1993, and my own mom in 1990, Barb was a steady source of comfort and gentleness. I’ll never know why she didn’t look to remarry or seek companionship later in life, but I am thankful for the role she played in my life. At a point when I was searching, she offered grace and hope.
For those who have similar stories or appreciate a little irony, you’ll smile at this Lion King-esque, circle of life appendix. Because grace was shown to me (a recurring event in my case), I have strived to pay it forward in my own life, which is probably why God put my new son-in-law in my path. Something of a lost soul himself for many years through high school and after, Nick had a bead on my daughter that began in 2nd grade. They were a “couple” on and off for over a decade, ultimately getting married recently and providing the first grandchild on our side of the family. Gracelyn Love Vanderlinda is a perfect bundle of joy and we are beyond smitten.
As life comes full circle, Nick is now living in our basement with my daughter and granddaughter, having moved back to the west side of the state from Spokane. While they collect their thoughts, save some money, plan for the future and get used to a new baby, Nick is proving to be a natural at his first sales job. He is hungry to do well and is a sponge and an open book for advice. He is catching up on some lost time and is grateful for those who are taking an interest in him and his future. I’ve been a sales manager for close to 25 years now and coach and mentor sales folks for a living. Coincidence that he ended up in my house? I don’t think so. And so it goes...we honor those before us by paying forward what we have learned to the next generation. May it be so for all of us who take the time to look around and get involved somehow to help others.
I will miss Barb, just like I have missed Vaughn and my own mom. We loved sports and golf and watching the Hoosiers and Colts together, going out for a bite and just sharing stories of a life well-lived. I wish now I had heard more of these; about her youth and family growing up in a post-depression and WWII era. I also pray she is experiencing the reunion and homecoming we are all promised. May I honor her 92 years by being even half as gracious as she was.