When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
We were embarking on a grand adventure my high school friend and I. We had both graduated college, she in our hometown of Columbia, MO, and me from Shawnee, OK. I had some time away from home while at school and I felt like I had taken some control over my life. I was in one of those situations, though, where I both loved being on my own and hated being away from home. My mom didn’t really make it too easy to stay.
She was adamant that I should not live at home once I graduated college. This was not the standard encouragement mothers give daughters, this was an ultimatum born of the fact that she was in and out of mental hospitals while I was growing up and I had slipped into the role a mother should assume with my brother and sister. Now, I knew she was telling me I had to leave so she could become the mom again. She had been touched by God and was on her road to healing but that’s a different story. Her matter of fact statement came at me through clenched teeth: “You WILL NOT be living with us after you graduate college.” It might have been better received if the delivery were more lovingly delivered. But I got the message.
My senior year in college I was bounded in fear. The standard question of what are you going to do when you graduate was very intimidating. I had no idea. I wanted to use my journalism/religion major in writing. The dream that had driven me to pursue this degree, a degree combination that didn’t exist at the time and one I created from a loophole called “interdisciplinary major” was to publish a non-denominational Christian newspaper supported through commercial advertising. In the 70s this was a bold idea. I was to learn later that a few existed across the country. But none in my edge of the backwoods.
The creation of Good News Journal was a dream job, but that too is a different story. First I had some things to learn and new vistas to explore.
Prior to graduation I had interviewed with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board for a job as a press writer. These are individuals who write news stories based on interviews with missionaries who come home on furlough or send in information from the field. The office was in Richmond, VA, almost 1000 miles from my hometown. I thought I had the job. The boss who flew down to Oklahoma Baptist University to interview me was an OBU grad himself. I had a good interview. Now when people asked what I was going to do when I graduated, I had an answer. Then I got the letter. The one that says they’ve hired someone else. I was crushed. I went with my backup plan of working for the summer as arts and crafts director at Camp Soaring Hawk in southern Missouri. I also had purview of 5 very spoiled rich girls. We bonded though and in July we were a family.
My family was not one to call the camp and actually our families weren’t supposed to call unless their was an emergency. So when I was told I had a phone call I was apprehensive that someone was hurt or sick or worse. I ran to the phone. It was my Dad. Now I was sure something was up with Mom. “Don’t worry everyone is fine,” he said. “I wanted to call to tell you that we got a letter today from Foreign Mission Board. You want me to send it to you or open it and read it to you and then send it.”
“What are you waiting for, Daddy. Open it.”
“It says they want you in Richmond VA by Aug. 1 to start the job as press writer and the boss would like you to call him at your earliest convenience.”
I whooped and hollered. I was excited. I would have to leave camp early. Actually I left the next week to pack and get ready for a trip across the US by myself. Again that mixture of excitement and dread. Of course, I also wrote my best friend, Jacque, who had just graduated from college and was living at home. I asked if she wanted to come with me, help me drive, have an adventure into the unknown. She jumped at the chance. She wanted to work as a restaurant assistant manager and felt Virginia might be the place.
I had a 1970 Dodge Rambler that my pastor had sold me the year before. He promised me it was in great shape. He had driven it himself and he kept his vehicles in top notch order. One advantage to the Rambler was it was roomy. We crammed it full of most of what we thought we needed, which was actually clothes and a few kitchen items and bedding.
In our college town, there were always furnished apartments for rent. We figured we’d get one of those. In Richmond in 1975 they seemed non existent, even the concept was foreign to most people we talked with. We loved the Lottie Moon Hilton, as we called our apartment at the FMB but we had a date we had to leave by as missionaries were coming in from South America in a few weeks.
Desperate to find a place, Jacque and I shared it as a prayer request at the new Young Adults group that met at Monument Heights Baptist Church. We liked the church but loved the YA group. After prayer, a young woman came up to us and told us about a place she knew of. The family of an elderly lady who was in the nursing home wanted to rent out the bottom floor of her house. Two bedrooms, bath, kitchen, dining room, living room with fireplace, laundry in the basement, fully furnished with antiques and less than most apartments back home. It was on West Ladies Mile Rd. Is that not the coolest address? Unless it was falling apart or in a seedy neighborhood, we knew we’d take it and we did.
The place was a gorgeous brick house. And the furniture was beautiful. The woman’s niece lived in the upstairs apartment so if we had problems we could talk to her. For the most part she stayed to herself. The house was perfect. We were immediately accepted as tenants because of the reputation of my employer.
The house was great. The job was great as well. I was writing all day, which I loved. It was before computers were a household item so everything I wrote was done on selectric typewriter, the computer of the day, and no spell check. I dearly loved getting to know everyone at the Foreign Mission Board.
Baker James Cauthen, a veteran foreign missionary, was the executive director. We had the privilege of hearing him speak in chapel once a week. He was a master encourager always talking about how those working at the FMB were holding the rope for those tolling overseas. He emphasized the one department or job was not any more important the other that janitors, secretaries, press writers, regional directors were all equally important in helping maintain the welfare of the missionaries.
I loved being a part of a group whose main focus whether vacuuming the floor or typing a press release was for the greater good of mankind. I became the staff writer for Latin America. It’s wild that I wrote stories and chose pix out of the hundreds missionaries sent to tell the story of what the missionaries were doing. Yet I still have never traveled to any part of Latin America.
As press writers we were always lobbying for the FMB to budget for foreign travel for staff writers. The year after I left they did just that.
To my new friends I was Tree. I had never really had a nickname before but I loved the newness of it. I made a ton of friends there and we often went down to Newport Beach or up to Washington DC. Someone always had a friend we could stay with while we explored the area. We also like to go camping in the Blueridge Mountains. After a year, Jacque left and went back to Missouri and I moved into a large house with three roommates. Our house was party central. I even remember a 50s style going away dance party we threw for one of our friends. There was always something happening.
I remember sitting in the living room of the West Ladies Mile Road, antiques surrounding me and realizing, I am not in Missouri any more. I am not the little girl who tried to raise her brother and sister on her own while her Daddy was working and her mother was alternately sitting staring catatonically or spanking me with a belt for no reason. I am Tree, a new person. It bolstered me with courage to know I could handle change and even thrive in it. I could embrace something wholly strange and new.