I’m interrupting the series for this reminiscence, for reasons that will soon become clear. It’ll be a little longer than usual.
Thirty years ago I was supervising the writing of secondary-level textbooks at BJU Press. One day a lady called me looking for a job. She and her husband had just moved to the area from Mississippi, and she had typing skills, skills that we routinely hired back in those days. I told her to come in for a typing test. Shouldn’t be any big deal, I said.
The next morning when she arrived, I directed her to a computer, gave her a page of text that served as our standard typing test, and told her to have fun with it.
As I turned to walk away, I noticed that her hands were visibly shaking.
When she said she was done, I checked the test.
Words per minute were abysmal—12, as I recall. Accuracy was just as bad.
I smiled at her and said, as kindly as I could, that I just didn’t think she’d be right for the job. She said she understood and headed for home.
I sat in my office and thought about what I’d just witnessed. Didn’t make any sense at all.
If she couldn’t type, why did she try to get a typing job? Why did she show up for what she knew would be a typing test?
And why were her hands shaking like she was facing a firing squad?
I’ll bet she really can type, I thought. I’ll bet she has test anxiety. Take that away, and I’ll bet she can do the job.
What happened here just isn’t right.
I called her home phone, and she answered, crying. I told her I thought she could do better than she did, that she was just nervous because of the test. I told her we hadn’t treated her right. How about this, I said. You come in next week and work for us—we’ll pay you—and we’ll see how you do. If after a week we decide you’re not right for the job, then we’ll part ways, no hard feelings. But I think you can bring something to us that we can use.
Monday morning she showed up, and I gave her a chapter of Tim Keesee’s US Government manuscript. Tim, if you know him, is a man of an earlier century, and he was still writing out his manuscripts longhand. Melba—that was her name—went to work, and after an hour I knew how our little experiment would turn out. Not only could she type perfectly well, but she could also read Tim’s handwriting, which put her into a pretty select class. By the end of the day I told her that the trial period was over and that she was on board for the long term.
Eight years later, when my pastor was dying of a brain tumor, and his associate pastor conducted a final interview at his hospital bed, Melba asked me if she could type up the interview so the congregation could have a hard copy of his dying words to them. This wasn’t her church, but she wanted to do what she could to minister to a hurting congregation. She saw it as a sacred task, and she wept as she typed.
She stayed with the Press for more than 25 years, eventually becoming an unofficial Mom for all kinds of people in the production side of the business, and throwing herself into party preparation with the best of them. I left the Press before she did, but I went back over for her retirement party to say that hiring her was one of the things I was proudest of. You see, I really don’t have the gift of mercy, and I have no doubt that my thinking that crucial day was quite literally an act of God.
A few days ago, Melba finished her race here and joined her husband, who had preceded her by almost exactly 7 months. Her daughter was kind enough to contact me individually to let me know and to tell me where the funeral would be. It’ll be a ways away, she said. No matter; I’ll be there, I said.
So Tuesday, I set out on the 60-mile drive west from Greenville. Through Easley, then Clemson—the day after the CFB championship win—then Seneca, then Westminster. Then out into the countryside, not exactly Deliverance country, but getting pretty close. Down a country road to a small private establishment, where you park on the lawn and walk a couple hundred yards back into the woods to a rustic but beautiful chapel that holds maybe 40 people if they sit close together.
It’s mostly family, with a handful of friends, most of whom I know. A friend and colleague of mine, Melba’s pastor, leads the little group in singing “There Is a Fountain,” and her daughter and eldest grandchild share memories and tributes. The pastor comforts us from the Scripture, and in just a few minutes the quiet little service is over. The pallbearers, her grandsons, lift the plain pine box, handmade by her son-in-law, and we follow out the back of the chapel and another 30 or 50 yards farther into the woods, where there’s a grave prepared. We all sing “Amazing Grace,” including my favorite verse—
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Her son and grandsons carefully lower the box into the grave, committing her now-discarded body to the earth from which it came. Then, as a granddaughter plays hymns on the violin, her grandsons, all young and strong–fine men–make short work of shoveling the displaced red South Carolina clay over the coffin, then cover the pile with topsoil and pine straw, her granddaughters adding greenery as a silent testimony that death is defeated and life continues.
It is. And it does.
So we continue, living and loving here while keeping our focus on the blessed hope and the restitution of all things.
Dan, I’m at a loss for words. Thank you for such beautiful words about my mother.
Ken Colby says
Beautiful Danny. Thanks for sharing – I look forward to meeting her one day. 🙂 <3
Dan Olinger says
My pleasure, my friend.
Mary Fraley says
That was so precious. I love the grave in the woods, so beautifully simple and meaningful.
Steve Skaggs says
Thank you, Dano. Melba was a wonderful person to work with and made the Press a better place.
I had not heard about Melba’s passing. Thanks for the sharing these memories.
Sunny Weigand says
What a precious, moving tribute. Just another example of God’s amazing grace – in prompting you to call Melba back, and as a result, Melba’s many years of faithful service! So glad I read this, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about sweet Melba’s passing. I’ll be praying for her family. Thank you, Dan.
Cathy VanDonkelaar says
Thank you so much, Dan. She would be tickled pink….. she thought the world of you.
Shelly Kuzmic says
We remember Melba. This is a sweet tribute.
Ron Tagliapietra says
Thanks, Dan-O! I didn’t know the story of either Melba’s being hired or her passing.
Marcia Dersch says
Blessed my right up to the top of my head! Thank you.
Ron Newhart says
Thanks so much for sharing and giving us a renewed eternal perspective! What a moving story. Thank you!
Connie Collins says
Thank you, Dan. I remember her well. She was truly an established member of BJUP!
Beth Barnard says
very sweet. cried while I read it!
Wally Morris says
One of your better articles.
Beth Cofer says
Beautifully written. Melba was a special friend of my mom’s (Gail Burke) and although I haven’t had contact with her in years, I remember her as such a kind person. She was so sweet to me and even helped me with some wedding preparations after my mom passed away. Thanks for this tribute!
Dennis Bollinger says
Thanks, Dan. Melba was a treasure. It was an honor to have known her.
Dennis Cone says
I met Melba when I came to the Press nearly fifteen years ago. I didn’t work with her much, but she was always so friendly and kind. One of the task I saw her doing daily was refilling umpteen ice trays and putting them in the break room freezer so other employees would have ice for the day. That’s when I would tease her that she was “such an ice lady.” And she was!
Dan Olinger says
I didn’t know about that; thanks for sharing it. And don’t get me started on your Mom. I could have written about her too. 🙂
Lindsey Dickinson says
Thank you for this. Melba was a blessing to work with. Thank you for bringing her to BJUP!
Bev Campbell says
This was passed on to me by my sister who also works at the Press. We knew Melba in Mississippi, attending the same church, and we taught at the school her children attended. I saw her a couple times in the past 15 years. She and her husband were lovely people and your beautiful tribute brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. Bev (Bircher) Campbell, New Zealand
Anita Sedivy says
Thank you so much for sharing the story of how she came to BJU. Our paths crossed a few times as I did some volunteer work for BJU Press. Melba was so kind, and her years of continued service in one location is to be admired.