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.