I remember my elementary school had a small staff: Besides the cooks and custodian (there was no librarian; music, speech, and reading teachers split their time with other schools), there was just the principal, Mr. Cooper, and the secretary, Mrs. Crawford.
Every month, I stood in a line that stretched along the inside counter of the cramped office and sometimes into the hall. That’s how we bought lunch tickets. Mrs. Crawford took cash or check ($5, which later went up to $5.20). She never asked for my name but quickly wrote it in her small uniform cursive across the bottom of the palm-sized ticket. If I had been a day or two late bringing my money, Mrs. Crawford took out her lunch punch to make the ticket reflect how I was in the black again. I watched her go through the same process with other children in line. She seemed to keep all our names and accounting in her head.
At lunch time, we lined up by class and handed our tickets, one by one, to be punched by Mrs. Crawford–who stood in the hall by the milk cooler. She then bundled each class’ tickets with a rubber band and returned to her desk behind the glass wall of the centrally-located school office. Passing by in the hall through the years, I watched her type or carry on other office business–sounds muffled by the glass. During my monthly visits inside, quite in keeping with the near-silence, Mrs. Crawford seemed economical with words.
I knew her voice but she usually spoke through her work. She knew me. I knew she knew my parents. I knew I could depend on her to be fair. I trusted she was taking care of me and my siblings in every way that was within her power. And she was always there–there through my elementary career and those of my little sister and brother. (I don’t know who manned the office when my older siblings were grade schoolers.)
Oh yes, there was another service Mrs. Crawford performed for the school: She played the piano for our singing programs and rehearsals. The teachers would wrestle their large classes of us baby boomers onto the multi-purpose risers. Then our tall, long-limbed, close-cropped dark-haired secretary–clad in white blouse, dark skirt and flats–would appear in time for the down beat.
Come to think of it, those were some of the few occasions I saw her in the auditorium/gym/cafeteria. She usually held down the office while the principal supervised lunch or convened the rest of the school.
Interestingly, like her work digs, Mrs. Crawford’s house sat on an exposed street corner at the center of our LDS Ward. There were no privacy fences for the front or back yards. Seeing what was going on at the Crawfords could be part of any car trip from home.
For a few years, we saw her at church too, on Sundays, where my father, who was bishop, called her Sister Crawford. She played the prelude and hymns for Sunday School. It is the sight of her at the piano and strains of music that come to mind.
Her husband never showed at church. I have little impression of what he looked like. I have a suspicion he was why Mrs. Crawford asked to be released from her piano assignment. My father said she told the Sunday School superintendent no one listened anyway. She stopped attending after that.
The Crawfords had two daughters: Rhondalon, the older, who was reserved like her mother but fair and as elegant as her name, and Sharon, the younger, who was a little awkward and rough at the edges. After graduating elementary school and junior high, Sharon and I rode the same bus and ended up in the same high school speech class. She had not grown into her wild, dark beauty. She voiced rebellion in her speeches. Later that year, she had a baby.
Mrs. Crawford left her job at the elementary school to raise her new grandson. I don’t know, but I think I sensed a certain joy, driving by, as she tended the baby in the yard. The family barbecued and sat out often under the now-mature trees. Across-the-street neighbors visited in the lawn chairs.
I continued to travel on that street until I graduated from college. Five or six years after that, one Sunday afternoon in early summer, my wife and I attended church with my parents. Our baby was restless so I decided to lull him in the sunshine. With a soon-sleeping infant in my arms, my stroll took me three blocks from the church. I took the shaded path to Mrs. Crawford’s door (retracing steps made as a deacon and Boy Scout when I carried the envelope inscribed “Jones Crawford,” her husband’s name, soliciting donations, except now I was a student grown up and a former neighbor).
I said something about walking by, thinking of her as a long-ago friend. She invited me into the small, square front room. I looked at family photos. She told me her grandson was a tall, handsome teenager, that he had moved in recently with his mother and new step-father but that she still kept his room for him. They were very close. Her older daughter was accomplished. No visible regret that she and Jones had divorced. She had taken a position as an administrative assistant at the school district office. I told her my recollection that she had memorized the name of every student at the school. She said she thought everyone deserved to feel important. I don’t remember if I thanked her for her music.
I have since lived long enough to have grandchildren of my own. I hadn’t thought of Mrs. Crawford for many years. But, this morning, her story popped into my mind. It took me a while to remember her first name–Barbara. I didn’t find an obituary on the internet but it looks like she died in 2010 at eighty-three; it was there I found the spelling of her older daughter’s name. I described most of this today to church men, finishing a point about redemption. I left it for all of us to ponder how the story applies.
Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52
copyright 2014 Dan Christensen all rights reserved