I have been writing this post for three solid weeks. Its publishing is planned for the exact moment that my employment at the Catholic Center ends, 4:30 p.m. on Friday, June 2nd. After two decades of laughter, busyness, craziness and fun this very good and beloved thing is coming to an end. As this post makes its way onto the internet I will leave the Catholic Center as an employee for the very last time. It is a bittersweet day.
I will have a week of vacation before I embark on a new career in banking. One week to “move the anchor” from what I knew and loved to what I hope to learn and love. As I found from leaving one house for another, I desperately need this time to ground myself and set my mind for what lay ahead while at the same time honoring where I’ve come from and what I have experienced so far. Part of being able to move forward is a healthy identification of what is being left behind – memories, experiences, and the comfort of the job I know so well.
I used to joke that I grew up in an animal hospital, and while that is quite literally pretty true, considering the summers of my formative years that I spent huddled up on top of the filing cabinets or exploring the kennels and treatment rooms of Bossier Animal Hospital, I did my most beneficial growing at the Catholic Center. It is the place I have called my second home for my entire adult life. I love the people I have worked with as if they were family. Who am I kidding? They are family. The friendships that I have come to treasure and rely on are what made the memories I’m sharing here, and why I am likely crying my eyes out as I drive away from the building today. (You know I’m a softie. Don’t judge.)
I remember the day I met Elaine. I witnessed co-workers talking negatively about another co-worker when they turned to Elaine for her agreement. She disappointed them by saying the person in question had always been pleasant to her, so she really had nothing to contribute to their discussion. The gossip came to a sputtering halt, and I knew instantly that I liked Elaine.
I remember standing next to Jill in the Line Avenue kitchen and her straight forward question: “When are you going to come work with us in the Business Office?” It would take another six years, but I would eventually get there. It is quite possible that I will leave a large piece of my heart in that department.
I remember the Director for Child Nutrition hysterically sharing with me that she had just been chewed out by a parent who was angry over the school lunch menu. “Chicken Tetrazini” had been mis-relayed by a child to her parent, and the mother was livid that the school would dare to serve “Chicken Tits and Weenies.”
I remember the day I turned quickly to enter Gary’s office with my arms full of files, caught my foot on a phone cord and fell flat on the floor in front of him, unable to catch myself or break my fall because I was unwilling to drop the files I was holding. I lay on the floor for only a second with my long skirt splayed about me in a most unladylike fashion, but I recall him looking down at me in surprise and asking, “Are you okay?” before he began to giggle.
I remember the phone ringing off the wall after one particular work day had ended. Wondering why the caller wouldn’t just leave a message and desperate to make the ringing stop, I answered it to learn that our friend and co-worker, Sheila, had died in a car wreck an hour earlier. Nearly twenty years later, I still tense when I hear the main phone ringing incessantly after 4:30.
I remember Bishop Friend’s jokes. And Doris’ jokes. And the jokes they would volley off of each other in the staff kitchen. They could go for days. I’m sure they are entertaining the saints together now.
I remember needing information on how to do part of my job, and I asked everyone within earshot for direction. No one in my building could help me, so I called the Vatican. After two transfers I finally got a kind, English-speaking priest who helped me immensely. I also remember our Business Administrator closing his eyes and shaking his head when I told him what to expect on the phone bill.
I remember worrying about Doris one morning when she didn’t report to work and none of us knew why. Concerned for her safety, I brought her absence to Sr. Margaret’s attention and asked if one of us should go to Doris’ home to check on her. Sr. Margaret snapped that Doris was a grown woman and didn’t need us mothering her and, by the way, Doris was at the dentist.
I remember the day my childhood dog died. I left work early that afternoon. When I came in the next morning, Christine had printed a poem about the love and loyalty of dogs and signed it from her own pups. I still have it in a scrapbook and I cry every time I read it.
I remember getting quite aggravated at a missing community staple remover and the resulting email I sent to the whole building questioning my fellow employees’ integrity and demanding the stolen item be returned. I also remember Elaine laughing so hard she was crying while she admonished me, “Don’t you ever, ever, EVAH send an email like that without running it by me first!!”
I remember the White Elephant/Dirty Santa gift exchanges at the early staff Christmas parties and how John Mark would encourage everyone to “display their gifts on high” so we could all see them and thus admire (or laugh at) them. Jim would often model his unwrapped gift ala Vanna White in hopes some other soul would steal it. I also remember one of the more eye-popping gifts – a metal silhouette lamp of two entwined bodies – and the laughter that almost threw me out of my chair when I found out my boss had brought it.
I remember moving to the building on Fairfield when I was halfway through my first pregnancy. I would pace the long hall outside my office to settle Aaron down on his especially active days. I also remember the day the air conditioning went out in July and I swore I was either going to die or go into labor. Neither happened, though it felt like both.
I remember that on the morning of September 11, 2001 we all crowded around the television in the staff lounge to console each other as we watched the horror of the day unfold.
I remember Doris’ strong enunciation when she answered the phones as she boldly proclaimed, “CATH-o-lic CEN-Ter.” She explained to me one day that she emphasized the “t” in Center because she didn’t want her greeting to sound like “Catholic sinner.”
I remember many days of trying to decide where to lunch with Elaine and Patricia. Elaine always – without fail – wanted Ming Garden. Most days before Elaine could even cast her vote, Patricia would give her the hand and state firmly, “No Ming!”
I remember an especially difficult day in the Superintendent’s Office when we felt defeated by circumstances beyond our control. At the end of our depressing conversation, Sr. Carol stood up and said, “Well, let’s get back to work.” I know there were a million questions written on my face, but she continued gently: “Keep in mind, no matter how bad things seem we still have a job to do.” I have heard those words echo in my thoughts over the years, and am grateful for the extra wind they always put in my sails.
I remember making Elaine go with me on an errand to Fairview House, the priest residences at the other end of our office building. Walking over there always creeped me out since I had heard of certain hauntings that I had no desire to verify personally. On the second floor of Fairview House, Elaine and I heard a definite sound behind us and we almost broke our own legs trying to scurry over each other to get the hell out of Dodge.
I remember how my toddler Victoria loved John Mark’s voice. She would hear him from across a room and seek him out. She did so at a staff Christmas party and spent the rest of the afternoon in his arms.
Victoria and JM
I remember meeting Jill at Schlotzky’s to discuss my move to the Business Office. I was almost too nervous to eat, but I learned on that day that Jill has a way of putting my fears at ease with her confident and honest nature. (Side note: I haven’t thought about Schlotzky’s in years. Now I’m hungry.)
I remember the eccentric phone calls we would get from the general public. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them, but we began to notice that the more bizarre conversations were always in sync with the lunar cycle. My favorite was the repeated request from an elderly lady who wanted us to fly the Pope to her house for a private audience. Elaine and I would patiently listen to the various callers before hanging up and asking each other to look at a calendar. “Yep,” came the oft-heard reply. “It’s a full moon.”
I remember Jill pulling me and Elaine into her office, closing the door, and sitting down to retrieve something from her wallet. She smoothed a piece of paper and showed us the ultrasound picture. We were so happy, I think we all cried.
I remember an email Elaine sent to me and Patricia which accidentally got sent to Father Dave too. When I saw his name on the list, I panicked and raced to Patricia’s office to see if she could use her IT skills to stop the email from reaching him and save Elaine from eternal mortification. Sadly, it was too late, and mere mention of that email now can send us howling. Patricia later told Elaine, “Lori is white anyway, but she was REALLY white when she came running into my office!!” Needless to say, we don’t share embarrassing things in emails anymore.
I remember my 18-month stint out of the Business Office in another department and the day I learned that my old job in Business was open again. I called Jill from Bishop’s reception room. Her first words: “I hope you’re calling for the reason I think you’re calling.” My reply: “Can I come home?”
I remember planning Jessica’s first baby shower – Beatles themed – and all the intricate details I crafted that I wanted to be so perfect. I worked a literal hard day’s night making a cake decorated like a vinyl record, then I got sick and missed the whole darn party.
I remember – heck, I will ALWAYS remember – the Harry Potter Halloween. And I remember that afterward, as we tossed out ideas for the following year’s celebration, Father Dave’s eyes lit up at the mention of Lord of the Rings.
Staff and students of Hogwarts with Bishop Duca
I remember Margie’s holiday headbands: glittery shamrock antennae, reindeer antlers, bunny ears… I also remember realizing that Margie has more Christmas decorations than the North Pole.
I remember Mickey’s sage advice about raising teenagers and the three things she could promise me: 1) all teenagers lie; 2) they really can’t help being stupid; and 3) you will like them again.
I remember that Msgr. Moore would call me on June 28th every year to remind me that his auto insurance was expiring in two days and he needed a new ID card from me. And every year I would sweetly assure him that I would get it to him in time, come hell or high water.
I remember decking our hallway each year for Christmas right after Thanksgiving, which infuriated the Advent purists at the other end of the building. I hung the stockings while Mike supplied the tree and décor. Blanca, Jessica and Mickey could always be counted on to help string lights and hang ornaments. Sometimes we’d hook up someone’s phone to speakers and play Christmas tunes while we decorated.
I remember trying to sneak into the building with a box of t-shirts we would all wear as a birthday surprise for Bishop Duca. My foot caught on the door facing and I was down for the count, certain I had just broken my arm. (Because once again, I didn’t want to let go of what I was carrying.) I lay on my back on the cement floor mentally assessing my damage as Mickey, who had been holding the door open for me, looked down in surprise at my prone form. She later commented that I fall very quietly. Dominic just happened to stop by my office that day. He saw me with an ice pack on my elbow and he and Jill together decided that my clumsy butt was going to the doctor. It was the only time my name was ever attached to a work comp injury, and I could not wait for that claim to roll off the insurance reports I had to download each month.
I remember Starbucks Fridays, where I would brave the morning crowd with a handful of co-workers’ gift cards so I could order each person’s favorite beverage. I can still name each of their go-to drinks.
I remember 8:00 a.m. Mass in the Catholic Center chapel before the seven stained glass windows were installed on the east wall. The morning sun would stream into the chapel though the clear glass panes, illuminating the pews in picturesque, if not blinding, rays of gold. If there’s a chapel in Heaven I believe it will look just like that.
I remember taking departmental pictures for staff features in The Catholic Connection. The Business Office did pose for one dignified, professional looking photo which was used in the publication, but we thought this picture suited us much better. It is still one of my all-time favorites.
Mickey, Guy, Jill, Margie and me
I remember John Mark chastising me over my failure to keep my car washed. Hey, it’s clean on the inside.
I remember seeing Mike with a diet soda after I had spent several years sharing my ingredient research and enlightenment with those closest to me. I nearly yanked the bottle out of his hand before checking myself and admitting to him that true, it was none of my business what he drank, but I rather cared for his health and it would be great if he wouldn’t poison himself.
I remember a myriad of conversations with Jessica as we geeked out over books, characters and storylines. I’ll be forever grateful for her bringing me into the worlds of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare and Deborah Harkness.
I remember coming back to the office from countless doctors’ appointments while Charolette was being treated for cancer. Mickey and Jill had declared our work area to be my safe space and they allowed me to cry and be comforted there each and every week.
I remember when Emily sent me this clipart picture. She said it made her think of me. I’m pretty sure everyone who knows me will agree.
I remember telling Jill that I was going to send my resume out. She reacted just as I knew and hoped she would – with love and support for my development and little regard for her own inconvenience.
I remember the day of my first job interview in 21 years. I came back to my office that afternoon to the news that Pop had a tumor that would later be diagnosed as cancer. Mickey, Margie and Jill rallied around me and let me sob all over again.
I remember telling Elaine that I had gotten the job I applied for. She was on vacation at the time. When she returned on Monday she called me and said, “I’m back, but I can’t look at you yet.”
Today is indeed bittersweet. Keeping these memories and friends close in my heart will help ease the bitter part of leaving. I thank my dear co-workers – each and every one – for sharing their lives with me and being not only good and decent friends but the sweetest part of my life at the Catholic Center. I love you all.
Elaine and Me – June 1, 2017