Her name was Eunice.
It had to be with that hair. It was 1940's chic, like one of the Andrews Sisters or Joan Crawford. A few strands escaped their bonds and matched the randomness of the thoughts she shared with anyone who would listen.
Her cat's-eye glasses were blue with rhinestones in the corners and rested halfway down her nose so that she never quite looked through them, but not over the top of them, either, making it difficult to really look her in the eye.
It was 1983 and Eunice and I worked together at a Baptist Bookstore Mail Order Center in Arlington, Texas, with a retail store out front and the warehouse in back. It was a very gray office. Gray steel desks populated by women with steel gray hair. Most of the women had been working together for 30 or 40 years, at least. They knew each other well, often fought like sisters, and played tag with the thermostat, changing the temperature depending on who was having hot flashes when.
I'm sure they hired me because I was young and healthy and could substitute for each of the women as they took turns having surgery. And they needed fresh ears for their stories. Mostly for Eunice's stories.
When Eunice had a story to tell she would stand up at her desk and start talking. Then she'd look around and see who was looking at her and that's how she chose her target. Later, while passing through the warehouse on an errand, we'd see Eunice there, telling the same story to someone there. And then it was on to the retail store. Then in the breakroom. And back to the office, etc. One by one, everybody had the opportunity to hear Eunice's story, even if they'd obviously been within earshot when she was telling it to five other people earlier in the day.
To really appreciate Eunice's stories you'd have to hear them with an accent. I think she was from Georgia and you knew her story was really getting good when you heard a phrase like, "... and then she says to me, she says...."
Once Louise, the most senior employee, stopped Eunice as she began one of her stories and said, "Eunice, why don't you just tell everyody all at once!" Eunice promptly sat down in a huff and uttered not a word for at least a half hour. (And that was a long stretch of silence for her.)
Eunice's stories were often about the sillyness of life. It was easy to tell she was an expert on these matters. Quick with a smile and a giggle, it seemed silly things happened more often to Eunice than to the rest of us.
She came to work once with her dress on backwards. She sat down on the floor to look for something in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in the back room and we found her there later, sound asleep. At 5 o'clock one day, as we all started filing out the door, Eunice was looking for her missing shoe.
Things like that happened to Eunice all the time. And when something silly happened, instead of hoping that nobody ever found out, she'd laugh and tell us all about it. One by one.
One day Eunice came back from lunch with a brand new story. As had become our habit, none of us wanted to look up at her as she spoke, knowing that if she spotted us first we would become the chosen target and be forced to give her our full attention for the duration of the (first telling) of the story. But this time we all stopped and paid attention because she told us that she had lost her lunch.
We all stared at Eunice and finally someone said "You mean you were sick --"
"No, no, I feel fine. I just lost my lunch!"
"What do you mean you lost it?"
And Eunice began telling her story to her now riveted audience.
"Well, I made myself a boiled egg for lunch and I was just about to sit down and eat it and the phone rang. It was my daughter, calling to find out what time the church picnic was next weekend and I told her I thought it was at three but I couldn't recall for sure so I checked the calendar on the refrigerator but I didn't have it written down there and then I remembered I still had the bulletin stuck in my Bible so I told her to wait just a minute and I'd go find out. Then I went back to my bedroom and found my Bible right on the nightstand where I'd left it and there was the bulletin tucked right inside the front cover and I found the announcements with the time of the picnic and instead of going back to the phone in the kitchen I just picked up the other phone there in the bedroom to tell her yes, it would be at 3:00 and she asked if I wanted her to come by and pick me up---"
"But what does that have to do with your lunch...?" we asked.
"Well, when I finished talking to her I went back to the kitchen to eat my boiled egg and it wasn't there!"
Silence... two... three... four....
"What do you mean, it wasn't there?"
"I mean it wasn't there! I couldn't find it anyplace!"
We told her she must have remembered wrong and just thought she'd prepared it but she insisted she had boiled that egg, the pan was still warm on the stove and there was one less egg in the refrigerator. The egg had just disappeared.
We tried to help her backtrack and think again of everything she did but we never could get her to remember anything else that would help solve the mystery of the missing egg. She said she finally gave up and made a sandwich for her lunch so she wouldn't be late getting back to work.
We kept waiting for the punch line, thinking she'd finally giggle and say "And then I found it under the...".
But there was no punch line. Just a lost lunch.
The phones on our desks began to ring and we had to give our attention to churches calling to place orders for books, hymnals and supplies, and the mystery of the lost lunch was set aside for the moment. But now and then throughout the afternoon we would look up at each other, shake our heads and with a giggle say, "Wonder what ever happened to that egg?"
The next morning as we gathered in our steel gray den and began removing typewriter covers and sharpening pencils for the day's work Eunice greeted us with, "Y'all remember yesterday when I said I lost my boiled egg...?"
"How could we possibly forget?"
“Well, I looked all around the kitchen again when I got home yesterday and still couldn't find any trace of it. But then when I went to bed last night and I put my feet under the covers I felt something ha-a-a-a-a-a-ard and co-o-o-o-o-o-o-old....!”
"Eunice! How did your hard boiled egg end up in the bed?!"
“Well, I guess I had it in my hand when I went back to the bedroom to get the church bulletin and I must have set it down while I was sitting on the bed talking to my daughter on the phone. And then when I hung up the phone I saw I hadn’t even made my bed that morning so I spread up the covers and I guess that’s how it got in there!”
And that solved the Mystery of the Lost Lunch.
Eunice was full of surprises. Just when I thought I had her pegged as an absent-minded ditz who stumbled through life by God's grace, I found out that while working to put her husband through seminary and raising four children she decided to get a seminary degree herself. And she did.
Sometimes Eunice's little surprises really hit the spot. She often brought flowers from her garden and placed them in a vase on a shelf near our desks. They were the only spot of color in an otherwise dreary, windowless office. One day she brought in a couple of stems of large bearded irises, big purple and white ones, like the ones that lined the backyard of the house where I grew up. When I commented on them she said she just loved flowers and told God that if He helped her garden grow she'd always be sure to share them. The other ladies in the office confirmed this, saying they'd seen it for themselves and she had the lushest garden of anyone they knew.
A few days later Eunice came in carrying an armload of purple and white irises, dozens of stalks with buds on most of them, in a huge glass vase. I knew that, with a little care, they would continue to bloom for weeks. She came over to my desk and quietly said, “Now those are yours. You take 'em home with you today and you can bring the vase back to me when they're gone.”
I thought of those irises years later when I got a call from my husband saying that Eunice had passed away. At that time I was working at the seminary print shop. The call came at a busy time as classes were changing and there were several customers, friends and co-workers within earshot. They could tell by my words and the tone of my voice that someone I cared about had died. They began to quiet down and gather around me to offer their support as I listened to him tell me what had happened to Eunice.
She had finally retired and went to visit her son who lived in Germany. They'd gone to Israel together to tour the Holy Land, just as she'd dreamed of for years. That's where she was when she had a fatal heart attack. I felt tears come to my eyes and told him how she had been so sweet to me when we worked together. Then he told me the rest of the story.
Eunice's body was being flown back to the United States for burial.
And they lost it.
Somehow the airline sent Eunice to the wrong city!
I burst out in hysterical laughter, collapsed against the wall and slid to the floor trying to catch my breath! My friends, still standing around, waiting to comfort me, thought I had lost my mind!
When I got off the phone and finally regained my composure I told them the whole story of this sweet, ditzy, intelligent, compassionate woman named Eunice and the two reasons why I laughed.
If it was going to happen... it was going to happen to Eunice!
And I have no doubt she would have been the first to tell the story!