She was known as Mrs. Fix. No one seemed even to know her first name, Ethel. It was always and forever Mrs. Fix this and Mrs. Fix that. Everyone, administrators, coworkers, friends, and parents knew her as Mrs. Fix. Looking back I realize now that it must have been an unconscious association. She fixed people. They were going to sorely miss her. Who would see that the books were ordered, delivered to the right room, and organized? Who would fight for the underdog or straighten out the unruly ones in such a motherly way that they WANTED to behave? Who would battle the “system” to change unfairness or neglect?
The minister who conducted the solemn proceedings, which was held in an over-flowing large auditorium, finished the lengthy eulogy where I learned much more about Ethel than she communicated back home. I was in awe of the respect and honor they gave her. Then he announced that the floor was open to anyone who wanted to share their experiences with Mrs. Fix or how she affected their life. In the embarrassingly long and heavy pause that followed there were sniffles and stifled sobs. The pastor encouraged them again. Still no response. I began to wonder if there was something that the family was supposed to do that was undone yet and they were respectfully waiting. I looked at her husband Bud and two daughters, Cheryl and Cynthia, but they just shrugged. A third time the pastor was almost pleading. I couldn't bear it any longer. These people needed to hear the rest of the story. Without any notion of what I was going to say or how I was going to say it, I stood up. A path was made and I soon found myself looking at hundreds and hundreds of people, still with no idea what to say. To buy time, I turned slowly to the pastor and thanked him for the wonderful words he spoke about Mrs. Fix. Then the spark happened.
“I am Mrs. Fix's baby brother, Danny. I, of course, knew her as just Ethel.” I started. There was an audible gasp as people heard me say the unknown (or forbidden) name. “I've already told the pastor how much I appreciated all the nice things he had to say about her and about how much you admired and respected her. But I knew a whole different person.” The tension broke and the place roared with laughter. “I thought you might like to hear a story from our childhood that speaks to her character in a very different way. You see, being the youngest of four children, I had certain privileges, one of which was sleeping in Ethel's bed room. I was, and still am, afraid of the dark.” (chuckles) “So she took me under her protective custody when I was but four years old.” (heads were nodding in recognition) “Mom permitted this situation as long as I agreed to help clean the room. That was a no brainer. How hard could that be? Well, Ethel didn't get meticulous over the years...she was born that way. And I began to reconsider the bargain. I tried HARD to make it though the whole night in my own room, but I ALWAYS bawled my way back to the twin bed next to Ethel, where she would inevitably comfort me until I fell asleep. Even the boogey man was afraid of Mrs. Fix!” (much laughter)
“The day of regular cleaning dawned as any other day would. After breakfast we were sent upstairs to do our chores and “clean the room”. Ethel's notion of “clean the room” differed from mine so much that we began to pester each other as siblings do. Finally Ethel had had enough and clobbered me with a pillow. Not to be outdone, I walked nonchalantly around to my bed, pretended to do something until she was busy, grabbed my pillow and sneaked back around while she was bent down, back turned, tucking in her sheets. I waited until just the right moment when she straightened up and let it fly with all my might. With a slight movement of her hand she caught the pillow deflecting the blow and began to pummel me with it. It was no contest. What chance does a five year old have against a 14 year old? I was melting with laughter under the blows which kept raining down until I was a helpless heap on the floor. The blows still rained down and I realized I wasn't getting better. With all my strength I tried to grasp the pillow, but I just couldn't hang on. Finally a blow to the face allowed me to catch a corner of the pillow in my teeth. I thought 'Now I've got you', but it wasn't to be. She gave an irresistible pull on an unmovable pillow and it ripped.”
“Now you need to know that our pillows were not like today's polyester filled puff balls. Mom had carefully crafted these treasured pillows from muslin ticking and stuffed them full of downy feathers from our chickens. They are the most comfortable pillows ever, and they are GREAT for pillow fights.”
“On this occasion, however, the muslin now many years aged, gave way to a large tear. The entire room filled with tiny feathers and the corner of the pillowcase was in my mouth with feathers sticking out all around it. Ethel fell apart laughing as I tried to take advantage of her moment of weakness and pummeled her some more with the broken pillowcase, emptying it into the room until we could hardly see each other. It resembled one of those paperweight scenes that you shake to make dense snow fly. Meanwhile, Mom had heard the commotion and was outside the door before we could compose ourselves. I wish you could have seen Mom's face as she opened the door to scold us for the raucous noise and prod us to finish cleaning. Her mouth was open to speak firmly, but her eyes lighted on my mouth with feathers still sticking out of it. Slowly, in one of those extended moments, she closed her mouth, bit her lip and with the greatest of determination not to laugh in front of us backed out the door. Upon closing the door we heard 'You..are not...finished until...every last feather (more suppressed giggle only louder) is cleaned up'.”
By this time the audience was laughing out loud, some with tears in their eyes. It was clear they appreciated hearing about the family side of Mrs. Fix. I can't tell you how many persons came to me at exit thanking me for telling that story to make them laugh. They indicated they had never imagined that Mrs. Fix could do such a thing!
The dam was broken and for the better part of another hour people kept coming to share story after story of how Ethel had changed their lives. What better way to enter eternity than with the recommendation of hundreds of people whose lives you've touched.