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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Saturday, February 26, 2011


When I worked for Youth In Need, my friend Laura Harrison, who was also my boss, used to stop by my office periodically and say to me:  "So when are you gonna decorate your office?"  She was a big believer in making your office a home away from home.  For Laura, her office was her home.

Laura was no workaholic.  She liked to play, and she liked to have fun.  But when you talk about somebody being dedicated to their work, well, Laura was the epitome.  In her years as an advocate for kids and in her job as the head of Head Start in the St. Charles region, Laura was known for her get-out-of-my-way drive to save children and families.

Laura died on February 17.  Her big heart apparently finally gave out, and at a very young age.  She was only 54. Her brother David wrote this about her:  "There is no doubt in my mind that Laura's first questions to St. Peter were 'Where's the kid's section and how can we make it better?'  Her next question to St. Peter would be "Where can I fish?'"

On my return trip from her funeral in Jefferson City, I realized that someday I will have to return to JC and find her grave and place a pair of socks on it.  Laura never wore socks.  Even on frigid, zero-degree days, she walked in to the building where we worked with her ankles bare.  She said they wouldn't stay up.  I kept telling her I was going to buy her a pair of socks that would stay up, but I never got around to it.  I still owe her that pair of socks.

The other memory that hit me on the drive home, and the one that brought me to tears, was of her insistent reminders that I put something on my office walls, that I bring a bit of "me" to the space where I worked.  I had my kids' photos on my desk, and at one point I built a display on a shelf of toy dinosaurs I had collected over the years (being a mom and a fan of dinosaurs), and in a building dedicated to kids, I thought that was appropriate.  Laura liked it, but she still said "you need stuff on the walls."

I tend to work in a context of messiness, papers and folders and newspapers and pens and coffee cups spread out everywhere, so clearly decorating does not come easy.  And during the two years I worked for Laura, I just never seemed to have enough time to do that decorating thing she kept talking about. But just this week, in the job I have now, I realized that my office actually looks, well, like a human being works here. I have a framed poster of the Beatles on one wall and a Monet print on another.  I have pictures of my kids, a plant that I adopted six months ago and have managed to keep alive, and next to the plant, I have one toy dinosaur.  A reminder of another time and another job. 

When I bought the Beatles poster, I had planned to hang it at home, but it sat on the floor of my office for a while and I kinda liked having it there.  Our facilities guys hung it for me this week.  I'd like to say that Laura would be proud, but I rather suspect she'd just shrug and say "well, it's about time."  Then she'd grin and walk off to the mountain of work that awaited her.  I hope St. Peter gives her some space to work, space that she can decorate and make her own.  I imagine he has his hands full.

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