by Viv Sade
Whenever I wasn’t writing — my preferred occupation — I’ve always been able to fall back on one of two skills that I’ve acquired through the years, waitressing and sales.
During a brief stint in advertising and sales in 2009 and 2010, while waiting for a reporting job to open up – I worked and became friends with a woman named Theresa Hoot. The job was high pressure, very stressful and there was little time for socializing.
Nonetheless, it was absolutely impossible not to hobnob with Theresa. As the second youngest of 15 children, she was a hobnobber — and an entertaining one, at that.
From the moment any of us met Theresa, we were either shaking our heads in wonder or laughing. Usually both.
I, along with the other eight or so co-workers in our department, quickly learned she was divorced, had two young daughters she adored who were terrific soccer players and that she had been a successful and top-ranked pharmaceutical sales representative with a well-known national company before discovering she had a cancerous brain tumor a few years earlier.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she assured us after noticing the shocked looks on our faces, “They got it all and took a chunk of my brain in the process. I’m OK, but I won’t remember your names when I come in tomorrow.”
It seemed rude to laugh, but we did, with Theresa laughing the loudest. That was the thing about Theresa — she was always laughing and making others laugh, usually at her own expense.
She brought in MRI images of her head, which clearly showed the brain tumor, before and after surgery, and hung them up next to her desk.
When she would forget a price, the name of a company or co-worker or what month it was, she simply shrugged and pointed to the pictures.
To listen to Theresa make a sales call was like watching an artist with no arms paint a masterpiece.
She would jump from one subject to the next with no segue or explanation, talking about growing up with 14 siblings, about attending her girls’ soccer games the night before, the time an officer pulled her over … “and what are those cars called, you know, the ones law enforcement use, something like squid cars or well, anyway, I flirted my way out of that ticket. Hey, what were you doing on 9-11 when you heard about the terrorist attacks? I know what I was doing…”
Jeff, Vickie and I, who sat nearby, would listen in awe. We could not follow her conversation at all and were pretty sure the customers could not either, but time after time, Theresa would wow us as she closed the deal and got the contract. She could sell.
Jeff would tease her and say the customers only bought so they could get a word in edgewise and hang up.
“Of course,” she said, “and it works most of the time.”
Theresa lived only a few miles from my house and whenever she was driving through Churubusco and would see my husband in our Main Street yard, she would stop her car, backing up traffic, as she opened the window, gave out a few shrill wolf whistles and yelled a few inappropriate remarks. Everyone was laughing except the motorists who were behind her.
Theresa would end almost every sentence with “God bless,” which tended to confuse co-workers and customers alike, because again, there was no segue. As in: “Hey, we should all go out for a long lunch and drink margaritas. God bless.”
God bless us? Herself? The margaritas? The lunch?
Not everyone was tolerant of Theresa’s capriciousness.
Jeff and Vickie and I were stunned when Theresa came over to our desks and burst into tears after two women in another department had said some mean-spirited and deliberately hurtful things about what she was wearing. Her outfit — while not business attire — was certainly not offensive or any of their business, for that matter.
It was like witnessing someone rip the wings off of a butterfly. We jumped to her defense.
“None of their damn business,” Vickie and I said at the same time.
“God bless,” Theresa said, and we all laughed.
Eventually, one by one, the four of us drifted away to other places, other jobs, but continued to keep in touch.
Theresa came to one of my women-only gatherings in 2012 — and as usual, was the life of the party — but could not make it in 2013 because she was at another party. She called from that party and regaled me with hilarious, wine-infused stories of her latest antics, followed with her signature, “God bless.”
In 2014, we heard that Theresa’s brain cancer had returned. What she did not tell us when we all worked together was that she had known all along that her time was running out.
She waved her hand dismissively whenever we asked questions about her health. For Theresa, it was just another life hurdle that she intended to leap over.
Theresa Ehinger Hoot died at the age of 45 on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.
I did not know her family, only of them, but we could all agreed on one thing: No one who met Theresa would forget her.
Her sister, Cindy, gave the eulogy. Remembering the long conversations they had during Theresa’s final days, Cindy said she once asked Theresa if she ever asked, “Why me?”
Theresa replied, “Why not me? Who else would you choose?”
Everyone who attended the funeral, it seemed, had a Theresa story.
Her brother, Bob, shared a story that perfectly depicted the Theresa we all knew and loved.
Bob took Theresa to Mass every Sunday after she could no longer drive. Bob was used to his sister stopping and talking to people in church. One Sunday he was following her back from receiving communion and saw she was having trouble walking and was leaning on the end of the pews for support. While stopped, Theresa began talking to a man seated in the pew. Then Bob saw that Theresa was actually fixing this perfect stranger’s collar as she chatted with him.
The gentleman looked kind of confused but Theresa reassured him with a “You are welcome,” and moved on.
—Viv is the editor of the Churubusco News, Jeff continues to be a successful sales representative in Fort Wayne and Vickie lives in Marion and a few years ago married a longtime friend, the recently elected sheriff of Grant County.