The high school kids I used to teach called her The BEEJ. Not to her face of course. Mrs. Naegelin wouldn’t have liked that any more than having one of her grandchildren call her grandma. Coiffed in an amazing honey-hued bouffant and spangled in gold-nugget and diamond jewels, she was BJ, a force of nature.
Twenty-five years ago, I was the new kid, who took a watermelon to a barbeque at a co-workers house. The hostess served each of us a garnish-sized sliver. Later, I knew I’d found a soul mate when I caught BJ, leaning over the sink slurping on a giant wedge. I hacked off a slab and slurped along with her.
I’d been hired to fill the shoes of an icon in the Speech and Debate world, her husband Lanny. I took the job without knowing about the betting pool wagered against me. BJ’s money was on me. She became my champion.
Once, she stomped into the principal’s office, calendar in hand, “On what night are you planning to see Liz’s play?” I was directing The Diviners. The boss him-hawed something about being busy. It was football season. In Texas. BJ held her ground, and he showed up on opening night. No one said no to Mrs. Naegelin.
BJ was a lady. A Texan. A person who pushed the top off of any box used to label her. I’m a better person because I knew her.