Lorraine would have been in her early 50s when she became the pivot point to the rest of my life. I was the minister’s daughter and she was the minister’s secretary. Being a PK (preacher’s kid), I spent an above average amount of time at church for the usual Sunday service venue, and extra “entre semana” in-between weekdays for youth groups, potlucks and to meet my dad at his office.  Memories of Lorraine by a typewriter are vague. I mostly remember her smile.

That is, until the summer of 1968, when I ended up in the back seat of her car, headed down Highway 35 from north to south. This is where my book, Northern Shores and Southern Borders, begins. I do not know the behind-the-scenes story of how we were united there, however. This story was only known by my parents and Lorraine. A story that can no longer be discovered, as all three have passed to whatever and wherever the deceased reside.

Janet with friends in 1968

Janet’s only female friends in Mexico were all maids in the house she stayed at with the Fuentes family, 1969


It was only this week, during my traditional annual year-end review, that Lorraine’s image rose to surpass all recent memories and take the forefront of my life’s trajectory. My eyebrows knit themselves together, trying to squeeze some facts from my brain. From the fog of bygone days, a few images from photos emerged, but the imprints she, unknowingly exhibited, remain ingrained in my life story. More to the point, she formed in me a strong sense of a woman’s potential lived out in a time of house dresses, cook books, and doors closed to many professions.  She and Mom were on the cusp of vocalized women’s rights, but not there – yet.

The photos show her in women’s groups, perhaps the Women’s Fellowship or other community organizations. She was active at church, but so were many of Mom’s friends. It was an era of calling these women by the term: Mrs., often including their husband’s full name, when signing any documents. Women’s identity was completely obliterated from these salutations. Even more so for Lorraine, who was a divorcee when we met. At that moment in history, Lorraine was not only divorced but a single mom of two. Ten years later, I would be widowed and become a single mom. Perhaps Lorraine’s perseverance lodged itself in my subconscious. From this milestone of our journey, I can only guess at similarities of our trek through society’s prejudices.

Knowing what these terms insinuate for 21st Century women, Lorraine’s life takes on another dimension of understanding to the adult me. As a 15-year-old on an adventure, bound for Mexico with Lorraine and Cindy at the wheel, my mind didn’t capture all the levels at play as we sallied forth down the freeway – three females – alone!

Cindy on her way to Spanish class in Saltillo

I now realize the trip that fell into my lap had to be researched. Very much pre-Internet and the notion of taking a Study/vacation, Lorraine was a pioneer, reserving three weeks at a language school in Saltillo, complete with family stay. What led her to that idea? Did she know any Spanish? Was her 18-year-old daughter on-board or dragging her feet? I have no idea.

Lorraine was in charge of the car maintenance, route planning and the stop over at San Antonio’s Hemisfair ’68 – who knew that was going on? (Note update: https://hemisfair.org)

After the Fair, we forged ahead over the burning sands of southern Texas to Laredo and our border crossing conundrum. (Read my book 😊) Wherever did she learn how to maneuver that? Where did she get the gumption to face Custom officials with a straight face and get me into Mexico?

Well, I know where I learned how to get my students into Mexico that fateful morning at the airport with my high school brood lined up for check-in when . . .  I realized my “educational travel agency” had neglected to send permission slips for my group. I went into “Lorraine” mode. Only one student was eighteen and legal. Another’s mother was in a plane headed to the Caribbean, so I forged that document. My husband quickly stood in for the deceased father of a third student. We didn’t have a death certificate! We clamped raised seals on paperwork and I kept that story to myself, until now.

When I was 15, Lorraine drove across that border into Mexican traffic made up of sleepy burros, unhinged taxi drivers, chicken buses and the ever-unknown speed limits. We knocked on a door whose address was provided by the school, walked in and trusted the process. During my career, I was to do this multiple times, sometimes for myself and sometimes for groups of students, put in my care . . .  What was I thinking? What were their parents thinking? What were my parents thinking in 1968? We’ll never know.

Lorraine did not hamper me with rules of conduct nor curfews. I was raised with good manners and expectations. I didn’t have to be told to be respectful. I knew I was a guest, not only in somebody else’s home, but in someone else’s country. By Lorraine’s example, I cracked out of my midwestern shell, while still observing my moral code. I absorbed her example and later, emphasized my expectations to my travelers, as I led them through Spain, Mexico and once in Peru – thanks to an invite by the profesoras de Brainerd HS.

This New Year’s Eve, Lorraine came into focus in an all-encompassing flash. I knew that Saltillo had rerouted my life into all the Spanish adventures that followed. Spanish was and is present in every day. It is not a sarape I can take off and hang on a peg. I am saturated.

Some MESA members have been attending since 1995
MESA summer meetings bring back former students
Winter MESA meets at Central Lakes College

As I write, Bizet’s opera, Carmen, is on Classical Public Radio. The MESA conversation table, started in 1994, continues every Tuesday night. My high school neighbor is texting me to meet again and asked if we could continue all summer. The Venezuelan family starts English classes this week. Why, Lorraine even led me to burritos al pastor, lime slices squirted into salads and rum in my Coke – Cuba Libre style!

Thanks, Lorraine. Your time and example enriched every thread of my life. May you know this.

My invite to the rest of you going forth into 2024.

Take a moment to review your life and remember someone who changed your path. Maybe you are that person to someone else. If so moved, please share a story in the comments. If your “life-changer” is still on the planet, tell them! Your gratitude expressed is a gift to them.

Now, let’s mix North with South.  How about some “Carmen on Ice”? (4:46)

Another glimpse, this time, Carmen “a la flamenco” version, directly from Madrid. (2:12)  ¡Ole!