My German neighbor is leaving. (Why her ancestry matters in a moment.)
After 37 years with this newspaper — and almost 10 years as my colleague in the next office over — Jutta Vanderheyden is retiring.
I would be devastated if I wasn’t immensely happy.
Her imminent absence isn’t cause for celebration. It’s knowing that a friend is willingly moving on to the next chapter in her life that brings me pleasure.
She was the company’s business manager. But she was more than a numbers cruncher and a pencil pusher.
She kept us in line, her voice booming through the air on those occasions when sloppiness in accounting made it from our desks to hers. But if there was any real consternation or frustration on her end it evaporated as quickly as mist on a cactus flower. She could huff and puff and bellow all she liked but the glint in her eyes betrayed her affection for us all.
She is to this newspaper what the heart was to the Tin Man. Without it, the sum of cold metal parts function and live.
But with it, the Tin Man is alive and filled with love.
For those who have the opportunity of working with someone who has been with the same organization for decades, you know the comfort of their presence. They are stability. A landmark in a changing environment. These days that kind of certainty is rare and too often underappreciated.
Like all good neighbors Jutta seldom popped in. But when she did her visits were welcome respites from the mundane tasks of long work days.
She spoke of her family without boasting, her pride in their lives evident in the way she smiled just by mentioning their names. And while they were many years into their adult lives she fretted about them the same way, I imagine, she fretted about us.
And when the topic strayed from family it often settled upon books — she consumes them the way teens eat candy and pizza — and the Padres and back to family. Or soccer.
There were occasions when during the World and European Cup tournaments we’d watch matches in my office when Germany played. In world tournaments like those, typically fans cheer for the countries with which they identify.
Heritage, bloodlines and ancestry often come into play. But other factors come into it too. Like friendship.
And so it was during one match when Germany beat an Argentina side that I found myself cheering. And though the Argentines in my family (albeit they are distant cousins and aunts) were inconsolable, as I should have been, my heart skipped and sang. My friend’s team won and they moved on to the next round. Jutta was happy. And I was happy for Jutta.
Long live Deutschland.
I will cheer with you always, Jutta.