To Pepper Potts, who saved my life

Today is the birthday of Jillyn Hawkley Peterson, one of the best people in the world, whether she believes it or not.  About eight weeks ago she re-entered my life like a gale and blew off all the smog that had collected there, changing in moments some things and beginning transformations that still have not come entirely to fruition.  Her efficiency and drive and boundless energy have led several people to inquire of me, “where do I get a Jill?”  This post, on her birthday, is an explanation of where she came from, and one of why that question’s answer is always, “sorry, I don’t think you can.”

Twenty-five years ago, or thereabouts, I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT, preparing (I use the term loosely) to serve a two-year Mormon mission to the People’s Republic of Hungary.  As I was the first missionary called there from the States, and the only one at the time, my training regimen was somewhat haphazard.  Instead of being in class all the time, I frequently had time to myself, and on Wednesdays, that meant that I went to the front of the MTC and acted as a self-appointed tour guide.  Wednesdays, all the new missionaries arrived.

With their families.

And occasionally, those families included sisters of appropriate age.

Okay, there wasn’t anything I could DO about those sisters even if they were there, which they often weren’t, so most of the time I just helped the poor lost souls find their way to the farewell meeting, and carried their luggage.  Which is why I was there when the Hawkley family from Mountain Home, ID showed up to drop off Elder Danny.

Elder Danny had a sister of the appropriate age, as it happened, and her name was Jillyn.  As it happened, I knew someone from Mountain Home; I had dated a girl for five or six years whose family had recently moved there.  Mirabile dictu, the families knew each other, and Jill and Katie were friends.  That allowed me to write to Katie and ask for Jill’s address, and Jill, in typical fashion, did the same in reverse.

We wrote each other for two solid years.  Jill was the closest thing I had to a girlfriend while I was across the world, and she connected me to real things.  We became good friends, sent each other gifts, including an absolutely brilliant Doctor Who-esque scarf that I loved and that I gave away to a poor Hungarian family just before I left the country.  I was, of course, half in love with her the whole time, and thought that we might get together when I returned home.

Which in due course I did, and we did indeed get together.  Once.  She had me over to dinner, and it was not a particularly memorable occasion, for all that we knew each other very well and knew that we liked each other’s company.  There just weren’t any sparks, in either direction.  A few months later I met Jeanette, and about the same time Jill went on a mission her own self, to Iowa.

Cue a twenty-year separation.

We didn’t write, didn’t call, and somehow didn’t forget about each other.  I was dancing back and forth from career to career, finally settling on a mushrooming mortgage business, and Jill was moving all over the country and the world, having two children, and processing loans herself for her own husband’s mortgage business at one point.

Facebook connected us again about two years ago, to find that Jill was on her way to Australia, she hoped for a long time.  We had a brief interaction in support of a friend of mine in need, and nothing much more.

Until Gabriel broke his leg.  And all on a sudden, Jill was there again.

She volunteered to come and babysit so that Jeanette could come to my play, and thought that before she did so, she might want to come by so Gabriel and Jeanette could meet her before that evening, make sure it was going to be okay.  Since she was in town anyway filling out paperwork to start working for HobbyLobby, she came to see if I was at the office.  I was.  She stayed three hours.

For several years, it’s been apparent to me that I had more ideas, more businesses even, than I could possibly handle myself.  I’d tried several assistants without much success, mostly because I personally don’t know how to really use one effectively.  To use an analogy that will be familiar, I was Tony Stark, and nobody but Pepper Potts would possibly be able to deal with me.  But I had to have one, and especially with being named the PR Director at City First, I was now dropping so many balls that I was in some level of despair.  Then Gabriel’s injury happened and the level deepened.

Jill heard all this.  More, she felt it and knew some of it because she’s the sort that can draw the pain out into the open and deal with it.  And when I told her I was desperate for help in so many ways, she just nodded.  She already had a job.

Which the next day, she quit.  And then she came over to the house, and met Jeanette and Gabriel, and stayed five hours. At about hour four, she looked at me across the dining room table and said “what I want to talk to you about…”  The next day, she moved in and took over my business life.  Pepper Potts arrived.

I could never pay her what she’s worth, not even a tiny fraction of it, and she’d work for the sheer joy and challenge of it anyhow.  She’s dug in with both hands and both feet and the last eight weeks have flown by.  She pruned off so much dead wood from the tree of my business life that I found I could see again, could begin to imagine reaching some of those goals I thought had passed me by.  She saved my life.  Really, she did.  What I call my life now was in intensive care, and now is out of danger and starting to look seriously at rehab and returning to full health.

Jeanette says I’m happy again.  The business is improving and I have time to do some of the things I was neglecting.  All this, and we’re just getting started.

So Jill, this is the gift I have to give, that you have my trust and my confidence, my commitment and my enthusiasm.  My admiration and my gratitude.  Here’s to a long, long partnership with everything you ever wanted along the way.

Happy birthday.  And thank you.

One Response to “To Pepper Potts, who saved my life”

  • Pepper Potts says:

    I can neither address nor take full credit for any of this, by the way. This is mostly how it happened, and I have long since found that I don’t muck around with a better design than I could have done, even if I initially want to fight it.
    I’m glad that you’re happy again. You deserve it, as does your amazing family. If I can be a catalyst for that, my only prayer is to that end, and that the effect does not wear off as sometimes it does in chemistry. Thank you for everything. It has been a fantastic birthday, and the party’s not over yet! See you in a few hours. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

    Pepper Potts

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