My mother-in-law Jinny Combs taught me many things.
As one of my most formative bosses, I probably model my leadership style off of hers more than I recognize. I know that I rely on two pieces of constant Jinny advice, “Look for people with good attitudes, you can teach them everything else,” and “You gotta be flexible!”
After running a guest ranch in southwestern Montana for fifty years, Jinny could have easily written a long book on leadership, but instead she penned three cookbooks and a collection of funny stories about life at the Diamond J.
Jinny taught that you could use writing to foster flexibility. When we would lose a pet or a person, my mother-in-law would write a poem. Sometimes a haiku composed at 4 am fit the bill and in other cases, a prose poem was right. Really anytime life surprised her, Jinny took pen to paper and reframed the situation into one that had value and, most often, a whole lot of humor.
These poems were never just for her. Once the story was captured in verse, it was typed, copied and sent out to a large distribution list of friends and family. An envelope with Jinny’s distinctive writing was a harbinger of news that although it may contains some sadness would always have us giggling.
Each piece would also end with an “ole!” Since my in laws spent their winters in Mexico that felt fitting, but this now feels like a constant call to get back on your feet and cheer that you are still here. Jinny was never one for focusing on loss or grieving, at least around us. There were guests to meet in the summer, or to correspond with off season, and more fun to be found.
Jinny read whatever I wrote loyally, including this blog. The videos were her favorite and, before she got sick last spring, they always engendered calls and emails. It should be no surprise to me that I have been putting off composing a post after losing her last August. I would like to chalk it up to too much work, but if I am honest, I have been avoiding the pain of writing without her reading.
But, you gotta be flexible — is not following our mentors’ advice is one of the ways that we can honor them? Jinny often said that her mother-in-law created the most brilliant sunsets. Following her tradition, maybe it’s time to believe that Jinny is out there watching in the vast worldwide web. She’s sending along her favorite emails full of animal photos and waiting for me to get back on my feet. And so, I send this far and wide, just as she would have, and end this post with a rousing, but I must admit teary “OLE!”