Thursday, March 02, 2006

A dash of reality -- and "a prophet in her own home town ..."

After days on end of trying to feel humble in this spate of such unanticipated acclaim, I've come face-to-face with just how fragile all that is, and how transitory at best.

After receiving the materials from the National Women's History Project (banners, posters, booklets, bookmarks, balloons, placemats) all proclaiming the importance of the ten of us being honored, I tried to figure out just what to do with them.

  • First took a poster to Reid's (our store in Berkeley) where my family immediately taped it proudly to the front door for all of our customers to see as they entered.
  • Then another went to the Berkeley Arts Magnet School with Alyana (10) and Tamaya (8), my proud granddaughters, to share with their 2nd and 4th grade classes. I plan to visit with them after all the hoopla is behind us.
  • Slipped one onto park superintendent Martha Lee's desk surreptiously at the end of a work day.
  • Presented the mayor's office with another (just down the hall where my friend and former co-worker from Loni Hancock's office now sits as the mayor's administrative aide.) There was no response from the mayor; a woman. I didn't notice at the time -- but today I thought of it.
  • Presented one to my friend, Tom, which he has subsequently framed and hung for me to see the next time I'm there.
  • Drove to the office of the Main Street Initiative where an excited Executive Director Ramona Braxton-Samuels received another and added it to the stack of NWHP catalogues I'd dropped off earlier.
  • Stopped by the Richmond main library where I left catalogues for their Women's History Month display.
Now what to do? I'm thinking that a real celebrity would have called a press conference, right?

Oh yes, packed up a poster, bio-booklet on the honorees, and a catalogue and mailed them off to son, Bob, so that he wouldn't feel slighted -- though I had mixed feelings about doing so -- and I'm not at all sure what that's about. The self-promotional aspects bothered me and still does.

As the time draws near and there's need for decisions to make about travel arrangements, etc, I've become really nervous and having some problems about the worthiness of it all, I suppose. Tom would like to attend the event in Los Angeles on the 19th. He knows that I hate to fly and would like to have us take the train down on Friday, visit the Getty Art Museum on Saturday, and then the ceremony on Sunday at the Autrey. Martha (my boss) and her mother would like to attend since this all coincides with a family gathering at their home in Pasadena. My son, David and his family are considering traveling down as well. Not sure yet about Bob, but that's a possibility.

I've been offered the opportunity to be honored not only in Southern California, but to travel to Washington, D.C., for the festivities being held at the Hay Adams Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue on March 22nd, as well. Lifetime Television is picking up the tab for that event, and the National Park Service would surely benefit by the public relations aspects of it all.

See how huge it's gotten by now?

Well, relax.

Yesterday I decided to drive down the hill to the nearby campus of the Contra Costa Community College to present the last of my large lovely colorful posters to the college president (whom I know casually) along with some catalogs from NWHP. I called ahead to see if he was in his office and he was. I noticed some discomfort but couldn't attribute it to anything when he said, "...I didn't know, Betty. Would you be willing to come to our Women's History Month Celebration on Saturday, March 11th at 3:00?" I was so busy mumbling something about how I'd hesitated to bring this in before, but that I'd finally decided that it might be important for the young women at the college to know that important things sometimes happen to ordinary people ...", it was lame but true. I then heard him ask if I'd be willing to come and speak to some groups and I happily agreed.

Within an hour or so there was a call from him asking if I had a picture they could use in their publicity for the upcoming event (and again he apologized for not realizing that I was an honoree). If I didn't have one, would I be willing to come in to have their graphics department take one for their purposes? I agreed. This morning I did that -- though my photos now look more like my mother than like me - or so I imagine... .

It was only then that I realized (when someone mentioned that those posters were hanging all over the campus) and that no one had recognized me; the penalty for using a 20-year-old photo, maybe? (We'd been asked to submit a favorite picture.) But my name and birthdate were there under my picture. My picture is prominently placed on the posters, no one knew who I was and -- even if they did -- I was only important in the aggregate. It was the ten that mattered, not the one. And there's an appropriateness to that. No one had noticed that a local woman was being honored nationally, and that it was no small thing. Everyone is a little embarrassed, even me.

Today in the mail a letter arrived from the college president with all of the information about their Women's History Month celebration -- with a packet of tickets listing the names of the women being honored -- and an apology that my name was not among them. They didn't know. His letter in part says:

"...We are terribly sorry we did not realize you had been nationally recognized at the time we developed our invitations. Had we known, we would have included your name among the list of honorees. However, we would be honored and graced by your presence if you would attend our sixth annual Women's History Celebration program on Saturday, March 11, 2006. We have included you in our program and would like to present you with a special award..."

Sincerely yours,

McKinley Williams,
Interim President

There it is. The ego adjuster. I needn't have worried. Life does have its way of getting us into line when occasion demands.

For reasons unknown, I find his letter reassuring. I'm far more comfortable in the aggregate.

Photo: Speaking my "thank yous" before an audience at the Contra Costa Community College Sixth Annual Women's History Celebration. This was a week prior to the events in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

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