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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Toss your walkers, your dentures, and fling your hearing aids skyward. "We can do it" too!

Would have written sooner, but I was busy getting my keys to the tree house, and everything had to be put on hold while I was being properly badged and hatted for re-entry into the workforce (as if I ever left). As unlikely as it may sound, I'm now a full-fledged National Park Ranger and I'm even wearing regulation brown socks, courtesy of our General Superintendent. (But I vowed long ago to go easy on mentioning the actual names of others in my life lest I invade someone's privacy. Learned that from one of my son's who shall be nameless.)

At an age where most have been retired for at least 25 years, I've just started another career. And -- I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm having an amazing adventure that will probably come to an end only on that day when I wake up and look for my bright and shining brass name plate (neatly placed over my right breast pocket) to figure out just who I am and what in the world this woman is doing driving to the office in my little red Beamer with my fancy-schmancy ranger hat topping her blue flannel pajamas!

Last Friday was my first day actually in uniform after several years of being a contract worker for the Trust which supports Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front Historical National Park. In that role I've been consciously aware of the privilege and responsibility of working with a national park in its earliest stages of development. The chance to help to shape what this park will be -- even in the seemingly inconsequential ways open to someone in the lower ranks of the hierarchy -- is awesome -- in the best sense of that overused word.

Though my work life started relatively late. (I didn't seriously enter the work force until my children were grown and I was nearly 50.) Since that time I've been lucky to have held a succession of great positions that -- together -- led to where I am now. Nothing was wasted; not a single month, day, or hour. And it all came at a time when I was fully mature with an impressive time line in exciting eras of political change; with an awareness of where I fit into it all; and with an enthusiasm that kept me contemporary every step of the way.

I thought of all that yesterday as city staffers began to file into our work space (the Park's temporary Reception Center is hosted by the City of Richmond in City Hall) to take a look at me in full regalia. It feels as if I've become symbolic of something truly important. I am a woman of color. In a strange way, through my work with the National Park Service -- we've all arrived at some new place. It feels as though we're all standing under this distinctive straw hat -- only I'm the official wearer of the moment. Some young woman will inherit this role at some point when I'm no longer around; what a humbling thought. What an amazing way to enter into a new trajectory of national life while helping to preserve the old and its lessons. In some strange way I appear to represent it all.

Much of this crossed my mind as I stood against the wall of the makeshift chapel with the other Rangers at yesterday afternoon's powerful commemoration of the tragic Port Chicago Explosion of July 17, 1944. I was there among the remaining veterans of a tiny group of survivors; family members of survivors; other National Park Service personnel; Armed Forces and Maritime Service representatives; all gathered to honor those young lives lost long ago. I could close my eyes and still bring to consciousness the trauma of that awful night when -- miles away in Berkeley -- the silence was shattered by the fury of that awful blast as it broke through our sleep. Some of the lives that were lost had been at an innocent afternoon party only hours before in our little apartment. They'd left hurriedly to make it back to Port Chicago before curfew ... .

I never knew their names.

... and here it was. Betty the Old with Betty the Contemporary, and both awed by the wonder of it all ... .

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