Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Early morning surprise and the remarkable day that followed ...

It was just another Monday morning until the moment that I walked into our offices to learn that we were to have a surprise visit from the (snare drums here!) Secretary Ken Salazar of the Department of Interior! The call had come in at about seven and the race was on.

Ric announced while leaning into my cubicle, "Martha would like for you to accompany Tom to Buchanan Field in Concord to meet the Secretary for a tour of Port Chicago."

He and his staff (deputy secretary, press secretary, staff photographer, executive assistant, various aides - about ten in all) were in San Diego (at the southwest corner of the state) for meetings on water issues and was due to arrive in Redding (in the northern area) for related matters concerning a groundbreaking for salmon runs and more water issues about the Delta that evening and the next day -- when he decided that, since Port Chicago was somewhere in the middle between these locations,  he might as well touch down for an hour or so to see the newest unit of the National Park Service.

Had I known that any more was expected of me, I'd probably have been begged off. Tom admits that they decided not to give me anything to be nervous about so willfully neglected to tell me that after meeting his executive jet at the airport, the party would board our NPS bus for the 20-minute drive to the Concord Weapons Station and the Port Chicago Monument where I would climb out of my passenger seat next to the driver, and into the back of the bus with the Secretary and his staff, so that I could do an en route interpretation of the Port Chicago Story.

It might have been a disaster, but Secretary Salazar is about the kindest least stuffy man one might ever expect to meet. By the time it dawned on me that I'd been set up, I was already into my stories and it was just fine. He was wonderful, so easy to relate to that it was painless. He asked questions and I provided answers -- the best that I could. The fact that I was speaking from memory of the times rather then reciting something learned by rote from the literature, probably is what makes my thin little Port Chicago story so powerful. I've decided after expressing some reluctance to continue to act as an informal interpreter for this site, that Martha may be right. This is her claim, "Betty, you were there." He and I hit it off like old friends, and he's planning to return for this year's Day of Remembrance on July 17th.

Every VIP our staff could reach was at the base to meet us when we arrived. It was a magnificent day to remember always.

And I'm happy that no one told me in advance of the role I was expected to play. I would have been so nervous! As it was, I didn't expect so much of myself that I would have experienced disappointment in my "performance." Tom and Martha allowed me to simply be myself -- something that I'm discovering in these later years -- may be quite enough.

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