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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

An auspicious moment of discovery ...

On the weekend -- at the invitation of the Rosie the Riveter Trust board -- I attended a Gala in the Craneway Pavilion at Ford Point.

The evening opened at six with a preview of the Visitors Center that has been under construction (restoration) for the past year, followed by a banquet for several hundred guests and supporters; political and corporate leaders, representatives from industry, and National and Regional Park Service folks, and representatives from a number of Labor Unions.

The invitation had come in a casual phone call from my supervisor saying that the Trust would like me to attend.  No big deal.  Some of our rangers would be attending, either as guests or support staff, so there was no preparation for what lay ahead.

Small talk at receptions has never been my favorite past-time, so I wandered around feeling awkward for the better part of an hour, stopping just long enough at clusters to touch lives but not too deeply.

There came the point where it was time to move into the grandeur of the Craneway for the fancy dinner.  I'd not been told where to sit, and had no idea who might have the chart.  No place cards -- but this was a formal banquet so seating must surely have been planned ...

Then I saw him, Mr. John August, head of all of the Kaiser Permanente unions, based in Washington, D.C.  He's a wonderfully warm human being with whom I felt personally connected through my work. Having served as his tour guide on at least two occasions over the years, he'd requested a copy of "Of Lost Conversations,"  (created with Ranger Naomi Torres) the little DVD on the Black experience as lived on the home front during WWII.  The irony of my having started out at the age of twenty as a file clerk in a racially segregated Boilermakers Union hall in Richmond, and in these senior years to have served as an interpreter to the Leader of all of KP unions is mind-boggling!  What this says about social change in the nation over a single lifetime is truly awesome.

When John Austin noticed me idling in space, he indicated that I was to be seated at his table.  There was nothing to signal that he was the guest of honor who would be delivering the evening's keynote speech, or that this was the head table.  (Are you still with me?)  My work didn't involve any of the planning meetings.

As the formal part of proceedings opened with introductions of dignitaries in the room (Rep. George Miller, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, among others), and the usual tributes -- things gradually built to the place where Austin was being introduced.  He gathered up his notes and headed for the dais.

His speech was brilliant!  Most noteworthy, it got through to me -- finally -- that  I could actually hear my influence woven through his words.  My name was cited several times, so it wasn't my imagination.  He got it! 

The words I remember most clearly were in the place where he spoke of visiting Ellis Island for the first time; very early after its designation as a national park, when it was little more than decaying physical artifacts that would someday tell its stories.  This is the state our park site was in (and still is, though much further along) when first he visited several years ago.  I'll never forget his words, "... the stories of these emerging parks are under the hats of the rangers."  We, the interpreters, are entrusted with that national history, and we're being effective in that work.

I felt the tears begin to well up as I heard myself in John Austin's words.  

This, then, is the reason for the honors? I truly am helping to shape a new national park, and the public also gets it.  What a privilege we've been given.

About those tears:

It should be noted that on the drive home they were released with a cascade of giggles as I noticed something quite new.  No longer were they flowing down my cheeks and dripping sloppily off my chin but some of them were ending up in my hair led by wrinkles that now re-direct the flow!  It's surely not perfect, but it's novel.  Maybe that's the function of crow's feet.  Do you suppose?  Imagine still discovering newness at my age!   

 


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