Friday, December 19, 2008

You simply would not believe ... .

Was visited by an author with whom I've been occasionally corresponding for some time now. He's writing a book for which he has selected 14 elders from across the country that he wanted to use as subjects that would allow him to explore those people who, in his judgment, have made significant contributions to our life and times after the age of sixty. My "life and time" had come to his attention through a referral from SeniorNet, a virtual community I'd participated in for manyl years. Three of his prospective subjects were here on the West Coast (he lives in New York); a woman in Portland, another in Seattle, and me, here in the S.F. Bay Area.

Bruce Frankel arrived on Monday for 3 days of long drives from place-to-place; a tour of the scattered sites of Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park; a visit to the Richmond Museum of History (though closed on Tuesdays was graciously opened by Donald Bastin, the curator, so we could see the new exhibits); an installation of my friend and newly-elected mayor of the City of San Pablo, Leonard McNeil, on Monday evening; Mayor Ron Dellums' Christmas Party on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland on Tuesday evening, lunches and suppers; long talks at my apartment, and, finally -- the drive back to the Oakland airport on Wednesday after a futile search for my grandfather, Papa George Allen's, little house in the Elmhurst district of East Oakland.

The day after he left I learned that media interviews were being arranged for me during the Inaugural trip, with the first long telephone call yesterday from someone from NBC out of Washington, D.C. It was probably made far easier -- coming on the heels of the work we'd done over the prior 3 days, but I felt hemmed in by a feeling that the caller was vaguely disappointed that I didn't turn out to be a riveter, welder, or something more closely resembling a more traditional "Rosie." It was just a feeling. I did my best to broaden the inquiry which is really far more exciting, but I'm not sure that I was successful. I'll have to be prepared to re-shape my responses and make them more closely targeted to what they're looking forward -- do you think?

I found myself talking more about the park than about myself during the interview, though he tried to get me to be more specific about my own contributions from time to time. I'm far more intrigued by the era and the changes it brought than about my own tiny role in it. And I don't think I'm being coy, it's quite true. I simply don't remember being particularly political, radical or otherwise, or even being really aware of the importance of the times in which I was living. That has come much later after a great deal more living.

The temptation is to give in to the tendency to fit my current more sophisticated sensibilities into that young 20 year-old naive Jim Crow union hall clerk and report the stories from that perspective. I simply can't do that. I was confused and frightened and as traumatized as anyone else with an ounce of sense who found themselves caught up in the sound and fury of that great mobilization and wartime reality.

I've learned more about those times since working in my current position -- with access to the professional studies that are within easy reach of my desk -- than I can ever dredge up from memory. Though I must say, the memories have been stirred and more and more parts of the story are revealed to me with each day. Photos and names now evoke exciting connecting-of-the-dots in ways that I would never have been able to bring together before now.

I'm awed by what's happening, and overwhelmed to the point that today I'm at home feeling just a bit under the weather. I'm just enough off center to suspect that introspection of this intensity may carry a cost, and that I probably need to take a few days off before leaving for the great event.

When I drove by the airport to pick up my author friend on Monday without ever having seen him or even a photo, something happened that has returned to mind fairly often over the past few hours.

After circling several times (I'd told him that I'd be in the NPS car and in uniform), seeing no one standing in front of Air Alaska -- finally there was a smiling man standing alone with his luggage. I waved and slowly drove toward him hugging the curb expecting that this was surely my guest. As I came to a stop and reached over to open the door with a welcoming smile, he appeared to be looking just a tad beyond me, but also smiling. One look through my rear view mirror and I could see the car right behind me. It was an honest mistake, and one probably made often. Nonetheless, I felt slightly embarrassed and drove on. One more time around and there was Bruce waiting -- recognizing me instantly. His big smile indicated that he'd seen the Arrowhead insignia on the side of the car and my distinctive park ranger hat and we were home free.

Somewhere down deep I fear that I'll get to Washington and the media will discover that the person they're waiting for is standing right behind me, and that all this is not really meant for me at all, but for the woman in the car behind ... .


Maybe, but I wonder if anyone ever really feels deserving of this much attention; really?

Photo: I'm the little girl in the middle of the front row, 6 years-old and just arrived from New Orleans after the great floods of 1927. We'd come to live in California with my grandfather. My mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet, is sitting on the runningboard of Papa's old flivver being hugged by her cousin. She was probably traumatized by the experience. I remember that look of loss, even after all these years.