May 11, 2009

Ode via an offspring

It is true that the portrait I paint of my mom in this blog only goes as far as I see her. Here, I offer another view, the woman my mom's colleagues see every day when she goes off to work, in her capacity as a professional volunteer -- going on 30+ years in that capacity, about 30 years more than I could do what she does.

This one's for her, from the people she sees every day, in their words, to describe her as volunteer of the year:

"I've had the honor for the past 15 years to come before you and tell you about a rare individual whom we feel deserves this award in Mrs. Wilson's name. Often as not that individual is someone who has volunteered for dozens of years, a demure person who does not seek the limelight, someone who is an unsung hero, a shy person, someone who can quietly appears at a bedside, who is never ruffled, a kind soul who proffers her calm presence to our patients and enjoys the quiet of of a garden and the repose of a nap.

"This, however, is not our Frances.

"Frances has six opinions for every half of one you've got. She has no interest in computers. She likes anemones. She hates a mess; she likes white; she doesn't suffer fools. When you think of Frances, you should imagine someone with the metabolism of a hummingbird. She's first on line at any event serving excellent food and never gains an ounce.

"She has volunteered for the VOICES program, the flower program, the front desk for admitting, the volunteer department, the patients' library, the Ambassador's program, for the surgical liaison program. She travels by plane, plane, boat, camel, and probably by turtle while in the Galapagos.

"I think of her arrival at HSS [the hospital where she volunteers] each day as something akin to a flight pattern: ETA is about 8:30 am with a stop at the front desk to see how Lillian is doing and answer at least a dozen phone calls and as many people at the front desk.

"She zips up to the Family Atrium, demands that someone from Susan Flic's office turn on the computer; that accomplished, she makes and serves coffee, attends to questions by a dozen or so family members in the atrium; she then proceeds to floors 8, 7, and 6 to gather vases for the flower program, drops by the volunteer department to tell Shahan and me what to do about our health, husbands and homes; she receives the flowers from Lexington Gourmet, advises the Flower committee on their health, husbands, and homes, and delivers flowers to patients on 8, 7 and 6. Then she prepares the library cart for delivery on floors on 8,7, and 6 to deliver magazines and books and flatly refuses requests from a few patients for pulp fiction.

"By now, it's about 9:15 am and almost time for the Flower committee to have lunch. Lois Fankhauser, who, by the way, is chairwoman of the Flower committee, fondly calls Frances 'the little general.'

"This [award] has been a very difficult secret to keep from Frances, because you are the volunteer department.

Now, I heard from a friend of yours that after working a 'ge-billion' [10,000 hours plus] hours at a Westchester psychiatric facility, they gave you an alarm clock. I don't know why anyone would give you a clock, because it's quite clear to me that you don't need a wakeup call. You are the most wide awake woman I have ever known. So we're not going to give you a clock, or a T-shirt, or a mug; we're just going to tell you that we adore you."

So here's to my mom, a woman of many talents, most of which I rarely acknowledge or which drive me insane more often than not.

Happy Mother's Day, Frances.

lots of love,


May 08, 2009

Are you ready for the country?

Alice is. Five weeks in Wonderland and environs, and she is ready to go again, this time to the bucolic environs of Zurich, where her best friend from grad school 25 years ago has settled, one in a number of Americans who left just as the country started going to hell under a shrub and who has since developed a life that differs from the one she left behind.

Despite her self-proclaimed news blackout, when Alice is at home, she cannot help being part of her cityscape, cannot avoid the work she likes to leave behind. This is why holidays are so appealing for Alice: out of the country is the only way she can unplug herself entirely from the so-called real world, the one where all the numbers count, where she is the dernier cri on matters financial.

BFGS claims it is 1953 in her Swiss exurb, and, given that she is walking her daughter back to school after a 2 hour lunch break, it is obvious that even the 20th century of working moms has yet to claim a perch here. Then there is the husband, and the division of labor that doesn't quite break down the way the BFGS would have imagined, all those years ago.

Yet BFGS, she of the full Ph.D., is getting her research done, her book written, and holding up the homestead, getting more done before noon than Alice in the proverbial day. Alice could not do full time domesticity; she is admittedly too self absorbed, or absorbed within her limits.

That is to say that she and the Artist are again traveling together, and Alice awaits each email with a smile on her face. A brief reversion to courtship may be just what she and the Artist need, just to confirm that next time Alice leaves Wonderland, she will very much want the Artist to accompany her.

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