I halfway didn’t want to go to the volunteer appreciation breakfast at the senior retirement center, expecting the event to be dry and perfunctory. My expectations were undeniably shaped by a reading I had given there the week before. I had to fight the giggles at one point when I looked around the circle and seven of eleven of my audience were asleep. I maintained composure and focused on the four lively, interested listeners, but couldn’t help asking myself, “What in the world am I doing here? Surely this is a poor use of my time.” So when the breakfast began with a Bloody Mary and ended with an eye witness story about Janis Joplin, I was surprised, delightfully so.
The main delight was fun with the three other volunteers at my table. Our little group was graced with that rare moment when all present are as interested in each other as they are in themselves. And so, we enjoyed scintillating conversation balanced equally among us. Over scrumptious veggie quiche and homemade biscuits, connections sparked and popped. Hardy is involved through his church in collecting gently-used children’s books and distributing them to schools along South Carolina’s infamous Corridor of Shame. Shelley is employed by the public library system to deliver reading materials to people whose mobility is limited. Marvin helped establish Columbia’s Jewish Community Center and has lived all over the country, working in community organization. They were interested in my writing enterprises. Hardy is going to recommend me to the activities director of his congregation. Shelley accepted a set of Sunday by Sunday in large print with confidence that some of her readers would like them a lot. Very cool.
The program was cool, too. The Life Enrichment staff presented each of us with a certificate and then invited us to describe what we do. The descriptions were straight from the heart and humorously humble, and then staff members added appreciative and often amusing comments and anecdotes. A dear friend I have made there gave a fine endorsement of the Sunday by Sunday series. This amazing woman is herself a volunteer and shared the moving information that she sings, upon request, for people who are dying, 21 people so far. Another resident volunteer serves as librarian for the center, and I happily contributed an LP set–and she wanted to know where people could purchase them, if so desired. Great connections.
And then, there was icing on top of all that cake. As I said, Marvin has been around and told this story that occurred in California in 1967 at a camp for kids he was directing:
He had worked with Peter, leader of Big Brother and the Holding Company which was featuring Janis Joplin at the time. He gave the group a week of room and board at the camp in exchange for them giving a concert. After hours one night, the musicians were swimming in the pool. When Marvin and his wife got there, Janis was the only one still swimming, and his wife asked if she could take her picture. Janis hopped out of the pool in the buff, shook the water off, and said, “No. I don’t think my agent would allow it.”
Wow, what a story—and what a good adventure, this volunteer appreciation occasion. Hard to believe that I actually considered skipping it!