March 28, 2013

Last week, I was invited to assist with the pledge drive for the statewide Louisiana Public Broadcasting telethon.  I have volunteered for LPB for years, so this was not totally foreign territory to me.  I have worked the phone lines and even stood off to the side and mugged for the camera as I described all the benefits of membership to LPB.  It is a cause that I feel strongly about so I was happy to, once again, help with the phones or hock the “5 DVD set of” whatever program was to be featured that night.  LPB does good work and I am always happy to be associated with them.  Not to mention, the producer and director are just the sweetest people in the world.  No matter how nervous I was about the bonus coffee mugs or the tote bags with the photo of the program star on them, the production staff always made me feel more competent than I really am.  Ahhhhhh.

So I accepted, picked out an outfit that wouldn’t make the camera vibrate, played in my makeup and practiced in the mirror.

“Back to YOU Beth!”

“Thanks, Beth!  Now back to YOU!”

“Over to YOU Beth!”

I even tried out a few new approaches just to shake things up.

“Ha ha ha.  Yes indeed, Beth.  Now take it away!”

Beth is a legend.  She is the President and CEO of LPB who has been steering this organization in a progressive and admirable direction for years and years.  She is as polished, bubbly and composed off the air as she is on the air.  This woman can spit out facts and statistics about education, television, production costs and classroom benefits as though she was reciting her ABCs.  She has guided the board to raise millions of dollars over the years and when times got tough, she never waned.  She got tougher.  This is a woman who needs no cue cards, notes, fact sheets or make-up staff to fluff her up before the shows go on air.  She just sails on auto like a clipper under a velvet wind.  Ah yes.  Beth.  What a role model for those of us who feel strongly about education, integrity and good taste to boot.  I knew I would be a touch nervous playing off of her, but she would help me through it.  Fun, fun, fun!  I couldn’t wait.  “Back to you BETH!  BETH, take it away!”

The big night arrived and I drove to the station in Baton Rouge with an overnight bag filled with lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, lip liner, powder, curling/flat irons, hair spray, breath spray and several pair of glasses. I careened into the parking lot at 6:30 on the dot.  Plenty of time, for I didn’t go “on” until 7:00.  So excited!

I was greeted by the producer, Allegra, who was as genuine and kind as she always is.  I pointed to the usual spot next to the phone bank and tried to confirm my responsibilities.  “I will be here, right?  Like last time?”

Allegra gently responded.  “Oh no.  You’ll be in Beth’s chair.  She had to go out of town so you will be in her chair.  Bettsie will be seated next to you.”

Whaaaa????  “Where is Beth?  Why, why isn’t she here?”  I stammered.

“Oh, she had a thing she had to attend tonight so you will be in her chair.  It seems like everyone is out of town. You’ll be fine.”

Whaaaa?  But, but, but what about  my rehearsals?  What about back to you Beth?  What about take it away?  How would I know what to say?

Allegra spied my consternation.  “Don’t worry, you will be fine.  You are very good, you will be fine.  It is all on the prompter.    And Bettsie has done this stuff plenty.  You will like her.  You’ll be fine. She will feed you if we need to stretch”

What?  Stretch what?  Who is Bettsie?  “Do I toss it back to her?” I felt like a child without a binky for the first time ever.

“No, you won’t toss.  Bettsie will be sitting right next to you so you don’t have to toss.”

Great.  Still, I wondered…..  Is she nice?  Is she here?  And would she have a binky with her?

As I quietly panicked, the second most polished woman in the world breezed past me with a dazzling smile.  “Oh hi!  I am Bettsie!  We are on together tonight, I hear.  So nice to meet you.  Love your hair cut.”

We both laughed because my haircut looked exactly like hers.  We were like bookends.  She was like me, only better.

The two hour program, which featured a wonderful whodunit called Midsomer Murders, containing breaks featuring me and Bets (my new best friend) went just fine.  I could read the teleprompter without glasses and just when I started to ramble on about a recent bout of the flu, Bets scooped me up and pulled me back into the purpose of raising dollars.  In between our fundraising moments I would breathe deeply and meditate to myself in my head, “Back to you Beth.  Take it away Beth. Beth, now back to you.”  My blood pressure began to take deep breaths too and I felt…well….calm.

Bets and I raised a respectable amount of money for LPB that night and I hurdled an unexpected obstacle.  I learned to fly when I found myself being tossed over a cliff.  A lovely cliff manned by gentle smiling guides, but still a cliff to me.  All was well and I knew that, tomorrow, Beth would be back.



March 4, 2013


Friday was a special day for me, my husband and Miss A, the lady who has kept our house clean for almost 17 years.  Yes, she came to work for Tom just before we married and it was totally by accident.  You see, caller ID was a new tool and she had called Tom’s house to say that someone from that number had called her home but left no message.  No, Tom said he had not called her, but who was she?  Maybe one of his children had made the call.  She told him that she was a retired telephone operator who liked to iron and clean houses, so she thought maybe he had called about that.  That got his attention and the next thing we knew, Miss A was coming to his (soon to be our) house weekly to keep things tidy.  When we moved into our larger home, she timidly asked me what exactly I wanted her to do as far as cleaning went.  That was a good question and one I had never thought about much, for throughout my adult life I had cleaned my own home, and I had never lived in a place the size of the one I was now expected to manage.  So I just looked back at her and replied in a voice as timid as hers, “Uh…I don’t know.  What do you think?”  I left the entire decision in her hands hoping to glean guidance from her years of experience.  She gently reviewed the obvious cleaning needs of the home and asked if there was anything else I wanted her to do.  I just stood there, mouth breathing, for several uncomfortable seconds before she smiled and said, “Well, things will come up.  You just let me know.”

For years I only caught glimpses of her, for often I was already at my office before she arrived and she was already gone by the time I got home.  However, twice a week, like a fairy godmother, she evidenced herself with fresh bed sheets and clean bathrooms.  During my busiest seasons at work, she took pity on me and left a pot of beans or a roasted chicken on the stove.  Every Christmas she presented to us a treasure chest of homemade pralines and assorted fudge.  She made the peanut butter ones special for me because she knew that those are my favorites.  After I finally retired from my professional position, I had the honor of actually spending time with this woman.  Initially, we were both a little concerned that we would get under each other’s feet with me being around the house so much, but it never happened.  Instead, our friendship grew into a gentle partnership of maintaining and improving what we had begun years ago, then detached from each other.  Before I knew it we were trading books and chatting as she did her work and I did mine, often in the same room.  We traded books, recipes and concerns about family and friends.  She never uttered an unkind word about anyone or anything and she never invited gossip of any kind.  Occasionally, one of us would quietly shake our head as the other joined in this dance, but neither of us cracked the door that is so easily slid open to a place of mindless toxic chatter.  As the months crept by she began to have health problems that come with age.  The stairs were becoming more difficult.  The physical demands of the job were becoming more of a challenge.  I kept assuring her that we would accommodate her in any way she needed.  If she wanted to limit her chores or the hours she worked we could do that.  If she only wanted to come and do one simple task, she could do that.  The point was that as long as she wanted to work for us, she could.  The truth was that I was not ready to see her call it quits, for I had grown to love her as family.  The details of her duties could be addressed, but the warm conversation she offered me could not be replaced.  Ever.  Sadly, the day came recently when we had to face reality.  She walked in the kitchen looking full of trepidation, as she told me that she had decided to “give up” our house.  She made it sound like a sacrifice.  I told her that I understood and we both expressed gratitude to the other.

One month later on her last day at my house, she gazed into the dining room as she swept the hall.  “Oh!  It looks beautiful!  You must be having a party tonight!  The table looks beautiful.  Girl, you know how to do it!   Those flowers are just gorgeous!  How do you do it?”  I just nodded and kept on with my own business.  A few hours later around noon, Miss G, the lady who would be taking over her duties, stopped in to ask her a few practical questions about the house.  Miss G had the big stuff under control but declared that she needed clarification on where certain things were kept in the dining room so together, they entered it.   Before Miss A had a chance to comprehend the scene in front of her, a small group of guests seated at the table, including her daughter, erupted in a jolly, “Surprise!”  Miss A stared ahead for a minute before her eyes filled with tears as she laughed through them.    She couldn’t say anything.  She just smiled as she sought me out for a hug.  “You.  You!  I love you!  I do.”

The luncheon was one of the most perfect I have ever hosted.  Camellias, homemade shrimp salad, cold asparagus, pound cake with strawberries and cream all taking curtain calls on my finest table cloth.  I seated Miss A at the head of the table and we all enjoyed a festive meal complete with stories, some that were new even to me.  As the party grew to a close, Miss A gathered her things and bid the other guests farewell.  She then offered to help me clean up.

“No, no.  Today is your day.  You are my guest.  I will get it,” I assured her.  She looked me straight in the eye and corrected me.  “ I have never left this house a mess and I am not going to start today.”

So together, we washed and dried my wedding china and my mother’s silver.  We giggled and then she hugged me and my dogs before we all walked to her car.  We were each sad, but we both knew it was the right time for this transition.  She waved goodbye to me through an open window as I shouted to her,   “ Call me!  I will bring you some books!  I will!”  And that is the truth.  I will.