Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Afternoon with the Greatest Generation

When a writer friend of mine asked if I would do a reading for her mother-in-law’s sorority, I pictured—I admit it—a roomful of starchy, upper crust ladies with Greek letter pins on their immaculate gabardine lapels. How, I wondered, would they react to rough-and-tumble Ruby, the main character of Ten Cents a Dance?

I slipped into my `40s vintage, put up my hair in victory rolls (no time for pin curls in the back, but that’s where a snood comes in awfully handy. Those old-timey gals had an answer for everything), slapped on the MAC Chili Red lipstick, and headed over to Albertina’s, a lovely restaurant/charity shop/venerable Portland institution. Most everybody was already there. Not a single Greek letter in sight, I noticed. Introductions were made all around, and then we sat down to lunch.

Over carrot-ginger soup, I learned that this was no ordinary sorority. The women belong to a chapter of Euthenics, which (they explained) is the science of improving the human condition through improvement of external factors: nutrition, education, environment. To join, each member had to have a degree in home economics. Listening to them talk, I realized—for the first time—that home ec is about more than learning how to sew a gingham apron. For these women, it’s a means to better the whole human race—a goal to which they had devoted themselves for over fifty years.

But back to lunch. Anita was talking about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees (Anita is a beekeeper, as well as the only member not in her eighties…having just celebrated her ninetieth birthday) when I realized that quitting full-time veterinary work to write was the best career decision I’d made in my life.

I’d thought this before, of course. But never with such absolute clarity and conviction. How else would I have met these witty, down-to-earth, wonderful women, had a chance to listen to their stories, and share with them mine and Ruby’s?

After lunch, I read from Ten Cents a Dance. The group responded with enthusiasm—they’d lived through the time I wrote about, after all, and it kicked off a lively discussion of the war…the homefront…the men who came back and never talked about what they’d seen or done. The afternoon was over way too soon—I felt I could have stayed for hours, listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes. If I’m half as sharp and half as active at that age, I’ll be thankful indeed! Thank you, ladies, for your wonderful hospitality. This was my first reading for the Greatest Generation—and I hope it won’t be the last.


Melissa Amateis said...

What a wonderful afternoon. I've spoken at a retirement home twice now and I always enjoy the conversation. Just lovely, lovely people. :-)

Anonymous said...

I bet you're tempted to go back and get a degree in home ec.
PS What, no flower this time?
PPS Look! Melissa has a new picture!

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, I had so much fun that I'm going to see if they'll have me at some retirement communities here in town. I hope so!

Walter, I'm not tempted to go back and get a degree in anything. I've had enough school, thanks! :)