Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Frog Hospital's" Fred Owens Reflects On Barbara Cram's Care For The Homeless

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Barbara Cram
Barbara Cram Was Bored
Barbara Cram died in 2009, but this story is about a few years earlier in her life --- those few years after she retired from her part-time job at a women's homeless shelter in downtown Seattle.
She had been working at the shelter for several years and loving it, not being in charge of anything, just being useful. Then she retired with no pension at age 70, just her social security check. She had worked at Nordstrom's many years ago, and been a social worker for some years. She had long experience as the founder and director of Friendship House, the homeless shelter in Mount Vernon, but she scarcely got paid for that work, and nothing went in to her social security account.
All that was past when she retired in 2005 -- I think that was the year. Just a SS check every month and glad for it too. She had a lovely home in the Mount Baker neighborhood. She and Pat Simpson lived together there, along with Pat's two daughters who were almost grown.
But she was bored. She didn't like being retired, not enough to do. She watched the baseball game every day -- she loved her Mariners. And she was always reading a book.
Her principle activity was making an old-fashioned sit-down meat-and-potatoes dinner every night. It was awesome. Barbara did better cooking in those few years than anyone in Seattle. I can't even describe the gravy, from a pork roast, ladled over garlic mashed potatoes, with a side of very fresh cooked green beans. Wine and beer of choice, baked apples for dessert, My O My.
I should mention that I was a frequent overnight guest during those years. I did the yard work under Barbara's direction, and I got the sit-down dinner for a daily reward.
In the garden, Barb was her total bossy self. She never actually went in the garden, she just leaned over the rail of the deck and barked orders at me while I pruned the grape vines. "That branch, no, no, the one higher up, that branch."
Time for another cigarette. Barb was a ferocious smoker. You didn't dare tell her otherwise. She and Pat had the last house in Seattle with ash trays where you could just light up at the dinner table, after the dishes were cleared.
Barb was happy during those years but she was a little bored. The trouble was she didn't have any money, just enough for the groceries and household expenses and gas for the car. Not enough for traveling. Not enough for eating out at any decent restaurant, or for clothes. She said she disdained fashion, but I wonder -- she had all those years at Nordstrom's and she surely had a good eye for a fine line in a dress, and might have wanted to shop, to buy, to own .... something.
Alan Archibald

Wonderful vignette Fred!

I love the phrase: "not being in charge of anything, just being useful."

The unspoken "requirements" of buttoned-down careerism are routinely antithetical to usefulness. Just think "meeting." (Chesterton's persistent elevation of the "amateur" over the "professional" is also to the point.)

If there is no devil, careerism invented one.

When I was a kid, I saw neckties as an expression of a man's willingness to put a noose around his neck to prove he knew his place in the dominance-submission hierarchy.

Elsewhere... your splendid description of Barbara's dinners brought to mind the 4-part Netflix documentary "Cooked" based on the eponymous book by Michael Pollan who narrates the film. Its audio and visual components are both so good you can turn off the volume and delight in the images alone.

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