Today I volunteered at the Frist for its second anniversary open house and I really enjoyed it. It was great to see such a wide mix of people partaking of the festivities, and I just love the whole place. I was a greeter, which is wonderful for about four hours (fortunately, four hours = one shift). We had a lot of first-time visitors, and I believe many of them will return. The crowd contained a very wide range of ages and races. The main exhibit is photography from the Smithsonian chronicling the African-American experience. It's called "Reflections in Black" and it's quite powerful.
The Racial Sensitivity Award goes to the very Southernly matron (estimated age: 105) who asked me, "Is it all pictures of black people?" and then, after I confirmed that was so, replied, "Well, I certainly don't want to see that."
But the most bizarre incident happened about 10 minutes before my shift ended -- so very close! A gentleman wearing a little hat and carrying a cane made a bee-line for my information desk. His wife was with him and he had the disturbing habit of calling her "Mommy." These folks were 70 if they were a day, and they said they just got back from Manila (after six months - I'm not sure why) and they were both talking to me at once and he was ordering Mommy to go stand over there and then he ordered me to look at her and then he whipped out a sketch pad and marker and started to DRAW MY PICTURE like we were at a carnival or something. And he told me to count 1 one-thousand, 2 one-thousand, and so on.
Let me mention that I am supposed to be watching incoming gallery patrons, greeting them and making sure they aren't bringing food / drink / umbrellas / bombs into our beloved museum. But I'm trapped between these two, sitting stock-still, counting and feeling very foolish. Mommy told me (as I'm counting) that her husband tried to draw another volunteer, but the man declined by explaining he was working. Wish I'd thought of that! I'll be more prepared next time.
I got to stop counting at 24 one-thousand because he was done. Longest 24 seconds of my LIFE.
You could see that Mommy had pretty much lost the will to live. She has learned, through harsh and bitter years, to just go stand over there and engage the subject in conversation. Most important, she knows when to hand over her tube of lipstick so the husband can use it to place color on the line drawing's cheeks and lips.
Thank goodness for the woman who came up to ask me a question; she engaged me in conversation -- a real, art-related conversation -- so Mommy & her husband departed. My savior? Black. Wish the matron would have been around to see it.