Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Spice of life (for Donna Munroe)

Much to report today--a drive to Raleigh in the chilly rain to speak at a press conference on behalf of Chapel Hill's part in the effort to overturn North Carolina's law forbidding collective bargaining by public sector employees; co-chairing an exciting meeting to start to plan the celebration on May 8 of the change of Airport Road to MLK Boulevard. My preoccupation the past several weeks, however, has been a project to get the kitchen repainted. Painting can be stressful, especially when it involves the color red. But colors aside, painting a kitchen requires a lot of moving stuff around.

I opened an old tin that said spiced tea mix. But inside was a large plastic bag of paprika from the Oregon Spice Company. This sent me back.

In the early 1980s, Donna Munroe and I were working for the same corporation, she through a corporate buyout, me for reasons it would take awhile to explain. I went out from Washington to Portland on a project on which she was also working. Later she came to Washington for the same project. (Since you asked, it was an ADP contract for the Bonneville Power Administration.) Did she spend the night at my house? I am not sure, though I remember I did cook dinner for her, and I ran out of paprika. Soon after, in the mail I received this wonderful hostess gift, a joke really, for who could use one pound of Hungarian paprika? Not me, evidently.

In those days before email, we became great correspondents. Almost to the month Donna was 10 years older. When I turned 30, she gave me the view from 40. When I turned 40, she did the same from 50. Donna was (is, I trust) a great reader: she sent me books by Margaret Laurence, the Canadian writer; an anthology of native American literature; and more, not all of which I got around to reading. What impressed me was this one thing she had said: she was after the truth. Either she was sure the truth was out there or she was desperate for the illusion, I couldn't have told you for certain. Anyway, she was convinced that the very next book she read was going to bring her that much closer to the truth.

We lost touch, in the way of things. I think one of the great untold stories of the way we live now is the way we lose touch. Opening a desk drawer just now I find a letter from her, one of the last I remember, dated 1998. At 52 she had "more or less retired" in favor of the occasional consulting contract. Her husband Pete was in full tilt of a public-sector career heading the Clark County Community Development Block Grant program. Their daughter, diagnosed as a mildly retarded child who would never hold a full-time job, had at that point held a full-time job for six years. "We took stock of our life and realized we own everything anyone could ever need or want and then some," Donna wrote explaining her retirement.

The stamp on the envelope was a stamp honoring Alexander Calder, one of a sheet of stamps that, as it happens, I bought also and saved all this time until lately, when I had it framed to hang in my red, black, and white kitchen.

Calder stamps

A note to Donna: I'm closing in on 50 now, and I sure could use your wise counsel. I'm still looking for the truth myself.

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