You answer an ad in the Vancouver newspaper for a job as the company’s only receptionist and get hired on the spot, and later that day find that your new job is with a small non governmental environmentally focused non profit organization. After a few weeks you find that your coworkers are enthusiastic and driven to be models for change in the world. You love your new job, although answering phones and typing are your least favorite things in the world. The job feels like a second home and your coworkers and bosses are supportive and helpful when you ask for help or guidance. You are asked to stay after hours to help make signs and leaflets. You do it because everyone’s so nice, and you’re being paid so why not. Over time your job morphs and includes more responsibilities which you view as a positive step forward. At night, before you leave for home, your job is to bring in the company sign that sits on the sidewalk out in front of the office doors. That sign is chained to the building to prevent theft but you have the keys and no ones every bothered you about bringing it in. You attend high level meetings with the founders of the company and feel like a valued member of the company. You discover that some of the things that some of the members of the company are doing might be considered by some people as unethical, or even illegal, but the members of the organization have really good reasons for their actions and great politics. You read about some of your coworkers in the newspaper. Some of them have even been arrested for public disturbances related to issues about the preservation of the environment. You realize that the activities of the company is becoming more and more controversial and the political bent toward conservation and preservation is bordering on obsessive. Some of your coworkers mount an offensive against whaling and dolphin kills in the Pacific. You become disillusioned when you have the realization that your beloved organization only supports and defends animals that look good on a t-shirt, the fuzzy cute ones like polar bear cubs, or spinner dolphins, or killer whales.
at the same time on the other side of the country….
You visit your step fathers family in Gainesville’s run down downtown 4th Avenue and 2nd Street neighborhood. An elderly lady passes the house every morning on her way to the Christian Science Reading room pushing an aluminum walker in front of her. Picking up the wobbly contraption and placing the tennis balls out front firmly down before taking her next step. She is a kindly old woman with white hair and a slim build, frail but tough looking. You introduce yourself and learn that her name is Gladys Baker, Mrs. Baker but that was her ex husbands name. You walk with her to get out of the house and give yourself something interesting to do. You are 13 years old and anything is more interesting than your step fathers weird family who are Christian Scientists, whatever that is. The old woman speaks to you of her daughter Norma Jean, and says that she wishes she’d come home. She’s not seen her only daughter in many years and firmly believes that the communists in California have somehow kept her from visiting her mother. “She makes movies you know” she said, although you think that she exaggerated and made up stories to keep you interested in continuing with your walk. She was probably safer walking with you than she might have been walking alone. You have no idea who her daughter is, but think it unlikely that the Communists have her. You wonder what’s so interesting in the reading room. You walk in to see pamphlets on all manner of scientific nonsense written to mislead and deceive simple folks. Even you in your tender years know that the science reported in the journals is not really science but made up to look like factual information. You may not have heard of lipstick on a pig, but you sure know when you see it. You dismiss the literature and continue on your walk wondering where the old woman’s daughter must be. Was she living nearby and why didn’t she visit the nice old lady? Upon your return you discover that the woman that you spent your afternoon with had been severely mentally unstable and had spent many years locked up in institutions for the mentally incapacitated. The words you heard were looney bin, and freak house but you are too young to understand exactly what that means. You consider your afternoons walk and hope that that poor old woman’s daughter comes home soon. She sure looks like she could use some help and you know that it won’t come from her neighbors who talk about her behind her back. You discover many years later that the daughter never returns. Norma Jean Mortenson had been married several times so the name changes a bit, but she’d been dead for many years when we spoke. Although the truth was reported to the old woman she refused to believe that her child was gone, taken from her again like the foster family in California and so many other times that she lost count.
Afterword: Ever notice that when you buy a new car all of a sudden every third car looks just like yours? After I wrote this I went to dinner at a local diner and Marilyn Monroe’s image was on 2 of the four walls. I’m not a big Marilyn fan, but it’s funny that minutes after I wrote about meeting Gladys, I’m face to face with the daughter in my blog piece. After dinner I researched Mrs. Mortenson/Baker/Monroe to discover that Gladys died in Gainesville Florida in 1984, 6 years after our walk. Rest in Peace Gladys.