Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lina!

Last Friday, Caroline Estes turned 80.

On Sunday, the cmty Caroline helped found in 1972 (Alpha Farm) threw a six-hour party for her at the Deadwood Community Center (which Alpha helped build a few miles down the road from their property tucked into the Coast Range of western Oregon). There was about one person present for every year of her amazing life, to help say thanks and raise a glass in salute. I was proud to be there, appreciating her moment in the sun that rainy spring day.

In preparation, Alpha pretty much shut down for two days, as all hands were on deck to help put the party together in a bustle of coordinated frenzy. Some barely slept the night before, baking cakes, peeling shrimp, and marinating chicken. The rain eased by mid-afternoon, and people started arriving. In addition to the Alpha members, there were ex-members from Eugene, Deadwood neighbors (some of whom moved to the area from out of state on Caroline's advice that it would be a good idea), and even the new guitar player who serenaded customers at the most recent Friday night dinner at Alpha-Bit (the cmty's gift shop cum restaurant strategically located in Mapleton, on the road connecting Eugene with Florence).

Lysbeth & Andrew's son, Morgan (born at the cmty nearly two decades ago and just off to college last fall), raced back from a kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound to help celebrate “grandmother’s” special day. It had colicky babies and seniors; it had dear friends and people who know Caroline mainly as their semi-retired mail carrier; it had banjo pickers, raconteurs, and yarn-spinners of all stripes.

There was a former San Francisco street gang member who phoned in his congratulations. Caroline had worked with him more than 40 years ago, in her pre-Alpha days, and lost track of what had happened to him.
Now he’s a senior staffer for Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. (Jim, her husband of 50 golden years and an ex-newspaperman, had tracked him down on the sly and set up the call.) Bioregional author Kirkpatrick Sale sent a poem. In short, it was a microcosm of Caroline’s life, and a snapshot of the many lives that have been touched by hers.

We had so many outlets going to get the food ready that just before the main meal was served we blew the circuit breaker on the transformer and were without power for two hours. (Some were having such a good time that it was more than an hour before they figured out that the lights were out and the percolator no longer held hot coffee—they thought the candles were just mood lighting.)

I’ve known Caroline now for 21 years, a bit more than a quarter of her life and more than a third of mine. She’s been my consensus and facilitation mentor, my community networking peer, my friend, and occasional mah jongg partner. On Sunday I was happy to be a table setter, a dishwasher, and the guy who cooked the asparagus.

• • •
Secular consensus has its roots in the Religious Society of Friends. While I’m a major proponent of consensus, my spiritual credentials are no stronger than those of a lapsed Lutheran: Caroline, in contrast, is the real deal—a Quaker who learned clerking from the inside. Caroline taught me to be patient in front of a group (let the answer come to you; don’t force it), and I've never forgotten the dressing down she gave me in '91 about respecting one’s elders when I was a bit too quick on the reins with an older gentleman who had drifted off topic.

Years ago, she confided in me that as a child her nickname was “Lina.” For the most part, that name has rarely seemed the appropriate appellation for the woman I know, with a reputation for facilitating groups of 200+ obstreperous progressives, and capable of holding the more raucous in line with a mere glance and the raising of an eyebrow. However, for a few precious hours on Sunday, I witnessed her child-like enjoyment of the lavender and yellow helium balloons; her delight in the cake and champagne. There was sparkle in both her glass and her eye, and for that day she was indeed Lina.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very nice write-up Laird. Wish I could've been there.