When Elizabeth Wadsworth Ellis lived and worked in Russia, she was told that volunteer was a dirty word, i.e., to volunteer was not voluntary. It was a euphemism for being assigned, e.g., my dentist wanted to be a violinist.
When she lived in the Washington, D.C. area, to volunteer—both a noun and a verb—was a good word.
For the past several months I’d been a volunteer reader for elementary school kids. I taught a little girl how to write a letter to her auntie. We even walked it to the mailbox. She was so excited when she got a reply she ran to show it to me. So when I read somewhere that “May was Volunteer Month,” yours truly, Miss Goodie Two Shoes, read up on the opportunities and signed up.
Volunteer Event 1
Like the village idiot I am, when a woman seemingly in charge of the event rushed over to me and said, “Oh! I need you right away over in the tent!” I followed her. I sat alone for three hours in a 30x40 feet white tent designated for silent auction. I babysat rich folk’s stuff and stayed in the tent. And I stayed. And I stayed. I looked around at articles splayed on white linen tablecloths with little descriptions about how cute everything was.
Finally it dawns on me, oh college graduate that I am, that I must shoo away those curious onlookers outside the tent from walking inside the tent and absconding with the goods.
This charitable event took place in old-town Alexandria, Virginia. It was by invitation only, i.e., not for those average regular onlookers outside the tent who can’t be trusted to have bank accounts suitable for the occasion, but for the genteel.
Pray, would it dawn on the hoi-poloi to walk off with the booty while the hoity-toity dance with delectable just desserts, and pray, would it dawn on me to guard and defend the said flaunted good-goods. Not.
Volunteer Event 2
Supposition #1 that the customers at a noble bookstore would purchase books for mother the day before Mother’s Day and, Supposition #2 that they would make a donation to a non-profit I was volunteering for and have me smooth the edges of the crunchy wrapping paper I would gift wrap around their purchase. In my idle time waiting for Supposition #1 and Supposition #2 to come true I learned from other volunteers that the organization I was volunteering for that day was actually a 24 hour Crisis Help Line. Their clients and callers were—the volunteers told me—predominantly men.
The volunteers were cautioned to restrict these callers who call too much and too often. The seasoned volunteers have to warn the new volunteer recruits to the Crisis Help Line to guard against telephone sex. After sitting on a metal folding chair for several hours with four other volunteers with our hands neatly folded in our laps I said, “I feel silly. I’m leaving.”
Volunteer Event 3
I volunteered to drive me, myself and I out to Annapolis, Maryland, to work (volunteer duties and expectations unstated) at the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival.
I arrived early so I wouldn’t disappoint by arriving late. Smart, huh? Ergo, I arrived 1.5 hours before I was scheduled to begin my shift.
To use the time wisely I took a walk on a deserted beach and saw two deer, a boy’s boot, a baseball, a bunny, four tired balloons, dead fish and two ugly dead things that looked like snakes that I found out later were lamprey eels.
Before my assigned 6.5 hour shift started I was so chilled I went back to my car for a jacket and kept right on bookin'. I’m blowin’ this pop stand. I’m otta' here.