Nancy Hedrick would love to have her son back from Saudi Arabia; failing that, she has come up with a sure-fire idea to transport him and his fellow U.S. troops out of the desert, if only for a precious moment.
"Books," says Mrs. Hedrick, a citizen in good standing of the city that reads. "You can open a book and mind-wise you can get away to a totally different place."
The thought struck Mrs. Hedrick, who lives in Hamilton, as she was in pursuit of a pair of green socks. Next thing she knew, she was setting up a drive to collect hundreds of books to send to U.S. troops in the Middle East -- even though at this point she didn't know about an organizational whirlwind named Patrick Sean Dolan.
A few weeks ago, Mrs. Hedrick got a letter from her son, William Hedrick Jr., a 23-year-old Marine staff sergeant now deployed in Saudi Arabia. He asked her for some books, and he asked her for some socks -- regulation green, and not so easy to find.
"I stopped at the Marine Corps Reserve Center to find some green socks," Mrs. Hedrick said. "I started talking to the sergeant there, and I told him we ought to find a way to send books to all those young men and women in the desert."
The sergeant went to his captain and the captain went right up the line, getting on the horn to the office of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of "Baltimore, the City that Reads" fame.
"I thought it would be super if all the citizens in the city could donate books they have around their house," Mrs. Hedrick said.
The mayor agreed -- where are those bookmarks? -- and almost instantaneously a call came in from Patrick Sean Dolan. Twenty years ago, Mr. Dolan served in Vietnam as a diver and demolition expert.
"You had a lot of time to stare at nothing," he said. "Books were very, very precious."
Mr. Dolan, who was a New York ad man, and his wife moved to Baltimore County three years ago after she got mugged. ("We looked at each other and knew it was time to leave.") He worked in advertising a bit here and began overseeing some family investments.
A recent day found him in the Towson library looking at a large stack of books for sale. "I thought they ought to be sending those books to Saudi Arabia," he said. But when he approached library officials, he said, he was told they hadn't done anything like that since World War II.
"I got ticked," Mr. Dolan said. "I knew there was something bigger here."
So he went right downtown -- this time to the Enoch Pratt Library. "I said let's go for broke on this."
The library sent him to the mayor, and one of the mayor's education aides, Annabelle Sher, offered to work on it and told him about Mrs. Hedrick.
Next thing, Mr. Dolan had the Pentagon on the line. He got a corporal and then a captain and finally someone in logistics. "We're going to get you books," he told them. "It's Baltimore's Christmas present."
No job is too big for the Pentagon, he found. "Whatever you
have," the logistics man said, "we'll take it."
While Mrs. Sher and the Pratt were arranging for collection bins in each library branch and Mrs. Hedrick was recruiting volunteers to pack them, Mr. Dolan was promoting.
A dozen companies donated everything -- cameras to make television commercials, studio time, talent. An advertising campaign -- which begins tomorrow -- emerged, worth thousands of dollars.
"The print ad -- it's a picture of a Marine corporal sitting on a duffel bag reading 'Red Badge of Courage,' " Mr. Dolan said. "It sort of knocks your breath away."
Jack Willett, of Innes and Willett, tracked down the photo and arranged to turn it into an ad. "Here you have a young man heading to the Middle East," Mr. Willett said, "and here he has a book about a young man about to be tested in the same way. It was a natural."
At this point, Mrs. Hedrick, the Hamilton housewife who crochets in the odd moment and lives on Arabia Avenue, and Mr. Dolan, the ad whiz and New York refugee whose Baltimore County country address is Guy's Good Fellowship, still have not met. They will finally greet each other in the flesh tomorrow at a news conference at City Hall.
They will find they have a whole world in common. In books, of course.
"I've always liked to read," Mrs. Hedrick said. "And I always read to my children."
Mrs. Hedrick said her son, a graduate of Polytechnic Institute, likes books by Stephen King. She thinks that just about anything -- mysteries, humor, novels, history, non-fiction -- will find favor with him and his fellow servicemen.
The books will be collected through November at Pratt branches, then will be taken to the Fifth Regiment Armory for processing.
"No bare shoulders," Mrs. Hedrick reminded. While U.S. serviceman in World War II may have gloried in the Betty Grable pinup, it's different this time around.
Just books, Mr. Dolan urged, lots and lots of books.
"Something somebody staring at the sand would like," he said.