Your presence, not presents, needed

July 04, 1999|By SUSAN REIMER


By popular demand. For one last grab at the brass ring. For my farewell tour.

They needed somebody to sell food at swim meets. Nobody does it better. I'm back.

I thought I'd retired gracefully from swim team concessions. Kicked upstairs to the scorekeeper's table where I could still give something back to the game, without having to lug 22 cases of soda and a ton of junk food up the hill to the pool.

But, as Earl Weaver once was by the Orioles, I was coaxed out of retirement in a desperate attempt to revive a winning tradition.

Somebody had to sell doughnuts, candy and nachos. So for the sake of the team and all the sport had given me, I said, "Yes." And regretted it immediately.

I should have known that you can't re-create the glorious past. And that I am now too old for this. But no-o-o-o-o. I never met a job I couldn't volunteer for, and when my friend Betsy agreed to reprise her role as swim-team manager, I agreed to come back, too.

Here's the joke. I'm running concessions, and I don't have a horse in this race.

Both of my children have moved on, as I should have, to other arenas. Swim team is not an activity that requires my volunteer presence in order to make it happen for my children.

If you think I am crazy to take on a job that requires me to get up at dawn and use a hand cart, you are correct.

And you can get in line behind my son, who thinks volunteering is something you do until you have accumulated enough hours to meet the high school graduation requirement.

I ask him to carry his dishes to the sink, and he wants to know if there is community service credit in it for him.

"No," I tell him. "But I may volunteer to feed you again as a result of your unselfishness."

All over the adolescent landscape, there are kids doing things for free while the adding machine in their heads clicks off the volunteer hours required of them. I fear one of them may abandon an old lady in the middle of the street if he suddenly realizes that he has reached the minimum.

For some kids, these required volunteer experiences kindle a spark of selflessness that burns brighter as they mature into adults. But others just don't get the point. Why would I want to do something boring for free, they ask?

Volunteerism isn't easy to explain, especially when I am crabby with fatigue and unavailable to drive my son to the batting cage because I am up early selling hot dogs to other people's kids at an event in which my kids are not participating.

"Because somebody has to do it," isn't a satisfactory answer when addressing a child. But it is near to the correct answer.

If you have enough money, you can write a lot of checks to a lot of organizations that need your support. But sometimes, they need you more than they need your money.

Our swim team doesn't need concession profits to pay to fill the pool with water.

But without a concession stand, a lot of swimmers and their parents, who are volunteer starters, timers, scorekeepers and lane organizers, would be hungry and thirsty. A financial donation from me doesn't get that done.

"Sometimes, Joe," I said, "it isn't about money. It is about time. The American Cancer Society can use my money. But swim team needs me, or someone crazy like me, to provide a service."

I don't know what kind of an impression I made. I guess I won't until Joe raises his hand and volunteers me for something.

Pub Date: 07/04/99

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