Smithsonian Awards

How We Spent
Our Summer Vacation

After we visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. this past week, someone asked me, "Don't you think it's time we put this thing to rest? Is it really necessary to have a whole museum devoted to it?" I thought about that a lot. At the time I was still under the influence of spending four hours looking at the "souvenirs" of one of the worst slaughters in modern time. I thought about it more as we visited the new Korean war memorial and looked at the "grim visages of war" (even in serious topics, I can't help quoting Stan Freberg) on the faces of the statues, and the shadowy images on the wall which lines the memorial. And I thought about the question as I descended, for the first time, to the center of the Vietnam Wall, feeling chills run down my spine as the panels of names got larger and larger and eventually towered over me.

Isn't it time we put this thing to rest? Is it really necessary to remember.....?

And then an article on the front page of the Washington Post told of the ongoing slaughter in Zaire, of the thousands murdered in concentration camps. I thought of the pictures on the terrorized faces of children in Bosnia. I listened to the bored voice of the tour guide on our tram telling us that we would see "emotional things" in the Holocaust museum, in a voice which could just as easily have been reciting a laundry list, the voice of one who has obviously not visited it. I thought of the generations of people for whom the Holocaust might just become another dry paragraph in a dry history book but for the dedication of the people determined that this never happen again. And I realized that by showing us the progression of the madness, the rounding up of an entire race of people into first ghettos and then concentration camps, the fear on the faces of the children, the dazed looks on the men and women, the victims of medical experimentation, the bulldozers pushing naked bodies into ditches, the smoke plumes rising in the air, the tear in the eye of one small child as he watched the soldiers march into the camp on liberation day, and by allowing us to listen to the stories of the survivors, their voices still, this many years later, choked with emotion as they remembered their families, their friends, their experiences.... by taking us into that hell, those who created the Holocaust museum have put a face to the otherwise impartial number "6 million."

No, it's not time that we "put this thing to rest." Yes, it really is necessary to remember.

That's a rather odd way to start a "how I spent my summer vacation" report, but the question and the answer have been bothering me all week.

We spent our first three and a half days in the DC area sightseeing and visiting. This included a Saturday trip to the eastern shore with our hostess, Melody Johnson and her son Tenere, where we had a sumptuous crab lunch in the town of St. Michael.

The purpose of this trip was to accompany Georgia Griffith when she was honored by the Smithsonian Innovation Network for her contributions to the world of computer technology. Georgia et al. arrived Monday afternoon. We met everyone at the hotel around 5 p.m., I guess. "Everyone" would be Georgia, Chuck Lynd, who helps her when she travels (he's a sysop in one of CompuServe's education forums), RoseAnne Keeney (Section Leader for Mama Jean's Kitchen on CompuServe's Issues Forum), Jim Dellon (another Issues Section Leader), and, on Tuesday, Dave Tucker (another Section Leader for Issues...and general Pooh Bah).

We had dinner at the hotel and were joined by Georgia's friend and mentor from the Library of Congress, Maxine Dorf, a delightful retired blind lady who brought with her two friends, Barbara (also blind) and Roger (her husband). It was wonderful watching Maxine and Georgia get caught up on old times, though somewhat awkward, since Maxine would spell letters in Georgia's hand using the deaf alphabet, and Chuck says Georgia doesn't read the deaf alphabet, so RoseAnn would write them in her hand using letters. It was a rather riotous evening, which ended up in Georgia & RoseAnn's room on the "Versy," (versabraille printer) so Georgia could talk with everyone better.

Tuesday, however, was "the" day. The award honored "innovators in the use of Information Technology whose work on this day, June 10, 1997, has been officially accepted as part of the Permanent Research Collection on Information Technology in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History."

We had been told that the ceremony would take place in the garden of the Smithsonian Castle, so we presented ourselves there, by cab, at the appointed hour and were directed through the garden (a lovely place) out the back, across the street, and onto the mall. There, in the hot sun, stood all these folks milling around while a 4 piece military band played John Philip Sousa. There was no wheelchair ramp. There was a huge tent set up, in which was a catered breakfast for the sponsors of the event, but not for the recipients of the award.

They stood the recipients on the stairs in the hot sun and kept them standing there for about half an hour while speakers told each other how wonderful each other was. Georgia got very sunburned. There were no chairs for the audience. Then they set up three tables with medals on them and they read off the names of the companies that the recipients represented and each came up to receive his/her medal. But it was like rush hour at the metro. There was no break between the first name and the next name and so people were climbing over each other to come down and get a medal, but you couldn't tell who was who. When it was all over, that was it. Except that they took two hours to take pictures of groups by state or region. Nobody got any real "honor" at all and some of those recipients had traveled from as far away as Brasil or Malaysia! We didn't have the heart to tell Georgia that she got lost in the crowd when she received her medal.

Then they sent us to lunch at the Museum of American History. Nobody had told us there was going to be a lunch. And nobody seemed to know where it was. People with signs directed us into the building, and people in the building didn't know a thing about it, and recipients were wandering around trying to find where the lunch was--which was actually outside on the terrace.

It looked very nice. Cute. Round tables set up with picnic baskets on them and all very colorful. But when you examined what was inside it was like they went to a rummage sale on lunches and bought whatever they could get. Everything was in little boxes like you get Chinese take-out in. But nothing was labeled. And in one picnic basket (there were four or five for each table and each table sat about 10 people) you might have chicken fajita, terriyake chicken, pasta salad and then a strange box that contained 1 strawberry, 1 brownie, and 1 yeast roll (dry). Some of the boxes contained rice. It was a mish mash that had no rhyme nor reason to it.

During the lunch, someone from Computerworld who has a radio show came up and asked if she could interview Georgia. Well, obviously she couldn't interview her, but we told her that Georgia would talk to her and when she felt the microphones and RoseAnn spelled "say something about your work" in her hand, every word was crystal clear and at a proper level to be heard clearly. She was "on stage."

But the day ended on a terrific high. We had an appointment at 2 p.m. to meet Senator Mike DeWine, Rep. from Ohio. This evolved because I was determined Georgia was going to meet Vice President Gore, with whom she has corresponded on the White House Forum on CompuServe, and I couldn't find that one person in his office who would let him know she was coming to town. So in desperation, I contacted her congresspersons. Sen. John Glenn's office was a major disappointment.

But DeWine's office could not have been nicer. A lovely young lady named Julia Myers not only got through to Gore's office for me, but also arranged a meeting for Georgia and Mike DeWine. When Georgia couldn't make his regular Wednesday morning coffee hour, they set up a special time for her. We figured it would be a quick glad-hand, photo op, and out the door, but he took us all into his office and while Chuck took videos and I took tons of pictures, DeWine talked to Georgia for 15 minutes, with RoseAnne "translating" for her. He had no clue who she was or what her accomplishments were and in those 15 minutes he went from PC politician, to really interested human being. We told him about her success on CIS and the mechanics of how it all works. I told him about her accomplishments with the Library of Congress and that she reads 12 languages fluently. I think he really was bowled over. And in the end, he asked her if he might visit her in her home and told me twice to be sure to leave Julia the phone number for Georgia's sister, who is the contact person. I really think he will visit her.

We all agreed that without the Senator, the day would have felt like a real bust. Instead we went back to the hotel on a real high.

That night Georgia hosted her "staff dinner." It was smaller than she had hoped, since so many were unable to come at the last minute, but there were about 8 of us for dinner, I guess. And Georgia absolutely sparkled. She laughed and told jokes and kept us all entertained and fed all evening. Her big deal was that she was going to have mud pie for dessert and she talked about that all through her ravioli dinner. When the mud pie came, it required some dexterity and her spasticity got a bit worse while she tried to eat the pie. She would get something only once every 3 or 4 attempts and sometimes only a teeny little bite. But by golly she finished that entire pie. It was probably just as well that she was not aware of how we were cheering her on to finish it.

Walt and I flew home on Wednesday. Our plane left at 3 p.m., which gave us enough time to check our luggage in at the airport and take the metro into DC for one last lunch. When we boarded the plane, the day had turned hot and muggy, and it was time to fly back to the land of dry summers.

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