Volunteer speaks up and gets a Dutch treat


MY FRIEND Linda is one of those women who shoots up her hand and volunteers before anyone even asks for volunteers.

She cheerfully signs on for any assignment even before she knows what the assignment is. "Chirpy" is the word used, not to described birds at dawn, but to describe my friend Linda as she tells the head of whatever committee this is that it will be: "No problem!"

I have often thought how different life might have been for my friend Linda if she had been born, say, during the height of the Aztec Empire, when sacrifice meant the heart of a maiden on a gold plate, not watching a bunch of neighborhood kids after school.

The Aztecs would have had a shelter for the homeless and a Brownie troop, or my friend Linda would have died a virgin as the only known volunteer in recorded history for that job.

Even when she was working as a nursery-school teacher and a weekend caterer and taking care of two kids, a husband and a gravely ill mother-in-law, my friend Linda still volunteered to be in charge of everything not paid for by the federal government.

It was my friend Linda who once volunteered to drive a van-load of women to Washington to attend a ceremony celebrating the commitment of women to world peace.

"Are you sure this isn't a white slave ring?" my husband asked as we set out.

"You know how your friend Linda is with details."

As it turned out, we were the only Catholics in a ballroom filled with followers of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. None of us converted, but, thanks to my friend Linda, we are all on the mailing list from hell.

But these kinds of things happen when you shoot up your hand and volunteer as quickly as my friend Linda volunteers.

So none of us was surprised to learn that she had said a chirpy "No problem!" to someone else and ended up with a Dutch basketball team living in her house for 10 days.

The basketball players were in the United States as part of Sports for Understanding, a kind of exchange student program for kids who like to play ball.

Unfortunately, some host families had backed out at the last minute, and my friend Linda volunteered to step in, without asking stuff like "how many?" or "how long?"

Linda claims she never asks those kinds of questions because she never remembers the answers.

She just kind of fixed on the word "Holland," she said, and because her 11-year-old son was headed there to play soccer, she found herself volunteering without listening for what came after "Holland."

"You know me," says my friend Linda, laughing a wonderful laugh that makes heads turn in public. "The happy idiot."

My friend Linda is not an idiot; she is a smart, sensitive, hard-driving woman, and she was determined to do more than give these disappointed boys a place to sleep.

That is why she served chocolate chip sandwiches for breakfast.

White bread, slathered with butter -- not even margarine -- and covered with chocolate chips, a poor substitute, she found, for the Dutch chocolate the boys were used to eating.

"I don't even keep that stuff in the house," said Linda. "White bread? Butter? Chocolate? My kids thought they'd died and gone to heaven. I couldn't get my daughter away from the breakfast table."

Pretty soon word got out -- "You're mother is making what for breakfast?" -- and all the neighborhood kids were showing up at Linda's door at 7: 30 a.m.

Linda made a trip to the grocery store every morning before the boys woke up. Her kitchen simply could not store enough food for the 10 16- and 17-year-olds covering her family room floor like fallen timber.

Every evening, she would feed them dinner, drive them to play basketball against a club team in the area, bring them home and feed them dinner again.

They were consuming mostly hot dogs and hamburgers until Linda decided they had to eat something that had grown out of the earth, so she bought eight dozen ears of beautiful Maryland Silver Queen corn for a cookout. She might as well have served them cow pies on a bed of lettuce. "We feed our animals corn on the cob," they explained, and even the glistening melted butter could not tempt them to taste it.

Her attempts to expose them to American history were equally unsuccessful.

"I mentioned the Lincoln Memorial, and they asked if there was a Champs nearby."

But when she took them to a sporting-goods outlet, they responded as if they had entered the Oval Office.

She took them crabbing and to an Orioles game and to an amusement park. She rented Jim Carrey movies, and soda flowed like water in her house.

"They were wonderful. So polite, so neat. They did all their own wash, and they were wonderful with my kids."

And they did not protest when she asked them not to watch the late-night pornographic movies she had not known were delivered by her cable service.

"They told me they could get those movies during prime time at home. They didn't care, they wanted to watch ESPN."

My friend Linda's days as den mother to 10 Dutch boys were a great success in all areas except the saying of their names.

"I spent the entire time butchering this one child's name," she lamented, and her pronunciation sounded like someone's Uncle Albert sneezing into a handkerchief.

"When I dropped him off for the next leg of their trip, I butchered it again, and he smiled and said, 'You can call me Jerry.' "

Only my friend Linda could come out of 10 such days laughing that laugh of hers that stops traffic. We love her, my friends and I, and any of us would do anything to help her.

But we always, always ask for details before we volunteer.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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