My mother's car radio
March 15, 2012
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - "No one is more professional than I." -- The Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer.
March is Women's History Month, and across the Army our female Soldiers are being honored, and deservedly so, for their tradition of professionalism in upholding the Army standard. But female Soldiers aren't the only female professionals out there. I thought I'd relate a story about two women in particular whose professionalism profoundly impacted my own.
My mother is a working woman. She's one of those people with the rare gift of two native tongues -- Spanish and English -- and to hear her speak one, you'd never know how well she spoke the other. With this skill, she became the first and only bilingual speech therapist in New York State's Capital Region. She was the first professional I ever knew.
But being the only bilingual speech therapist for 800,000 people in and across four counties spread her thin. She drove three mini-vans into the ground. She worked every night until at least 5:00, and my brothers and I were often the last kids to be picked up from after-school.
Then, with us stowed in back of her car, she ran errands, picked up groceries, and returned home to make dinner.
During these excursions the car radio was locked on one station: WAMC, 90.3 FM, the local NPR affiliate. My mother enjoyed listening to other professional women on the radio: we listened to drive-time shows like "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace," to correspondents like Linda Wertheimer, Sylvia Poggioli and Maria Hinojosa (whose name she never tired of pronouncing with exaggerated Latin flair).
This made it so that I was the only kid in fourth grade who could name former President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright). But it was the seven o'clock slot that, for me, held the most interesting show of all: "Fresh Air" with host Terry Gross.
Her iconic (and often-parodied) opening segment cloaked the hour to come in an aura of mystery and adventure. We didn't own a television, so I was transported in my imagination to the far-off and fascinating worlds of her guests. People as diverse as comedian Stephen Colbert, Apple founder Steve Jobs, comedian Louis C.K., and former Sen. Rick Santorum reverberated in the kitchen where we'd continue listening, and their voices intermingled with the smells of my mother's cooking. Terry Gross sat in for all of us, probing her guests' minds with a gentle but determined curiosity. You never quite knew what new territory might be uncovered with each interview.
If it hadn't been for my mother's professionalism, I wouldn't have heard the female NPR professionals on her car radio. If I hadn't heard those professionals, if I hadn't heard Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," it's very likely I wouldn't be writing for this paper today.
I've grown since those days of magical transportation. My world view has matured, and not always in line with "Fresh Air" and its host. But I still come back. Where my draw to the program was once romantic and escapist, now, when I return to the evening radio show, the attitude is of profound respect.
Terry Gross is, above all, a consummate professional. She's been honing her craft and producing excellent work for more than 37 years. This day in age, to have a job for that long is not only a miracle, but the mark of competence and familiarity evolving into virtuosity. Check out interviews with comedian Tracy Morgan and KISS front-man Gene Simmons to really experience her range as an interviewer. As one who practices the art of the interview, I'm always inspired and humbled to hear her at work. To perform at her level, for 37 years -- it's a standard to which we can all aspire.
This month, let's all take a moment to reflect on the dedication and competence of our female professionals, Soldiers and civilians alike. I, for one, am grateful for both the examples they've set and the opportunity to follow in their wake.