Carole Firstman Speaks at Networking for Women Luncheon
I met Carole Firstman around 2002 at the Three Rivers Holiday Bazaar. The bazaar marks the beginning of the holiday craft fair season and is usually a glorious fall day in the foothills. I was selling my beaded ornaments and peach jam and she was scurrying to the Three River’s Senior League table that always had antiques for the early bird.
About half an hour later she emerged with her arms full of vintage silver – a coffee pot, trays, silverware, a sugar bowl, and creamers. All were destined to be the final touches of the Visalia Arts Christmas tree to be auctioned off at the Visalia Chamber of Commerce Christmas Tree Auction.
She stopped to chat with me about her inspired decorating ideas and I thought she was sooo cool.
Fifteen years later she only got cooler.
Besides some travel adventures under her belt, Ms. Firstman has a book on the New York Times Best Seller list, Origins of the Universe and What it all Means: A Memoir. The New York Times review simply says “a strangely dazzling memoir.”
Could four words be any more intriguing?
Firstman’s book tells, “the story of her remarkable childhood with an arachnologist father. The book explores the intersection of science, philosophy and our basic human need to sort out difficult familial relationships—and how to care for both elderly parents in their waning years.”
When Laura Florez- McCusker, public relation specialist for Kaweah Delta, invited me to attend the Networking for Women Luncheon to cover Ms. Firstman, I immediately had visions of a Christmas tree with vintage silver hanging on the branches with a thousand twinkling lights.
Then I learned that the theme of Ms. Firstman’s presentation was “How do we care for our aging parents when the relationship has been ‘complicated’ at best?”
I was curious what she had to say. As the only one in my family to have children and a mother of five, I always assumed that I would be the one to take care of my mom and dad into old age. And until they hit 83 I did take care of both them, mostly my mom though because my dad has a younger wife.
I am not quite sure what happened, whether it was my step mom driving a wedge between me and my parents, the beginnings of dementia, or maybe both, but neither my mom nor dad have talked to Joseph or myself in three years.
Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about their health because they are both very well off and will have the best care to the end.
But it won’t be the same quality of care that a parent would get from a daughter.
As for Ms. Firstman’s child-parent relationship, she read essays from her book that use storytelling to relate the idiosyncrasies of her mother and father.
Family trips were to Mexico or Death Valley where her father crawled around in the sand looking for scorpions and spiders to enhance the theory of evolution, while at home he hung Playboy centerfolds on his office walls. As a young impressionable girl, this was the definition of female beauty.
As a child she thought her father was brilliant. As an adult she realized her father has a form of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Ms Firstman’s mother, 14 years her husband’s junior, grew up in a unique set of circumstances. She was raised in Arkansas in a house with no electricity or running water. Her mother died when she was 10 and her grandfather was a professional criminal. No one in her family believed in school, and I believed this to mean all the way down to elementary school.
But Ms. Firstman’s mother became the first in her family to go to college and even became a professor, teaching at COS for 30 years.
She read her mother’s favorite excerpt in the book about a trip they took to the Amazon in the 1990’s. Her mother loved the book because it was funny and she thought her daughter was such an idiot to go swimming in the Amazon.
She read another essay about when she was a child wanting to watch Charlie’s Angles while her mother defiantly switched the channel to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. None of the ladies at my table were old enough to remember Wild Kingdom, and like Ms. Firstman, I secretly enjoyed the show in all its hokiness.
Ms. Firstman’s mom had just passed away three weeks prior to our luncheon, making reading her mother’s favorite excerpts pretty difficult. She needed the help of her theater buddy, Irene Morse, to read the last line.
“And you are so much more than that,” a refrain her mother would use when referring to Ms Firstman’s fascination with Charlie’s Angles Farah Fawcett.
After Ms. Firstman’s reading she encouraged questions. What are your top travel destinations? Guatemala and France. How long did it take to write your book? Seven years of taking notes and one year 24/7.
The final question was how to take care of parents when the relationship is complicated. She advised the ladies to focus on the higher part of us. Address your parents’ higher consciousness she said. “Not the part of themselves that is grumpy or difficult.”
But no one asked the most important question that Ms. Firstman addresses in her book, “what it all means.”
I guess we are going to have to read it to find out.
I need to get this off my chest
This may not help the situation but here goes. I think the old Tulare Local Healthcare Board of Directors, Sherrie Bell, Laura Gadke, Richard Torres and Parmod Kumar need to pay the $10 million dollar penalty to get rid of Healthcare Conglomerates Association (HCCA.)
There, I said it because everyone else is thinking it.
In May of 2014 the old board signed the Management Service Agreement (MSA) between HCCA and the Tulare Regional Medical Center, then kept the agreement a secret for over a year.
This was definitely a dereliction of duty and they should be held accountable.
Or maybe just Ms. Bell should have to pay the fine because she was the chairperson of the board. She could have advised her fellow board members to amend the most egregious parts of the agreement or advise them to not sign it at all.
Or maybe Dr. Kumar should be the one to pay the fine because he made millions of dollars off of Tulare taxpayers. Can you say “conflict of interests?”
I hate to criticize Ms. Gadke because she is so sweet. I don’t know if Ms. Bell is as sweet because she never returned my calls. Voice writer Dave Adalian did get a callback from Ms. Bell, once.
“She didn’t know it was me. We had a long talk before she figured out who I was. Then she told me I wasn’t who I said I was.”
As for Ms. Gadke, a longtime Tulare resident, I had a couple of very pleasant and educational conversations with her. It is obvious she only wanted what was best for the hospital and Tulare.
It seems to me that she was talked into running for the hospital board the first time out of civic duty, then had her arm twisted to run the second time when she lost to current trustee Michael Jamaica.
Former Trustee Richard Torrez sounds like a great guy also, but I hold Ms. Gadke and Mr. Torrez as responsible for the mess facing the hospital as I do Ms. Bell and Dr, Kumar.
Why? Because silence is consent, and Mr. Torrez wins the lottery on that one.
I know members of the community were shouting from the mountain tops to tell Ms. Gadke and Mr. Torrez to rein in HCCA’s power. People all over Tulare, and all over the county, heard their cries.
All they had to do was listen.
What they did is called “willful ignorance” and we have had some doozies throughout world history of what happens when the citizenry refuses to face the truth.
The board not hiring their own lawyer was a dereliction of duty. Signing the MSA was unconscionable. Giving Dr. Benzeevi carte blanche to get any loan he wants without board review is a breach of fiduciary duty. And the list goes on.
Sitting around blaming past board members doesn’t make things better, but they can’t get much worse. The hospital has filed Chapter 9 bankruptcy and is hoping to prove HCCA’s mismanagement to avoid the $10million dollar penalty.
One lawyer told me another way out of the penalty was that if Sherrie Bell admits that she did not read the MSA. Thus, the contract would be void. You can’t represent the district if you don’t read what you are signing.
Apologies, bankruptcies, a new board – Tulare Regional Medical Center is a long way from being whole, but at least they have turned the corner.