Around F.C.

Down But Not Out, Cram Still Center of City’s ‘Watch Night’

BOARD MEMBERS of Falls Church Arts take a photo with a cardboard cut-out version of Barb Cram. In early November, Cram suffered a broken leg and has been immobile throughout a busy holiday season that includes planning for the annual Watch Night event in downtown Falls Church. (Photo: Shaun van Steyn)

Selfless deeds pump vigor through Barb Cram’s service-orientated veins, which work double-time during the generous season of the holidays. But one fateful injury sidelined Cram (at least, physically) and raised concerns over her capacity to help bring about the 20th annual Watch Night event on New Year’s Eve in the City of Falls Church. Luckily for local residents, Cram never faltered in her preparations and was able to discover some surprise good from an unexpectedly bad accident along the way.

It was an early November day at the Falls Church Arts gallery when Cram took a fall that sent shockwaves through the City. A short trip to the bathroom to collect herself was necessary after Cram took a prescribed medicine that can sometimes cause her to experience cold sweats. Once Cram decided she had rested long enough, she stood up — only to blackout. When she awoke she would realize that her medicine was still affecting her, enough to cause a bad slip and three broken bones in her leg.

“My foot was caught between the wall and the barrier of the commode, so it caught my leg and my leg didn’t go with my body when it fell — which was probably good,” Cram said. “I didn’t think that had happened, I just thought I had sprained my ankle or something. I didn’t feel that bad actually, so I was surprised it was three broken bones.”

Despite showing as much grit as she does gallantry, Cram can’t will herself to heal faster and become mobile again. So she’s been confined to bed rest while her bones fuse back together, which remains an ongoing process, and has prevented residents from seeing her leading up to Watch Night. Though the public was given a little reprieve when a cardboard cut-out with Cram’s mugshot attached to it has made the rounds at City events throughout the past two months.

And bedridden be damned, Cram has stayed active in Watch Night’s planning.

She spends hours out of her day making calls, completing paperwork and listening in on meetings to ensure the setup is running smoothly. Along with that, she’s discussing preparations for satellite concert sites at Falls Church Presbyterian Church and Falls Church Episcopal Church and arranging for bands to fill up the main stage’s setlist, ordering banners and tracking the delivery of the large LOVE letters that sit at the corner of Broad and Washington St. And with fireworks out of the question, Cram has worked to bring in spotlights to shoot into the sky so the family-friendly event can attract regional attention from passersby.

Now two decades in existence and with an experienced crew of volunteers returning to lend a hand, organizing for Watch Night is about as seamless as it’s ever been. It’s a positive for Cram, who can take a little extra time out of her day to do exercises to keep her muscles active. Furthermore, it’s a positive for volunteers to expand their roles and familiarize themselves with broader aspects of the event due to Cram’s physical absence.

“People come over [to my house], they’ll pick up what they need and we’ll go over what they’re doing and how we want it to be done,” Cram added. “People like to own the job that they’re doing and having a sense of what the purpose [and scope] is…We’ve got very loyal volunteers, and it’s helped build more loyal volunteers for their venue or event.”

The latter point — that her absence has opened the door for more new volunteers — is a blessing in disguise from an otherwise rough injury and perceivably difficult situation. Cram’s dedication to assisting her neighbors can sometimes negate the need for new help since she and her stable of volunteers are already so efficient at putting Watch Night together.

With no fear that there may be too many cooks in the kitchen, new volunteers have joined the planning process and are doing exactly what’s needed of them — and planting the service seed for a new generation in the process.

“In a lot of ways when doing the service yourself, you really need to get other people involved because that’s when people continue to serve. If I ever became totally incapacitated, I would expect people to pick up where I left off, but if they don’t have the chance beforehand, you’re not going to be so fortunate,” Cram continued. “There’s always a silver lining to every cloud.”

As Watch Night sits just a few days out, locals shouldn’t expect a surprise appearance from Cram. While she can, technically, leave the house with the aid of a walker, it can be a bit too strenuous for her arms to support her for extended periods of time. Besides, Cram also jokes that the popularity of her cardboard cut-out is already surpassing her own stellar 30-plus year reputation in the City.

So whether Cram does come by Watch Night or not, the show must — and will — go on.