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Southern California’s Conejo Valley

Los Angeles is the only US city with a mountain range, the Santa Monica Mountains, running through it, which gives the city a wide variety of topography and scenery, perfect for filming. Since the mountains and valleys that comprised the Conejo Valley could be transformed into anything from Texas to Switzerland, the original “Planet of the Apes,” “Tora, Tora, Tora,” “Gunsmoke,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “MASH,” to name a few, were filmed there.

The 101 Freeway, which was once known primarily as the Ventura Freeway (or in the  song as Ventura Highway) essentially bisects this scenic area and leads a traveler from Calabasas (squash in Spanish), through Agoura Hills and Westlake Village to Thousand Oaks. Conejo means rabbit in Spanish and there were plenty of those cottontails around, probably great food for all the coyotes.

 

Open space before Thousand Oaks Bl.

Open space before Thousand Oaks Boulevard built.

And there were various canyon roads that led to celebrated Malibu: Kanan Road, windy and narrow Decker Canyon, and Malibu Canyon, which I consider the loveliest. Malibu Canyon Road takes the explorer past Malibu Creek State Park. When it first opened to the public, there were remains of the apes’ homes from “Planet of the Apes.”

In the 1970s, the 101 Freeway was the main artery through the little communities of Agoura and Westake. Thousand Oaks, a bit further west, was already an incorporated city with a movie theatre, some grocery stores and a small shopping center. The Conejo Valley was just over a steep hill from the vast San Fernando Valley, but it seemed like a different world. When we first moved in, the freeway was only two lanes each direction.

Westlake Village was a beautifully planned community with a man-made lake and island, and a small but nice shopping center, which included a large grocery. Agoura was inhabited by many old-timers with ranches and old houses; it was a funky place with too many billboards along the freeway and no big chain grocery store. Art Whizin, the creator of an original chain of LA restaurants called Chili Bowl in the late 1940s, had moved to outlying Agoura and soon built another restaurant along the freeway. He called it Whizin’s, of course! I remember I’d heard that the eatery was haunted and joked that it was probably someone who’d died of food poisoning.

Although it was exciting to discover we’d soon have more amenities and easier shopping without driving into the San Fernando Valley, it was disheartening to know that developers were planning just about every fast-food outlet available. McDonald’s, however, was an exception. My kids couldn’t wait–it was walking distance from home, requiring some patience and parental supervision.

Kanan Road new housing developments late 1970s

Kanan Road new housing developments late 1970s

Hillrise, our housing development was nestled among several hills and overlooked the Morrison Ranch, which still had cattle and sheep until it was bought by a developer and turned into a posh high-end residential development, but still called Morrison Ranch. West of Hillrise, the land was essentially empty except for a couple of small rundown ranches. There was no road connecting the freeway exits—Kanan Road and Lindero Canyon Road. In spring the whole area was covered with tall wild yellow mustard plants that grew prolifically, and little pockets of blue-purple lupins.

When Thousand Oaks Boulevard was built (location photo at the top), it was a huge event. I covered the opening for the Acorn newspaper with a story and a front-page photo of local politicians and developers. I also joined the honchos for a fire engine ride to celebrate the new road.

Kanan Road, the main artery from the 101 Freeway, led north to the Oak Park housing development, which later grew by thousands of new homes. Driving south on Kanan led through the Santa Monica Mountains to end up in Malibu—before Barbra Streisand moved there.

Things were changing rapidly by the end of the 1970s. Empty acres with a billboard announcing the imminent construction of a Vons grocery store stood lonely for years before its grassy surface supported three shopping centers and two grocery stores.

During those early years, I never would have imagined that I would do public relations and advertising for the Morrison Ranch development and for two of the new shopping centers.

There were quite a few stars who enjoyed the Conejo Valley and adjoining mountain areas: Robert Young, Joel McCrae, Mickey Rooney, Gallagher, Tom Selleck, Kelsey Grammar, Kurt Russell, Sophia Loren, along with various rock stars and sports stars.

SATURDAY IN THE VALLEY

My daughter Heidi and I pal around on Saturdays. We get groceries and toilet articles, have a nice lunch, and sometimes visit a museum or go to a movie. I look forward to our excursions because they are so much fun, besides being useful. Heidi’s not just my daughter, but my best friend. We talk about everything from spiritual/metaphysical ideas, favorite TV shows, and politics to family news and our creative pursuits: She paints and I write. We have come to the same conclusion: we both love living in California in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. I moved to California from a childhood of travel; Heidi was born here and has since done quite a bit of traveling.

 

Heidi Giraud

Heidi Giraud at Hamburger Hamlet

Heidi does the driving on our weekly excursions, which is definitely a perk, except for her impatience with other drivers. She curses incompetent drivers (luckily, she doesn’t shout out the window), but it helps release all her frustrations from the week before. Most of the time we mutually notice what’s going on with all the folks out and about on a Saturday, especially on Ventura Boulevard, one of the main streets that traverses the valley, from Studio City to Calabasas. Yesterday, LA City decided trees along Ventura Bl. needed to be trimmed. There’s probably no day that’s perfectly suited for this interruption, so we Los Angelenos learn to navigate and be patient.

The Hamburger Hamlet Logo

After buying a purse (excuse me, a “Messenger Bag” for her subway commute from the Valley to Downtown L.A. where she works), we headed for our favorite dining spot – Hamburger Hamlet, where we’ve eaten for decades. The eatery began in LA in 1950, grew nationwide, and then dwindled to one, near the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura Boulevards, about a mile from our apartments. This summer it closed, but we never gave up on its revival. When it returned in fall, we became steady customers again. It’s a place of good energy; our favorite waiters came back and the food even improved. When Heidi walked in and after we’d been seated in a roomy booth, a sharp waiter friend zipped over. He has developed a habit of bringing her champagne right away, and he knows I like iced tea. At one point we usually converse with Matt, a very amusing and entertaining waiter who always has a tale to tell. He had once told us how he had served an older and quite overweight Marlon Brando. This time he remembered college fun—he and actor Paul Rudd had been in the same fraternity and hung around together some years ago.

Then it’s time for Target up on Sepulveda Bl. and perhaps chatting with the young makeup woman. Always impeccably made-up, she is a black-haired professional cosmetics person who spends her leisure time competing on a roller derby team. The team recently went to Alaska to compete.

 

Trader Joe's

Trader Joe’s

Last on our Saturday list is Trader Joe’s, California’s most unusual grocery store that has now spread nationwide. We usually visit an older store on Hazeltine Avenue in Van Nuys. It’s always crowded but it remains an adventure. Now that it’s holiday season, each week carries new surprises from all over the world. One of my favorites is the German Lebkuchen (large ginger cookies with chocolate icing), but it won’t arrive until after Thanksgiving. Instead, they had Joe Joe’s chocolate covered peppermint cookies. If I want the best wine bargain, I buy the box of Australian white wine – about $12 and it lasts me a month. I’m not a gourmet!

One of the highlights of our sojourn at Trader Joe’s is the “crew” – a wonderful mix of employees with good senses of humor, who pay attention to great service and congeniality. There’s the pretty young woman studying acting when she isn’t working. Dark-haired and of Iranian culture, she wears her long hair in braids fairly often and I tease her about looking like Pocohantas. The three of us have so much fun chatting we block cart traffic in the narrow aisles. Two other favorites are a middle-aged Army veteran, tall and broad and with a terrific disposition (he speaks a little German from being stationed there), and a charming older woman who hails from the Philippines and always asks what movies we’ve seen lately. All these encounters require hugs.

I’m home before 7 p.m. and so another Saturday ends in the City of the Angels.

A PROUD ARMY BRAT

Growing up as an Army brat was an incredible education. We (which includes brats with Air Force, Navy and Marine fathers) weren’t familiar with hometowns, where you lived in a certain neighborhood and went to the same schools for years. We kept our friends by sending letters back and forth, through US Mail. We learned to adjust and make friends fast since we never knew how soon we’d be transferred. We learned to make the best out of our lives.

I began my Army brat wanderings at age 4 at the Munchen, Germany, train station in 1947 when I met my mother’s new husband and my new father, Capt. A.D. Williams. The photo is below. I learned quickly what war looked like–Munich was full of bombed-out buildings from the recent war.

MunchenArrival-'47

Military life is very different than civilian life. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine fathers all wore uniforms, which had to be starched, ironed, and kept in excellent shape. My mother was expected to keep my dad’s things in perfect order, and she advised me, ruefully, never to let a man take me for granted. In other words, don’t volunteer to iron or you’ll be stuck behind an ironing board forever. Thank God, Permanent Press was available when I got married, and my husband had elected to stay only in the Reserve Army (two weeks of uniforms in the summer).

Way before the cheap giant stores we have now, the Army provided the PX (post exchange) a version of department store with mostly quality things at lower prices, and the Commissary (nicknamed the Co-misery by some) for reasonably priced food. Prices needed to be low since joining the service, whichever one was chosen, was not designed to make your parents rich. I still have some record albums (remember those?) from the PX in the early ‘60s that only cost $2.35! And a china cabinet full of nice silver and crystal from the PX that I got for wedding presents. I could entertain like my parents, but who uses silver trays and bowls, fancy silverware and crystal except for very special occasions? Or perhaps if you’re part of the British Royal Family!

Entertainment was always a priority in the service; officers and their wives had calling cards and went through all the proper protocol. Officers and enlisted men did not socialize with each other: they each had their own clubs. The clubs weren’t always very special, like the photo below shows. The Class VI store, on the other hand, was available to those, no matter what rank, who were old enough to imbibe alcohol in its various forms. Cocktail parties, dinner parties, special dinners/parties given by a certain command or military group were typical to celebrate holidays, promotions, farewells, etc. Each weeknight, if they didn’t have other social plans, my mother would put on a nice dress and heels and greet my dad with Martinis or Manhattans and sliced raw vegetables (pioneers for eating, if not drinking, healthy) for cocktail hour, from 5-7 p.m., wherever they were stationed. I can’t remember if he got comfortable first and took off the uniform.

Army posts offered tennis courts, bowling alleys, shooting ranges, gyms: you name it. There were always movie theaters and movies were very cheap. Because of my thrifty dad, however, I remember my mother making us kids popcorn and putting it into small paper bags to take to the 35-cent or cheaper films. In the summer, there were usually several huge pools to choose from, an easy bike ride away. And when you became a teenager, there was a teenage club with lots of activities.

Rules and regulations were to be obeyed without protest; everything had certain hours, posted in military time. My dad wrote me letters military style while I was away at college: paragraphs were numbered and if he was scheduling a pickup or a visit, it would be written as 0800 hours or perhaps 1600 hours, for instance.

My wedding day -- outside military housing in Frankfurt, Germany

My wedding day with parents & sister — outside US Army military housing in Frankfurt, Germany

If your dad got orders, it was time to leave, no matter how well you liked your home/school/ post. Moving wasn’t ever that easy, but there were Army personnel to pack up your household goods: until the Army got smart eventually and started providing furniture, dishes, bedding and the like at the new military destination, especially in Europe. Personal household items seldom arrived at the new quarters on time or in good shape, but that was to be expected or accepted, even if it ended up on the bottom of the ocean, which did happen, although not to us. If you were in Army quarters, you were expected to leave them spic and span. They were subject to inspection, and that meant bedsprings, tops of doors, ovens, etc. Remember the old TV ad for the “White glove test?” Wanting to save money, my dad insisted Mom do the cleaning instead of hiring a cleaning crew.

Army fathers (as I imagine all service fathers) were used to a regimented schedule. When we went on a vacation in the States, we got up at 4 a.m. (0400 hours) and hit the road. I got a laugh from the scene in the movie “The Great Santini” when the family got in their car to leave in the wee hours. In the 50s we traveled to Tripoli in what some joked was a putt-putt airplane, propeller-driven and loud. It involved several refueling stops and seats were not all facing the front, which made it easy for my sister to throw up on my brother. Military airplanes in the 50s and 60s made stops in places like the Azores, Morocco, England, Scotland, Newfoundland and Labrador (depending upon which direction you were traveling). Once off an airplane, you didn’t get your land legs back for at least a day. Until then your ears buzzed and everything seemed to move, even if you were sitting down.

Traveling by ship was more common in the 40s and 50s. I got my “sea legs” when I was four years old: from New York to Hamburg, Germany, and then by train to Munich. The best experience was the military Mediterranean Cruise in 1958–17 days of sightseeing and parties.

When an Army father retired, he usually picked someplace near a post or base since he could still use the PX, Commissary, medical facilities and space-available air travel. Many times the retirement choice would be the area of his last post or base. When he’d had enough, my dad and mom chose Texas for the warm climate and the close proximity of Ft. Sam Houston, where, ironically, my mother and I had been briefly during WWII when she’d been married to my birth father. My mother left this world and “retired” for good from Brooke Army Hospital at Ft. Sam Houston.

Military life as a dependent involved a great deal more than I could fit into this story, but my story gives a general idea.

Being an Army brat was a great adventure, despite the challenges. Living in exotic places was exciting but best of all were the friends you made and kept, if you chose to. My parents kept up with Army couples all over the world until they died, and I always looked forward to reading all the Christmas cards from everywhere. It’s a tradition I chose to cherish and carry on.

MASKING PAIN WITH PINK GLASSES

Pink Glasses#2dup

Mental illness affects many of us in one way or another. I have a cousin who has suffered from bipolar disorder since he as a teenager, and a good friend whose son has been tortured with various mental afflictions for many years. Like so many challenges in life, the sufferer is usually not alone but  affects those around him/her. Since Veteran’s Day is coming up, I can’t help but remember those I know who endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The excerpt below comes from a book I wrote, which is on sale on Amazon. It’s a true story and revolves around Porsches.

Pink Glasses

Betty excused herself from the table of her divorced girlfriends in the chic Los Angeles bar/restaurant and slowly pushed her way toward the bathrooms, about ten excuse-me’s away. When she hadn’t returned twenty minutes later, the others began to look around.

“I see her,” Joyce said. “She’s deep in conversation with some fellow in pink sunglasses. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it, except for Halloween!”

Celia and Liz strained to see where Joyce was staring.

“He’s very attractive, and looks interesting,” Liz offered.

“She’s bringing him over, girls,” Celia said excitedly, looking forward to some male interaction.

They watched as Betty and the tall lean man in the pink-frames with darkened pink lenses pushed their way through the tightly meshed crowd toward the table of women. Wavy dark hair was cut close around the man’s small head; it resembled a military cut and was much shorter than the current style. As he got closer they could see his dark brown, somewhat unruly eyebrows sat over kind brown eyes. At ease with himself, he was smiling as if he’d known all of them as friends for a long time. They noted he was handsome and dressed casually in a navy blue-plaid shirt and tan pants. He wore loafers without socks.

A chair at the next table was empty, and Celia pulled it over. “We’ve got a chair for you,” she said as she looked up at him hopefully, waiting for an introduction.

“This is Will,” Betty said and then introduced each of the friends.

The empty chair was between Celia and Joyce, and Will sat there leaning into the table as if eagerly waiting to hear whatever the women had to share with him. The friends looked at each other with surprise, they were taken aback by his open friendly manner. Nearly all of the men they had encountered here hid their feelings and kept their thoughts to themselves.

Most men would be a bit put off and act mysterious confronted by four intelligent women, Joyce thought to herself as she scrutinized their guest. She wasn’t currently involved with a man; maybe she’d explore this one.

“You girls come here often?” Will asked.

“Once in a while,” Joyce offered and added, “I haven’t seen you here before.”

“How do you know if you don’t come often?” Will answered, smiling. The others laughed, a bit self-consciously, caught in their attempt to be cool.

“Will told me he was a Navy pilot, girls. Remember Top Gun?” Betty asked.

“A Navy guy who favors pink sunglasses!” Celia remarked, a bit too pointedly. She looked slightly embarrassed after her remark and made a note to herself to stop treating all men as if they were Malcolm, her live-in for so many years.

Liz, the tender-hearted, interjected, “Men need a little softness in their lives. What’s wrong with pink? It used to be the rage in the ‘50s, with charcoal gray.”

“And, of course, we all remember the 50s!” Betty couldn’t resist and laughed at her willingness to reveal her true age.

Joyce, who had recovered from her earlier faux pas, asked, “So what do you do?”

“You women,” Will answered, laughing lightly, “you don’t waste any time. Or is it just this place? Everyone wants to know how much money you make. Or what sign you are.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Joyce said petulantly as she ran her hand through her shoulder-length blond hair.

“Girls, girls,” Betty interrupted. “Give him some breathing room. Will, are you sure you can handle all of us?”

“I’m between jobs,” Will said quickly. He leaned back in his chair looking softly from behind the pink lenses; a small smile played upon his attractive, yet childlike and vulnerable face.

To find out what happens, check out: http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

US BASEBALL CARDS IN LIBYA

The world grows smaller every day with the Internet, satellites and other means of communication. After World War II, the US and other countries realized, like it or not, the world was connected, as English author John Donne said way back in a 1624 sermon: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

Wars, ironically, have brought people together, and as the US became more powerful, we sent our military with many of their families all over the world. It was surprising when we discovered people in these various foreign countries knew something about America from our movies and even from our sports teams.

Pete Remmert, who lived in Tripoli from 1958-1962, told me a fascinating story about his encounter and a friendship with a Libyan boy while his family lived in a nice area near the beach, a bit west of the center of town. It’s nice to relate a positive  story about the Middle East these days.

“I was eight years old in 1958. Before we acquired (Wheelus) base housing, we lived in Giorgimpopoli and occasionally when I walked alone in the streets of the neighborhood, I would run into a group of Libyan boys (a few years older than Pete was) who sometimes liked to play a little rough. One of these boys didn’t like the way his companions were giving me a hard time, and he pulled me aside and offered me, in very good English, a deal I couldn’t refuse. He told me that he collected American baseball cards, the rectangular ones that came in packs of bubblegum.”

Libyan construction workers in 1950s

Libyan construction workers in 1950s

For those old enough to remember, I looked up some of the stars of that era on baseball cards. Though I’m not a typical baseball fan, I still remember a few of them. Stars like Don Drysdale (I saw him play as a Los Angeles Dodger), Mickey Mantle (a Yankee great), Whitey Ford, John Roseboro, and Carl Yastrzemski, are a few examples.

Although he didn’t remember the boy’s name, Pete commented, “He was a couple of years older than me, of slender build and bald as an eagle. He wore typical Libyan clothing: white robes with a multicolored shawl-type wrap during the colder months. He usually wore a ‘beanie’ type maroon-colored cap but on occasion he would wear a fez. I was always impressed with his command of the English language and his knowledge of contemporary American baseball players was vastly superior to any of the American kids I knew. He also introduced me to those yummy dates that we pulled off the date palms and ate like candy.”

Pete continued, “I told him that I was only interested in the gum and that he was welcome to have the cards. From that moment on, he swore that he would be my personal bodyguard. Well, one afternoon he made good on his promise. A group of older kids decided to rough me up a bit, and my young friend immediately took off his cap, bent over at a ninety-degree angle and, like a battering ram, plowed into one of the kids. The boys scattered and never gave me any trouble again.”

WHEELUS HIGH SCHOOL HIJINKS – 1958 Libya

I left Tripoli, Libya, the summer of 1958, the end of my sophomore year in high school. My dad received orders assigning him to duty at the Pentagon in Northern Virginia; he would work in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a prestigious position for him.

The last months at Wheelus High School were packed with activities and I went through the old Barracan newspapers to note a few highlights. Since we didn’t have a cafeteria at the high school, it was decided by the “powers that be” to make us eat at the Airmen’s Club in February. Apparently, one of the main reasons was to keep girls away from meeting airmen during lunchtime. Going out with GIs was a social “no-no” and Joe McDonald wrote an editorial about it in the paper. Too many girls, not enough boys, it seems.

By March the Airmen’s Club was closed for student lunches and we were all ordered to bring sack lunches – enforced nutrition by a school dietician! Apparently we were mostly disorderly at the Airmen’s Club and now had to eat in the school courtyard. To make sure our naughty behavior didn’t spill over to the elementary school, there would be a wall erected!

When students were asked what was the first thing they’d do when they got back to the States, Eddie Goldsworthy declared he’d find a patch of grass and look at it for an hour. Marla Bush was going to eat a hot corned beef sandwich, and Karen Gamel was going to eat a good banana.

A bunch of us were spotted at the Elvis Presley “Jailhouse Rock” movie on base. Steve Gaynor was seen with three girls—Karen, Kathy and Arnell. This according to Quidnunc, the gossip column.

Errol Cochrane’s Platter Chatter listed Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” as the number one record, Danny and the Juniors had the number 10 hit – “At the Hop.” We heard these songs often at the Teen Club on base.

In the spring the sophomores sponsored a dance—Hernando’s Hideaway (inspired by the content and music from the Broadway play and subsequent movie “Pajama Game”) with entertainment. A few of us girls decided we’d do a chorus line dance to “Steam Heat,” a dance routine featured in the movie. My parents had the record and I remember practicing our routine in my Tripoli living room. Our very amateur group included: Betty Hubbard, Sherri Anderson, Karen Gamel, Wilnetta Edwards, and me. We started our dance in front of a fairly large audience at the evening activity. Moments into the dance the record skipped and we had to pull ourselves together and start again. I think the photo below of Wilnetta, me and Betty displays our self-confidence. We were probably too young to worry about it.

The boys did a can-can in drag after our dance and stole the show, but I don’t have the photo.

Dancing to Steam Heat - Wilnetta Edwards, Viki Williams, Betty Hubbard

Dancing to Steam Heat – Wilnetta Edwards, Viki Williams, Betty Hubbard

HALLOWEEN FUN – LA STYLE

Halloween festivities seem to be a peculiarly American holiday, and it becomes more rambunctious and extravagant every year. From kids in simple costumes trick-a-treating  in neighborhoods, it’s grown to large events in shopping centers, parades, and special haunted houses, especially in Los Angeles. There’s Knott’s Scary Farm, the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor, Universal Studios Horror Nights, a costume ball at LA County Art Museum, and the famous and probably largest street party in the world in West Hollywood from 6-11 p.m. My daughter Heidi attended a few years ago.

I was reminded of these festivities by finding my photo of Vincent Price, renowned for his scary roles — The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Wax, The Masque of the Red Death, etc. Although he died in 1993, any movie fan will remember his distinctive cultured voice, despite being born in St. Louis, Missouri! I met him when I was a guest at a realtors’ convention in Las Vegas back in the mid 1970s. My mother-in-law had invited me to join her and  her brother-in-law; it was a good excuse to celebrate in Vegas. I had my photo taken with the charming Vincent and remember asking him why he had a lapel pin on his jacket  in the shape of a coat hangar (can’t be seen in the photo). He laughed and said it was because he didn’t have any “hangups!”

Me and Vincent Price. Looks like I'm doing publicity.

Me and Vincent Price. Looks like I’m doing publicity glad-handing!

Back in the 1960s, when I was working as a service representative at AT&T (known as Pacific Bell then), we always celebrated Halloween. We had about 10 sections of side-by-side desks in our large office in Hollywood on Gower Street, a couple of blocks from Columbia Studios. Each section, including the supervisor, would choose their own section costume. We were inventive as you can see in these old photos.

Halloween at the PacBell Phone Co office

Cave Women for Halloween at the PacBell Phone Co office – I’m third from the left

Another Halloween at the Phone Company

Another Halloween at the Phone Company-I’m third from the left again. We are space creatures, probably Star Trek inspired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my kids were growing up, we were fortunate to live in a suburban house between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills,  a safe place to raise kids and an easy place for trick-or-treating. Now that I’m more in the city in an area of apartment buildings, I don’t see normal trick-or-treating.  Kids who don’t live in housing tracts will dress up for their schools, and also go with parents to shopping centers to get free candy.

 

Hansi as a Frontier Cowboy

Son Hansi as a Frontier Cowboy

Heidi as a version of American Indian

Daughter Heidi as a version of American Indian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heidi & Zombie - West Hollywood Halloween

Heidi & Zombie – West Hollywood Halloween Carnival

 

HallowHeidi-#3

 

 

The Devil and another fellow

The Devil and another fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because Los Angeles is the Entertainment Capital of the World, there’s nothing that matches the zany and outrageous Gay West Hollywood Halloween Parade and Carnival. Thousands of participants of all sexual persuasions meander down a mile-long stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard on Halloween night. Some come just to gawk; others join in the fun with costumes seen nowhere else. There’s entertainment, bands, dancing, and plenty of food and drink. My daughter Heidi and a few friends dressed up a few years ago, but Heidi seemed to be the only one who got revelers to show off in photos.

Shipboard Life in the 16 Century

Mel bookw:compass 0

Writing Melaynie’s Masquerade was a multi-level challenge. I’d always been fascinated with the changing roles of men and women through the ages.   I decided to play with the concept of a female disguised as a man almost as soon as I decided to turn “Drake,” my screenplay, into a book. How close are men and women in preferences and personality, not to mention looks? History is peppered with sexual “masquerades” and lately sex change operations have gained acceptance as those who believe they were born the wrong sex take action to change it.

Since my heroine, Melaynie, plays both female and male roles, I had plenty of research to do. I had somewhat of an advantage since I’d spent a few years attending Renaissance Pleasure Faires and had some idea of life in England during the 1500s. The era of Queen Elizabeth I has been a major topic of movies, plays and books.

I wanted to start at the basics underneath all the layers of clothing—what did people wear? What was the requirement for underwear for both men and women: clothing or lack of it that we take for granted these days? Since modern women consider underwear a priority, that was one of my first research topics. I even found a fascinating little book called The History of Underclothes. Doing laundry wasn’t a major undertaking in the 16th century since the undergarments, made from various grades of linen, were seldom washed, even for the wealthy. To make them smell better, sweet spices were added on the few occasions they were laundered. It probably made little difference since everybody smelled bad anyway, and the nose is a forgiving orifice once it gets used to certain smells.

Englishwomen wore at least three layers of petticoats but no “drawers” (underpants) before the end of the 18th century. Corsets, like girdles or Spanx of more modern times, were and are punishing to wear. Oddly, men did wear drawers, which were loose fitting, gathered at the waist, ended at the knee, and were sometimes fancied up with embroidery

I used to wonder how men “had their way” with women so easily in some movies depicting Elizabethan times, but if they weren’t wearing underwear, all a man had to do was to lift a woman’s triple-layered skirt. One of the petticoats usually had hoops, so it lifted fairly easily.

Deciding where Melaynie was going to sleep on Drake’s ship in order to keep her sex secret was a challenge. From what I’d read about him, Drake truly cared about his crew. I wrote him as ignorant of Melaynie’s true sex, of course. For Drake, Melaynie was a young man named Christopher. Concerned that Christopher wouldn’t have an easy time sleeping on a hammock below decks with the rest of the rowdy sailors, Drake would have decided she’d be perfect sleeping at his cabin door, a protected area. Melaynie had extra help aboard ship because her brother had also signed on as a seaman.

If you’re curious about the entire adventure story, which is based on a true voyage to the Caribbean by Francis Drake and his crew, check out Melaynie’s Masquerade on Amazon.  Check out the book at:  http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

 

TRIPOLI MEMORIES FROM WHEELUS STUDENTS

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover, published on Amazon

I started the Words on My Mind blog in May 2010 and have posted 476 stories since then. I’ve had lots of words to put down, apparently! My readers are growing in number — around 80,000 hits a month, sometimes more, at this point. Over 2 million people have stopped in or passed by Words on My Mind. Now if I had only sold that many books on Amazon! What pleases me most is that many readers leave comments (over 2,000 so far) and tell me something about their own personal stories. I love that kind of interaction.

One of my favorite subjects is the time I spent in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. I even wrote an Ebook Single (shown above) detailing many of my adventures and published it on Amazon: An Army Brat in Libya. Since so many of my blog readers enjoy those adventures and have written to add some details of their own experiences, I am sharing their comments below.

Ernie Miller, now retired in Arizona, has responded from time to time. He recalls a great deal about his time at Wheelus Air Force Base. During the 1954-55 school year, Ernie relates, the high school “had a total population of 52, including all four grades. I left as a very simplistic 15-year-old and have remembered the experiences in Tripoli as some of the best in my life. It was fascinating to see the nomadic tribes continuing their lives as they were doing in the time of Christ. These wonderful nomadic people have remained unchallenged by the space age, the cold war and the exploration of outer space.” Ernie made these remarks before the recent war in Libya and the ensuing challenges Libyans have to remake their country.

Nancy lived at Wheelus from 1952-54 across from the school in barracks build by Mussolini. She remembers “cement floors, and two bedrooms for a family of seven with two dachshunds.” Backyard fences were made of palm branches, “an olive grove was on the side of us where we played in the trees and among pear cacti, finding lots of empty bullet shells from WWII. My dad was chaplain. The base was just being built up. When we got there we had gravel roads, and airmen were living in tents. We flew over in a C-76, an unpressurized prop plane, for which my ears are paying a price today.”

Noelle wrote to tell me her father was in the Corps of Engineers (as was my dad). “He was part of the team who were responsible for the building of the ‘new’ hospital and a number of airstrips during 1952-56 on Wheelus. We lived on the economy in an apartment downtown. From the apartment balcony, we could see Tripoli harbor, a huge local park and gharries that traveled up and down the streets. In the summer, I awoke to gharry bells that adorned the horses.”

“I, too, lived in Tripoli in 1953 and have great memories of that time. I was just out of high school and worked as a typist. Our Italian maid ‘made off’ with my many sets of different colored underwear. My mother’s favorite tablecloth disappeared from the clothesline and probably became part of Arab garb,” said Anne.

Paulette spent 5th and 6th grade at Wheelus. When her father lost his deposit on an apartment to be built in Tripoli, he gave up and moved the family into a trailer on base. “I liked it anyway, and it was only a half-mile to the beach, and we had a small zoo practically in our backyard. I could walk to school, the BX (base exchange), church and the movies. Quite an adventure for a 10/11 year old.”

As the years go by, more and more Wheelus High and Elementary School alumni have gotten in touch on Facebook. And the legend builds. Imagine military brats who got to meet John Wayne, Sophia Loren and Richard Nixon…

FAMILY SECRETS – THE BARRETTS

Every family has secrets. It was probably easier to keep secrets back in the 20th century. With the openness of the Internet, too many people know your personal business, not to mention your financial information.

During my college years at William & Mary in Virginia, I discovered a few family secrets that were quite interesting and also tragic. I don’t think this information was kept from me because it was very sad or disturbing. More than likely my parents didn’t think I needed to know, and, frankly, I wasn’t very curious then about my parents’ lives before I came along. My stepfather was difficult enough to deal with; I wasn’t anxious to find out about his life before he met and married my mother.

After I enrolled in the College of William & Mary, I was seldom at home for long. One summer vacation, however, I discovered a book in a family bookcase that was inscribed by my dad’s sister, Ann. Her message alluded to a difficult time in his life but she didn’t say exactly what had happened. It peeked my interest and I asked my mother about it.

 

Darby & Connie Williams get married

Darby & Connie Williams get married

My mother readily  told me my stepfather had been married before she had met him, and his wife Connie had died before a year had passed. The young couple had been married in March 1943 in Alexandria, VA at the venerable St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Connie Barrett, a graduate of St. Agnes School in Alexandria, was the daughter of a Marine Corps Major General, Charles Barrett, whose family had deep roots in historic Virginia.

My mother finally solved the minor mystery of the initials CAB on the family set of sterling silverware we had been using for years. Mom had always told us it was an antique, and had never explained it had belonged to Connie (maybe a wedding gift). My dad eventually told me a little about Connie, significantly that I would have liked her.

The connections that were to follow were odd coincidences. Connie, a diabetic since childhood, had died from diabetic shock on New Year’s Day 1944, while her husband, my dad, had been on duty at Ft. Belvoir. Connie’s mother had come to visit her; when her daughter didn’t answer the door, she let herself in and found her dead. Connie was only 20 years old, and the day she passed was the day I turned a year old.

At William & Mary, I had  lived in Barrett Dormitory three years–from  sophomore to senior year. There was a lovely study room/museum on the first floor dedicated to Connie’s grandmother, Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, who had endowed the dormitory and had given some of her cherished Chinese decorative mementoes to be displayed in special cases in that room. I was surprised when I discovered she was connected to my family. Dr. Kate Waller Barrett (who had her medical degree) was a Virginian devoted to philanthropy and had opened a home for unwed mothers in Atlanta, the first of the Crittenton missions. She was also one of only 10 women invited to the Versailles Conference in France after WWI. Mrs. Barrett, mother of Maj. Gen. Barrett, had died in 1925, when Connie was two.

Dr. Kate Waller Barrett

Dr. Kate Waller Barrett

Connie’s father, Charles Barrett, was a Marine Corps career officer and had been promoted to Major General in 1942 while he was stationed in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, serving under Admiral William Halsey. In September 1943 he had been given the command of the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC-a name way before it was a computer!) The general died on October 8, 1943 in a strange accident a few months before Connie died.

Major General Charles Barrett

Major General Charles Barrett

General Barrett was off duty that October evening. After talking to fellow officers for a short time, he had gone to his second floor bedroom in the officers’ quarters in Bordinat House to wash up before joining other officers for dinner. Not long after, a Marine sentry came rushing into the living room of the quarters to announce that the general had fallen from the second floor porch to the sidewalk below. He had been dressed in his khaki working uniform and was still breathing but unconscious. An ambulance took him to a Navy hospital but he never regained consciousness and died shortly after. At the military court of inquiry, there were comments that the general had looked stressed and tired before he fell off the porch. When they inspected his body, they could see his injuries had been extreme. The court ruled he had died in the line of duty. He was only 58 and had served in the Marine Corps for 34 years.

The Barretts were a well-respected and well-remembered family in Virginia. An elementary school in Alexandria was named after General Barrett, and a Marine Corps building in Quantico–Barrett Hall, as well as Camp Barrett, the basic officers’ school on the Marine base. Tom FitzPatrick, who had attended Charles Barrett School, was so inspired by General Barrett’s life that he wrote a book– A CHARACTER THAT INSPIRED: MAJOR GENERAL CHARLES D. BARRETT, USMC, published in 2003. He did such a thorough job, the book is 761 pages long. My sister shared some photos she had of Connie and my dad, and I, in turn, have borrowed some photos and information from Tom’s book.