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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.

 

FAMOUS FOLKS PART 2

In Southern California you never know whom you might see or even chat with. In the past few years I’ve seen Diane Keaton at the Getty Museum and had a long chat at a local Trader Joe’s with the original Hot Lips Houlihan from the MASH film—Sally Kellerman.

In early 1980, when I was the editor of the Acorn newspaper in Agoura, I met actor Strother Martin, who, with his wife Helen, was active in the community and a member of the Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce. He didn’t come to our weekly meetings since he had a busy film career, but he did share his talent with us at our Christmas party at the Calabasas Inn. I took this photo of Strother reading part of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He had a beautiful voice, far from the “prairie scum” accent he used for roles such as the prison warden in “Cool Hand Luke” where he so famously said, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

 

Strother Martin

Strother Martin reading “A Christmas Carol”

I got to know him a little when I did an interview with him at his home in Thousand Oaks. He was getting ready to fly to New York to host the “Saturday Night Live” TV program. He gave me a photo from a recent film he’d done with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn, “Rooster Cogburn.” I still have it. Within a few months, however, Strother died of a heart attack. Many members of the Chamber of Commerce attended his August funeral at Forest Lawn, including me. I was invited back to the Martin home after the funeral. Jimmy Carter was President then and he called Helen Martin personally to convey his sympathies. I’m currently editing Madelyn Roberts’ biography of the actor: Strother Martin, A Hero’s Journey Fulfilled.

 I met champion heavyweight boxer Jerry Quarry in a local restaurant bar, at that time called New Orleans West. The bar/lounge was a gathering place for many singles in Westlake Village. Since the place bordered Westlake Lake, some residents of the nearby Island (Mickey Rooney had once lived there) would travel via electric party boats and dock them below the restaurant.

 

Boxer Jerry Quarry

Boxer Jerry Quarry

In the 1980s when I met Jerry, his boxing career was over but people in the bar remembered him and enjoyed his company. I got to know him and eventually interviewed him for a local publication. Nicknamed the Bellflower Bomber during his career, he had been successful, winning 53 fights out of 66. He was a California boy from Bakersfield and had been the most popular fighter in “Ring” magazine from 1968-71. He had even fought the famous Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

Quarry, a local resident, was past his prime when I knew him, but he was friendly and liked to have a good time. Not long after he began to suffer from the effects of dementia caused by getting hit in the head too often during his boxing career. He was only 53 when he died in 1999. He’s included with other famous boxers in the World Boxing Hall of Fame in New York.

FAMOUS FOLKS I’VE MET

One of the perks of writing for newspapers and magazines, which I did for many years, is the privilege of meeting all sorts of fascinating folks. Southern California is full of people of accomplishment, especially in the entertainment industry. I was browsing through my old photo albums recently and ran across some photos I took to accompany my interviews for publications in the Conejo Valley area (Los Angeles County north of the San Fernando Valley). I took photos and chatted at various times with Peter Strauss, Strother Martin, Will Sampson and Jerry Quarry.

PeterStrauss-actor

I took the photo of Peter Strauss with a dog at a fundraising event at the nearby LA County Dog Shelter. Since the famous MASH TV series was filmed in the Agoura area, Loretta Swit, who played Hot Lips Houlihan, was also at the fundraiser.

Actor Peter Strauss has had a varied acting career as well as a participating role in community welfare. He was living in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Agoura area, where I worked for the local newspaper, when he had one of the starring roles in the 1976 TV series “Rich Man, Poor Man,” which was filmed at Malibu Lake, a few miles away. Nick Nolte, the other star in that series had picked a home a few minutes from Strauss. I’ve written about their respective historic homes in this blog.

Strauss was enthusiastic about his new home and its scenic location, and got involved with a group called “People for the Preservation of Agoura.” I did a phone interview with him to ask about his role in local politics. A young mother at the time, I just getting back into the work force and was extremely nervous, probably because I had been watching the TV series and loved it. His conviviality put me at ease and the interview went well. In 1979 I’d admired his role as a runner in the TV movie the “Jericho Mile.” Shortly after I’d seen it, I bumped into Strauss and his girlfriend in the cereal aisle of the local Vons grocery. I was tongue-tied but had to share my admiration as well as reminding him I’d interviewed him not long before.

Strauss moved out of the mountains a few years later. His historic property, which he had improved and restored, was sold in 1983 and eventually became part of the National Park Service. I did a story on the sale and got a tour of the stone ranch house and its unique cactus garden. Nowadays, the lovely park is used for weddings, concerts and other events. Strauss stayed interested in the natural environment and is an advisory board member of the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

 

Actor Will Sampson

Actor Will Sampson and friend

Meeting actor Will Sampson was an accidental encounter at a chili cook-off in the Santa Monica Mountains. The almost 3,000 acre Paramount Ranch, once home to lots of Paramount movies, has hosted all sorts of events over the years, like the Renaissance Faire. I was walking through the ranch on my way to the chili booths, probably sponsored by one of the charitable groups in the Conejo Valley. There were hay bales along the rocky path for those who needed a brief rest.

When I spotted Sampson relaxing on one of the bales with a young woman companion, I knew right away he was the American Indian who had played Chief Bromden in the 1975 Academy Award winning film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher won Academy Awards for their roles. With his necklace and cowboy hat, Sampson was appropriately Western, but I was surprised at how slender he was. In the movie he had been much stockier. He was immediately friendly and seemed pleased I had recognized him and then willingly posed for a photo. A few years later I read that he had died after a heart and lung transplant. He was only 53.

 

Part II on Wednesday – Actor Strother Martin and Boxer Jerry Quarry.

 

 

A SHOOTOUT DURING PROHIBITION

 

Edwin and Bertha Motley, my grandparents

Edwin and Bertha Motley, my grandparents

My grandmother, whom we called Mama Jake, was born in Anson County, North Carolina as Bertha Jackson Seago in 1882. She came from a family of 7 girls and 4 boys, and after she married my grandfather, Edwin P. Motley (in typical Southern fashion, we called him Daddy Ed) in 1903, she gave birth to 8 children, most of them born in Danville, Virginia (my hometown as well). There are still a lot of cousins around, and I recently discovered, thanks to my blog, there were cousins on the Seago side of the family I had never heard of! Mama Jake had a brother who was a Deputy Sheriff who was killed in a shootout, for instance!

History has always intrigued me, and when it relates to family, it’s even more interesting. Henry Louis Gates has hosted several TV shows on PBS regarding our genealogy or “roots.”  “Who Do You Think You Are” is a recent series.  Some years ago my cousin Nancy sent me a list of Mama Jake’s family and the reasons for their demise for a few of them. For instance, her sister Mary had cancer of the heart (which I’ve never heard of), brother Henry died from poisoned liquor, brother Albert had an accidental fall, and brother John died from being shot. John’s death is quite a story and it appeared in the Danville, Virginia, newspaper.

Eric Seago Flashood, a cousin, sent me a link to an ancestor site that told the story of the shooting of Deputy Sheriff John Seago, my grandmother’s brother and Eric’s great-grandfather. There are plenty of sayings about alcohol: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker,” from a poem by Ogden Nash, is my favorite. It’s been called Demon Rum and to the point: “Liquor kills.” Alcohol was responsible for the death of two of the Seagos, probably both as a result of Prohibition. When I watched the recent PBS series on Prohibition, I had no idea my Great Uncle worked for law enforcement during that violent era.

Sheriff John Seago was a brave officer of the law in Brunswick County, Virginia, who had saved a man from a lynching in 1921. In June, 1924, he and two other officers raided a moonshine operation located at a private home near the tiny town of Brodnax, Virginia. As the police officers went into the home to arrest the bootlegger, they heard a car drive up. Sheriff Seago went out on the porch to warn the men in the car not to interfere, but they ignored the warning, drove around to the back of the house and came in the back door. The lights were doused and gunfire erupted in a shootout. My Great Uncle John Seago was hit in the stomach. When a local drug store could do nothing for the serious wound, the officers drove the 78 miles to a hospital in Richmond. Despite an operation, Sheriff Seago had lost too much blood and died shortly after, leaving behind a wife and three children.

My grandmother went to her brother’s funeral in Lawrenceville, which is a little east of Danville. When she returned, the local paper, The Danville Bee, interviewed her for a story on her brother’s death. In the story, as was protocol in those days, women were called by their married name, so she was referred to as Mrs. E.P. Motley. According to the article, the men in the car, who had taken part in the shootout, were arrested, but the bootlegger was still at large.

I wish I had been more inquisitive when I was younger and my grandmother was still alive. It’s ironic that so many of us think of the questions we want to ask after our relatives have passed away. I’m sure there are several of my relatives that didn’t even know Mama Jake came from such a large family! Thanks to the Internet, we can fill in some of the blanks.

John Seago in Spanish American War

Soldier John Seago in Spanish American War before the Virginia shootout.

 

THE DUBAI DEBACLE—WAS SHE CATFISHED?

Anne was looking forward to meeting her Romeo in person when he returned from his Dubai construction job; in the meantime she enjoyed all his long and loving Emails. Bill was initially impressed with exotic Dubai, but the project was turning out to be more difficult than he had planned for. He took a few of his own men and hired local labor, which turned out to be a mistake. The locals were not skilled, but he was stuck with them. He was making it work, he wrote, and promised her a nice souvenir.

Bill-Dubai

 

Injured

 

 

 

 

 

 

About a week after he’d started his project, Anne received several photos of a man on a gurney being given oxygen as paramedics were wheeling him from an emergency vehicle to a hospital. Bill sent her a long letter explaining that a horrible accident had happened during the construction, and he had been in a coma for several days. Bill had his laptop with him, and he managed to send her all the tragic information. There had been serious injuries, he said, and one death. According to his written explanation, Bill’s men had completed the first floor of the showroom and the second floor had been hoisted above it and was being lowered to fit onto some pillars. The floor was lowered unevenly, apparently, so it crashed onto the first floor and struck several workers, including Bill. Men were seriously hurt on the first floor, and those above working on lowering the upper floor plummeted onto the first floor. It was the worst accident he’d ever had, Bill wrote, and he was very sad that one of the local workers had been killed and two of his own men critically injured.  He had suffered a terrible head injury, was in great pain, and had hurt his left leg, but he thanked God he was alive. Anne was amazed he had managed to give her such a detailed description, but imagined that he needed to share his anguish with a sympathetic woman.

Bill’s long Email indicated he felt dreadful and also responsible as a result of the accident, especially since the local workers had no medical insurance. Nevertheless, he told her not to worry, it would all work out. He sent photos of himself being taken by paramedics into the hospital; the paramedics had documented their work and made sure he got the proof as well.

According to Bill, the main issue in Dubai was having money, particularly in regard to foreigners. Hospital care was very costly. Bill explained his situation to Anne in detail: he had brought a good amount of cash but hadn’t counted on this accident or a missing piece of equipment that had to be rebought when he’d arrived. The American embassy couldn’t help financially, even if he did have money in the U.S.; they would only fly him home. Having a serious accident in a foreign country was very challenging, and the extreme pain from his head injury didn’t help matters. The doctors had told him he needed surgery for the head injury but the estimated $10,000 cost needed to be paid in advance. Bill had used up most of the funds he’d brought and couldn’t access his stateside bank account, which was locked. He had gotten in touch with his mother, and asked Anne if she could help in any way. He was scared and desperate and praying for help.

Anne answered right away and explained that she didn’t have the funds or credit that could help him, even in a small way. She wrote him several times afterward encouraging him in his struggles and hoping things worked out well. She didn’t receive an answer for over a week and assumed no news is good news.

When she finally got an Email, it was very brief and the message was in italics. “My surgery has been done and it was successful. I am feeling so much better now, but still going to be in the hospital till I fully recover…Thank you for everything.”

She guessed the message might have been written by his mother; it didn’t sound like Bill at all. Although Anne wrote friendly Emails to him several times in the next few weeks to ask about his health, he never replied. What had happened to all those loving words and enthusiasm—he had even called himself “Your Man” shortly before all the communication stopped.

It had been quite a saga but it had seemed very real to her. She had heard about men who scammed (now known as catfished) women (or the reverse) with lots of attention and love on Emails. She hadn’t imagined it would happen to her. Besides, she had a difficult time believing he’d gone to all that trouble just to deceive her.

This story, which took place over a year ago, is true. It was my adventure, and I will always wonder what was real.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

 

WAS HE FOR REAL? A ROMANCE OR NOT?

Anne had been divorced for many years, but hadn’t given up the idea of having a steady man in her life, a relationship that would provide companionship and love. Over the years she’d met many men and had enjoyed the experiences; most of them had been positive but none had clicked.

RomanceGrphic

Trying the Match online site, she received an answer to her ad from a man named Bill, who apparently lived in the same city. Since she felt comfortable with his overtures, they soon corresponded on Email, which was easier and more personal than going through the Match mail. She was surprised at his quick enthusiasm and openness about his history. Half American and half Canadian, Bill had been happily married for 25 years, but tragedy struck when his wife died of breast cancer, and not long afterward, his grown daughter died in a car accident, leaving behind her preteen daughters for Bill’s Canadian mother to raise. It was a sad story, but his letters revealed a man who had dealt with his sorrow and wanted to move on with his life since he had been single a long time.

Bill’s Emails were consistent and some were very long and full of information. He owned a house and several vehicles, and had a lot of interests: camping, hiking, fishing, traveling, and gardening. He claimed he was a Christian and even taught Sunday School at a neighborhood church. Photos of Bill in a kitchen area with his granddaughters impressed Anne. With his light hair, fair complexion and strong muscular body, he looked trustworthy and fun. The photos showed him clowning around with his two young granddaughters; all of them were making funny faces. She thought he looked Dutch or German.

He told her his business as a licensed building engineer took him all over the world and was the same work his dad had pursued. When Bill was young, his family had even lived for a few years in Turkey. He was tired of the business travel and ready to settle down but had one last building assignment in Dubai before he could retire. It was supposed to be a fairly easy three-week job to build a prefabricated showroom for a car company. He even sent her a copy of the signed contract as proof.

Serious about his romantic pursuit, shortly after the correspondence started, he sent Anne a questionnaire asking 23 questions. Some of the questions were: Was her heart 100% ready for a new relationship, would she enjoy life as part of a couple, was she considerate and thoughtful, did she exercise regularly, did she have pets, did she enjoy cooking, was she patient, was she romantic, had she ever been unfaithful to a partner, and how did she feel about him.

He starting calling her sweetheart and was full of compliments. There were “no roses as lovely as your words,” “nothing moves me like you do,” “you’re my light in the darkness,” “I love you with my body, soul and mind.” Anne was his “angel,” a “miracle.” He claimed he was honest and not a deceiver; he was following his heart.

Because the job in Dubai had come together so fast and he had to get ready to fly there, Bill only had time to make one phone call to Anne. It wasn’t a long call because the connection wasn’t a good one for her. She thought he sounded like he was Dutch or South African, which corresponded to her perceptions of his photos. He Emailed to apologize for the phone static and would solve it when he returned. He had heard her voice very clearly, he said.

 

This true story will be continued on Sunday’s blog.

 

MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE TELEPLAY

Shortly after I published my historical fiction novel, Melaynie’s Masquerade, I was exploring ways of promoting the book. One of my most unique ideas was to create a teleplay and film it at a local TV channel in Westlake Village, near my home at that time.  I was no expert in filming but luckily I had plenty of help with a volunteer camera crew. My best ally was John Kilpatrick, Director of Theater at Agoura High School who became Francis Drake. He had no problem with costumes since he had been a part of a vocal ensemble for the annual Renaissance Faire. He even wrote a song about the book and accompanied himself on his mandolin. I found my Melaynie through the Young Artists group in Thousand Oaks.  Pardon the inconsistencies in the formatting. The dialog is in 16th century style.

John Kilpatrick, Me, and

John Kilpatrick as Drake, Me, the Author, and Genna Allen as Christopher/Melaynie

 

MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE TELEPLAY 

Camera focuses on blown-up copy of book artwork to the sound of John Kilpatrick as Francis Drake playing and singing Renaissance song on mandolin as title sequence rolls – 10-15 SEC..

CAMERA CLOSE-UPS:

BOOK ON DESK – 10 SEC,   Mel book cover 2

SHIP ON DESK – 10 SEC.,

AUTHOR’S HAND ON DESK AS SHE TAKES PEN AND STARTS WRITING – 10 SEC.

YOUNG CHRISTOPHER SITTING AT EDGE OF STAGE – 10 SEC.

The author starts to read and camera focuses on AUTHOR for 10-15 Sec. Camera then focuses back on CHRISTOPHER at edge of stage.

AUTHOR reads:

“She awoke abruptly, her heart pounding, her upper body drenched in sweat. It was the same dream, one that she had had since childhood. Strangely though, it was repeating this spring every few nights. She sat up and shook her head to dispel the vision as she lifted the heavy blond tresses off her sweating shoulders. A bare hint of daylight filtered through the bed curtains. She looked down at the curls that cascaded over the pale, cambric night-raile that hid her small breasts. The sight of her thick and wavy hair brought back a flash of the dream…..”

Hmm, I do like the way I started this. What an adventure she had….

Camera focuses on:   Francis Drake as he walks onto the set and looks around, puzzled.

DRAKE

Start what? Are you talking of my adventure?

Camera focuses on Author .

I’m talking about the beginning of the novel I wrote, which is an adventure, that’s what. But who are you?

Camera focuses on Drake

DRAKE

Francis Drake, at your service.

(He bows down with a flourish, then he looks around again with a quizzical look)

Where am I?

(He walks to the desk and picks up the author’s book)

Is this one of the latest books from the printing press? I haven’t seen anything like it before, but the ship appeals to me.

(He looks around again as he puts the book back).

What the devil is keeping my captain’s boy? I sent him for the compendium, and he hasn’t returned. This doesn’t look like my cabin.

Camera on Author

AUTHOR

Slow down, Sir Francis. I can’t believe it’s you. I must be dreaming. It isn’t even time for you to appear in my book yet.

Camera on Drake

DRAKE

Sir Francis? Would that I were. Are you a witch, prophesying my future? Is that why you’ve called me here?

(He keeps looking around,  shaking his head to clear up his vision)

AUTHOR

Well, you could say I’m a witch. I must have conjured you up. Or did you wander over from some Renaissance Faire?

DRAKE

A faire? Be you daft, Madame? I’m aboard my ship, the Pasco, and ye may be assured there are no women there! So you must be a witch.

AUTHOR

No women… well, none that you’d know of. You do play a prominent part in my book, MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE. 

DRAKE

God’s Faith! Now you’ve got me all a-puzzle. Who is Melaynie, pray tell? And where is Christopher, my captain’s boy?

I sent him on an errand, before you so rudely called me here.

 AUTHOR

(with mischievious smile)   Christopher, you say… hmm. Now Christopher has an important relationship to Melaynie.

But that’s my secret, and hers.

 DRAKE

(loudly in exasperation)

God’s Eyeballs! The minds of women! What has one to do with another? Christopher lad, where is my compendium?

I must check our course. We may be nearer the Caribbean than I thought.

Camera on CHRISTOPHER as she rushes in, out of breath.

CHRISTOPHER

Captain, Captain. Here tis.

(She hands him a compass).

DRAKE

This is no compendium! I’ve never seen such a thing. (He looks hard at the Author). Is this another of your trickeries?

AUTHOR

It’s only a modern-day compass. It should get you to the Caribbean.

Camera on Christopher and Drake

CHRISTOPHER
(She catches sight of the Author, smiles as if she knows the secret of why she’s here, easily accepting the Author’s presence. She turns back to Drake)          Aye Captain. I’ve never seen such as that, not even in the print shop.

DRAKE

The print shop? Tis a strange dream I’m having. Books, print shops. I’m trying to sail a ship and keep my men alive and healthy.

CHRISTOPHER         

(She looks dreamy, remembering).

Captain Drake, ‘tis my father’s print shop I was speaking of. The Odyssey, ‘twas the book I was reading that must have inspired this masquerade. ‘Tis the male sex that have all the adventures. What’s a poor girl to do but dream? Of course I did do something about it.

DRAKE

Child, what are you prattling on about?

AUTHOR

Melaynie… Oops, I mean Christopher, just because I’m here, don’t get carried away. Your captain never finds out your secret.

CHRISTOPHER

(saucily, betraying girlish ways)

Of course not. Men can be dull creatures! Not Francis Drake, mind you, but he had too much affection for me to see past my disguise.

(She does a little dance).

DRAKE

(He turns to Author and in a  very self-assured manner proclaims…)

If ‘tis you, Good Lady, bedeviling me with this dream. reverse it back, I implore ye, afore I lose my mind and bearings. Let me awaken from this business. The Carib Sea awaits, where I am determined upon taking Spanish treasure. Twill be full of danger, but the rewards will be great. I mean to make my fortune, with aplenty for my men as well. (He gently taps Christopher on the shoulder)   Even for young Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER

(she looks at him with imploring look)

Prithee, Good Captain, am I to be part of these perilous sports?

DRAKE

Young Christopher, upon that I shall ponder. Beguile us no longer Good Witch. My duty calls.

Camera on Author

AUTHOR

Farewell, I bid thee be gone.

(she waves her hands and the two disappear).

What an incredible imagination I must have. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes,

She turns back to her pen and paper.

Her hair wasn’t blond in her dream; it was very definitely red. Cherry red.. And plenty of it. It was her hair, she was positive of that. But there was a full and equally red mustache and beard. On her chin. She touched the soft flesh of her full cheeks and slightly pointed chin. Her stubborn chin, as her beloved brother David called it. Why was she continually dreaming that she was a man? And such a man! In her horned metal helmet she towered over her companions.”

Camera focuses on Drake playing mandolin and singing and then credits roll

MELAYNIE’S LAMENT

A fair young maid in a house of men

Three brothers and a father dear

On whom she waited both hand and foot

All seasons of the year.

 

Yet none could know that in her dreams

Another life did call

Where lives were sold for Spanish gold

And a boy ain’t what he seems

 

The fair young lass had had enough

And signed on with a crew

With ringlets shorn, on a cold gray morn

She bid her world adieu

 

As cabin boy to Capt. Drake

For adventure she set sail

Her comfort sold for Spanish gold

And therein hangs a tale.

 

 

 

 

 

MY PERSONAL VERSION OF ESTHER WILLIAMS

Senior year, College of William & Mary…it was time to achieve something new besides studying and writing news stories. I’d always loved swimming and Esther Williams’ water epic movies. The college had a small synchronized swimming club that put on a show in the spring. My good friend Diana and I tried out for Mermettes and were both accepted.

All the practice sessions in the Olympic pool over a period of several months were the perfect way to get in shape. I don’t think either one of us realized the work involved in learning how to do the special styles required for this form of water ballet.

One of the tricks of synchronized swimming is learning to scull, which is a unique way to move your entire body by using just hand motion. Keeping your arms straight by your side, we learned to slightly cup our hands and turn them into small propellers. The cupped hands can go in circles or can sweep the water in all directions. It’s essentially a hidden motion and a unique way to float and propel your body feet first, for instance. I can still scull and love to show it to kids.

The Spring show at the new Adair gym was a success with the bleachers full. The first presentation, performed by the entire group, was swimming to the beautifully orchestrated song “Bali Hai” from the musical “South Pacific.” We all had flutter boards, a fairly small flotation device also called a kickboard, to hold. We stole large magnolia leaves from campus trees to pin onto the boards and added magnolia blossoms (It was Spring and the blossoms were in full bloom. Coincidentally, I live a half block from Magnolia Avenue here in LA and when the blossoms come out, it always reminds me of my Esther Williams’ days!). The lighting was atmospheric and the entire group swam in a circle to the music. Holding the decorated boards with one hand, we swam a version of the sidestroke, raising one hand in a ballet movement. We must have done something more than swim in a circle but darned if I can remember what!

MermettesShow#1                                          In the changing room dressed as an African with a bit of makeup and ready to “kill” a wet lion.

 

I was also in the African number, which had its own special difficulties. We portrayed African hunters chasing a lion and wore plastic grass skirts, a colorful bib of sorts and carried spears, as my photo shows. Since plastic floats, we had to wet the skirts before we wore them or they would all float on top of the water and ruin the effect. The wet plastic was heavy and made it difficult to swim, but the show must go on. I wish I remembered the jungle music we used but recall being pleased with the show, as was our audience.

The Mermettes at William & Mary are much more professional these days and have sent me, as a former member, brochures about their progress. These modern gals compete with other colleges as a synchronized swimming team. They are also very hardy—one of the photos showed them in swimsuits lined up outside in the winter snow!

HOW THE HOBSON STORY ENDED

As a reader, I am always curious about what happened then, etc. I am sharing below a few of the experiences that happened in the next 30+ years.

By Easter 1964, the new Brigadier General Victor Hobson and his family had moved to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and settled into their spacious new quarters, an over 100 year-old, 3-story white wood frame house, in a fairly private area of the fort. Before the Civil War and perhaps during it, a hidden closet on the second floor had been used to help slaves escape from the South during the time of the so-called Underground Railroad. Outside was a multi-car garage, a huge yard and a pond with a rowboat. The kitchen was huge, which made it easy to entertain, a requirement for Army officers of higher ranks.

I came to visit during Easter vacation and had my own room on the top floor. In the summer after my college graduation from the College of William and Mary, I came back to enjoy several weeks with the family before I flew to Germany to be with my mother and stepfather, sister and brother. I was planning on working in Europe.

Susanna, Marlena and me at the Jersey Shore

Susanna, Marlena and me at the Jersey Shore

One of the funny highlights of the summer at Ft. Dix was the destruction of one wall of the garage. I had my driver’s license but was a newbie. One afternoon, I volunteered to take Marlena and Susanna to the Ft. Dix swimming pool. I wasn’t an expert at backing out of a garage, and as I reversed the car, I took out part of the wooden sidewall. I was embarrassed, and the girls were worried about what their father would say. Fortunately, he saw the humor in it and I relaxed. After all, he was the deputy commander. When the military construction crew came out to repair it the next day, there was great hilarity at the fairly extensive damage done by me, the General’s 21-year-old daughter, with a fairly compact car.

Marlena & Susanna by the infamous car and garage

Marlena & Susanna by the infamous car and garage before the accident.

Over the next thirty-six years I would visit with the Hobsons several times, both in Virginia and California. In May 1974, there was a tragic coincidence. Migia Hobson, my father’s wife, died of a stroke and 11 days later my mother, Garnette Williams, died of kidney disease. They were both barely in their fifties. Susanna, the oldest stepsister who was married and had a young son, died in 1990 of multiple sclerosis.

Victor Hobson suffered from diabetes in his late 40s and a couple of years before he died, he lost most of his left leg to the disease. I was visiting Virginia shortly after his operation, and got to see him one last time in 1997. My father, Victor, died on December 31, 2000, at 2:30 p.m. My birthday is on New Year’s Day at 2:30 a.m. I don’t believe the timing was an accident.

As I’ve said before, the coincidences and connections of life will always amaze me.

My Ebook on Amazon

My Ebook on Amazon

LUNCH IN GEORGETOWN WITH MY FATHER

After meeting Col. Victor Hobson at the Pentagon, I had to tell someone. It was  a momentous event and no one knew what I’d been up to. When I got back   to the Reiner’s Alexandria home where I had been staying for a few days while I went job hunting and father hunting, I debated on what to do. I couldn’t afford to call my mother in Germany; my frugal stepfather would never accept a collect call. First, I opened up my portable typewriter and wrote a letter to Mom, a letter I’ve kept all these years.

Since I still needed some human feedback, I went in search of Mrs. Klara Reiner; her daughter, Rita, was my friend from high school. I had lived with the welcoming and hospitable Reiners the previous summer when my parents and siblings left for Mannheim, Germany, where my dad was assigned. I knew Klara Reiner would be the ideal substitute mother for me; she exuded kindness, warmth and understanding. Since her own family had immigrated from Eastern Europe when she was a young girl, Mrs. Reiner was familiar with family upheavals. She was delighted with my news and encouraged me to do all I could to get to know this side of my life.

When I met Victor at the Pentagon a couple of days later, he drove us in a small, well-used Studebaker into historic Georgetown in the District of Columbia. We ate lunch at a posh place called the Four George’s – white tablecloths, small, quiet and elegant rooms served by obsequious waiters. I was charmed and felt like a cherished new daughter while we caught up on each other’s lives. He shared some of the highlights of his Army career and told me something of his personal life with his wife and daughters; I related my life so far and where my family had traveled. He seemed to be pleased that I was not involved seriously with a young man. He did not explain his concerns, but I was sure he was thinking back upon his own life and my creation.

Since we were enjoying each other’s company so much, he suggested that I come and meet his family that evening instead of waiting until Sunday. I agreed, and after he had called his wife to tell her, he drove us to his home, a two-story suburban brick house in Northern Virginia.

I was embraced with open arms by the gracious and stylish Migia, who treated me as a long-lost daughter. Her Italian simpatico reached out to welcome me into her family. My two new sisters acted as if I were a newfound and important relative. A quiet intelligent Susanna, at fifteen almost as tall as Victor and resembling him as well, was large-boned and blond. Marlena, thirteen but still a tomboy, was small and olive-skinned like her mother, and possessed Migia’s lively, spontaneous personality.

We spent the evening together at a local restaurant, which included some hillbilly fiddle music that reminded Victor of his Alabama roots, and made plans to get together again that Sunday. Sunday’s event turned into a wonderful three-day visit; I stayed until I was ready to return to college.

 

Getting his Star

Getting his Star from a 2-Star General

An unusual coincidence occurred the day before I returned to William and Mary. Victor received the happy news that he had been promoted from full colonel to brigadier general, a coup for his career. My new sisters and I had a great time discussing all the privileges they would enjoy as the family of a general when Victor was assigned the post of Deputy Commander of Ft. Dix, New Jersey. And I was invited to join them during my college spring break.

Victor gave me the highest compliment of all when he told me his high honor and promotion had come about because of me. I had been his lucky charm.

Marlena, who is a college art professor in Virginia, remembers the night her father came home with the news that he had another daughter. “I was thrilled we had a half sister,” Marlena said and added, “Susanna was perplexed. I’ll never forget what she said: ‘I feel like we are in Hollywood!’”

 

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