December, 2010:

A December Dunk in the Hudson River

Me, Gerry and Jackie at The Barge -- Beer and Babes!

The Hudson River in New York is not meant for swimming in the winter months. This month’s blizzard on the East Coast can attest to that.

Yet a Fordham University senior got a surprising taste of freezing river water years ago, and I was a laughing witness. Christmas season is a great time for amusing memories.

During the 1952-53 school year, I met my good friend Jackie, when my family lived in Fordham Hill Apartments in the Bronx. I attended PS 33, just off Fordham Road. Jackie and I became instant friends and have kept in touch ever since. She eventually settled in Marin County in Northern California. Life is a mysterious journey!

We wrote letters and exchanged visits over the years. Right after Christmas in 1959, when I was just about to turn 17 (January 1), I took a train to visit Jackie and enjoy the excitement of New York City.

Jackie made sure I saw the highlights (some of them with dates)—a play on Broadway: “Destry Rides Again; a movie at Radio City Music Hall, which included the Rockettes dancing; a drink at a Greenwich Village night spot, and a meal at the Jaegermeister, a special German restaurant. We even saw “Wild Strawberries,” a Swedish Ingmar Bergman movie—now a classic.

My very pretty friend was dating a few fellows, but the primary one at the time was Gerry, an older man of 21 and a Fordham University senior. Gerry fixed me up with Ray, a junior class friend of his. My dates had been limited to mostly younger guys, so I was thrilled to act older and sophisticated!

The fellows were entertaining and I felt quite comfortable with both of them. Being an Army brat does lend a bit of cachet in life.

One night they took us to a casual restaurant/bar called The Barge, which was right on the river in New Rochelle. We ordered a pitcher of beer and the bartender didn’t bother with ID for Jackie or me. Not quite 17 and I was out having beer! It wasn’t something I’d tell my dad about, but I would certainly share it with my mother.

After a beer, Gerry, who was quite the comedian and a bit of a showoff, led the three of us outside to the barely lit back patio, which jutted into the water, to show us the view. It was freezing, and I think we left our coats inside. He instructed us to watch him as he ran to the other end of the small patio, jumped over the wooden border and disappeared. Since there was water all around, we assumed he’d jumped into the water. Why?

Was there a trick: he didn’t reappear for a few minutes.   Before we got too worried, he slowly pulled himself back over the side, bedraggled, soaking wet, panting and shivering.

“I knew there was a small shelf you couldn’t see and you’d think I was an idiot for jumping in the water,” he told us, trying to laugh. By this time we were all laughing at his mistake as he blurted out, “It turned out that the shelf wasn’t solid and I went straight into the water.”

Trying to warm up after a winter swim

Gerry was shivering and dripping as we stealthily made our way through the bar and out to the car, trying not to be too loud with our laughter. Ray  found a blanket in his trunk, Jackie added a muffler, and we drove to Ray’s for a change of clothes for Gerry.

Gerry had literally put a damper on the evening in his attempt to steal the spotlight! It was unusual, hilarious and unforgettable. Amazing what a guy will do for a laugh and to impress his girlfriend!

A Tripoli Rodeo with Camels & Brahma Bulls

The Libyan Uaddan, a variety of Ram

Sidi Misari, on the outskirts of Tripoli, was an experimental farm run by Americans to show the Libyans better ways of farming and raising animals. Since it was close to Garden City, where I lived, I would frequently visit there with friends. A pretty garden area planted liberally with ice plant, a flowering succulent and typical local plant, welcomed visitors. Besides the ordinary chickens, turkeys, pheasants, rabbits and guinea pigs, there were pens with a few Libyan animals – the tiny gazelle as in the famous Fountain of the Gazelle, and the uaddan, a ram with huge horns, so massive that the animal had to sleep leaning on them. They kept Angus cattle, Brahma bulls and lots of horses as well.

The experimental farm gave Americans the unique idea of holding a rodeo. Sidi Misari would provide the Brahma bulls and some of the other animals, and it was another way to foster understanding between our two countries. Plenty of U.S. airmen knew something about riding horses and bulls. Everybody wanted to get into the act, and one of my high school classmates, Claudia Sobczak, was appointed Queen of the Rodeo. It was set up on the grounds of the Libyan Riding School, whose members would perform with their Arabian steeds. Besides the usual riding and roping, this rodeo would feature a camel-riding event.

A line-up of Arabian horses for the Tripoli Rodeo

All of Tripoli was invited with poorer Libyans treated to special ticket prices. The grandstands were filled with an international audience, most of whom had never seen a rodeo. Libyan Police putting their horses through their paces opened the day, followed by Arab sheiks in traditional headdress proudly parading their Arabian horses. After all the traditional events came the much-touted highlight—riding a camel—which turned into an amusing anticlimax.  The camel’s cinch belt was not tight enough to inspire him, for this normally cantankerous beast refused to oblige with enthusiastic bucking, and the rider easily mastered him.

The riders above are local Libyan sheiks showing off their beautiful Arabian horses at the Rodeo.

A FAREWELL CHRISTMAS – ‘72

The early ‘70s were carefree times for me. The Giraud family was living in a brand new spacious home in the northwest edge of Los Angeles. My husband had a good job as a civil engineer with Los Angeles County, and I was absorbed in raising two very young children.

Heidi at 3 in her Christmas hand-knit outfit and go-go boots

My parents had retired from the hectic Army life, settled in San Antonio, Texas, and invited us to have a family Christmas together.  We all gathered: my younger sister, who had joined the Mormon Church and was getting ready to go on a Mormon mission in Switzerland, and my brother, who was attending the University of Virginia.

It was my little family’s first visit to see my folks’ new home in San Antonio. After all the years traveling the world, thanks to the Army, and living in temporary homes, Mom and Dad had settled down to a retirement of sorts. Dad was working for USAA (United Services Automobile Agency) handling investments. My mother taught exercise classes until her physical challenges forced her to stop.

They had built their dream home on 1/8 acre filled with oak trees in a lovely and expensive area, thanks to my dad’s thrifty ways and his investments. It was a new experience for them living in warm Texas climate where my mother could enjoy the yearlong sun on a large deck surrounded by the three wings of their one-story rambling home. My father had acquired expensive tastes over the years and had saved his money to buy the best furniture he could afford and insisted on peg-wood floors in the living room and separate dining room.

My mother’s sewing talents were put to work creating the difficult and time-consuming Empire shades for the many narrow contemporary windows that faced the street. She ended up making all the drapes and window treatments in the house and was proud of her achievements. It would be her last major sewing project.

From Mom’s letters, I discovered that Texas was rife with bugs of all kinds. People who could afford it had pest service every few months to rid their homes of roaches and huge water bugs, for instance. In the summer, the cicadas that lived in the oaks on the property made their shrill sounds. Scorpions, which could give a nasty sting, were rampant. The home’s builder informed me gleefully that while a concrete pad for a new home was curing, the moisture attracted hundreds of scorpions.

I was fascinated with Texas history and when we were there, we drove by the historic Alamo and got a look at the famous River Walk that wound through downtown San Antonio, close to the Alamo. We visited Ft. Sam Houston, named after a Texas hero, saw live deer, rabbits, and ducks, and checked out the miniature train and sky ride in Brackenridge Park.

My sister Joan Tupper and Heidi petting a deer at Ft. Sam Houston

My dad, who could be difficult if things didn’t go his way, was on his best behavior. The only rough spots during our Christmas visit were my son’s teething woes, which Mom solved with a finger dipped in bourbon (an old Southern remedy), and a bout of flu for me during our last few days there. I think the flu strain that year was named after me: the Victoria flu!

We took a slightly different southern route on our way home to L.A. and ended up stuck overnight in a snowstorm in the appropriately named Alpine, Texas. Seeing snow is always a treat to Southern Californians who don’t have to put up with it every winter. It was the area where the famous movie “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean had been filmed.

I have fond and sentimental memories of that Christmas that even the flu hadn’t squelched. I remember Mom had used her magical creative talents to sew a shirt and a dress in a loud red print for my husband and my daughter. Looking back, I am delighted that Mom had an opportunity to be a grandmother for a few years before she passed. My sister, who later had five children, didn’t have the wonderful privilege of sharing her children with Mom as a doting grandmother.

As my mother-in-law said when Mom died in 1974, “A mother always dies too young.”

MY LAST CHRISTMAS WITH MY MOTHER – 1972

Dad & Mom - a Texas family Christmas. Dad's holding the microphone for his narration of the event.

When I recently wrote about my memories of my mother, it brought to mind another poignant event—the last Christmas I ever spent with her. It was a happy celebration and the final time my immediate family would be alive and together on this earthly plane.

My husband and I, with kids in tow, drove from Los Angeles to San Antonio, Texas, to spend about a week with my parents and two siblings, Joan Tupper, 23, and Darby, 19. I was 29, my daughter Heidi was 3 and son Hansi was only 8 months old.

Dad holding Hansi and Heidi

We owned a typical large American car of that era with bench seats. Since the back seat was quite roomy, I came up with a plan to use Hansi’s crib mattress for the long drive. We used baby harnesses attached to seat belts, so the kids would be able to sleep, eat, and also have some freedom of motion. I have no idea how safe this method was, but no one was injured during the drive there and back. That’s my disclaimer and I’m sticking to it! I think it took us three days of driving and we stopped for two nights in a motel.

My mother was already suffering from the kidney disease that would kill her two years later, but at that time it was manageable. She was on a somewhat restricted diet and had to keep her legs elevated several times during the day. As the staunch and courageous Army wife she’d been most of her life, she did little complaining and maintained her sense of humor. I’m sure all of us thought she’d live for many more years, and if we had any misgivings, we kept them to ourselves. I was too young to worry about death. My mother was only 51; I took her longevity for granted. I even failed to save the many letters she’d sent me.

Luckily, we took many photos and made a cassette tape of our Christmas morning gift opening, so I can still hear and marvel at Mom’s very Southern Virginia accent. My Dad, the retired Army officer, had to run the show, of course, and he was the narrator on the tape. He’d always had me and my siblings gather for breakfast on Christmas morning before we were allowed to open presents. The Williams present opening was a very civilized procedure as each of us opened one present at a time, made appropriate grateful remarks and let everyone see the new gift.

This time, Heidi was the only glitch in the controlled process. At three, she was still new to Christmas, and represented the infectious joy of gift giving.  Since she was allowed to open many of the presents, even when they weren’t for her, she must have thought they were all hers!

Baby Hansi lay on his stomach looking around at everything. He enjoyed the noises and colorful paper and would occasionally be interested in one of his gifts.

To be continued…

Thanks, Blog Fans

Slowly, but surely, my blog is gaining more and more readership. Like all authors, I enjoy hearing positive comments from my readers. And discovering that readers all over the world are reading my stories. Thank you, readers, thank you!

It’s amazing how many connections I’ve made to those Americans who were dependents, served in the military or were there with the oil companies in Tripoli. They’ve shared their stories in the comments section, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. There are things I didn’t remember properly, like Aladdin heaters using kerosene, not propane. Funny how the brain works! I even remember filling those heaters with smelly kerosene.

It’s gratifying to know that Libyans read about my memories of Tripoli. What a wonderful way to bridge the gulf between the Middle Eastern world and the U.S. We are all just people, after all, and we humans, despite cultural differences, always have more in common than not. I’ve been surprised that so many Libyans have settled in the U.S. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mahmud, a former resident of Janzour (near Georgimpopoli-West of Tripoli)  the other day. He had quite a collection of Tripoli memorabilia from the 1950s. What fun it was to share memories and to hear about his wonderful country from a  Libyan’s point of view.

I’ve had readers comment on almost all the subjects I’ve tackled, from my family and the Kennedy years to Hollywood, the dating scene and the Christo umbrellas. My daughter says I’ll never run out of true stories. Probably not. I love writing the stories and am delighted you all love reading them.

Happy Holidays and Stay Tuned!

Victoria

SWARZENEGGER PREMONITIONS

In a few weeks Arnold Swarzenegger will be giving up his esteemed office as governor of California. What a career this Austrian immigrant has had!  I have an unusual story to relate that is associated with the actor/governor.

In 1996, when Arnold Swarzenegger was known primarily an actor, I was on the 20th Century Fox set for his Christmas movie Jingle All the Way.

I was writing a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News called “People and Places,” and I’d been invited to the set to interview Jake Lloyd, the then seven-year-old actor who was playing Swarzenegger’s son in the movie.

Jake Lloyd’s story is a mystical one of premonitions, believe it or not. He knew he wanted to make a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was two years old and living in Colorado.

Actor Jake Lloyd all grown up

Here’s what the precocious youngster told me about seeing a drive-in movie: “When I was two my parents went to see Terminator.  I was asleep in the back seat so they decided to stay for Terminator II. All of a sudden they look back, and my eyes were an inch wide.”

From then on, his mother Lisa related, Jake was entranced with Schwarzenegger. Although he couldn’t properly pronounce the superstar’s formidable surname, Jake would walk around their Colorado home declaring he would be in a movie with his hero. He would make up stories and try to imitate Schwarzenegger.

When the Lloyds planned to move to California so that Lisa could finish her college education, Jake asked his mother, “Isn’t Hollywood in California?”

Despite their skepticism, the Lloyds decided to give in to young Jake’s ambitions regarding moviemaking. They had photos taken and sent them to agents. An agent with her own talent agency near the Lloyd’s new home liked what she saw and took Jake on. In no time she’d booked him for three commercials.

It didn’t take long to acquire experience. Jake appeared in a Ford and a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial and starred in Unhook The Stars, a movie with Marisa Tomei and Gena Rowlands; he also got a reoccurring role in TV’s E.R.

Jake’s dream became a reality in 1996 when he auditioned and won the part of Schwarzenegger’s son. Jake said that he was speechless when he first met his hero.  He remembered Schwarzenegger asking, “How you doing, Jake?” After working with the star for three months, Jake said, “Now we’re really good friends.”

It’s been years since I did that interview but little Jake was hard to forget. He was an unspoiled kid interested in everything about the movie business. While I was there, he took me into the living room set and even up some stairs to the catwalk to look down on the set. It was the last day of filming. Since movies are seldom put together sequentially, they were just then filming the very first scene.

I’m not familiar with Jake Lloyd’s current film career (he’s now twenty-one), but he’s best known these days for a movie he made a few years later when he played the role of Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas famous film, The Phantom Menace.

Wheelus High School Life

I started writing for newspapers when I was 14 and a freshman at Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya.  Lucky for me I saved several of those newspapers, delicate as they now are on newsprint over 50 years later.

Since there are many funny and interesting comments about high school life in this little newspaper, I’m going to bring a few tidbits to life again.

I arrived in Tripoli in November 1955. At that time there were only four high school seniors set to graduate in June of 1956. Each senior had an office—why leave anyone out! As the old saying goes, “All Chiefs, no Indians!” Russ Darling, the only male in the class, was president, Joan Du Dasko was Vice President, Diane Garza served as secretary, and Darleen Pannett was chaplain. None of them were slackers: they’d been busy during their school years with the yearbook, Chorus, Library Club, Dramatics Club, Student Council, and Russ was active in the Athletic Club.

There were twelve juniors to draw from for class officers, but Carol Kelley must have been more enthusiastic: she served as both secretary and treasurer. Mary Jo Cain (her father, Col. W.J. Cain, was the base commander) must have inherited her dad’s leadership abilities since she was class president.

Sophomores were more plentiful: there were twenty-one of them. The Freshman class was fairly large with thirty-two students. Junior High (I was an eighth grader then) had lots of students. The number of students from first grade to twelfth grade totaled the grand number of 1,090.

The school newspaper, THE BARRACAN, was edited by the very capable and congenial Myrna Gary. Like many of us who’d been service brats or had fathers involved with the State Department, she became a world traveler and is currently on duty once again about as far down under as you can get—McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I’ve enjoyed lots of penguin photos she has shared with former Wheelus students. The South Pole must hold an attraction for adventurers, Mark Davenport, who was once a Tripoli youngster, also works there for the National Science Foundation.

THE BARRACAN newspaper-- It Covers All!

A regular BARRACAN feature was the Ideal Boy or the Ideal Girl of a male or female student.  Jimmy Smith, who was a 10th grader in 1956, imagined such a girl would have long blond hair since he liked Sandy Rinear’s blond locks. She remains blond and lovely, as I’ve seen in photos. He preferred Ginny Stewart’s eyes and Sharon (Sherrie) Forsblade’s smile. I can attest to Sharon’s smile—she’s a friend of mine to this day and used to be a California neighbor of mine. Jimmy liked Linda Gray’s figure, and I can vouch for that as well because I enjoyed her company over the years when she visited Sharon. Unfortunately, Linda passed away last year.

Jimmy didn’t stop there: his ideal girl would be cute as June Ward, attractive as Diana Craft, as intelligent as Ann Shower and be as friendly as Mary Jo Cain. He didn’t want much!

There was a poll taken of students’ opinions of the 1956 U.S. election, even though no one was old enough to vote. Jimmy Smith told the paper that he wanted to vote for Adlai Stevenson because the Republican Party “has pretty well messed up the government.” Jimmy Smith went on to be elected to public office in Florida where he now lives. If anyone knows what office and if he still holds it, please get in touch. Janice Harkey, on the other hand, liked Eisenhower because she wanted the Republicans to stay in power. As the French say: “The more things change, the more they remain the same!”

Martyn Bacheler wrote a feature called “Platter Chatter” for the BARRACAN, and in December of 1956, Elvis’ song “Don’t Be Cruel” was first in popularity for the third month in a row. In seventh place was Hugo Winterhalter’s instrumental “Canadian Sunset,” and Bing Crosby’s song “True Love” from the movie “High Society” was eighth.

“Here Come the Teenagers” was a fifteen-minute chatter and records radio show broadcast from Wheelus on Saturday mornings. Miss Gobbi, my delightful French teacher, was its sponsor. I can remember requesting “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” at one point, or was it “A Rose and a Baby Ruth?”

Although winter weather in Libya was nonexistent in that comfortable Mediterranean climate, just as I enjoy here in California, Susie Wisdom was wishing for a 12-foot deep snow for Christmas. Johnny Carlson, always a reader and not worried about the weather, was recommending “A Fireside Book of Yuletide Tales” for Christmas reading.

Watch for more “old” news in coming months.

I REMEMBER MAMA

Mama and Me

My mama, as she would refer to herself in the Southern way, was a “pistol,” as my dad used to say. “Pistol-packin’ mama” were words from an old country song. He was right about that: as an Army officer’s wife, she had to learn to stand up for herself and her three children. As the seventh of eight children, she had practiced being her own person early in life .

When it’s Christmas time, I remember Mama and all the effort she put into making sure her kids had the best she could give. In retrospect, I can truly appreciate her creative efforts, which came right from her heart. It’s difficult to write this story without tears, especially since my mother left us over thirty years ago.

What brings her to mind during this holiday season is her talent for sewing. Her creations kept me stylish on my dad’s Army salary (not to mention his parsimonious and thrifty habits). She knew how to keep the old Singer sewing machine humming; it came along with us to various Army posts, including Tripoli, Libya.

She didn’t go to college, but she could sew a “mean” stitch. She tried her hand at almost everything stitchable: slipcovers and drapes, specialized window coverings (swag and jabot and Empire style sheer curtains), men’s shirts and ties, and any stylish garment for women. When I was younger I had a Madame Alexander doll, about six inches tall, and she made tiny outfits for it.

During my teenage years in the Middle East, we found material, probably in an Italian shop, and set up our version of an assembly line to sew clothes for the two of us. Mom and I wore the same size and would pick out a pattern that was suitable for both, and would use different material for each of us. I would cut out the pattern and sew the darts, for instance, and Mom would put in the zippers and work on anything difficult. I still remember the cotton 1950s style scoop-neck sundresses: hers had a black background with a lively print; mine was red.

In later years, when I was in college, she made me even fancier party clothes: a spaghetti-strap basic black satin dress with a little short-sleeved jacket that I wore to a college dance, and a sexy, form-fitting wool sheath with a boat neck and long sleeves I wore to several parties. And there were many more. The only garment I still have is my wedding gown.

I got married in Germany in the ‘60s while my parents were stationed in Frankfurt. She found the ideal material and pattern, including the veil, and it looked divine. It’s stored in a box, without all the fancy acid-free tissue of today, and I haven’t looked at it in decades. It’s comforting to know I’ve cherished that gift most of my life.

Wedding Dress by Garnette Motley Williams

Years later, Mom made my cousin Penny’s wedding gown and her bridesmaids’ dresses as well. After all the work on Penny’s gown, Mom ironed it. The iron was too hot and lifted off some of the material on the front of the dress. Mom agonized, but Penny’s sense of humor and practical sense wouldn’t let Mom fret. She told her, “I’m glad it’s you who did it and not me! It doesn’t matter because my flowers will cover it.”  After the ceremony and a few glasses of champagne, Penny cared even less: it was a funny sorry to tell all her guests.

I didn’t always appreciate Mom’s talents. Regrettably, especially in college, I envied the girls who could afford to buy dresses in a department store. It was only later that I figured out that my mama’s talented fingers created me original attire, and they were sewn with all the love she could give. She created clothes for me that could never be bought.

What’s Real? What’s Not?

Did a psychic predict I'd write this book?

I believe the creative process is a mystical/magical one. Many times I wonder where the ideas come from, both for myself and other writers. Common advice for writers: Write about what you know. But you don’t always know what you know until you sit in front of a computer or a pad of paper. Or take a walk, go for a swim or perhaps even clean your home.

I’ve noticed that when I’m the process of editing books, I’m open to connections/coincidences/synchronicity, call it what you want. I was editing a book, the Religion of Money—a light-hearted history of economics by Frederick—and was reading over the story of the De Medici family of Florence, Italy. The book mentioned Giovanni De Medici, and not two seconds later my favorite classical music station was announcing the opera “Don Giovanni” was scheduled in L.A.

I could be watching TV in the background and have a magazine I’m browsing. I’ll read about a certain subject and have it verbalized in some manner on a TV show immediately after, or vice versa. My daughter and I are very close and keep in touch by phone and Email. I might be thinking about her and the phone rings. From what I’ve heard, that’s quite ordinary for many of us.

My mother passed on 36 years ago. That morning I was reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson (coincidentally an alum of my college: William & Mary), and had just read about the death of Jefferson’s wife Martha, Sally Hemings older half-sister. I was absorbing that sad news when my dad called to say my mother had died during a kidney dialysis treatment.  I’ve always felt the reading helped me deal with her death just a little better. Jefferson, my mother and I are all Virginia natives.

Books dealing with metaphysical subjects are a definite attraction for me, and I’m lucky to have edited several of them. High Holy Adventure by R. Alan Fuller is a true story about his mystical experiences with shamans, spirits and mediums, especially in the Andes. Euphoria Zone by Alan Lee Breslow weaves innovative healing techniques into his spiritual adventure. Pat Sendejas wrote Letting Go to Create a Magical Life, which discusses life’s synchronicities and invisible messages. Working with all three authors was enlightening and exciting.

In the mid 80s I had a psychic reading with a woman named Terry, who was supposed to be quite knowledgeable in her field. I wanted to know if I was going to write a book. I figured it might be a story about my divorce, which had recently happened.  Terry said her spiritual “guides” had told her I would write something about voyages. She didn’t know what that meant, she told me; perhaps it had to do with my “voyage” through life.

I forgot about the reading until the late 90s when I was finishing up my novel. It was, indeed, about a voyage. My heroine, Melaynie, masquerading as a captain’s boy, was sailing with Drake to the Caribbean!

And then there’s Karen, my intuitively psychic friend with lots of talents. But that’s another story.

A New Home in Tripoli — Garden City

Just before Christmas in 1955, the five members of my family left the Hotel Del Mahari when my dad found a home in Garden City, an upscale location for Europeans, Americans and wealthier Libyans.  Consisting of streets like spokes that branched off Garden City Circle, the area was a neighborhood of one and two-story, flat-roofed, square and rectangular-shaped villas surrounded by stucco walls as high as ten feet. The walls were as much for privacy as protection, and many of them had decorative, fret-worked sections. Flowering vines such as bougainvillea, lantana hedges, and palm trees were ubiquitous; Garden City was an appropriate name.  It was some time before I discovered that the vibrantly-colored pink and purple bougainvillea vines that seemed to cascade from countless rooftops were in actuality growing up from the ground to the roof and not vice-versa.

The view from our balcony. The street leads to Garden City Circle

Our spacious home was on the second floor of a two-family villa on a street that maintained its Italian name, Via de Gaspari; a Libyan family lived downstairs. A balcony, on both stories, ran the full length of the villa’s frontage. Small square sections, supported by columns, jutted out at either end of the balcony, giving the villa a slight “U” shape. The slatted, green-iron gate led from the street to a small side yard, large enough for the swing set my father ordered, which flaunted our American ways in this faraway land.

A heavy wooden front door, which could be opened by key or from a buzzer upstairs, welcomed us to our new home; a two-tiered marble staircase led upstairs to a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment. There was no central heating, but since doors closed off the entrance hall, separate dining room and separate living room, we could keep the back bedrooms and kitchen warm in winter with portable Aladdin propane gas heaters. To add to the coziness and keep out pesky sand from ghiblis, the desert sandstorms that would blow into town on occasion, there were green wooden shutters that could be rolled down over the outside of all the windows.

Garden City was multi-cultural. Our side of a very short block boasted a British general and his wife on the corner next to us; another British family occupied the home on the other side. Across the street lived a French family and an Italian family, and a large corner compound surrounded by a decorative wall contained the home of the Egyptian ambassador to Libya.

The popular Gamel Abdul Nasser was in power in Egypt, and while we were there the ambassador held a party for Libyan dignitaries and politicians (only male, of course). I spied on the interesting event from our balcony and watched as his male visitors mingled. Robed Arab sheiks, with their distinctive square cloth headdress bound with gold rope, seemed to be the dominant guests. Seated at outside tables set up in the sizeable yard, they smoked as they watched films of Nasser on a giant movie screen.

The family home, above the Bougainvillea, surrounded by 8 foot walls

Facing an adjacent street but bordering on the back of our villa was the home of a former Arab queen, perhaps a relative of King Idris, then King of Libya. My girlfriend, Gail, who lived around the corner, and I were very curious about the mysterious queen but never had a glimpse, despite the fact that we would climb my back garden wall and peer through the trees into the lushly landscaped acres surrounding the queen’s home. Looking at Google Earth recently, the so-called Queen’s gardens still remain.

We played tennis in the street in front of the queen’s mansion, but were such poor players that we lobbed and lost balls in her gardens.  When we hit them into the General’s yard, we had an opportunity to flirt with the soldiers who attended him. These young men took to drawing cartoons of us, which they enclosed in an old tennis ball they had slit and then tossed in our direction. Walls were ideal obstacle courses for inquisitive girls. My girlfriend Karen and I scooted along the General’s back wall one night to spy on a big party he was giving.

My mother faced most of the household problems alone. She managed to eliminate most of the roaches, but ample hot water was usually a challenge. Tiny wall water heaters in kitchen and bathroom couldn’t keep up with our spoiled American demands. Always enterprising, she’d put large pots of water on top of the Aladdin heaters to get extra hot water. I was in charge of dishwashing, and it was my job to monitor this water when my parents entertained. We had brought our American washing machine with us, but it soon burned out, perhaps from the difference in electrical currents. Mom took to washing in the large bathroom tub, a normal size and shape. Fortunately for her, my thrifty father relented and decided he could afford an occasional maid since it would be difficult to procure another washer.

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