January, 2011:

College Days — Summer Jobs in the ’60s

My military father insisted that typing was an admirable and necessary skill. What a prescient order! It’s not exactly rocket science, but my fingers have been flying over keyboards of various sorts ever since senior year in high school.

When I was accepted at the College of William and Mary, my father made it clear that I would work during summer breaks and contribute to my college expenses. Typing skills meant I could qualify for one of the most basic jobs: clerk-typist, known in government parlance as a GS-3.

The summer after high school graduation I found a job with BuWeps (Bureau of Weapons) in the Navy Department located on the Washington Mall in a grassy area near the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.  These multi-story  wooden buildings dated back to WWII and are now long gone.

I remember typing fourteen copies of documents on manual typewriters. A mistake required erasing tiny or large portions on all fourteen copies. When the document was done, all the carbon paper had to be placed in burn bags because it was classified work regarding Navy missiles—I still recall the Terrier and the Tarter. I even looked it up to see if my memory was accurate and it was!

Working for the government was boring work for the most part but it was good pay. Many of the girls working there brown-bagged it and we could go out onto the grassy area around the reflecting pool to eat. My mother believed in keeping trim: hard-boiled eggs and Triscuits were my usual lunch. I had my first glass of wine at a restaurant lunch: a very sweet Mogen David when most of us went out for some kind of office celebration. A few sips had me polluted for hours! It wasn’t a habit I cultivated until much later in life when my taste buds matured.

Things picked up the summer after I started college when I got a job working in the office of the manager of Washington National Airport. Mr. Steiner, a longtime civil service employee, was a considerate, gentlemanly boss and his secretary, Helen Brewer, who could sense I wouldn’t need constant help and could follow directions, was the perfect supervisor.

The work wasn’t very challenging; I remember mostly typing arrival and departure reports and filling in by answering the phone on occasion. I had the time to type some exotic poetry from Asia from a library book and plan a school year abroad, perhaps at the University of London. The year in England never came to fruition—perhaps a reason I moved to Germany right after college graduation.

During the 1961 summer, a new airport, to be named Dulles Airport, was being constructed in lovely Chantilly, Virginia, 26 miles south of Washington. The architecturally unique terminal building was designed by Eero Saarinen, who described his design as “a huge continuous hammock suspended between concrete trees.” As I recall, the terminal was essentially finished by that time and it was gorgeous, in my eyes.

Passenger transportation was the most unusual factor for the new airport: mobile lounges were being designed to carry people from the terminal to special airplane parking areas and from the airplanes to the terminal. My boss thought the idea of using mobile lounges was not only stupid but costly.

I was excited when I learned the Federal Aviation Agency was going to use employees to test out these enormous lounges, and I was going to get an exciting field trip out of it. The lounges, over fifty feet long and equipped with very large tires, had room for 100 passengers. Originally, ramps led from the lounges to the airplane doors. Since the heights of airplane bottom floors were not uniform, we were going to test how well the ramps worked.

After a few ramp tests, the mobile lounge driver decided to give us a thrill and off we went on a fast drive down an empty new runway.  Years later, when I flew with my family to Virginia via Dulles Airport, I could brag how I had been one of the first to ride in one of these huge portable lounges. In 2010, after 40 plus years, most of them were phased out. Maybe my boss was right!

A mobile lounge--it was much bigger than it looks in the photo.

CHRISTO AND THE UMBRELLAS – Triumph and Tragedy in a World of Umbrellas

Huge Sunny-colored Umbrellas Dot Southern California Mountain Landscape

Giant yellow umbrellas whimsically dotted the hillsides, the dips in the rolling landscape, appeared near trees, a billboard and a gas station and decorated a few ponds on various sections of the 270,000 acres of the private Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California. It was October 1991 and my girlfriend Sally and I were inspired to take the hour-long drive up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 to see this much-touted artistic statement by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) were known for designing and installing temporary but overwhelming environmental works of art. Before the umbrellas they did several projects—wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with material, for instance. In February 2005 they erected gates hung with yellow nylon material in Central Park.

The imposing yellow umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan and California. The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter about 26 feet. They each weighed 448 pounds, without the base, which in most cases was steel and anchored to the ground. Not a small project by any means, 1,760 were installed!

Sally and I had both driven the so-called Grapevine before: it led from the San Fernando Valley through the mountains and down into another valley that led north to Bakersfield. At this time of year, before the California rainy season, which usually doesn’t get underway until November, the hills were brown, or golden, depending upon your outlook. The yellow umbrellas added a unique touch to the fairly barren area.

Although it was reported that almost 3 million visitors since October 9 had driven through the area, we easily negotiated the Interstate and were able to get off at the various viewing sites when we chose. I loved the bravado, the sheer uniqueness of the idea to take so much trouble to pepper the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing a enormous garden full of massive yellow poppies.

The visitors we saw were enthusiastic and smiling at the incongruity of it all. There were a couple of places to stop and buy sweatshirts—“I saw the Umbrellas,” and similar sayings—and other memorabilia.

After meandering the 18-mile long area, taking photos and finding some refreshment, we headed home, satisfied we’d seen and participated in an event worth remembering.

That day, October 27, turned out to be the last day of the art project. We heard on the news that a young woman visitor had been killed by an umbrella just after Sally and I left. In a fluke of circumstance, an immensely strong wind had caused one of the umbrellas to come loose, and it had flown through the air and impaled her against a boulder. At 448 pounds, it’s easy to see she had no chance. Apparently, she and her husband were there to view the artwork.

Ironically, I heard later in another news report that the woman was suffering from a probable fatal disease. Perhaps, instead of suffering, she decided to leave the planet in a particularly dramatic way.


For years I lived a Santa Monica Mountains’ canyon’s length away from Malibu, about a twenty-minute drive. Mountains and the resulting canyons run along the length of California, which gives us our unusual variety of weather—at the beach, in the canyons and in the valleys, which are mostly flat. Los Angeles is the only city with a mountain range running through it.

Malibu’s name derives from the Chumash Indian language since they were the original inhabitants of the ocean-side community a few hundred years ago.  The curving canyon roads that lead to the ocean are bordered with expensive homes and typical California greenery that is highly susceptible to the wildfires that occur every few years. Beauty comes at a price.

Having lots of disposable money is a requirement for living in Malibu, but those of us on budgets can at least visit for the day. Besides restaurants, shops, beaches and the famed Malibu Colony (a gated residential area that borders the ocean), there are the perks of seeing favorite actors or TV personalities.

Crosscreek Shopping Center, my preference, is probably the ideal place for sightings. Ali McGraw once designed the interior of a popular restaurant, which is currently Taverna Tony’s, a Greek spot. Not long ago Mel Gibson was frequenting the bar there, and the tabloids reported the results.

I’ve been visiting that area since the 1970s when one of the shopping center’s main Spanish-style buildings was opened. My husband at the time was the LA County Engineer for the area, so we were asked to the opening night festivities featuring music, food and dancing. I enjoyed talking to actor Charlie Martin Smith, whose wife was opening a dance studio there. I had seen his recent movies “Never Cry Wolf,” and “Middle Age Crazy.”

Almost every time I went there in the ensuing years to browse bookstores, art galleries and to eat lunch, I spotted someone of movie or television fame. A girlfriend and I talked to Helen Hunt in the 1990s, complimenting her on the TV series, “Mad About You.”

Sitting outside an ice cream shop, I noticed a very welcoming and smiling Dick Van Dyke. I’ve regretted saying hi ever since, especially since I knew his son Barry, who was active in my community of Agoura Hills.

A popular Italian restaurant attracts many celebrities. One afternoon Geena Davis, in a baseball cap and sweats, and leading her large poodle, sat with some friends at an adjacent table. She was a vivacious conversationalist from what I overheard.

Geena Davis dressed up

Near the restaurant is a large grassy area with swings for children. I’ve seen TV host and comic Howie Mandell swing his kids, and Director Ron Howard, in his trademark baseball cap, walk by with a child on his shoulders.

My most exciting close encounter was with Shirley MacLaine on a late Sunday afternoon. My friend Carolyn and I were having lunch in an essentially empty restaurant when Shirley walked in with a young stocky blond man and took a table fairly close-by. She had on sunglasses and gave off an air of not wanting to be bothered. I surmised her companion was probably a personal assistant.

Since I was a fan of Shirley’s film work, not to mention all her books, I was yearning to go up and say something like, “I come from Virginia too!” Much more conservative than me, Carolyn strongly discouraged any action, so I had to content myself stealing a few glances. Shirley and the young man left the restaurant before we paid.

As we walked out, we decided to visit a favorite eclectic women’s boutique, Indiana Joan’s, which was right next door. There was Shirley again, this time buying some costume jewelry. I resisted my urges. Some time later, after browsing several more shops, Carolyn and I headed for the car. As we were walking through the small parking lot, here came Shirley and her fellow again. He was carrying her dry cleaning and their car wasn’t far from ours.

Shirley MacLaine


John F. Kennedy

Fifty years ago today, January 19, 1961, the Inaugural Gala was held at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., for President-elect John F. Kennedy. The next day, January 20, the new President of the United States was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol.

Many of us remember President Kennedy’s immortal words from his inaugural address to the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”

I was a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia that January and only saw news reports of the momentous event. Televising important  events was not as common then, but ironically, it was President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, which changed TV’s place in history. I was still at William and Mary during that tragedy and remember watching as much as possible as events unfolded on a small TV in my college dormitory lobby.

I was lucky enough to see JFK twice in person. In the summer of 1963, he had initiated a special program for college students working for the government, a sort of introduction to how government works. Kennedy gave an inspiring speech to us on the back lawn at the White House, emphasizing how valuable a career in government could be. We college kids were tramping around the play area for Caroline and John-John, the Kennedy kids.

US Senate Chamber Pass for July 8, 1959

During the summer of 1959, before my senior year at Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, I had my first Kennedy sighting in the U.S. Senate. I had no idea at that time who he was.

My friend, Barbara, and I took the bus into Washington, D.C. and decided to see Congress in action. Since she had a boyfriend working as a U.S. Senate page, it was easy to get passes. Pages, who were at least 16 and high school juniors with a good grade average, worked for senators. Although they were mainly “gofers,” they got to witness history in the making. Her boyfriend had told her we could go to the Texas House of Representatives office and get passes for both the House and the Senate.

After getting the passes, we got seats in the Visitor’s Gallery of the Senate, which was in session that day. Lyndon Johnson, the imposing Texas Democrat who was the Senate Majority Leader at that time, was presiding over the Senate while lounging in a chair on the dais in front of the gathered senators.

The feisty senator from Oregon, Wayne Morse, was arguing with Paul Douglas, the soft-spoken senator from Illinois. I don’t believe I was paying attention to the issues because I was enchanted with just being there watching it all.

Both of us were intrigued with a scene on the Senate floor. We noticed an attractive, young-looking man with a nice head of chestnut hair at a table reading a newspaper. He didn’t appear to be paying attention to the discussion. Young pages were scurrying about bringing documents or coffee to this particular senator and others around him.

Next to us in the visitor’s gallery was a young man in a suit avidly studying the scene. “Who’s the cute guy reading the newspaper?” we asked him.

“That’s John Kennedy, haven’t you heard about him?”


Bertha Jake and Edwin P. Motley in older age

My grandparents, known to all the family as Mama Jake and Daddy Ed (a typical form of address in the South), had a happy 44-year marriage filled with the joys of children and each other’s company.

Big families were more a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of ten and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters. Family Bibles, testaments to life and death, were stuffed with information on births, marriages and even a few reasons for death. My cousin Nancy passed on a list of Mama Jake’s siblings, most likely from my grandmother’s Bible. Her brothers hadn’t fared so well in life: Henry died of poisoned liquor, John was shot, and Albert fell accidentally—there were no details on these mishaps. I wondered about cancer of the heart, which befell a sister named Mary; two other sisters died from pneumonia and childbirth.

When I wanted to find out more about my grandparents, however, I knew whom to call: my older cousin, Amy Lee, a Danville native.  In my eyes, she’s the family historian because she was a witness and still remembers those long ago days.

Daddy Ed, who didn’t like sales, did the books for Motley & Sons, the family furniture store in downtown Danville, Virginia, but took the bus home for Mama Jake’s hot lunch every day. “He never came in the house that he didn’t go straight to Mama Jake and kiss her,” Amy Lee recalled. Another relative has mentioned how kind he was.

Mama Jake not only took care of her husband and family of seven, but she “did everything for everybody” in the neighborhood, including Moseley Memorial Methodist Church, a few blocks away, Amy Lee said. She was also a fine seamstress and known for her silk ties, which she sold.

Daddy Ed never needed to spank any of his children or grandchildren for misbehavior. He didn’t even need words, Amy Lee commented, since, “He could look a hole right through you.”

Besides being the family poet, Daddy Ed loved to entertain by playing his guitar and mouth harp. He had a good sense of rhythm and would sing little songs for which he had created the words and music.

My mother and I lived with Mama Jake and Daddy Ed in their roomy home on the corner of Berryman Avenue for a few years during World War II and a couple of years afterward. My father Victor, an infantry major, was serving in Italy when Daddy Ed wrote this poem in 1944 to my mother, Garnette. I would imagine the poem was for her birthday on July 22. I like to imagine that he sung it to an appreciative family audience as well.

Another year has rolled around,

To find Bertha Garnette still in town.

She has reached the age of twenty-three,

And started her a family tree.

Her baby girl, Victoria Anne,

The finest young one in this land,

She twines herself around our heart,

And with her we would hate to part.

While daddy Victor, over the sea,

Fights like hell, for you and me.

So we must care for Garnette and Viki,

She’s mighty sweet, but also tricky.

How in the world could sweet Sixteen,

Make herself the Major’s queen,

Secure for herself good things in life,

Without the struggles, stress and strife.

But anyhow, we wish for you,

Long life, good health, your lover true,

Your baby grow to love you most,

And Victor come back home as host.

Daddy Ed signed the poem: Mamma and Daddy


My maternal grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, who was born 12 years after the Civil War in North Carolina in 1877, descended from old American stock. His ancestor, Joseph Motley, came to the American colonies from Scotland as early as the 1730s.

In 1903 Edwin married Bertha Jackson Seago and they ended up in Danville, Virginia. They had 8 children: 7 of them had fairly long, healthy lives. My mother, Bertha Garnette Motley, was third youngest.

In the studio photo of the attractive young family taken around 1909 or 1910, they looked happy with daughters Inez and baby Louise. Mama Jake, as we called my grandmother, had her first baby in 1904 and didn’t stop until Anne was born in 1926. Whew!

The Motley family, circa 1910

From stories I’ve heard and the poems I’ve read, my grandfather, known as Daddy Ed in the family, was a bit of a romantic. He played guitar, wrote poetry and sang to me as a baby. I wish I had more memories of him but he died at age 70, when I was only 4. I was told that I would run to meet him every evening when he came home from the family furniture store. He would bring me some kind of little gift—a piece of ribbon or some kind of trinket to play with.

The following poem tells something of his loving nature and sense of fun. It describes his first meeting with his future wife, Bertha.

There was a young lady who lived in N.C.,

And this little lady was as busy as could be,

She was here and there waiting on her nieces,

Her nerves gave out and she nearly went to pieces.

Her brother-in-law, the Doctor, sent her to school,

In the State Normal College to learn the golden RULE.

She boarded with Mother Hartsell, whose daughter Grizelle,

Grew to be a fine lady and was considered a belle.

This young lady Bertha, while going to school,

Was forbidden any company by the McIvor rule,

She went with Mother Hartsell on Sunday to dine,

With Mrs. Vuncannon, the weather was fine.

At the table that Sunday, just across from her plate,

Sat a tall, lanky boarder, wasn’t this just her FATE,

She glanced at this soreback from under her lashes,

While he turned scarlet and all colored splashes.

I can just imagine how flattered she must have been to have received this poem. I only wish she had lived long enough for me to ask her questions.

More of Daddy Ed’s poetry in the next blog.


Somewhere back in time all names have had origins. A Word-A-Day, which I receive as an Email, is a wonderful reference to the roots and definitions of thousands of words.  They will never run out of words to define and explain.

My mother’s maiden name, Garnette Motley, is a good example of meaningful words. Garnette is a feminized spelling of garnet, a semi-precious gemstone that was used for jewelry at least as far back as the Roman Empire. It’s also considered an abrasive and can be handy for sand blasting. I think my mother would’ve gotten a chuckle from these definitions. She was both precious and/or abrasive if she needed to be.

A Garnet Crystal, source of my mother's name and it's also my January birthstone

Motley, my mother’s family name, originates in the Middle Ages and means a mixture or patchwork of colors. The court jester was known to wear an outfit of many colors. The word was around long before the rock and roll world heard of Motley Crue.

In his play As You Like It, Shakepeare said “Motley is the only wear.”

The Court Jester wearing a motley outfit.

I grew up knowing and hearing about Motleys, a prolific family in the South, especially in North Carolina and Southern Virginia. My maternal grandparents, Edwin Pendleton and Bertha Jackson Seago Motley, had eight children: two boys and six girls. They all survived except for the first child, a boy, Edwin Jackson Motley, who died at 18 months. My Uncle Penn (Pendleton Koons Motley) was the second male, born right in the middle, with three sisters older and three sisters younger (my mother was second youngest). It must have suited him—his daughter Penny says he loved all his sisters, and in his late 80s, he was the next to last of the siblings to pass on. He left us in 2004 and my Aunt Rosie departed this plane of existence in 2007.

In the 1970s, before genealogy research into family history was as popular as it is now with handy Internet information, I received a package detailing a thorough family background search. It was enough to drive my mind around the bend, especially when my ancestor families are very large and the male names are repetitious: Edwin, Pendleton, Joseph, David, to name a few. And the Motleys appeared on the scene in the early 1700s.

Joseph Motley sailed from Edinburgh, Scotland, and ended up in Virginia. Probably for money since most new colonists struggled to make a meager living, Joseph fought with George Washington in the French and Indian War (1754-63), and six of Joseph’s sons fought in the ensuing Revolutionary War (1775-83).

By that time, the Motleys had settled in, bought land, and decided they agreed with the Patriots—they didn’t want to be a British colony. Besides, Joseph had fought with Washington. Since he was a captain in that army, I’m betting he probably knew Washington, who was also a Virginian, and living in a country that was still sparsely populated.

Joseph’s daughter, Obedience Motley, (born in 1768) married John Morehead in 1790, after the Revolutionary War was over. I can’t imagine being named Obedience, but that’s what women were supposed to be in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most American women have grown out of that “obedient” phase!

Despite her name, Obedience was a feisty gal who believed in getting even. When Joseph Motley’s Tory neighbor, a British sympathizer who led a guerilla group, deliberately cut an artery of Obedience’s bedridden mother, the mother bled to death. Some years later, as the story in the researched report goes, this same neighbor was ill and was brought to Obedience’s home for help. She had never forgotten or forgiven the neighbor and poured a bucket of burning hot coals on his head. I’m sure it did him no good, but I don’t know whether it hastened his death or not. I just love the story, even though I wonder why Joseph didn’t seek revenge for his dead wife.

Obedience and husband John Morehead had a son, John Motley Morehead, on July 4, 1796, who grew up to be elected governor of North Carolina in 1840 and 1842. Was it a special influence because of the July 4 birth?

As for Obedience, did her name have any influence on the fact she had a total of nine children?

Stay tuned. I have a nice story about my poetic grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, or as he was called in the family: Daddy Ed.

Romans Made Their Mark in Libya

Leptis Magna Marketplace

The Romans left some of their most magnificent ruins along the coast of the Mediterranean. Libya was home to two ancient cities: Sabratha and the larger Leptis Magna, the birthplace of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, whose arch still stands in Tripoli’s old city.

Tripoli was once Roman as well, but it probably started out as a Phoenician city and was known as Oea. And before the Romans took over in the second century BC, even the Greeks had a colony. I have a Libyan friend who says that studying Libyan history is painful: there are too many details, too much history.

Students at Wheelus were taken on frequent field trips to Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Visiting these ruins, which the Italians were excavating from desert sands beginning in the 1920s and 30s, was more impressive than my  later trip to Pompeii.

While I was there, the high school sponsored a field trip to Leptis Magna, a 120-mile drive on narrow coastal roads. We students enthusiastically climbed all over the well-preserved Roman theatre, forum and marketplace. One of our greatest pleasures was watching the excavating: little cars from the excavating train went back and forth carrying sand away from the ruins, and the friendly Libyan workers let a few of us hitch a ride. Before we left, most of us enjoyed rolling down one of the immense sand dunes nearby, carrying the fine sand home in our clothes as an uncomfortable memento.

Since my sojourn in Libya, there’s been a great deal more work done  in excavating the ruins. I read about the beautiful mosaics found near Leptis Magna in Smithsonian Magazine not long ago. Because of the sand covering them and the dry climate, this unique artwork has been marvelously preserved. Roman mosaics from North Africa were gathered for a very extensive exhibit at the Roman Villa Getty Museum here in LA a few years ago. One that I remember in particular was the face of Bacchus, the god of wine, a large circular mosaic. With his dark curly hair, large nose and sensual mouth, he could have been a character actor from “The Sopranos” TV series. I was amazed at the state of preservation; it was as if they’d been created a few years ago and not centuries past.

Leptis Magna now has its own museum to display some very impressive mosaics, gladiators and various animals, for instance, found since 2000. They date back to the 1st and 2nd century.

The Roman theater faces the Mediterranean

Tripoli contrasts — the Old City & the King’s Palace

Americans and British were often involved in helping the local populace. As part of a church youth fellowship group, I visited the North African Mission in the heart of Tripoli’s old city. We went there to help sort old clothing  collected from the Americans to aid unfortunate Libyans.

Any trip into the old city brought up the contrasts between affluence and typical Libyan life at that time. Streets were dark and narrow, in some places no more than three feet wide, and had no gutters or sewage system. Meat shops advertised their wares by hanging raw meat on a hook outside the door, which attracted flies and added to the already pungent odors of the area. The two-story Mission, one of the largest buildings in this part of town, was styled with rooms situated around a paved courtyard. The director of the place was an English doctor, who had been there for nearly twenty years, and his staff included several older English and American couples. Besides medical aid, the Mission provided a small school for Libyan children.

Before Gadhafi deposed him and became dictator, King Idris sat on the throne, rotating his rule between his co-capitals, Benghazi in the east near Egypt, and Tripoli in the west. His golden-domed palace, which was lit up at night, was less than half a mile from Garden City, and was available for tours when he wasn’t in residence. I joined my mother’s ladies club for a tour one day and marveled at the huge gardens: a patchwork of ice plant, pools, fountains and palm trees intersected with pathways. In this garden, grass was a weed. Inside, we were greeted with a mosaic-tiled entryway and treated to a red-carpeted throne room accented with gilt mirrors and chairs. A formal dining room hung with rich tapestries was highlighted with an elaborate chandelier. His countrymen were living simply for the most part (some of them in makeshift homes of cardboard and tin), but the king had radio, television, air-conditioning and several cars, a Cadillac among them.

The King’s Palace serves a different purpose in modern times: it’s a very large library.

The Tripoli Palace of King Idris

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