June, 2013:


Heidi Giraud's "cool" painting

Heidi Giraud’s “cool” painting

Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” In Los Angeles, I’d change that to: “Drive five miles.” It usually works, unless we get one of those high pressure systems that keep it boiling all over Southern California, like this week. From the mountains and deserts to the beaches, the temps range from 122 to 89 degrees. This afternoon we went  from a cloudless sky and low humidity to clouds and higher humidity. Frankly, I don’t like either choice, so I’m inside with the air conditioner and jazz music.

In most cities in the U.S. there’s a single weather forecast. It may be hot, cold, rainy, summer, winter, spring or fall. Here in SoCal, we don’t stick to those strictures. Our geology of mountains, valleys and ocean has determined a diversity of microclimates. Take a drive and in an hour’s time, you could motor through multiple temps and a variety of weather conditions.

We are the only city in the US with a mountain range that runs right through town.  Mountain ranges formed by the earthquakes that created California’s birth millions of years ago run up and down our state. I learned quickly when I moved here long ago not to expect the same temperature from one Los Angeles area to the other. It pays to keep an extra sweater and an umbrella in the car. And don’t go to the beach at any time of year without a wrap of some sort.

We have Mediterranean climate in LA, just what I sampled when I lived in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. We have a dry season during the summer and rain, when and if it comes, during the winter. While the rest of the country is heating up in May and June, we don’t usually have true heat until August and September when the desert winds, called Santa Ana’s, sweep through town and head toward the beach. In May the fog and overcast is labeled May Gray and when it continues through June, it’s June Gloom. Those grand mansions in Malibu and Laguna Beach can be socked in for weeks without a hint of sunshine.

A sample weather forecast (depending upon the season) might be: Beaches (depending on whether they face west or south) — 74; Downtown L.A., often referred to as the Basin—81; Valleys (depending on which ones and where) – 90; Mountains – 75; and Deserts—110. The air conditioning can be roaring in the San Fernando Valley, but a beach excursion would require a sweatshirt and maybe even a windbreaker.

Rain usually averages 15 inches a year but there are years when it really pours. Where it pours depends on the elevation and the wind patterns. Our weather usually comes from the west, the Pacific Ocean. Mt. Wilson, which is east of downtown L.A. and 5,730 feet above sea level can get an average of 37 inches of rain, while the Civic Center, which is only 260 feet elevation receives the more normal 15 inches.

In a 1998 LA Times article on LA weather, Gary Ryan, a National Weather Service Meteorologist said, “There’s a bigger difference in elevation between the Los Angeles Civic Center and its surrounding mountains than Denver and its surrounding mountains.” With all the elevations we have in our city, we’ve probably got 20 different microclimate conditions in any one day.  The high pressure system is due to leave town in the next few days—good riddance!






Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in Los Angeles, my new hometown. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had seen him years before in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the  early 1960s. This Life Magazine cover of June 14, 1968, (I still have my copy) makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles.

I had first seen Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and RFK  was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S. At that time I wasn’t very political and was probably influenced for the most part by my dad, who was a Republican. I didn’t realize until years later that I was really a liberal Democrat.

Kennedy was talking to students at an evening event held outside and I got a view of him from the rear. It was autumn, probably October 1960, when the last push was on before November voting. Other than the fact that I found him attractive, I can’t remember what kind of impression he made on me, although The Flat Hat, the campus newspaper I worked for, did have a story on him afterwards.

My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1963, when President John Kennedy created an educational summer program for college students working for the government in offices in the Washington D.C. area. To initiate the program, JFK himself met with student workers on the lawn of the White House. Although I don’t recall a word he said, it was probably an inspiring but short speech on how we were going to learn something about the inner workings of government, which was to take place several times during the summer at Constitution Hall, an auditorium near the Washington Mall that sat 4,000 people.

Student workers were bussed from various offices around town to spend a couple of hours listening to important members of government. I was picked up where I was working at Washington National Airport. I met my friend Barbara, also working for government in another location, at Constitution Hall that afternoon. Inside, I think we listened to someone important in the Finance Department and perhaps a senator. I’m sure Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at that time, spoke to us since I saw him later, but the wisdom we probably heard did not stick.

When the speeches were over, Barbara and I walked back to our busses. Barbara was the girlfriend who accompanied me to the U.S. Senate a few years before when we’d seen John Kennedy as a senator. It’s the story I shared most recently in my blog. Barbara and I were ambling along close to Constitution Hall when we passed a ramp leading to a building entrance. A limousine was parked there, angled downward, ready to leave with its passenger. We both glanced over and saw Robert Kennedy in the back seat, blue eyes flashing. He had spotted us and gave us a huge genuine grin and we smiled back, delighted that we’d seen him.

I lost touch with Barbara years ago, but I bet she also has a vivid memory of seeing Robert Kennedy, whose inner being seemed to pour out of his eyes.



US Senate Chamber Pass for July 8, 1959

When my family left Tripoli, Libya, my Army Corps of Engineers father  had orders for the Pentagon. He went on to work for the powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff, an honor for his career and a promotion to full Colonel. We lived in a small but homey stone house in Alexandria, Virginia, and I attended the last two years of high school at Francis C. Hammond, now a middle school.

My classmate, Barbara, and I enjoyed exploring the museums and other highlights in our nation’s capitol. We’d take the bus to the Washington Mall area and walk all over the place. On one of these excursions, in 1959, we decided to discover how government worked and visit the Senate.

Barbara had a boyfriend who was working as a US Senate Page. 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. He had told her we could go to the Texas House of Representatives office and get passes for both the House and the Senate.

Neither one of us had ever seen Congress in action, and we were excited about it. I still have the Senate pass, which was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. Far too busy to do these menial tasks, the senator’s signature was a stamp.

We made our way to 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. He was lounging comfortably 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 wasn’t listening to the issues because I was enchanted with just being there.

We took it all in and both of us were intrigued with a scene on the Senate floor. We noticed an attractive, younger looking man with a great head of hair  at a table reading a newspaper. He didn’t appear to be paying attention to the discussion going on. 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 all if it. “Who’s the cute guy reading the newspaper?” we asked him.

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

When he ran for president the next year, we all sat up and took notice.

John F. Kennedy


Dulles Airport Terminal by Eero Saarinen

Now that summer is in full swing and college/high school students are looking for summer employment, it brings back many memories of summers in Washington, D.C. My military father insisted that typing was an admirable and necessary skill. What a prescient suggestion or should I say “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. I haven’t checked to see if it’s the same designation.

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 (remember erasers?)  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!

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: a very sweet Mogen David when most of the office went out for some kind of 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. 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. Apparently, most of them are now being phased out. Maybe my boss was right!


Although I have no living fathers to celebrate with, I have memories of two fathers and a grandfather. My kids are blessed with a living and attentive father, my ex-husband, who’s active in their lives.

In preparation for her Father’s Day gift, my daughter Heidi wanted to look at old photos of her childhood. We took out my old photo albums since there are photos I haven’t copied onto my computer. Looking at actual photos in all their various forms, some with the scalloped edges from the 1940s, brought bittersweet thoughts and old recollections I could share with her.

Baby Heidi & her Daddy

Baby Heidi & her Daddy

Since my dad was an amateur photographer,  a few photos in my collection were on the photo paper he had bought. A few were early results from efforts at getting the right focus. When we were stationed in Bavaria, Germany, after WWII, Dad took advantage of German technology and bought himself a top-of-the-line enlarger along with a Rolleiflex camera, which I still have.

When I grew older, my dad taught me a little about mixing the chemicals used to develop photos and taught me a little about setting up the timing on the enlarger. It was fun to see a photo from start to finish and I used what I had learned for a school project. Wherever we were stationed, the bathroom was used to process negatives. I can remember seeing rolls of black film negatives stretched out and hanging from the shower curtain rod. If we had a basement, there was always a darkroom with a red light where all the processing chemicals were kept and the various sizes of photo paper. I can still recall the sound of the timed clicks of the enlarger as it imprinted the negative picture onto the photo paper. And it was fun to place the photo paper with its image into the Microdol developer fluid and the stop bath as the image darkened. Oddly enough, I loved the smell of Microdol.

Heidi and I looked through the older albums that dated to my childhood and those related to life in Tripoli, Libya, and an album from my years at the College of William and Mary. There were some from early in my marriage and when my kids were very young. The style of album changed with the times. There were a few albums that required the photo collector to peel back the plastic and then place the photos on the sticky cardboard backing before letting the plastic lay over the photos. Some albums were a mix of years and events.

My ex and I divorced when Heidi was about twelve, and I think the difficulties of those years right afterward when she was a rebellious teenager dealing with a broken family blurred her memory of better days. Her relationship with her father, who has remarried, continues to get better as the years go by. Wanting to know more about the early years of her life and my marriage, she wondered if her dad and I had been in love, especially since she had seen photos of me looking annoyed!

I told her that her dad and I had been in love. Heidi and I looked through the albums for proof and found the perfect photo. It was taken at a friend’s place shortly before we were married in Mannheim, Germany.

Hans & Victoria - Mannheim, Germany 1965

Hans & Victoria – Mannheim, Germany 1965


Writing a novel, especially in the historical fiction genre, is a daunting task. A few years ago I took on the challenge. I had always loved history and for many years had attended Renaissance Pleasure Faires in Southern California. I knew something about Shakespeare since I was an English major in college and had seen many Shakespeare plays and films. It seemed liked a natural thing to do. Besides, I’d already written a screenplay about Francis Drake, the English sea captain who was known for his pirate activities against the Spanish in the Caribbean in the 16th century. Since it was damn difficult to finance a movie, especially a sea epic, I had the brilliant idea of taking the elements of the script, add a fictional heroine and, presto, I’d have a book. A lot of effort went into more historical research and almost five years later I had a book. After all that time and no luck finding an agent right away, I was impatient to have it published. I chose the self-publishing route when the idea was fairly new and easy. Since then I’ve also published it on Amazon as an Ebook. The link to Amazon is in the upper right of this page or follow the link: http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

My book is full of true adventure (Essentially, only my heroine and her family are fictional) and romance. I’ve even written a couple of sex scenes. After all the 50 Shades books are all the rage!  See below for a teaser about the romance that develops:


With Drake’s humorous admonition to be careful with their guest, Melaynie carried a lantern to show Bernardino to his private tent at evening’s end.

In the light of a bright moon, whose rays poured through the wide opening of the small quarters, Bernardino found and immediately sat down on the portable cot. Tired from the day’s excitement and mellowed to the point of sleepiness by the wine, he languidly watched as the young captain’s boy placed the lantern on an empty cask, thinking as he watched of his young sister.  Why was he thinking of his sister; was it the way this young boy moved, or simply the beauty of youth?

He leaned back and began to remove his doublet, welcoming the cooler night air on his skin.  Remembering the music and the caress of the night breeze, he felt relaxed and sensual. Melaynie’s body and face were profiled in the moonlight.  What a lovely young boy, Bernardino reflected  as he studied the fine facial features and golden hair. He lazily watched the lantern’s flickering light, his feelings of arousal fanned by its glow. How agreeable it would have been to have a woman to love, an appropriate climax to a congenial evening.

Framed by the moonlight, the boy continued to stand, leaning toward the lantern, like a moth to the flame, his eyes mesmerized by the flame. From his angle lounging on the cot, Bernardino noticed the boy’s cream-colored shirt had flared outward as he stood there. The material was diaphanous enough that the lantern’s light revealed his naked chest. Bernardino smiled at the pretty picture it made, and then narrowed his eyes, looking again closely, as he sat up slowly, uncertain that what he saw was true.

The lantern had highlighted a pair of delicate breasts, whose outline was clear enough through the linen shirt. This was no boy; he saw the evidence. The breasts were small, but they were present. Had no one else in this English company noticed?  Men could be dense; he had seen how she had been treated as her costume defined her.  A turmoil of feelings assaulted him at this revelation, the excitement of the mystery of her only heightening his stimulated senses. He struggled to compose himself, to dampen his growing ardor, to quiet his racing mind.

Had he been intrigued because some instinct told him of her true gender?  Whatever the mystical reasons, she must not guess he had seen her secret. Searching his mind for clues, he quickly surmised her subterfuge had been well hidden until now and that she was probably older than he had supposed. What had caused this young woman to carry off this masquerade; was she possessed by some unusual traits, a woman who felt herself truly a man? Or was it simply an adventure she sought, a desire to break from the traditional female role in her society?  Did she feel he was a threat; was that why she had spilled the wine earlier? These turbulent thoughts raced through his mind in mere seconds.

Mel book cover 0



I save things from the past; somewhere, deep inside, I must have known they would interest me when I grew older. Or perhaps they helped me make sense of my gypsy life. They were fodder for my writing, if nothing else. I recently ran across my Autographs Book, which was popular in the 1950s. They were small: about 6 inches by 4 inches and filled with small sheets of colored paper. The front of the brown fake leather cover has already come off, but the autographs, many in now faded pencil have lasted.


Inside, I wrote that Viki Williams, my name at 11 years old, lived at 1460B 5th Avenue in Ft. Knox, Kentucky from 1954-55 and my 7th grade teacher was Mrs. Wright. Cindy Brackett, who lived a few houses away in this area of typical two-story Army brick houses for officers, was my first signature. She and I had something in common besides our ages: our mothers had both given birth to little boys about the same time. We were still occasionally playing with dolls, but live babies were much more fun. I remember taking my brother, whom I gleefully nicknamed Doodles, in his stroller down to Cindy’s house. We fed “our” little boys together.

My Baby Brother

My Baby Brother


Cindy wrote that I was “the sweetest girl” she knew, along with typical poems like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I know a bulldog that looks just like you!” In the those simpler times, it was largely assumed that girls would get married and have babies shortly after high school or college and several autographs had the poem, “When you get married and have twins, don’t come running to me for safety pins.” (no disposable diapers in those days!)

I had a crush on a boy who played baseball, Ward Morton. Our first date was for a movie on the post, and my dad insisted it had to be a double date. Ward brought a friend and I brought a friend, and we all paid our own way, probably no more than 25 cents. In the summer of 1955, things must have heated up—Ward signed my book very simply, “I love you, Viki.” And he listed his Ft. Knox address! He sent me postcards when his family went to the family home in Wisconsin for vacation. Young love doesn’t last long in the Army; a few months later my family flew off to Tripoli, Libya for a few years.

In 8th through 10th grade at Wheelus AFB, we were so much more sophisticated! My friends wrote longer messages in the book to remind me how we had had fun together or to tease me, like Steve Gaynor, that I pronounced donkey as “dunkey”. William Maguire said I was a “real swell gal,” and Tom Henderson hoped we’d be within shouting distance when our parents were transferred to the Washington, D.C. area. I found autographs from Tanya Thomas, who reminded me of a hayride, Kay Ray, Sue Wisdom (who remembered us taking algebra together), Gail Carlson (who said “yours until Lassie marries Rin Tin Tin) and Marla Bush among others. Karen Gamel recalled our climbing the wall around our villa one evening to spy on the British general’s party next door.

I had gotten to know a few Italian teenagers in Tripoli and they signed my book in Italian. I couldn’t read it then or now, but Enzo, who was half British, penned, “Ti voglio tanto, tanto, tanto bene…remember me.” Sounds romantic! I wonder how his life’s turned out. Stefano, Enzo’s good friend, wrote a message in German, which I can barely translate– something about being a good friend. As a footnote, Stefano visited my parents when they were stationed in Germany in the 1960s, and Enzo got my address and wrote me a few times when I was in college. The Internet has connected many old friends and classmates, but it’s not quite the same as looking at a friend’s written message and signature.


Since I’m single and live alone, I am always grateful for my friendly, well-designed apartment house. The two-story building has a courtyard in the Spanish style, not unusual in Southern California. There’s a large pool, and  plenty of room left for a couple of pine trees, roses, shrubs and other lush tropical greenery. On the second story we have a wrap-around balcony, which makes it easy to visit with neighbors or just come outdoors to lean on the green iron railing to take in the sun.

This morning, I thought perhaps I was losing my eyesight because the lights were dimming: the time on my clock radio was definitely fading away, and the brand new fan from Target was barely moving. It was after 6 a.m., I wasn’t ready to start the day, but I needed to know what was going on and explored my place—no kitchen or refrigerator light, the cable box for the TV was off and so was the computer.  As I checked out other devices, I realized nothing electrical was working.

Did I forget to pay my power bill? I looked at my checkbook—nope. I opened my front door and spotted Mary, my neighbor from across the courtyard, who was up and dressed. Bob, another neighbor, was coming up the steps to his apartment. Mary had the answers: she had woken up at 5:30 because of her allergies and realized we were having a brown-out, when all the lights dim but haven’t gone out. She’d called the DWP and they’d actually answered the special number she called—they were working on it. Bob had been to the corner grocery and had seen the DWP truck and noticed the light at our fairly major intersection was out.

Dept of Water & Power at work.

Dept of Water & Power at work.

Mary and I chatted for a while about life without electricity. Phones might not work—she had opted for a landline, which is unusual these days, because it was the only thing that worked during the 1994 major So Cal earthquake. But she needed her blow dryer to get her hair in shape for work at the law firm downtown. Making myself beautiful was no challenge—I would spend the day in front of the computer editing if the electricity came back on.


What if it were out for hours? I’d miss my morning GMA (Good Morning America) on TV as I ate breakfast. I could eat my usual fruit—the water was on to wash it (although we had a plumbing problem the other day when the water was turned off for several hours), but there’d be no toast. Luckily, I had a gas stove, so I could heat the water for tea. I could have spent the day catching up on my reading and give my editing a break. I still haven’t finished the third volume of 50 Shades of Grey. And the pool was filled with water and available for a swim.

When we lose a service we take for granted, it’s time to appreciate how comfortable our lives are in the U.S. There are many places on Earth with no water, much less electricity. And it’s always time to appreciate the people you live amongst. Sharing your good news or your challenges is part of being human, and I’m very grateful that I have great neighbors.

The power came on again by 7:30 a.m. I imagine the DWP didn’t want  their bigger customers, Ralphs Grocery or Walgreens, to lose business. So, we apartment dwellers were only mildly inconvenienced.


    Setbacks Create Comebacks

One of my favorite genres in the book world is the Memoir or Autobiography. We all experience the contrasts of heartbreak and joy. Memoirs help us feel connected and hopeful—we aren’t alone in our pain, and pain can be overcome. I’m currently working on the life story of an Englishman who grew up in Rhodesia, lost a leg when he was eleven but went on to race cars and build race cars before he got married and had a family. And that’s just the very abbreviated version.

I’ve had the privilege of editing, rewriting and even co-writing 15 memoirs, at last count. Each one was an emotional, meaningful journey for the author and for me. William McCloud, author of Setbacks Create Comebacks, proclaims: “It matters not what happens to you; it only matters how you react to what happens to you.”

The books I discuss here were all edited by me and are currently available on Amazon. William McCloud’s book, Setbacks Create Comebacks has a fairly recent new cover.

Bill’s mother Fannie, who was dark-skinned, gave birth to five children by four different fathers. When Bill was born, Fannie told the nurse he was too white to be her child and to take him back! In a sense he was “taken back” because his tough, no-nonsense grandmother raised him and his other siblings very strictly. She could be mean: she believed in whipping, but she made him a proud survivor. Every time life knocked him down, Bill stood up and managed to laugh about his misadventures with his grandmother, his mother and his siblings; it was great fun to edit. In 1985 Bill won an Emmy for his work as a cameraman on The Benson Show, starring Robert Guillaume. It had been a long journey from a small Ohio town to Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry.

I had a wonderful experience co-writing Wendy Wong’s memoir, When the Phoenix Rises. To help me with the project, she sent me a variety of photos, newspaper articles and other mementoes from her home in Honolulu. I had a privileged view of her life growing up in poverty in Hong Kong and her struggles to make something of herself. Although her family was a loving one, they didn’t think females really needed much of an education, and when she did get a college degree, they assumed she would teach and then marry. She surprised them all with her skills in the real estate business, a talent nurtured by a very affluent Hawaiian businessman/developer known as the Hawaiian Rockefeller, who had been her lover. Wealth, success and marriage, however, don’t ensure a carefree life. Wendy has weathered various financial depressions in Hong

Kong and Hawaii, and she’s endured the heartbreak of a mentally challenged daughter. Her son, however, after graduating from Yale became  a doctor.

When the Phoenix Rises

A Survivor’s Closet by Debra Luptak and Andy Walks With Me by Ralph Heidler and his co-author wife, Twila Lopez, were both horrific memoirs of childhood abuse. It was amazing to me how these individuals survived their physical and emotional torment. Humans manage to live through some incredible challenges. My own childhood heartbreaks seemed so minor in comparison.

Ralph’s father was a psychotic tyrant, who fancied himself a preacher when he was truly an avenging devil. During the frequent beatings he suffered from his father, Ralph would have an out-of-body experience. His consciousness traveled to a garden where “Andy” walked with him. His child’s mind had given new meaning to the old hymn “I Walk in the Garden Alone.” He interpreted the line “and he walks with me and he talks with me”  to mean: “Andy walks with me.” Andy (Jesus) gave him moments of peace and joy. However, when Ralph’s mother would appear to doctor the wounds from his father’s beatings, Ralph would awaken in pain, back in his bruised and bloody body.

Andy Walks with Me

In later years, although grown and married with children, his extreme childhood caused Ralph to one day disassociate from his past and disappear from his home in Pennsylvania. During the next 20 years, totally unaware of his former life, he married twice more. Ralph was living in Hawaii when his children found him, and he discovered the missing horror of his past.

He happily connected with his children, and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Johnstown got to know Ralph and started using his book in a psychology class.


Debra Luptak’s strength of spirit and determination kept her alive despite the murderous attempts of her profoundly mentally ill mother, who claimed her daughter was part of the devil. She was tied up, placed in a straitjacket, burned with cigarettes, hidden in a dark closet and fed sedatives, all before the age of five. There was no magic rescue or instant healing: A Survivor’s Closet tells the gruesome years-long tale of Debra’s survival. When she was an adult, it took years of therapy, hospitals, family and friends to come to peace and self-love.  The mother of grown sons, Debra’s used her book and her talent as a speaker to help others deal with traumatic childhoods.


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