September, 2013:

A VIEW OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

I’ve been in Southern California for nearly 50 wonderful years, which zoomed by! I had a good sample of life in other countries and other states before I ended up here. Like Germany, Libya, Virginia, Kentucky, New York City, New Jersey, Missouri, and Florida, not to mention places I’d visited…Paris, Pompeii, Naples, Athens, Istanbul, Munich, and Gibraltar.

When I moved to Southern California as a young married, I knew I was home. That doesn’t mean I stayed in any one place here for long. I’ve wandered from North Hollywood and Panorama City to Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Canoga Park, Port Hueneme and Tarzana before I made a home in Sherman Oaks. I grew up as an Army brat: used to moving from place to place like a gypsy, but most of us didn’t have a family home in a certain town and a certain state. Home was where you had a bed.

Living in Southern California means enjoying a combination of areas—perhaps that’s why I love it so much. We have a variety of weather patterns; radio and TV news broadcast five different forecasts each day for: Downtown (also called the Basin), the Beaches, the Valley, the Mountains, and the Desert. Pick your climate and decide where to live. It could seem like you’re in a pristine wilderness in many areas of the Santa Monica Mountains (Did I mention Los Angeles is the only city in the US with a mountain range going through it?). Downtown is temperate and now full of skyscrapers, but not as high as New York City. Drive west to the beach and make sure you bring a jacket, except on those very few days when it’s actually almost hot. The ocean only warms up briefly in September, when it may get to 68 degrees.

My mom, 1967, at Top of Topanga with a view of San Fernando Valley--what a difference almost 50 years later.

My mom, 1967, at Top of Topanga with a view of San Fernando Valley–what a difference almost 50 years later.

 

I am currently enjoying life in the San Fernando Valley, where we also have a wide range of temperatures and it tends to be warmer in summer and cooler in winter than other areas. There are nearly 2 million of us living in this part of LA, two-thirds of us considered part of the City of LA; the other parts are incorporated cities, like Glendale or Calabasas. We’re from every culture in the world, and speak almost every language in an area of about 260 square miles. Being a valley, we’re surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains, the Simi Hills and a few other mountain ranges. Highway 101 goes north and west and the infamous 405 travels east and north; it’s known as one of the most congested freeways.

The Valley, as we’re commonly called used to be full of ranches and orchards. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz lived here, and Bing Crosby sang a song about the San Fernando Valley, as his home. There are still plenty of stars who live here, even Justin Beiber, last I heard. The Brady Bunch TV series was filmed here and the house they used for the exterior is still standing; Warner Bros has a large studio here and so does Disney, Universal and CBS. Ronald Reagan and Nancy got married in the Little Brown Church, less than a mile down Coldwater Canyon Avenue from me and had their reception at William Holden’s home, a few blocks from me.

As far as famous stars, Bob Hope probably lived here the longest. His huge home in the Toluca Lake area of the Valley is finally for sale. His family wants to sell it to someone who wants lots of land and will keep the property intact. When I first moved here, the apartment manager said we were neighbors of Bob Hope! We were probably ten minutes and an incredible lifestyle away from the famous comedian! I did get to meet his publicity manager and see his office in Burbank, however, years ago when I did a story on Hope for a new magazine.

 

Ten minutes from Bob Hope on Camarillo Street with '65 Mustang.!

Ten minutes from Bob Hope on Camarillo Street with ’65 Mustang.!

 

 

AN ARMY DAUGHTER’S TALE

From all reports, my mother had a happy childhood and her parents stayed happily married until they died. Mom, however, did not have happy marriages with either of the two men she chose, both of them Army career officers. One of them, my birth father, went off to war in Italy when I was a toddler. He survived but never returned. Her second marriage, when I was four, lasted longer, but he was emotionally abusive to us all. Oh, Mom, sometimes I wonder what you were thinking! Well, nobody’s perfect! And, obviously, you weren’t thinking, you were in love and your cerebral cortex had nothing to do with it.

What’s a small town girl to do when she falls for a handsome man in a uniform and a West Point grad? Especially when it’s World War II and Pearl Harbor has made it absolutely necessary for the US to get into the war. When you’re in your 20s, the heart wants what the heart wants.

I survived both my fathers. After all, life experience is “fodder” for writers. I learned from them both and I loved them both, despite everything. My stepfather is the subject of the Amazon book on sale called Colonels Don’t Apologize. I’ve posted the cover on this blog and am sharing a teaser below. I used fictional names for my characters, including myself. It gave me a bit of detachment I felt I needed.

Excerpt:               http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

“He may be dying and probably won’t recognize me, but his power is still evident,” Beth confessed to Emily as they drove in her van toward the nursing home. “I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I got so violently sick. He can still affect me.”

 “Do you think he may have gotten Alzheimer’s from all the rotten things he did in his life?” Emily asked.

 “I believe we create our own reality and bring on the physical conditions we need for our soul’s growth,” Beth answered. “It’s interesting that Dad has lost his control over all the things he valued most in life – money, intelligence, his family, his own body.”

“Since we’re talking about theories,” Beth added, “I’ve got another thought concerning that World War II and Korean War generation of American men. I think those extreme situations seriously affected their views on life. They came home with hardened hearts, devious minds, and plenty of sarcasm. But they also knew how to be charming and get their own way. Their wives and children, who were easy targets, suffered the most. These guys didn’t seem to know how to say, ‘I love you,’ much less, ‘I’m sorry.’”

“I feel sorry for him. He’s been through a lot. Perhaps this disease evens up the score. But I hope none of us suffers the same fate.”

 “I don’t believe we will. We were on the receiving end of his brand of child raising, but none of us have chosen the same approach to life.”

 “His suffering kinda makes it easier to forgive him,” Emily added with a mischievous smile. “You know what else is odd? He loves to get hugs and he knows that saying I love you will get a warm response and maybe another hug. He could never say that to any of us when he was well and in possession of all his faculties.”

For more of this story, buy the Ebook on Amazon.  Happy reading!

MEMORIES OF MANNHEIM–US Army in Germany

Being born a military brat was an amazing gift for me: I like people in general and having the opportunity to experience various world cultures was an education I’ll never forget. Home is where you are living at the moment, which makes relocating so much easier. When I recently received Christian Fuhrer’s brand new book MEMORIES OF MANNHEIM – Die Amerikaner in der Quadratestadt seit 1945, I was delighted. Even though it was written in German, I could still remember a few words (I spoke it fluently as a child), and there were plenty of wonderful photos that had been donated by Americans connected to the US military since 1945.  I contributed two photos of my dad, Col. A.D. Williams, who had commanded the 521st Engineer Group in Mannheim in the early 1960s. One of them depicted Dad and a few of his officers in the German woods practicing “war;” the other one shows him handing out certificates of appreciation to German and French employees who worked for the U.S. Army. This American practice of appreciation was new to the Germans and they later adopted it for business.

A German professor from Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg Mannheim,  Dr. Christian Fuhrer, contacted me in 2011 when he saw the photo I’d posted of the Officers Club at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim.  He was in the midst of writing his “memorial” book then because the US was essentially closing the military facilities in the Mannheim area. “The book will be a tribute to the thousands upon thousands of Americans for whom Mannheim has served as a temporary home,” Dr. Fuhrer said and added, “It’s also a personal way of saying thanks for a job well done. Postwar Germany owes the American servicemen much more than simple words can ever impart.”

Wasserturm Landmark in Mannheim

Dr. Fuhrer’s interest in Americans started when he was sixteen and was curious about the odd license plates on American cars. He rode his bike into Benjamin Franklin Village (BFV) and ended up getting involved in the American community as: a translator at the USO, a member of the BFV church choir, and an attendee and volunteer at American events.

He knew about American generosity from his mother, who was three when World War II ended. “American soldiers shared their rations with my mother and her family. The mentality of Americans seems to be—‘We’ll weather through it all, as long as we stick together.’”

Some of the history he shares in his book includes the fact that Gen. George S. Patton had his fatal 1945 car accident in Mannheim. In 1982 an American soldier “borrowed” a tank from Sullivan Barracks and drove into downtown Mannheim. He destroyed a streetcar and several cars and injured a couple of people before he backed the tank into the Neckar River and drowned. It made headlines, needless to say.

Doctor Christian Fuhrer

Doctor Christian Fuhrer

 
The Mannheim American school system served my brother and sister in the 1960s; in the late 1950s, my ex-husband, Hans Giraud, and even actress Faye Dunaway attended Mannheim American High School. I recently discovered that Michael Strahan, former professional Giants football player and now co-host of ABC-TV’s “Kelly and Michael,” was an Army brat and his photo also appears in the book, a few pages from my dad’s photo. 
Dr. Fuhrer’s book is divided into sections that cover a wide range of topics, from WWII history, which brought the US military to Germany, to how Americans stationed there,  soldiers and dependents, lived their lives. The military took care of schooling, shopping, health care and religious worship of all kinds. There were always groups to join, classes to attend (like learning German, for instance), sightseeing excursions, sports clubs and competitions, and entertainment at clubs for both enlisted personnel and officers.
This photo of Dr. Fuhrer was taken of his recent interview on German TV. His book is perched on the floor. His face shows his enthusiasm for this book of remembrances and tributes.

Americans have left Mannheim, but they’ll always have their memories, and so will the German community, thanks to Dr. Fuhrer’s book.

THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI IN THE 1950s

The Lungamare (?spelling?) along Tripoli harbor, from the Fountain of the Gazelle to the Barbary Pirate Fort
Today, because I talked to my friend Mahmud Abudaber, a Tripoli native who lives in Los Angeles, I started remembering those long-ago days when I lived in Tripoli. Better yet, he mentioned a street I was familiar with–Sciara Ben Ascuir, or at least that’s what it was named then. Apparently, it still has the same name but I’m not sure of the current spelling. It was only a few blocks from my family’s villa and it was the route our school bus took to drive us to school at nearby Wheelus Air Force Base.

 

Me in front of the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence.

Tripoli—the name rolls off my tongue conjuring up exotic memories of its smells, sounds, landscape. It’s been several decades now but the city on the shores of the Mediterranean has never lost the magic it held in my heart. I note as I get older that life seems to go in circles; my Southern California domicile has the same weather and blooms with many of the identical plants that I first came to know and love in Tripoli.

As a young American teenager in the 1950s, I was fortunate to spend several of my formative years in a wondrous Middle Eastern world. It was an extraordinary time made more so by my awakening to the world and to the mysteries of blossoming womanhood, a rite of passage from age twelve to age fifteen, though looking backward often adds its own sentimental patina to events. My parents had come through a difficult time in their marriage and were enjoying each other again, and my strict and demanding father left me alone, within reason, to have a splendid time socially.

What changes were wrought in my life during that impressionable time, an ideal time to be living in such a unique world! My long wavy hair, which I wore in a ponytail, was cut there by an Italian hairdresser and fashioned into a short, curly style and I discovered I had naturally curly hair. My flat chest experienced its first budding of breasts and along with it came an active interest in boys – American boys, English boys, Italian boys. I heard my first really dirty joke, learned swear words and explicit gestures in Arabic and Italian, got embarrassed by my own farts, and had my first make-out session with a boy who truly knew how to kiss.

Libya has gotten out from under Gadhafi’s thumb now, and I often wonder what changes  have happened in the past couple of years. In the middle 1950s it was a bustling, cosmopolitan city inhabited by Arab (we were taught to call the residents Libyans), Italian, British, American and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to become 24 December Street. I need to find out if the name has changed.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot and travel to such a strange land. I was shocked when my father received orders to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Then, for some governmental reason (Morocco was having violent political problems, as it turned out), the orders were changed to Tripoli – Wheelus Air Force Base. My Army Corps of Engineers father would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining that strategic airfield, the closest large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War days. He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia.

Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and Joan Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane and onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. Then it was on to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop and finally on to Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so much time and so many time zones, who could tell. No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

An officer from my father’s new command met us at Wheelus Air Base and drove us the eight miles into town to our temporary quarters – the Albergo Del Mahari, a hotel that definitely marked our passage into an Arab country.

The flat roof of the white stucco hotel was highlighted in front with a dome that sat upon two pentagon-shaped, windowed bays. Just under the dome was a high bay accented with a multi-paned, oval window on each of its five sides; under it was a flatter and wider bay with opaque, rectangular glass-block  windows on each section. Its unusual design, to which I would soon become accustomed, reminded me of a tiered wedding cake.

Tired and disheveled, we were led under a portico and through the hotel’s glass double doors into a spacious marble-tiled lobby. Each side of the five-sided lobby faced a different courtyard; the center of each courtyard contained either a fountain or a small, rectangular pool. Vines covered the courtyard walls; small trees, many of them poinsettias, dotted the space and surrounded several benches.

Our tiny suite of rooms was reached across a courtyard with a fountain, and our suite faced the courtyard garden. It was like an enchanting scene from Arabian Nights — the mosaic designs, the unfamiliar, musky fragrance of the air.

My excitement turned to apprehension as I surveyed the tiny bedroom that my sister and I would share: two narrow single beds covered by dark red- striped bedspreads. The strange surroundings almost overwhelmed me. I felt disoriented and fearful – gone were the familiar touchstones of stateside life. And it all smelled so odd. I couldn’t wait until we had our own place and were surrounded by our own furniture.

Our private bathroom changed my mood.  The very deep rectangular tub was unusual, even ludicrous to American eyes. The tub was designed as a seat; when the bather was seated, the tub would hold enough water to reach our armpits. There was no stretching out in this oddity. Prominently hung on the wall was a urinal, with no sign of a regular toilet. Obviously a man’s convenience was more important in this Middle Eastern palace. Giggling at the incongruity, the two of us found we couldn’t even improvise; it was too high to fit our private plumbing. We’d have to find a normal toilet to use.

If you’re curious about more Tripoli stories, check my archives. I’ve also published AN ARMY BRAT IN LIBYA as an Ebook on Amazon. It can be purchased on Amazon by going to the link on the upper right of this blog. 

 

WRITING MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE

The cover of my historical fiction novel
Check out my book on Amazon with the link, AMAZON PUBLICATIONS,  on the top right of this blog page.

Writing a book is a fascinating process, a great deal of it unconscious. During the act of creation, you’re thinking about the story, planning how you’re going to do it, making notes, maybe using index cards for the various scenes. In my case, since I wrote an historical fiction novel, I needed to do lots of research into the 16th century, and I loved the process. The Internet wasn’t the effective tool it is today and I used libraries for most of my research.

When I needed to describe a 16th century ship or the variety of clothing worn then, I headed for the children’s section of bookstores or libraries. Picture books were just the thing. I had to know how my heroine was going to accomplish her daring feat, how she would look, and  how her family home might look. The various Time-Life historical series were also a great help; they always had lots of graphics. I’ve always been a history buff and had attended many a Renaissance Faire where I’d seen Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake in action, not to mention all the hired characters and faire-goers in costume.

It doesn’t take long before the story and its characters take control. You’re living with them in your head, so no wonder. Many authors verify that oddity. Behind-the-scenes, your subconscious and your own past mingle together in the ethers, at least that’s how I explain it. I did a lot of creating while I was swimming in a pool. Water was the best element to get my “flow” going, especially since I was devising a sea adventure.

I finished the book, after five years of creating, letting it lie dormant and then recreating. During one of my last readings/proofing of the book, I began to realize why many of my feelings had come forward, unconsciously, in the book. I had given my heroine a kindly, generous father and three brothers who spoiled her. She needed one brother’s help to fulfill her dream adventure of sailing with Francis Drake on one of his early voyages to the Caribbean.

My stepfather, the US Army officer who raised me, was a very thrifty taskmaster. He saved his charm for others, his strong sense of discipline for the  family. How clever and comforting for me to create an imaginary father I would have completely enjoyed!  What fun to be the heroine who succeeds in her adventure! Plus, interestingly enough, actual history made it easy to manipulate and blend real facts with my imagination.

Being an Army brat has fed my sense of adventure but I can’t compare my exploits to Melaynie, my heroine.  I’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times and the Mediterranean twice, which probably made it easier for me to relate to an ocean voyage.  Melaynie has many of my traits—how could she not! Her feminist ideas were mostly mine, but I wasn’t consciously creating them. All these factors snuck up on me! Or did they?

Tin replica of a 16th century Spanish ship — my hint of creative things to come, purchased 15 years before I started writing my book.

9-11 WORLD TRADE CENTER DISASTER 12th ANNIVERSARY

September 11, 2001, as other world-shaking events, seems like only yesterday. Perhaps because the media makes sure we don’t forget our 21st century Pearl Harbor. Today marks the 12th anniversary. Being suddenly attacked, as an individual or as a country, is a difficult trauma to face and overcome in life, and some never do adjust. “Where were you on 9/11?” is a more current version of, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” We all share the tragedy, whether it’s about one person or nearly 3,000. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking to read and hear the real stories and experiences from that fateful day.

My daughter, Heidi, and I were sharing an apartment in Sherman Oaks, California, that September Tuesday morning, which began in a typical fashion. Heidi was out for an invigorating walk before going to work for a downtown Los Angeles attorney service. At 7:30 a.m., I had spread my exercise mat in front of the TV and turned it on to watch Good Morning America before I had breakfast and started work editing a book. I was sitting on the floor, barely into the exercises, when I saw the footage on the planes striking both the north and south tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It was so shocking I couldn’t absorb it; I was impatient to share the news with Heidi before I broke down completely. Human instinct propels us to turn to others.

World Trade Center before the disaster

A couple of days later, I wrote in my diary, “It was unfathomable to most of us—resembling an especially bad special effect from an action movie, but played hundreds of times over and over.”

That morning I was mesmerized and horrified as I listened and watched the news, which eventually grew to include the Pentagon disaster and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. Heidi returned from her walk totally ignorant; it was still early and many neighbors were getting ready for work and school.  As I filled her in, we watched the continuous replays and news. A good friend of hers soon called and advised her to stay home from work. At that time one of the hijacked planes was supposedly headed for LA—the one that crash landed in the field in Shanksville, thanks to passengers who fought back.

Because of all the uncertainties, downtown Los Angeles was literally shut down. The terrorists had hijacked planes flying to LA because they would have the highest amount of volatile jet fuel to act as a bomb. Airports around the country were soon shut down because of potential danger.

Suzi, a friend of Heidi’s who worked in the travel industry, had driven to work in Culver City and wondered why the 405 freeway was so empty until she heard the news on her car radio.

It was a strange quiet day of little traffic and no sounds of planes: very unusual because we lived fairly close to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. Many of us felt lost, at loose ends. It was a time of getting in touch with friends and family and watching TV for more news and the scenes of horror over and over again. Shopping centers and businesses closed down all over LA. The scene, the mood, resembled a California earthquake disaster without the physical damage. In this case the damage was emotional.

In our immediate neighborhood of single-family homes, apartment buildings, a strip mall and a supermarket, most of the businesses stayed open. It was comforting for Heidi and I to walk the short distance to the little pizza parlor in the strip mall. People shared stories and observations with each other as we ordered Italian food and watched the small TV, playing nothing but World Trade Center news. It was a day full of tears and tissues.

9/11  WTC Memorial before it opened.

  A year after the disaster, Una, a friend from Northern California, visited Manhattan and walked down to the site. “I was overwhelmed with grief at seeing the gaping hole, this open wound on the heart of America, still raw, so vulnerable.  Walking by the small church next door, posters and photos of missing loved ones were still attached to the fence.  It was a heart-wrenching sight to read each plea for help in finding a loved one.  The wind whipped up, creating a dusty whirlwind of the ashes and dust in the hole.  I wondered whose ashes were being resifted.”

 

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

We take light for granted, especially in SoCal where the sun shines almost every single day. And electricity is easily available everywhere. But what does light reveal and how much can you trust the image it reveals? Is light static? Does everyone see the same thing?

LA County Museum of Art has an enticing and curious exhibit for the next year of the works of James Turrell, who might well be named an artist of light as a creative medium. He teases our perception—how real is what you see?

Raemar Pink White, 1969

Raemar Pink White, 1969

The first test of this artistic reality is in a large room with a white cube in the corner. It looks real enough until you start walking toward this “projection piece,” which seems to float in the air. Soon, you see it is not a three-dimensional piece, it is actually flat, and consists of nothing but light. The illusion has tricked the observer as will many other illusionary light pieces throughout this large exhibit. After a few experiences of seeing how light can fool your vision, you may wonder how solid something “real” is. And as science has revealed, things may look solid but they aren’t.

Turrell, who was honored with the MacArthur “genius” fellowship, was born in Southern California and has spent 50 years exploring the properties of light, especially as it relates to the perception of humans. He likes to tease your mind, it seems. His exhibits occupied the entire second floor of the Broad Contemporary Art museum building. His works included holograms, which were hung in one area. There were several darkened rooms where a few observers at a time could see a variety of images in different colors (each room was unique) usually projected onto one wall.   By moving toward and then away from the projected vision, the observer could see the lines of the images disappear or change shapes.  We may have noticed these types of effects in everyday life, but in this large venue, the effects are more visible and amazing.

My favorite was the last exhibit room, which required some preparation. Visitors had to remove their shoes first and then were required to wear disposable booties on their feet! A few of them at a time were allowed to walk up a wide staircase to enter a specially designed and very large rectangular room, open only on the side where we entered. We were warned to walk slowly since the floor slanted downward. The room was filled with bright pinkish-white light that emanated from all sides and surfaces—floor, ceiling, and sidewalls, but there were no angles. The sidewalls curved into the floor and ceiling, which created a comfortable but mystical aura.

When I walked in, I remarked to the museum guide, “And God said, let there be light.” It resembled a heaven of sorts or special effects in a movie.  The entire room glowed softly with the longest wall reminding me of a movie screen. As the small group stood quietly, the encompassing glowing light filled the room and slowly and subtly changed its shade from pink to purple to blue and then to pink again.  I think I’ll visit it again before the exhibit is over next year.  I still have my booties!

MORE MOTLEY HISTORY–A 1903 MARRIAGE

My maternal grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, who was born in Anson County, North Carolina, 12 years after the Civil War  in 1877, descended from old American stock. His ancestor, Joseph Motley, came to the American colonies from Scotland as early as the 1730s. I’ve read they were Scots-Irish and also that they were Welsh. What the heck, we all come from the same source!

In 1903 Edwin married Bertha Jackson Seago, also from North Carolina, and they ended up in Danville, Virginia by 1910. They had 8 children: 7 of them had fairly long, healthy lives. My mother, Bertha Garnette Motley, was second youngest.

Since I shared the mature photo from their senior years, I thought it would be fun to see how attractive they were in their younger years. In this studio photo of the young family taken around  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! She didn’t keep that slender waist for long.

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, where he handled the accounting. 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 lots of questions. I did discover she loved large families and would have big family reunions in the summer. She was talented with a sewing machine and clever with running a household and managing money. She could also be a disciplinarian. When my cousin Paul and I threw a bunch of unripe peaches at a garage next door one summer, we were disciplined with a switch to our legs.

 

MOTLEY GRANDPARENTS – Mama Jake & Daddy Ed

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. Daddy Ed was only 70 when he passed away in 1947; Mama Jake stayed around until 1954 when she was nearing 73 years on Earth. In those days most would consider they’d lived long full lives. I’m aiming for my 90s and maybe even 100! Our years here go too fast!

Big families were more a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of eleven, the Seago’s,  and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters. Neither family were Catholic or Mormon, a common reason for large families these days. 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 (I wonder if it was bootleg), John, a lawman, was shot by a bootlegger, 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 remembered those long ago days. Amy Lee is now in her 80s and isn’t faring very well: that excellent memory has faded away.

I am so pleased that I took the time over the years to ask Amy Lee questions about the Motleys. She told me my grandfather, Daddy Ed, who didn’t like sales, handled the books for Motley & Sons, the family furniture store in downtown Danville, Virginia, and 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  seven children, but she “did everything for everybody” in the neighborhood, including Moseley Memorial Methodist Church, a few blocks away, Amy Lee told me. She was also a fine seamstress and known for her silk ties, which she sold. My mother had the same natural inclinations–help your family and everybody else as well!

Daddy Ed never needed to spank any of his children or grandchildren for misbehavior. He didn’t even need words, Amy Lee related, 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

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