William & Mary

MY PERSONAL VERSION OF ESTHER WILLIAMS

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

1964 – MY INCREDIBLE YEAR

 Although it’s been 50 years now, 1964 still stands out vividly in my mind. What helps my memory is my habit of keeping detailed diaries most of my life. This year of milestones was an amazing juxtaposition of events that propelled my life forward and sent me to California. And I thought I would be headed to Paris to work as a journalist for the Paris Herald-Tribune with the romantic idea of having affairs until I was 28 and ready for marriage and family.

I enjoy watching “Girls,” the Lena Dunham series on HBO about twenty-something college grads learning about life and love in New York City. The series reminds me a bit of my young adulthood, but my 1960s were tame compared to the explorations of today’s so-called “millennials.”

My debut in the world--1964!

My debut in the world–William & Mary 1964!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new year of 1964 and my 21st birthday came in together, first over Europe and then Labrador, before my plane touched down at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey at 3 a.m.  I was flying back to the US from a Christmas visit with my folks, who were stationed in Mannheim, Germany.

College graduation from William & Mary was due in June, and I needed to pursue gainful employment. I was taking boring shorthand since a secretarial job was one of the limited choices women had in those years. The shorthand was challenging, and I was also annoyed with an advanced French grammar class taught by a crotchety old professor who proclaimed daily that he’d slap our mental faces awake.

As Williamsburg, Virginia, got closer to its beautifully verdant spring, my interests veered from academics to young men. I had a part-time job at the Law Library and they teased by calling me the “Sex Symbol of the Law School.” Reading over my diaries recently, I wondered how I had found time to study, or to contribute stories for the Flat Hat (our college newspaper), considering all the social activities and the dreams of romance running around my mind.

During college semester break in February, I went to the Washington, D.C. area to do some preliminary job hunting–why not the CIA since I wanted to travel? Ironically, the CIA gave me a good excuse to locate my birth father, Col. Victor Hobson, since I needed some required family information. I surprised him in his Pentagon office and soon after got to know his wonderful family. It must have been a magical year—three days after we connected, he was promoted to Brigadier General.

During that Spring my diary relates many events: a college dance weekend at Davidson College in North Carolina, a couple of weekends with friends at Virginia Beach, a trip to sightsee around Washington, D. C. and a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Spring vacation was spent with my newfound second family at Ft. Dix, where my father, Brig. Gen. Hobson was the new Deputy Commander. I still remember the long drive from school in Virginia to New Jersey—the radio was filled with memories of General Douglas McArthur, who had died that day.

In May, since I had no firm job plans yet, I decided I’d use my last free trip as an Army dependent to fly to Germany to join my Williams family (mother and stepfather) after graduation, and find a job working for the military overseas. Before summer was over I visited my newfound second family, and also took part in the weddings of two good friends (even made my bridesmaid’s dress for one of them).

By August I was in Mannheim, Germany, and debating whether I’d work in Heidelberg or Frankfurt. I’d met a tall and dashing Lieutenant, Hans Giraud, from my stepdad’s command, the 521st Engineer Group, at a social function three days after I arrived in Germany. I got a job as the secretary of the manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club and spent about eight months living in the Bachelor Womens Quarters across the street from the club.

Who would have guessed that I’d be married in Germany (one civil ceremony in Mannheim and a church wedding in Frankfurt) to that same lieutenant I mentioned above by the following April, and I’d be living in Los Angeles, California by May 1965? Such was my incredible year that had begun and then ended in Deutschland!

 

 

 

 

A KENNEDY ENCOUNTER FROM LONG AGO

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.

 

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