Personal History

History of my writing career

AN ARMY BRAT FROM BIRTH

I was an Army brat from birth. Since Veteran’s Day will be celebrated tomorrow, here’s to the military families who  also “served” although we didn’t get paid for it. Life in the military could be challenging, especially since military fathers were not very easygoing, for the most part. I was a draftee in the US Army from the time I was born. The old joke tells it best—I didn’t enlist, I was drafted.

My young mother, Garnette, wanted adventure, but I don’t think she bargained for the extra baggage so soon. After high school in Danville, Virginia, she took off for nearby Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and got herself a job as a clerk-typist. She was a beautiful woman and had no problem finding Victor, an eligible Infantry lieutenant and a West Point graduate, no less. It was 1942 and the US was already at war. I’m sure there were a slew of babies “hatching” in the pouch and military fathers doing the honorable thing by marrying the mothers.

Victor & Victoria, the draftee!

Although the marriage only lasted through the war, I think my mother loved Victor. Being a Southern lady, she didn’t tell me I was the result of a romantic dalliance until I was 19. She’d already found herself another Army lieutenant as the war ended. After a Reno divorce (she had to live there six weeks: see the old movie The Women), they married and then honeymooned in San Francisco.

My stepdad, Darby, was my new commander-in-chief, and he and Mom added two new draftees, Joan Tupper and Darby III, as the years went by. Being Army brats, there were always travel adventures for all of us: Murnau, Mannheim and Frankfurt, Germany; Tripoli, Libya, the Bronx, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri; Ft. Knox, Kentucky; Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, essentially. They traveled back to Germany while I was in college, and I joined them when I graduated. Who wanted to miss the opportunity?

Luckily, I loved moving and making new friends, even though I was a little bit shy in my younger years. One learns to be resourceful and comfortable wherever you end up. Orders are orders. Housing can be spacious or cramped. Before we got officer’s housing in Ft. Knox, we were in a cantonment area, (temporary quarters)—a one-story converted old wooden hospital with closed-off corridors near the famous Gold Vault.

Regular officers’ quarters were usually more than adequate. You’d never mistake them since they look almost identical in any US fort: solid and respectable-looking two story brick with basements and garages and a decent-sized yard. Some of these leftovers remain in the Army’s famous Presidio on the best real estate in San Francisco, now privately owned.

In Germany, right after WWII, as the occupying forces, we lived like rich folks in a two-story 18-room mansion in bucolic Murnau (undamaged by the war) with a separate garage, spacious grounds, a maid and a houseboy. Murnau is now a spa town and quite lovely. The skiing area in winter was about a 10-minute walk. If that wasn’t good enough, a longer excursion would have taken us to Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze in Garmisch. Quarters never got that good again, although our Tripoli villa was top notch. The photo below shows the German home with the staked tomato plants in front. And my dad was only a captain!

I don’t think “socialism” has particularly bothered me politically, or universal health care. Those were Army services. Housing and health care was provided, and you took what they gave you. I’ve never hankered after a specific family doctor. If any of us had a health problem, we’d accompany my mom to the dispensary, have our temperature taken and then wait. If it wasn’t serious, it might be many hours. Getting shots was not a choice; my mother hauled us into the dispensary every year as needed for what we needed, depending on where we were going next. As I often heard it said, however, “The Army takes care of its own.”

 

JFK – 100th birthday today

John F. Kennedy

I can’t imagine comparing President John F. Kennedy with President Trump. Many of us still remember President Kennedy’s immortal words from his inaugural address in 1961 to the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” Richard Reeves, senior lecturer at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, commented in today’s LA Times: Kennedy was “not the greatest president but he was a hell of a politician–candid if not honest, a man who saw greatness and sometimes even touched it.

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. “Jump in the stream, it isn’t so cold,” was a remark I wrote in my diary (I still have it!). After the speech, 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 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?”

ANCESTRY – Motleys & Moreheads

Ancestry is a popular subject these days. You don’t get to choose your ancestors, so it’s fun when they turn out to be interesting or successful or even both. Depending on fate perhaps, we may be related to a horse thief, a governor or even a president. I once interviewed a geneaology expert who told me most US citizens are related to a US President!

I’m from old Virginia/North Carolina stock: Motley, Seago, Morehead and Hobson essentially. The most famous relative I’ve discovered was North Carolina Governor John Motley Morehead, who ran the state from 1841-1845. He had an accomplished life, (he’s been named the Father of Modern North Carolina) but his mother, Obedience Motley, was even more fascinating. Her positive influence on him made a great difference from what I’ve read.

Obedience Motley in old age

Before ancestry became such a popular hobby, thanks to the Internet, a lot of women were interested in researching their history so they could join the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). A Motley family cousin was curious enough about our prolific family that she discovered many of the relevant facts and put together a family history with names, dates, and some true stories from the past. She mailed these 20+ page documents to family members in the 1970s. Luckily, I’m a saver and still have mine in the original, now well-worn brown envelope, which only cost 50 cents to mail then from Danville, Virginia to Agoura, California.

The John Motley Morehead and Obedience Motley Morehead information apparently came primarily from a biography of the governor, but my document isn’t clear about the source. Too bad I didn’t ask more questions before so many relatives from my mother and grandfather’s generation died. Some of the pages tell where the information was located: family bibles that listed births, marriages and deaths, the state of Virginia archives, and the DAR library. These days, enthusiasts can join Ancestry.com, Archives.com, or one called Find A Grave!

The Motleys must have had good genes: living past 90 wasn’t that unusual, at least for some of the women. Obedience Motley Morehead was born in 1768 and died in 1863, having lived 95 years—from before the Revolutionary War to the middle of the Civil War! In the photo of her, there’s a curious circle above her head. It looks a bit like a halo! I would suppose she might have been an “angel” to many who knew her from the little I’ve discovered about her. Her grandmother, Elizabeth, was also a hearty soul; she had been born in 1700 and died in 1792 (also living through two wars). Obedience’s father, Joseph Motley, served with George Washington (only a colonel then) during the French and Indian War and then the Revolutionary War.

Nicknamed “Biddy,” Obedience had six brothers who all fought in the Revolutionary War. Obedience’s gravestone is in a cemetery connected to a Presbyterian church in Greensboro, N.C. Her son, the North Carolina governor, is buried in the same cemetery.

Gov. John Motley Morehead

The man who started the Motley family journey in America was born in Wales, and reportedly, this first James Motley arrived by ship from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1696. Obedience’s grandfather settled in Gloucester County, (home of historical Jamestown) Virginia by 1720 and married Elizabeth Forrest. The family moved west near Richmond and settled in Amelia Court House in 1737—another historical area. Its claim to fame hadn’t happened yet: it was a few wars later when General Robert E. Lee ended the Civil War by surrendering in 1865 to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in that area. Virginia is full of old history! There’s more to tell about these 18th century Americans, but I’ll save it for future blogs. A little history can go a long way…

REALITY – WHAT IS IT?

Hubble shows visions of our amazing universe

Hubble shows visions of our amazing universe

What is reality? Does the view from the  Hubble telescope define the reality of our universe? It looks quite unfathomable to me. On the subject of the mystical, did a psychic predict I’d write my book, MELAYNIE’S MASQUERADE? And then there’s Bob Dylan, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. He doesn’t know where his ideas for his popular folk songs came from. He was quoted as saying they were “almost magically written.”
I believe the creative process is a mystical/magical one. Many times I wonder where the ideas come from, both for myself and other writers. Common advice for writers: Write about what you know. But you don’t always know what you know until you sit in front of a computer or a pad of paper. Or take a walk, go for a swim or perhaps even clean your home.

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

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

My mother passed on 42 years ago. That morning I was reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson (coincidentally an alum of my college: William & Mary), and had just read about the death of Jefferson’s wife Martha, Sally Hemings older half-sister. I was absorbing that sad history when my dad called to say my mother had died during a kidney dialysis treatment. I’ve always felt the reading helped me deal with her death just a little better. Jefferson, my mother and I are all Virginia natives.

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

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

I forgot about the reading until the late ’90s when I was finishing up my novel. It was, indeed, about a voyage. My heroine, Melaynie, masquerading as a captain’s boy, was sailing with Drake to the Caribbean in the 16th century!

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

WORLD TRADE CENTER – 9-11 – 15th ANNIVERSARY

September 11, 2001, as other world-shaking events, still seems like only yesterday. Perhaps because the media makes sure we don’t forget our 21st century Pearl Harbor. Today marks the 15th 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. Today’s Los Angeles Times featured several touching stories, like how the children of those who died that fateful day are coping as they grow up. And an editorial about how our worries about future horrors didn’t materialize as we thought. A new World Trade Center opened with a museum and life in New York City is thriving.  Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security said, “We are a remarkably resilient country in ways that we don’t always appreciate.”

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

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.

Soon-to-open 9/11 Memorial

World Trade Center Memorial shortly before it opened to the public.

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.”

BIG FAMILIES – A JOYFUL HERITAGE

My mother’s family, the Motley’s, was a large and loving one—what a privilege to be born into it! Living my first few years of childhood in their family home in Danville, Virginia, just after the U.S. entered WWII was a great start for my adventurous  life. I can see from old photos how loved I was by Mom’s parents, her five sisters and one brother. All of that joy came back to me recently after talking to my Cousins Jackie and Penny, who still live in the South. I cherish those times, especially now that my grandparents and all my aunts and uncle have departed this world. Thankfully, I have many cousins still around and lots of wonderful memories.

Motley siblings

Motley siblings on the front steps of the Danville, Virginia, Motley home.

I’ve posted a photo of the siblings, in order of age, on the steps of my grandparents’ spacious home on a corner lot in Danville. Years later, on the same steps in the 1950s, my dad took a photo of me and sister Tupper, cousin Jackie and Beth, a family friend, a photo I’ve also posted.

The photo poses the siblings from the oldest on the bottom to the youngest at the top. Inez was not the firstborn, baby Edwin had that honor, but tragedy struck when he was given the wrong prescription for an infection when he was nearly 9 months old. Grieving over her baby’s death, my grandmother, Bertha Jake, wanted more children and Inez came along 11 months later in 1906. She was probably the most serious of the siblings. Maybe it was due to her alcoholic husband, though she was blessed with a son and daughter who were both full of life, intelligence and humor. Her second husband years later, was a theater owner, not a good choice since he was pursued for tax evasion. Inez left this world in 1994.

Louise, on the second step, looks serious in this photo, but I know she had a fantastic sense of humor. She was born in 1908 and was married in 1933. She became a widow too early, but she enjoyed living with her daughter Nancy in Hampton, Virginia, in later years. I got to spend some time with them when I attended the College of William and Mary. I will always remember the laughing fit Louise and I had one evening over something really silly. Louise didn’t stick around very long and died in 1978.

Miriam, born in 1910, became a nurse and married a lawyer. I was told her husband Willie had a nervous breakdown and decided to give up law in favor of owning and running a motel on Daytona Beach, Fla. She had a son and daughter, still thriving. She lived past 90 and died in 2001. I have a fun memory of her as a senior affected by cold, even in hot Daytona Beach. She was wearing a sweatshirt and earmuffs and had taken her false teeth out when I visited one summer, a few years before she passed on.

Above her is Penn (formal name—Pendleton Koons Motley), the male of the female-dominated family. Penn found his mate, Dorothy, in high school and they were married in 1934, when he was only 19. Dorothy, an amazing and loving woman, might as well have been a Motley by blood since she was like a sister to all the other siblings. My cousin Penny, his daughter, always reminds me how much Penn loved his sisters. My sister and I visited Penn in Florida in 1997, and I can testify to his outrageous sense of humor! He didn’t depart until 2004 some years after his beloved Dorothy died of ALS.

Rosebud Peace Motley was an appropriate name for a baby born in December, just weeks after the WWI Armistice in November 1918. Rosie (her appropriate nickname) was like a substitute mother to me for many years, especially appreciated after my own mother died at age 51. She and my mother, Garnette, (on the step above Rosie – note: they both wore polka dots!) were best buddies to the end of my mom’s life. Rosie was volunteering her kidney to my mother suffering from kidney disease in the 1970s. Rosie was there to comfort my brother and my dad in Texas for the last few months of my mother’s life. Rosie and my mother were both married in 1942, but neither of those marriages lasted. Rosie keep up her spirits and was the last of the Motley siblings to pass away – in June 2007. During her last years, her daughter Jackie made sure she was loved and well taken care of. Rosie never lost her sense of humor.

Garnette, my mother, always had a sense of style—look at those two-tone shoes! She was named after her mother, Bertha, and the doctor who delivered her—Dr. Garnet. When my stepfather wanted to annoy my mother, he’d call her Little Bertha. After graduating from high school, Mom went to live with some relatives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and got a job at the nearby Fort Bragg. She met a dashing Infantry Capt. Victor Hobson, a West Point graduate. Their attraction resulted in me. Victor did the right thing and married her not long before he was sent to Italy as part of the U.S. invasion. Their marriage was over at the end of the war, but my Uncle Penn and Aunt Dorothy had already introduced her to a handsome Lt. Darby Williams stationed at Ft Belvoir in the Army Corps of Engineers. My new dad took us both to Murnau, Germany, where he was part of the U.S. occupying troops from 1947-49.

My mother, Garnette, and her youngest sister, Anne, were the adventurers in the family. Mom married twice, both of them Army officers, and we traveled a good portion of the world. Anne married a professor who had his own plane and after teaching in Kansas, Japan and Alaska, they settled in Fairbanks. All the other siblings remained on the East Coast

Anne Motley, the youngest, was a fair-skinned redhead and born in 1926. One of her bosom buddies was Amy Lee (oldest sister Inez’s daughter). My grandmother gave birth to Anne one month before her own daughter, Inez, gave birth to Amy Lee. Aunt Anne and her niece Amy Lee grew up together. Anne was the only Motley sibling who got a college education. She died young of a brain tumor, only 58 in 1984. My mother was 51 in 1974.

Hope you enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane. Below: 1950s photo – L to R: Viki, Tupper, Beth and Jackie with dark hair.

Viki, Tup, Jackie, Beth - Danville

 

 

 

VICTORIA’S FATHER IS VICTOR HOBSON

In anticipation of becoming a “Grandmother” for the first time, I’ve been thinking about my own relatives and what I’ll share with my new granddaughter. I have a preview excerpt from one of my Ebook stories offered on Amazon. Discovering the Victor in Victoria is the true tale of my search for my birth father. I was only a toddler when he went off to fight WWII in Italy. My parents divorced a few years later and both remarried. My mother liked Army officers, hence I had two career military men as fathers. They’d both gone to military colleges: my father was a West Point graduate; my stepfather graduated from the Citadel in South Carolina. At the end of their careers, my stepfather was a full Colonel and my natural father was a Brigadier General. Their lives weren’t easy and full of joy, but it was never boring.

Baby Viki when her daddy went off to war.

Baby Viki when her daddy went off to war.

To check out my books on Amazon, go to: http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

I was 21 when I discovered my birth father was stationed at the Pentagon. On a trip to Northern Virginia right before my last semester of college, I decided to look him up. In those days access to the Pentagon was easy; finding your way around, however, was challenging. (see my Book Cover of the Pentagon created by Hans Giraud, my son)

When the secretary ushered me into his office I wondered: Was this white-haired slender man truly my father? Did I even resemble him? Wasn’t he too old? My step-dad was scarcely gray. But this man’s hair was thick and wavy, similar to mine, and his slightly pug nose looked like mine. He looked at me inquisitively as I stood by his desk, my heart racing in my chest.

“Col. Hobson, I’m Viki Williams,” I introduced myself as he stood up with a smile. I noted he was taller than my dad. He maintained his outward composure, though I could detect the astonishment in his eyes. He knew who I was immediately. Calmly and politely, he told his adjutant to leave the office and close the door behind him. He then directed me to sit in the chair in front of his desk.

“Now, what can I do for you?” he asked hesitantly, still smiling at me, the bomb who had dropped into his life.

What thoughts were rushing through his mind? I wondered as I kept my cool, though I was quaking underneath. Tension and unease hung in the air. I quickly told him I was in my senior year of college and looking for careers, and I needed information for my CIA personnel form, such as where exactly was he born. As he gave me the information about his Alabama birth, we both relaxed a bit.

“I guess you think I’m about the worst man alive,” he offered with a hint of regret in his voice after we had finished the required questions.

“No, I don’t,” I replied evenly, too shy and uncertain to explain feelings I wasn’t even sure of. Even though Army officers weren’t known as “Disney” fathers, I had harbored no resentments through the years that I knew of. I was simply curious and reaching out for clues to my origins.

“I’ve thought about you a great deal all these years,” he added softly. “You look very much like your mother, except taller.”

Check out my book for more details on the real story. The book cover shows Victor holding Victoria as a baby.

Discovering the Victor in Victoria#1

50+ YEARS IN LA

Me & the Mustang in North Hollywood

Me & the Mustang in North Hollywood – 1965

I arrived in Los Angeles in May 1965. I was newly married and my husband and I had driven across country from New York City in our brand new Mustang. We found an apartment in North Hollywood, just a few miles from where I now live! The landlord told us we were neighbors of Bob Hope, just a few miles away in swanky Toluca Lake!

What a difference the last 50 years have made in my chosen hometown. More freeways, more people, more museums, more traffic. Disneyland is bigger, movie and television studios are larger and are located almost everywhere. Warner Bros Studios was only a couple of miles from where this photo was taken. I haven’t missed much adventure in all those years and still find the life here exciting.

In the mid 60s, there weren’t a wide variety of interesting and well-paid jobs for women, even if you did have a college degree. My bachelor’s degree was in English and I loved writing. I didn’t want to be a teacher but I could type. Secretarial jobs, though not always interesting, could lead up the corporate ladder to something better.

I was hired by the Los Angeles Times shortly after moving here. My husband, who was a civil engineer, worked for the LA County Sanitation Department. It was convenient for me to work at the Times. It was only two blocks from my husband’s job; we could ride to work together and save money by not needing a second car. We didn’t even consider public transportation. Southern California was the land of cars, lots of freeways, and an inefficient bus system. Now we’ve got subways!!

Though I’d been a reporter and editorial assistant for my college newspaper, that didn’t qualify me for the same job, even at entry level, for the LA Times. Educated women could aspire to a career as a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. A popular joke related that women went to college to get their Mrs. degree. I was hired for the secretarial pool to type envelopes or letters from the Dictaphone machine. We were also used as substitute receptionists or secretaries.

Los Angeles wasn’t the city of high-rise buildings it is now. City Hall, at 32 stories, was the tallest building in town. The impressive Music Center was under construction until 1967 and the fabulously modern Disney Hall designed by Frank Gehry wasn’t even a dream in those days. My desk in the secretarial office was on the fifth floor of the LA Times building. I worked there less than six months, but 1965 was a memorable summer.

From the many windows, we could see the smoke and fires from Watts, a few miles south of us, now infamous as the Watts Riots. It was a frightening situation, especially to relatives of mine who lived in the East and just assumed everything was close-by in Los Angeles.

Several reporters for the LA Times were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the bloody and destructive Watts Riots and its aftermath. One positive highlight of my short stay there was the week I worked as a receptionist in the LA Times executive offices, occupied by the Chandlers, Norman and Buffy, the owners of the newspaper. Dorothy “Buffy” Chandler was enjoying her success as the primary fundraiser for the new Music Center that was being built nearby. A photo of part of the Music Center is below.

Their spacious offices, which included a bathroom and shower, were paneled in oak and the windows overlooked downtown Los Angeles. Although impressive to work there, it was very boring–not many visitors or many phone calls. To look busy, I read all the material on the wealthy and enterprising Chandler family and on all their business ventures. I used the typewriter for personal letters and even had the time to type all the addresses in my new address book. I once noticed the handsome silver-haired Norman Chandler, who was very conscious of his weight, downing the diet drink of the day—Metrecal—for lunch. Dorothy Chandler was in and out of the office. Since she had issued an edict that female employees of the Times must not wear sleeveless clothing and definitely not utter the word “OK” while on the premises, I avoided her.

Funny how the 1960s were both rebellious and repressive at the same time. Life is always full of contradictions.

I still drive a Mustang, but a bit newer (1998) with a hardtop. It’s still my favorite car.

 

 

HAPPY GRANDFATHER’S DAY

My maternal grandfather, Edwin Pendleton Motley, who was born in North Carolina in 1877, 12 years after the Civil War, 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 eventually settled in Danville, Virginia. In their happy 44-year marriage, Mama Jake and Daddy Ed (as they were known) had 8 children: 7 of them had fairly long, healthy lives. My mother, Bertha Garnette Motley, was second youngest. Big families were a fact of life years ago. Mama Jake came from a family of eleven and Daddy Ed had seven brothers and I don’t know how many sisters.

Edward P. Motley and Bertha Motley my grandparents about 1890 or so
Daddy Ed and Mama Jake
From stories I’ve heard and the poems I’ve read, my grandfather was 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 weekday 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. Since he didn’t like sales, my grandfather 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,” my cousin Amy Lee recalled.

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

 

 

CHRISTO’S UMBRELLAS IN SO CAL

Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California landscape

Huge Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California landscape in the Tehachapi Mountains

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. Christo is still at work creating ideas for installation. His latest creation is creating the painting of a lake on top of a lake–Floating Piers–in Northern Italy. He’ll soon be 80 but hasn’t lost his need to create, and he believes the spirit of his deceased wife still inspires him. For more on his story, see Smithsonian Magazine, June 2016.

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 of about 28 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 Tehachapi 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 dot the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing an 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.

Sally appreciating Christo's umbrellas

Sally appreciating Christo’s umbrellas

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 was easy to understand why she had no chance. Apparently, she and her husband were there just to view the artwork.

Ironically, I heard in a later 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.

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