Thursday, August 14, 2014

Esther Holien - "A Letter to my Family", Part 3 (final)

Here is the last installment of my grandmother Esther Holien's story of her life. She lived fifteen more years after she wrote this, and I'm sure she could have added many more chapters. She wrote this 8/1988 and passed away in 2003 at the age of 98.

[Read "A Letter to my Family" Part 1 or Part 2]


My next post was Seoul, Korea. The only snag in that trip was that one of the motors on the plane (it had two) caught fire about half way between Tokyo and Seoul.

We had to turn back for repairs because Seoul didn't have facilities to take care of it. Ruth Holmes met me at the airport, and even though we were hours late, had some of the girls over that evening to welcome me. In Seoul, we all had apartments on the Military Base and could use the PX, so life was really easy.

I was doing the same type of work as in Saigon so that was easy too. That was where I met Barbara Burns and Dorothe Cummings, who are still good friends of mine and live quite close to me in Florida.

While in Seoul, we took trips up to Pan Mun Jong, the border area where talks between the North and South Koreans take place. We went by boat to a beach area south of Inchon called Mali-po for weekends, and did a lot of mountain climbing right around Seoul. There were delightful native eating places where we often went to eat Pul-ko-ki. I have the recipe for it and many of you have eaten it.

One of the most memorable trips from Seoul was as far as Singapore one Christmas time. Four of us went by train from Bangkok to Kuala Lampur. We ordered breakfast on the train -- eggs, toast and coffee. The eggs were swimming in a platter of grease that was so rancid you could only get it half-way to your mouth before you realized you could not possibly eat it. We did have a few oranges that we had brought along, and that was about all we ate on that two-day trip!

I have movies from the hotel there of the Cambodian Royal Ballet practicing, and of the arrival and departure of Prince Siahnuk and his entourage who stayed at the same hotel.

We spent several days on Penang, a beautiful little island. We had planned to go swimming there, but just before we got there a lady had been bitten by a water snake and died.... Needles to say, we didn't go!

We went to Midnight Mass in Singapore; visited the Raffles Hotel one day and had Singapore Slings there. On the way back, Barbara and I stopped in Saigon and had two Christmas dinners. In Hong Kong, we met up with some other friends from Seoul and had a lovely day at the beach at Buzzard's Bay.

Business in our section of USOM/Seoul was very slow and my job was abolished, so I took a direct transfer to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in Africa. En route from Seoul to Salisbury, I stopped in Beirut, Lebanon, to see a friend of mine who had gone there a few months before. I stayed in the Phoenix Hotel, which in later years was the scene of many battles, riots, etc. But while I was there it was beautiful. Pony had some friends who took us out to a night club one night, and I went on a tour with one of the fellows the next day. We went down to Baalbeck and that place, too, has been the scene of much fighting since then.

I had sold my red Fairlane before I left Korea so I bought a small used English Ford (with a driver's seat on the right side) to get around the country there. We weren't in Salisbury before the whole office moved up to Blantyre, Malawi. I drove up and was followed by two USOM drivers. The road was rough and my battery fell out. They strapped it in with a strap from a suitcase.

Banda, who was President (or Ruler) at that time, is still in power there. There were a lot of Indians in Blantyre, while most of the people I met in Rhodesia were English or natives.

I won't bother with office work -- it went well and I did all sorts of things -- working for the Controller, the Executive Officer, etc.  Kitty Hayes arrived at the Mission about the same time I did, and I took some trips with her. One of the main trips was to Victoria Falls, of which I also have movies.

I went on a trip to Mozambique over Easter weekend and got a terrible case of diarrhea. I had to go looking for a doctor in a land where everyone spoke Portuguese.

I had to use sign language but managed. I had already spent one stint in the hospital with a similar case in Saigon, so it's easy for me to get it again if I eat food that doesn't agree with me. They said the Saigon ailment was amoebic dysentery.

Another trip from Blantyre was by ship from Beira, Mozambique to Port Elizabeth, South Africa with Bligh DeBresey. We stopped at Durban and from Port Elizabeth, went by bus to Capetown.

My next post, and also my last, was Leopoldville, in what used to be known as the Belgian Congo. It is now Kinshasha, Zaire. I was assigned to the Office of the Mission Chief, and shared an office with Christina Lepworth. What a character -- the wildest dresser you ever saw -- and so worried that I would infringe on her rights! Since there was so little work to do, I took a correspondence course in Personnel Management from the Department of Agriculture, so that I had something to look busy with.

In Leopoldville I bought my first VW -- a little green bug which I shipped home after I retired and used for many years. One morning when I went down to the parking area, almost all of the cars had at least two or more wheels missing -- two of mine were gone.

Romy Gross came to Leopoldville while I was there, and we resumed our off and on friendship. She was so moody that it was very hard to get along with her. She was always looking for a man, but didn't find one to suit her.

Also in Leopoldville, we met Anna Marie Tietgen, who years later called me in Washington asking me to come and pick her up somewhere in Chevy Chase, as she didn't have any place to go and had left New York because she was afraid to live there any longer.

Carole and I went to pick her up and she had a fit because we both happened to be wearing polka dot dresses. She thought polka dots should be outlawed because she thought that a woman who was wearing a polka dot dress was involved in the killing of Robert Kennedy.

I was living in an apartment in White Oak [MD] at the time, close to Carole's, and she had gone back to work at IBM, so I would go over every day and stay with the kids for awhile. Anna Marie kept talking about writing a story and Carole let her use her typewriter to do it. I doubt if she ever wrote a line, but it didn't take us long to realize there was something terribly wrong with her.

For one thing, she went through what liquor I happened to have in nothing flat and asked me to buy some more. I didn't. She would come to Carole's with me sometimes and walk around the pond over and over, never looking up, as though she were in a trance. 
I was trying to think of a way to get her back to her friends in New York but at that time Carole had mentioned our problem to a friend, and he came over to talk to her one day. When I got home, she was gone, and I've never heard from her since, so I don't know where she is now. She did have some relatives in Holland, so she may have made her way back there.

In the Congo, she bought every freakish type of wood carving that she could find, and was planning to open up a shop in New York.

Well, back to the Congo. While we were there it was a very scary time. The natives were attacking whites everywhere. They murdered nuns and we heard they ate parts of them.

They captured the US Legation in Stanleyville and kept three of the officers as hostages several weeks before they were rescued in a daring rade by the Marines. Plane loads of people were brought to Leopoldville after the rescue. We all had to have a small bag ready in case of evacuation. A popular song at the time was Bert Lahr's "They're Rioting in Africa".

I played a lot of bridge in Leopoldville with people of many nationalities. We took turns having the group over for a light supper and then cards. There was a nice little lake not far from town where we would go on Sunday picnics and for a swim.

In all of the other posts, I had a maid to help with the shopping, cleaning, etc. In the Congo I had a man servant, and one day the stores had shelves full of a new product - something like Comet (the cleanse), so I bought a can. When I came home for lunch the next day, the servant was rubbing the furniture with it. He loved to iron -- he had the ironing board out on the patio and I had never seen an iron move that slowly! I didn't keep him too long. I did have a man servant in Salisbury too -- the dishrag was always black! Either he cleaned his shoes or scrubbed the floor with it, so he didn't last long either.

On memorable trip in the Congo was down to Matadi at the mouth of the Congo River. Christina and I and Romy went in my new VW. We ran into several road blocks where we were searched.

At one point the guards wanted us to take one of their women with us to Leopoldville but we told them that I was the American Ambassador's wife and that we had strict orders not to take anyone with us. I don't think Ambassador Godley ever heard that.

I came home on vacation that summer, and Carole, her boys and I went on a trip to North Dakota. We had a grand time and were on our way back in Pennsylvania when we ran into car trouble. We stopped for gas and could not get the car started.

We finally had to have it towed to Beaver Falls. Since we were so close to home, we splurged on a big dinner, etc. the night before, so we were getting low on funds. We had to wire for money from Maryland before they would fix the car.

The funds weren't going to get there till the next day so we had to get a Hotel room. The room we had didn't have air-conditioning and it was really hot. Even after the car was fixed (supposedly), it didn't work very well till we stopped at a little station off the highway. True to form, we made up a song about it -- At a station, on the Turnpike, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!

That was in 1965 -- the year I was going to turn 60. That fall, a notice came out from Washington saying anyone over 55 with a certain number of years service could retire with some advantages, so I applied for it. I left the post at the end of the year and stopped in Finland again to visit with Rupert who was there at the time.

I can't remember just which trip home it was that I stopped in Morocco at Rabat to visit Barbara and Dorothe. It could have been when I left Blantyre. Barbara had a car and we went on a trip down to Fez and some other places of interest. I also stopped in Spain on that trip.

I think this is getting much too long, but there's a lot left. I rented an apartment in White Oak, Md., and for the first year I didn't do much of anything except play around with Carole's boys. The problem with the apartment was that I have an organ that I loved to play and other musical instruments, and we couldn't really enjoy them because the neighbors below would bang on our floor every time it got above a whisper.

Anyway, realizing that I had no Social Security and only needed a few quarters (about 4 years) to qualify, I took a Kelly Girl exam and was immediately called to take all sort of secretarial jobs.

I kept that up for some time, but decided that I would rather live in Florida. I went down to St. Petersburg to visit my friend, Florence Richards, who had just bought a house in Gulfport. I couldn't find what I wanted in Gulfport, so took one nearby in St. Petersburg. I continued on with the Kelly Girls for some time, and then went to work as Secretary to the Priest of a Greek Orthodox Church near there.

I lived in Florida for about 7 or 8 years until 1976. Carole and Bob had been separated for a year now. Bob's brother [Ed] and his wife, who had been living in one of their [Bob and Carole's] two houses, were divorcing, so that house became available. I, in the meantime, had been robbed three times in Florida because the area I lived in was becoming sort of slum-like, and I thought I should move. We decided to pool our resources and clean up the house in Olney. That was a summer of great work.

Eddie and his family had lived there for twelve years and had not taken good care of it. There were termites in the floors and doors in the kitchen and utility room, and the roof leaked and had to be replaced, the picture window in the living room was covered with plywood because it had a big hole in it.

Most of the ceilings had to be replastered and the carpeting smelled so bad we had to tear that up and get it out before we even started working.

We did get it in shape, and even built a sauna in the back yard. And it's beautiful -- especially in the summer. But I kept going back to Florida almost every winter for a month or two, so finally Carole decided we need a house down there too. She bought one three years ago, and I spend about as much time down there as in Maryland.

About the time we moved to Olney, we got interested in golf, and now it is our favorite pastime. Ida and I have belonged to the Needwood Women's league since then. Carole has been in charge of tournaments for IBM for several years and plays in many of them. 

Some of my other activities since really retiring have been making braided rugs, painting pictures, making Cabbage Patch type dolls and clothing for them (some of which I sold) and also Barbie Doll clothes.

And my present favorite pastime is quilting. I've made several quilts for children and grandchildren and babies as they come along.

Last year I went out regularly with my next door (in Maryland) neighbor, Roy German, to help him get started in golf, and this year I'm doing it again with his wife, Ruth. He now plays better than I do and it won't be long before she does too. Goes to show you I'm a better teacher than doer, eh.

After reading the foregoing, the thought occurred to me that this has been a pretty rosy story all round. I'm very good at forgetting the bad parts, but there have been a few.

Health-wise, I'm blessed, except for a few minor things. Once when Carole and I were planning to leave for Florida for a vacation, I climbed into the attic to bring down my suitcase. On the way down I tripped and fell from about the middle of the ladder and crushed a vertebrae. The doctor told he girls that I would probably never walk again. He was wrong. The second day in the hospital I was helping my roommate get to the bathroom.

Then I had to have a cataract operation a few years later. And a couple years after that I had a detached retina. While I was recovering from that operation, the resident doctor at the hospital decided my blood pressure was too high (for surgery) and put me on such a strong dose of something to correct it that when I reported back to my regular doctor because I felt run down, he was surprised that I had driven in, much less was walking around. My blood pressure was much too low. Anyway, as a result of that I do have to take a blood pressure pill a day.

Oh, yes, in 1982, I was in a car accident. My car was totalled, but I wasn't. I did have to have about 50 stitches on the side of my head and left arm -- they were glass cuts. It was a very dark evening and raining -- I was coming home from the Needwood Golf Course and making a left turn onto Muncaster Mill Road. Everyone had their car lights on, except the one who hit me. He was coming up the hill in his all black truck, and was upon me before I saw him at all. Carole came home some time after I did, saw the car at the corner, and was sure I couldn't have survived.

The police said that he could have been going a hundred miles an hour and it would still have been my fault that I got hit -- so I paid the $30 fine and bought a new car.

One of the most horrible accidents in our family was when we were living in Cando and I was working at the Court House. We had an old Maytag washer on which the wringer didn't work unless someone held a little gadget on it. Ida Mae had been holding it for awhile, and since it was getting late and past her bedtime, I asked Carole to come and hold it. She came, but while holding it with her left hand started fiddling around below the open part under the washer. She wanted to see if the bottom of the machine was hot, so first stuck her foot (with a shoe on) to see. When she couldn't tell that way, she stuck her hand under, and her forefinger got caught in the cogs.

I turned off the machine; our neighbor downstairs heard our screams, and came running up. He was able to reverse the cogs and got her loose, and I wrapped her hand in a towel and carried her to the doctor a couple blocks from our place. Her finger was crushed and full of grease. He cleaned it up as best he could and bandaged it. There was no chance of its healing, however, so it had to be amputated a few days afterward. She was nine at the time and has learned to cope very well without that finger.

When she signed up for typing class, her teacher said there was no way she could do it, but of course, if you know Carole, you know there is no such word in the dictionary as "can't" as far as she is concerned.

So there you have my story. I've made it as brief as I could and am now wondering why did I write it all. It has been an interesting life for me, and I have enjoyed it and am still enjoying it every day. The years do seem to fly past very fast now, and I guess that is what prompted me to start this journal.

I wish I could tell you that I have accomplished some great deed for the benefit of mankind, or amassed a fortune to pass on to all of you, or that I have served on this or that charity committee, etc., but I can't. First it was mostly work, and now it's mostly play -- the frosting on the cake of life!

I am very proud of my children and grandchildren, and they way they turned out. All of them are busy, happy, responsible people, and I hope I can claim some credit for instilling in them some of their values, characteristics, ideas, etc. that were passed on to me by my parents.

Many great changes have taken place in my lifetime and although it's fun to look back on the "good old days" as many people my age say, it's not too bad right now either. Of course there are problems, but there always have been -- they're just different. Wars and rumors of wars have always been with us, as have been the poor, the greedy, the bigots, the uncaring and selfish, etc. Now it's drugs, air and water pollution, traffic congestion, a huge government budget deficit and more. I'm sorry we could not have left the world in better shape for the youths coming along.

With best wishes to all of you and much love from Esther (alias Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma, Sister, Aunt, etc.)
 Esther Efraimson Holien
For the Geography buffs, here's where I've been:
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Cambodia
  • Thailand
  • China (Hong Kong)
  • Malaya
  • Korea
  • India
  • Lebanon
  • Kenya
  • Zimbabwe (S. Rhodesia)
  • Zambia (N. Rhodesia)
  • Malawi
  • Zaire (Congo)
  • Mozambique
  • South Africa
  • Morocco
  • Spain
  • France
  • England
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Hawaii (pre-statehood)
  • Alaska
  • Turkey

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