By Margaret Sizemore Clark
During World War II while my father was overseas, my mother worked at the War Department in Washington D.C. as a typist. When the war was over my father returned, and by late 1947 my parents had two children and were living in Indianapolis, where he worked for the Navy as an electrical engineer.
In 1950 my father accepted a job at the Naval Ordinance Test Station at China Lake, CA. China Lake is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, and if it sounds odd to have a Navy base in the desert, it was. The base was started in the 40’s and was very isolated, with limited housing, few amenities, and there was no lake!! But China Lake was a major player in the development of weapons for defense, and at that time the Cold War was foremost on the minds of our country’s leaders. In the early days of the 60’s Russia had success with a man-made satellite, Sputnik. There was also a very real threat from the island country of Cuba, who was backed by Russia, of launching nuclear missiles aimed at the not-too-distant United States. The scientists at China Lake were working hand-in-hand with the Navy to create the weapons and ordinance (bombs and missiles) needed to prepare the United States for any such attacks. They were also developing much of the hardware needed for the space race, and time was of the essence.
It was difficult, to say the least, to convince young scientists to uproot themselves and their families and relocate to this unheard-of place. Many of these men had gone to school on the GI Bill and were in the process of getting post graduate degrees in their given fields. Online degree programs were not an option in the 60’s, so it took a lot of courage and risk to commit to a position at China Lake and the work being done there. It was also a golden opportunity! Where else could one work and learn under the tutelage of recognized scientists, be part of cutting-edge technology, and have the ability to witness first-hand the results of the work and hypotheses that were being tested? It was an opportunity many of these young men couldn’t pass up, but they would also need to work on their theses and most of them were not typists, much less statistical typists that could include formulas, mathematical equations, and scientific symbols in their papers.
I don’t how the word got out that my mother had been a typist, but it did and somehow it was negotiated with the Navy that my mother would go to work as a statistical typist, but work from home. Unheard of at that time.
One day a grey Navy truck delivered a desk to our home, along with a Dictaphone and a brand-new IBM electric typewriter. It had several metal balls covered with letters, symbols, and numbers that could be inserted into and out of the typewriter. She set up the desk, typewriter, and the other equipment in a corner of the living room. She may have been able to get some of the work done during the day, but what I remember is after getting the five of us kids tucked into bed (and hopefully sound asleep), she would plug the Dictaphone into her ear and begin her typing. She would type the pages and then send them to the author via a courier on the base. The author would edit them, and get them back to Mom to be revised and retyped. As a result of this close association, she became friends with many of the doctoral candidates. My older sister even babysat for a few of them!
Mom performed this job for a number of years but eventually went to work full time in the Research Department and then the Technical Information Department on the base. When she retired in the 70’s she was given a send-off that included a party attended by numerous colleagues, a plaque that honored her contribution to the base, and the grateful thanks of those former PhD candidates that found a statistical typist in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Margaret Sizemore Clark, the newest member of the Galaxy family! Margaret joins us on this show to share details of her life growing up on a military base in the 1950s and 60s. Her recollections of that life, the fun activities of that era, family trips, growing up with her siblings, and many more memories she will share with us. Margaret joins us as a guest on our programs, and also will add to our web page.
Thanks for checking out my blog post!
I was born in Ridgecrest, CA in 1954, and am the middle of six children. My parents worked for the Navy as civil servants, having arrived at China Lake in 1950, and all six of us graduated from the same high school.
I attended grade school on the base until second grade when we moved out to the town of Ridgecrest. I went to junior high and high school there, graduating in 1972, then went to West Hills Junior College in Coalinga, CA where I met my future husband. After receiving my AA degree, I transferred to Cal State Bakersfield for a year, then transferred again to Cal State University, Fresno where I earned a BA in History and a teaching credential.
We had three children and after they were established in school, I went back to college in 1998 to earn my multiple subject credential. I taught Kindergarten, First, and Second grades for 16 years, then retired in 2014. I became a substitute teacher and when my husband retired, we moved to Washington State where we enjoy traveling and spending time with two of our five grandchildren.
Writing…and Receiving a Letter
Something that has sadly gone by the wayside with the advent of electronic mail and the cell phone is the hand-written, newsy letter. It might have been that letter from home that would catch one up with all the happenings. Or it may be a letter from that one far away who is filling you in on all the events and happenings in their part of the world.
Was there a pen pal in your past? I can remember having a pen pal who lived in Ireland. I looked forward to her letters and the stamp on the envelope that didn’t look like the stamps we had here in the US. What a thrill to go to the mailbox and find something addressed just to me!
After graduating high school, I went away to a junior college that was four hours from where my family lived. I did not have the luxury of having a car like many of the other kids had, so being able to go home on a weekend was not an option. And, like lots of other teenagers who leave home, homesickness was becoming a very real thing as the weeks passed without seeing my family. In those days long distance had a cost to it, the call had to be made during certain hours, and it had to be initiated from a payphone since cell phones were non-existent and even having your own rotary-dial phone in your dorm room was unheard of.
Now, I must come clean on the reason for starting to write letters: I had a boyfriend “back home”. Ah yes, the angst of being away from him was the real motivation for writing long, newsy letters. And since I’m being forthright, there were some letters with mushy stuff but nothing torrid or gushy, like love letters were portrayed in the movies. My letters were short to begin with and included details about my new roommate in the dorm, the classes I was taking, new people I had met, and other general topics. He in turn wrote about the people in our town, his job, his family, and his beloved car that he was working on. As my letters became a little longer, I started embellishing them with little drawings and stickers which I added to the pages inside the envelope and to the outside as well. This was when my addiction to paper began; If I had the means I should have invested in Hallmark because this was the beginning of a lifelong pattern that still hasn’t ended! I started looking for cute stationery with pictures on the pages, or tablets that featured several different colored papers and had matching envelopes (that were sold separately.) I dropped into the local Hallmark store about once a week to see what was new, and I purchased so many stickers that I had to start keeping them together them in a box so that I wouldn’t forget what I had available to me. There were also the cute little enclosures that I could slip into the envelope along with my letter. The possibilities were endless!
Like a lot of long-distance relationships, my boyfriend and I eventually stopped writing to each other, but that didn’t end my letter-writing! I had made good friends at college so when the summer came and everyone went home, letters started going back and forth. Every day I would watch for our mail lady to come down the dirt road, stop at our mailbox, then move on. I would run to the mailbox (partly out of anticipation of a letter from a friend, but mostly because we lived in the desert and the sand was HOT on my feet. Shoes were for school!) The box was yanked open and the mail pulled out. There was a quick return run to the house where the mail was gone through and I would scan it for familiar handwriting. If I happened to receive a letter that day, I would savor its contents in the privacy of my bedroom and take in all the details coming from the writer. Then I would get out my boxes of stationery and would immediately compose a response so that it could be mailed the next day.
Many years later a special friend from college with whom I had kept in contact related to me how she had always looked forward to my letters and the envelopes in which they had arrived. The part she remembered even more clearly were the pages inside that shared our lives after we left school. The letters gave way to phone calls, and even those became fewer as we became “busy” with children and careers. This year I lost that friend to cancer but I have several of her cards and letters she sent over the years, so I still have a part of her with me.
Today communication is so easy! Pick up the phone and call any time of the day. Send a text (with a picture to boot) whenever you feel like it. Write an email and receive an immediate response…or not. But there are still those times when I feel like writing a good, old-fashioned, hand-written letter complete with illustrations and stickers. It’s like finding an old friend that’s just been waiting for me to take the time to sit down and let the words flow.
Give letter-writing a try sometime! It can be therapeutic and it reminds the recipient you were thinking of them in a special way.