Was ist los, baby?
An Oral History
I sent her a very detailed list of questions. I asked her if she could think of some responses and maybe even pull together a few photos! Because of various time constraints we decided she could record herself going through her story in whatever manner suited her. She would first go through her roots, growing up, and then her routes, her life with my grandfather and her sons in the foreign service. What I got was beyond anything that I could have hoped for. What first appeared as 3.5 hours of video clips, jumbled out of order. Opening the first video I saw her, sitting at the dining room table, recalling to me her life story, in explicit detail. She had clearly spent countless hours crafting this script and collecting photos. It was both wonderful and overwhelming. Overwhelming because I knew I had to sit and transcribe every word of it and screen shot every photo she held up along the way for the purposes of this project. How could I capture the gift I had been given. Wonderful because, although she took on this task for me, I can imagine that presenting your life in one fluid cohesive story with images and memories is cathartic in a way. I sat in my room hanging on her every word, scared to miss even a moment of the story. I hope you are just as amazed as I am by this odyssey that is the life of Sara Jeanne Shofstall Rau.
PART I: CHILDHOOD
MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II
FACTS OF MY HISTORY
I grew up in the small town of Columbia, Missouri. I’m now known as Sara Rau. Originally I was Sarah Jeanne Shofstall.
My father was born in a small farming community in the northern part of Missouri. He was named Weldon Perry Shofstall and born in 1903.
My mother was originally named Dorothy May Johnson and born in 1904. She was raised by her aunt after her mother died from tuberculosis when Dorothy was four years old.
Both of them went to university in a nearby small town named Kirksville. After they graduated, the were soon married. A few years later they moved to Columbia.
Columbia was also a small town that was devoted to education There was a school called Christian College, a girls’ school. Another girls’ school was called Stephens College. The University of Missouri was also In that town.
Weldon received a PhD. There. And soon after that he became the dean of Administration at Stephens College. Many years later he became the dean of Arizona State in Tempe. Dorothy taught piano and also chorus at a high school. Many years later she got a masters in journalism and became an editor with the Missouri Historical Society.
Soon I was born in the Boone County hospital in 1932. Nine years later, our country went to war with Germany and Japan. That is the period I will think about. Years later, I became the wife of a Foreign Service Officer and raised four sons. I became an editor and writers for text books. Recently I had a stroke and that has caused me to lose some of my language.
MY TWO SISTERS IN COLUMBIA, MISSOURI
My mother adopted two real sisters when I was six-years-old (1938).
Mother had been like an orphan herself, whose father outlived a young wife, then he remarried in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and had 3 sons and 1 daughter.
Helen when she was adopted, she was 5 and Mary was 2.
My mother made me promise not to fight with Helen and Mary.
In those days none of us were allowed to know the family name,
But years later, Mother remarried and found out that her new husband had a sister who had been the administrator in the adoption agency in St. Louis.
So we all learned the family name (Counts). Also the girls had already known that they had twin brothers (at least Helen could remember). We found out, that the administrator still knew that the twins had been adopted by a doctor and a dentist.
Helen and Mary found the twin boys and became friends when they were grown up.
Helen died young (45) of cancer in Oregon. When it happened, Mary and the twin boys were with her. A very sad story.
WAR BEGAN, DUNKIRK, BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Nine years after I was born a war started (1939). Germany’s forces led by Hitler invaded Poland. Though other countries were attacked, our Americans did not enter the war immediately, however many of us were concerned about England . All of this seemed very far away to me, however. What had it to do with me? As time went on I started to listen to the newscasts about the war. Standing up behind Daddy’s easy chair I caught some of the words, but not everything. Of course there was no television and even views of pictures were not always available. Movie-tone news was one way to learn about the war. Also, we had to rely on words, often written in the newspapers by reporters who could explain stories of places, soldiers in war, and various important people named Hitler, De Gaulle, Mussolini, Churchill, Roosevelt.
The first exciting story I remembered in 1940, was known as the Battle in Dunkirk, France. The British had been defeated by the Germans . An evacuation then took place with all the ships that could be mustered: the Royal Navy, the French Navy, and even hundreds of little fishing boats. Almost immediately the rescue became known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk.” I shared the excitement that went through so many people. A short story by the American Author Paul Gallico was written on “The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk.” It was published in the same year 1940. I loved this “tear-jerker: Four years later when I was 12 years old, Ronald Colman starred in a presentation of “The Snow Goose” on CBS.
I continued listening to Daddy’s radio newscasts made by the reporters. The war was going badly for England, while the German air force pilots (known as the Luftwaffe) had many triumphs with their Messerschmitts The young RAF pilots (Royal Air Force) flew Hurricanes and Spitfires. Many RAF pilots lost their lives , but ultimately this air war was won by Britain. Daddy followed the programs from Edward R. Murrow and, in a sense, Daddy romanticized it through those times and learned the words of Churchill, “This was their finest hour,” the Battle of Britain. Also, at this time I got excited about Daddy’s own project. He decided to learn how to fly and then he bought half of an Aeronca., which was introduced in 1940 as a Pilot Training Program. I still have his Pilot Flight Record and Log Book. Soon most of our friends called him “The Flying Dean.” A few years later, he hired a young teacher for me. I was able to take off the plane, turn it from left to right, then make it go higher and lower. After about half an hour, I was given instructions on how to land it. I did all of this by myself. However, I soon learned that I got motion-sick in a small plane and thus never asked Daddy to go up with him again. Also, Daddy’s flying was satirized in a variety show at Stephens College. Daddy dressed like Superman and played this in an amusing skit. Here’s a photo of that moment so many years ago.
MOVIES AT WAR
I was already aware that a war was taking place . On this day it was December 7, 1941. I was nine-years-old. It was a little chilly that afternoon, but I couldn’t complain about going to a movie with my best friend.
Our favorite theater was on Broadway next to the Uptown, which was a neighbor to Central Dairy, which carried milk, ice cream, and vanilla ice-cream bars . I wasn’t allowed to attend many movies; this one never got watched all the way through; whatever it was about, now I’ve forgotten completely. Suddenly someone down a few rows had started to whisper something. Then someone else was shouting. And lots of people were saying something about a news broadcast on radio. I heard this, or something similar: “Pearl Harbor,” “Hawaii,” Japanese planes,” and “sailors killed.” I didn’t know what all this meant and, of course, Hawaii wasn’t even a state yet. The atmosphere was very exciting, but I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody cared about the movie anymore.
Did they turn it off, or keep it going? I walked home with my friend down Broadway, then College Avenue, then Williams St. And Finally Ross Street.
Daddy and Mother were at home and they tried to explain what had happened. Mother had tears in her eyes. Daddy talked about Roosevelt. I decided to cry a little myself and hoped I could learn what it all meant. One day later, President Roosevelt spoke to Congress on the radio, saying in the first sentence, “a date which will live in infamy.” Whatever “Infamy” was, it was something terrible! About an hour later, the Joint Session of Congress declared war on the Empire of Japan. I had no idea about people who were Japanese, nor where they came from, and I couldn’t imagine what they looked like.
The words “Home Front” meant more in this conflict than in Korea, and Vietnam. I think this was the last time that civilians — old, mature, and young — gave a lot of time to winning the war. Here are some of the activities we took very seriously. Even our young girls were a significant part of rationing, Victory Gardens, collecting scrap metal, and selling war bonds
We had to ration all sorts of commodities. One of the most important ones was our car. It was already old, but it couldn’t be replaced at this point. Our car couldn’t even be driven very far. We had a Dodge and the same restrictions held for Chevrolets, Plymouths, Fords, Packards, Chrysler, Hudsons, and many more. All the automotive manufacturers switched to war production, including tanks, jeeps, airplanes, bombs, torpedoes, helmets, and ammunition. My memories for this period didn’t include some of the details. I looked up the amount of gas we were allowed: four gallons for one week. It wasn’t just a matter of gas; also there was a shortage of the rubber tires . Only one extra tire could be kept in the trunk. Everywhere we went we were told to drive no faster than 35-miles-an hour. We gave up ourSunday afternoon driving around the country-side with its seasonal beauty. I loved those trips, but I didn’t mind giving up our Christmas Day trip to Kirksville, Missouri, where my grandparents lived. That didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice for me. The 100-mile journey covered our narrow two-way bouncing road, The Dodge was redolent of fuel That smell made me car-sick, although I didn’t have a problem with the short Sunday drives. Other members of the family missed the Christmas trip more than I did.
Many other things were rationed, especially food. Those were days before we had supermarkets, and the number of canned goods were limited even before we had to eliminate canned vegetables and, of course, doing away with dog and cat tins we had to switch to kibble or just use left-overs. We had ration books that were filled with stamps. Most rationed foods were available at our Lee Street grocery store where Mother bought our rationed sugar, coffee, meat, oil, and cheese, Butter was hard to find, instead we started using oleo that in those days looked like white lard. However, we were given a little orange-colored pill to beat into the oleo. Once in a while, a clerk was able to come up with a chocolate bar not on display under a counter. (Most chocolate bars went to the soldiers.) Peanut butter was never in a jar. Instead the butcher put it in a carton covered with butcher’s paper; it was always hard, not homogenized, and had to be worked on with a spoon or a fork.
Many foods were missing. Commercial crops were directed to soldiers, especially ones overseas. The Home Front however suggested that a Victory Garden would be patriotic. My father thought it would be very easy to plant one since he had been a youngster when he had lived on a farm in northwest Missouri. Now he rented a plot that was just out of town near a small lake that was owned by Stephens College. All of us, Mother and Daddy, my two sisters and I had to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, hoe the weeds, and harvest the vegetables. Many of our neighbors in Columbia put gardens on lawns that once contained grass and some used school grounds, sport fields, and even a golf course. Daddy actually enjoyed the work, but frankly I wasn’t thrilled with gardening or picking whatever was ripe. Beans especially made me itch and gave me a rash. I kept my thoughts to myself and read about Eleanor Roosevelt’s column called “My Day,” which occasionally mentioned her own Victory Garden. Did she also get into canning like my Mother did? I doubted it. Mother could quote the slogan, “Grow your own, can your own.” Mother didn’t complain though I knew that farming and canning were not what she liked to do. She still had time to teach piano, including for me. But her board position in the League of Women’s Voters suffered, because she didn’t have a lot of time left during the summer. She had been a member of this organization for a long time. Though not quite as long as it had been around since 1920. Also she wasn’t quite old enough to start voting in the year when the constitution was amended in 1919 . But during the next election she was able to vote. She thought this was wonderful.
MEMORIES OF D-DAY
The war left many memories with me. We called ourselves the Home Front, but of course the soldiers were the really important people fighting the war. In our town, Columbia, many of our university boys were drafted. However, the freshmen were not yet old enough to go to war. The others were eligible for the draft from 18 to 45 years. I didn’t have anyone in my immediate family in that category. Though Daddy was only about forty he had three daughters, which certainly eliminated him. My mother, though, had two-half brothers who went to war from the small town of Pawnee, Oklahoma. The oldest one, Dick, joined the navy; became an ensign, who was very handsome I remembered. Don, the second son, was just 18 in the first years of the war. He became an MP (military policeman) in a tank at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. Fortunately, Don wasn’t in the historical battle known as D-Day (1944) The invasion took place in Normady, France. Sometimes I liked to call it another name, the “Day of Days.” After that terrible landing on the beach, there were about 9,000 soldiers wounded or killed; of those there were 3,000 killed. The estimates were also the same for the Germans. Afterwards telegrams were sent to the survivors, whoever they were. The families placed small banners in their windows, each one containing a gold star . I saw many of those stars hanging in the homes of families from Columbia.
THE END OF WAR; BUT POST-WAR GERMANY
One of the reasons I have written about this particular war is that it has now been exactly 70 years since Victory in Europe (May, 1945) and Victory in Japan (August 1945). The war in Europe ended first. When the news broke, we teenagers in Columbia celebrated with a hullabaloo for VE Day on Broadway. All of us kids ran up and down our main street, shouting accolades to our country and our GI’s. Some of us invaded the bell tower of the Presbyterian church and rang the clarion call of the bell across the general elation. No more rationing. No more laboring in Victory Gardens. No more of those Movie-Tone shorts that recounted our slow progress through Europe. Peace would once more descend on our country.
The blessing bestowed by the armistice didn’t actually apply to Mother and Daddy in their respective mid-life crises. Daddy spent more and more time away at the College and taking trips in his airplane to attend various conferences . Mother’s club work with the League of Women Voters did little to allay her deepening depression. I asked my parents to allow me to go to a boarding school. This happened at St Katherine’s School in Davenport, Iowa. At some other time I can write about that experience. After a year, I found out that Daddy had been offered a job in the US. military’s post-war occupation of Germany. As an educator and administrator he was responsible for the German youth clubs that now needed to shed their fascist past. The fact that in time this actually happened may have been in some small part due to his efforts.
Daddy flew to Germany in January 1946. In truth this was a trial separation. But after some months, he felt lonely and out of place in the military culture that prevailed in occupied Germany. It was time for both of them to try to mend their marriage. It would be a great adventure for Mother, our sisters, and I when we joined him in Frankfurt.
In the spring of 1947 we started our adventure at Fort Hamilton outside New York City where we were duly processed for overseas travel. We took time out from the paper work to go into the city where I saw my first Broadway musical, Oklahoma. It was a grand leap from my memories of tedious vacations with Grandma and Grandpa in Pawnee and Grandma and Grandpa in Kirksville. This delicious romp was with Curly, Laurey, Aunt Eller, and Ado Annie. It was the beginning of my lifelong love-affair with musical comedy.;’
We arrived in Germany by way of a ship from New York to Bremerhaven and then by train to Frankfurt. What I saw was a great shock against anything in common with our little home-town of Columbia, Missouri. As I entered the city I saw the physical devastation of war, block after block. Buildings were reduced to rubble; walls were still standing with doors and windows leading to nothing at all. Now and then I saw someone in tattered clothing searcing through the wreckage. No private vehicles were allowed on semi-deserted street, only military jeeps and trucks. Eventually we arrived in the US. Military compound, a part of the city miraculously untouched by the Allied bombings. About a square mile or two of elegant apartment houses, tree-shaded streets, and parks were surrounded by a thirteen-foot-high barbed-wire fence and an entrance guarded by U.S. MPs . The nucleus of this paradise was the military headquarters building that had once belonged to the IG Farben Conglomerate. During the war it had been the administrative center for the Nazi production of oil, rubber, explosives, and the lethal Zyklon B gas used in the concentration camps. Now it was the nerve center for the Supreme Allied Command. Daddy’s office, with no reminder here to Stephens College, was somewhere deep in its labyrinthine depths.
Our new home was as strange and surprising as the rest of the surroundings.
TEENAGERS WILL BE TEENAGERS
Our surroundings in Frankfurt were completely foreign to me. Yet in a short time, my life as a dependent of the U.S. Military turned out to be very similar to my life at our university high school. We kids took a school bus that led outside the compound. We also had a well-appointed teen club just blocks from where we lived. Around there, we enjoyed football games, bowling, and socializing amidst the gorgeous botanic greenery of a place called the “Palmgarten.”
Every weekend, we were bused out of town to a Baroque chateau where a German band played Glenn Miller arrangements of our favorite songs. We jitterbugged the night away to such standards as “In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls,” “Tuxedo Junction,” and “Pennsylvania 6–5000.” German waiters served up barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers on the spacious manicured grounds. At midnight we were bused back through the darkened streets, past the guardhouse, and the barbed-wire fence to our elegant apartments in what we called the Green Zone.
The ironic aspect of our lives was not lost on my parents. Daddy labored to disabuse German youth of their Aryan super-race, while ordinary American kids were living the lives of over-privileged, dumbed-down teens.
And thus was born Daddy’s idea for an experiment in international living. I LIVING WITH THE WITZELS
Before I joined the Witzels with their daughter Dorle, I had to relearn the concept of rationing. But this was much worse than what I had experienced back in the United States. Each week I would be given four ounces of meat, seven pounds of bread, half a pound of noodles, one-and-a-half ounces of fat, and four pounds of potatoes. Coffee was a murky bitter concoction called ersatz kaffee. Eating this contained chicory, malt, barley, rye, and acorns. All of tis was written up in my diary.
Food was only one shortage. A single pot-bellied stove in the living room provided minimal heat in the sub-zero weather. At least there was a little coal, but during the previous year, Herr Witzel had been forced to cut down their trees and some of their furniture.
The list of scarcities continued: soap rationed, electricity available only at night. Transportation by streetcar and no private cars,
In spite of the physical deprivation, Dorle and I had fun like lots of teenagers. In the evening we played double-solitaire, ping pong, and pick-up sticks. We went to movies and a soccer game. We went to a concert where a young student of the famous German pianist Walter Gieseking played Mozart and Bach. At a local amusement park we rode the rollercoaster. We got off when we were approached by an American GI who mistook us for German “frauleins.” In a few hapless words of German, he asked us to ride with him “Was ist los, baby . . , “What’s wrong baby?” I shouted out some choice American slang. We turned on our heels, walked swiftly out of the park, and boarded a crowded streetcar. All of that was a way of learning what it was like to be a young girl in an occupied country.
After two weeks, my parents came to pick me up. When I said goodbye to Dorme I learned that she wanted to become an architect when she was older. I didn’t yet have any idea what I wanted to be when I was grown. I went back to my usual life.
However that was not quite the end. Daddy met a reporter from Life magazine and told him about my “experiment.” The reporter came to question me and take pictures of me and the Witzel family. For whatever reasons, the photographs were never published, but I did get my name in the lead paragraph of Life’s first essay endorsing what later became known as the Marshall Plan which helped the country come back away from this austerity and misery.
would go to live with a German family, including a daughter or a son about my age. Together I would stay there for two weeks, eat the same food, perform many of the same activities, and I would try to have a good time or possibly miss my usual life too much during that time. I had to keep a diary to record my impressions.
I call this part, THE GATHERING STORM.
As time went by after getting to know Dorle a bit, it became obvious that I was rotating between three distinct spheres of influence. One was my school with my American teenage friends. Then I learned that my Mother and Daddy were once again going their separate ways. Thirdly, I had a boyfriend for the first time. It was not one of the senior high kids. Instead he was a young tech sergeant named Al Kirkpatrick. He was good-looking, clean-cut and just nineteen or twenty. Even Mother took an interest in him and was impressed with his potential and persuaded him to take the GED high school equivalence test with an eye toward attending college.
Beyond all those personal thoughts were apprehensions affecting everyone at that time. Although the Soviets had been on our side when Germany was at war. Now it seemed as if war might start again against the Soviets and on our side America, England, and France. The events that followed gave credence to an impending military conflict. By late March 1948 the Soviet Union started to block the Western Allies from access to railroads, roads, and the canal. A week later an order was supplied to the military garrison that was called the “The Little Lift” or getting Aircraft to be lifted into Western Belin. In early April a Soviet fighter plane collided with an RAF airliner, killing all aboard. This caused real panic sweeping through the American community. Now war seemed inevitable.
It was time for military dependents to leave. Daddy, however, would stay on as one of the VIPs. Mother, Helen, Mary, and I would return to Columbia. Some of the dependents were able to go by air, but we left from the station called the bahnhof to take the train to Bremerhaven and then by ship to New York. I shouted goodbye to everyone, especially Daddy and Al. We hugged and kissed saying, “Auf Wiedersehn.”
Soon we got to our Liberty Ship, although then it took us 16 days and nights to get to New York City (longer in route than it took for Thomas Jefferson!). It was about 10 years more before I traveled outside the United States again.
LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES
After we came back to the States, life for our Mother was much harder. We had very little money, as Weldon was not sending us much of anything. He married again, his new wife was German, named Erika. Eventually Weldon came back to the United State but not to Stephens. He found another job, as administrative dean at Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona. Some months later, our sister Helen went to live with him.
Mother’s old friends suggested that she go to work at a clothing store. Mother couldn’t here of that, and instead she decided to go back to school to achieve a new Bachelor’s degree and eventually a Master’s in Journalism. This was almost a completely new idea for someone already in her forties. She was able to make a little money from renting out rooms in our beautiful home. Actually, a few years later I met Bill Rau through a friend who was boarding there.
In spite of those hard times, I was able to get along very well. I loved my English teacher named Mr. Ford. I was elected as the Secretary of my school, I became a cheerleader and also acted as the so-called queen of the basketball team. The event that made me most happy was being elected as the actress who would play Emily in “Our Town,” written by Thorton Wilder.
Corners… Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking… and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
After that year, I transferred to Stephens College for two years of specializing in poetry, humanities, and drama. While I was at Stephens, Mother got her degree and went to work for a group called Christian Rural Overseas Program. While doing this, she met Joe Caldwell who became her husband. Soon she became an editor with the Missouri Historical Society. Now it was no longer necessary to rent out rooms; I thought about going to Northwestern University, but now I was quite interested in Bill Rau. He hoped that in time he would join the Foreign Service. In the meantime I found him intriguing because he headed a band and played the alto saxophone. In order to pay his way through Mizzou he took many jobs including mimeographing materials (this no longer exists in the computer world) and he also graded student papers. We decided to get married when we were just seniors. Bill had to join ROTC when he graduated. I graduated a semester later and was thrilled with becoming a Phi Beta Kappa. The Korean War was still going on and as a result Bill became a finance officer in San Antonio. I got a job as a secretary at Brooke Army Hospital. After 18 months we both said goodbye to the army. We headed for Washington DC where he took a special course offered by Georgetown University. It helped him prepare for the Foreign Service examination. Afterwards, we returned to Columbia where Bill taught a course for the university and got a Masters degree during the year . I got a job teaching literature at Stephens and also ran a small bookstore on the premises. In time, Bill learned that he had been accepted into the State Department and left for Washington. I found I was pregnant after five years of marriage. I stayed behind until the baby was born. So our new life was beginning. Let’s go on to just a few of those experiences in other countries.
PART II: ADULTHOOD
THESSALONIKI FROM 1959 TO 1961
I arrived in Thessaloniki without knowing anything about the place.
I had one son, Ken, and a few months later another son was born in a tiny clinic. Knowing no Caesarian possibility and Matthew was born with his cord around his neck. But fortunately alright.
We lived in Halandri a small house without central heating. Had a lovely woman named Maria who helped me. She prepared wonderful Greek food, always with olive oil. She was like another mother for Ken and Matt. No heat in the wintertime, we had a stove, but it didn’t do very much. Maria made wonderful Greek food, and she was like another mother to Ken and Matt.
I found that Greeks were thrilled with meeting us as real Americans. Those were the days when we were loved not hated as Americans abroad. Our friends were delighted that we were a real family instead of Americans in the movies. They had never known any Americans other than those in the movies!
I went to many obligational diplomatic events, but I enjoyed the new friendships. I found that a teacher was needed at the Pinewood International School. I didn’t really want to do it, but The wife of a Fulbright scholar didn’t arrive. At first I was trying to include teaching science, but I couldn’t do it. Eventually I taught history and literature and grammar, But it was very hard to find time for all the things I had to do.
Beyond all this, I tried to learn a little about this town. I realized that Jews came here in 1492 when expulsion from Spain and Portugal took place. Eventually this became the largest community of Jews in the world.
Leaping forward now, the Italians invaded Greece in 1940 during WWII.Coming just a year later, Germany invaded. Ultimately almost all the 55,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz- Only about 1,000 or 2,000 came back. Most went to Europe or Israel. I met the first woman I had ever known with a tattoo o her arm from her concentration camp. But most of them were killed or gassed. (Photo Eleftheria Square)
Only six-years after WWII, there was a Greek civil war affecting Communists and other Greeks. Eventually the Truman Doctrine’s foreign policy gave aid to Greece and helped end the war in 1949)
I had a difficult time teaching, taking care of children, and attending to diplomatic affairs. In fact, I was pregnant again and suddenly I had a collapsed lung that caused me to stay in bed for a month. Each week I was x-rayed, but unfortunately I wasn’t given protection for my unborn baby. Soon afterwards, we all went home to Columbia. Jon was born in Boone County Hospital (where Ken was also born, and so was I). Thank God, we were all healthy and happy, as we got ready for our new posting, Port Said, Egypt.
CAIRO & PORT SAID (1961–1963)
I arrived first in Cairo, then by car to Port Said. Bill had been at the post for several months. .
It was only five years after the Suez Crisis and the Sinai War. As a vice-consul, Bil received an exequatur, which is a written recognition of a consular officer by the government he is accredited to. This one is in Arabic and signed by Nasser.
The UK had been in charge of the Suez Canal since 1888. In 1956 Britain and Israel fought against Egypt were the aggressor. After a few months, Egypt was able to nationalize the Canal and to control the Sinai. For the first time there were peacekeepers in Egypt from the United Nations.
To arrive from Cairo — the ships on the Suez looked like they were sailing on sand. Now I want to show you a picture, and this was the way the canal looked when we saw it.
Just a few days after we arrived, it was the end of December, President Gamal Abdel Nasser came to Port Said to celebrate what he called the Parade of Victory Day. Gone were Great Britain and Israel)
I decided to watch Nasser’s parade from our attaché military officer’s nearby building. The apartment was next door to ours. Bill and I took along our two young boys, but the newborn (Jon) was left in his carry-cot with the new Egyptian nanny. She said she would stay in the house — was not interested in Nasser. Not true we soon found out
She went down the steps of our apartment, looked out on the street, and saw thousands of people surging towards Nasser’s open car. There was the baby on the street. We were sure that the baby would be killed in this crazy crowd. I left the balcony, went inside, and shut my eyes. In the car containing Nasser, peasants threw notes to the President, as each of them wanted something from the leader. I saw none of this happen. I just couldn’t look.
After Nasser passed along the route, so did the crowd that dispersed. The baby remained in its little carry-cut. I went downstairs to the street amd retrieved my sleeping child. The nanny was discharged immediately.
The rest of our time in Port Said was relatively uneventful.
I often took the children to the beach. I didn’t swim there, but ensconced myself in a chair. I wore jeans and covered my arms while on the beach. Young Egyptian males would circle around me, but fortunately did not come closer.
Our family consisted of about twenty-five percent of all Americans living there.
Most of the canal pilots were Egyptian, but one talented American stayed on in Port Said. There were a few left-over French, Greek, English, Jewish, and one out-of-favor Egyptian playboy named Said Soudan. We often got together with him on the beach to enjoy live crabs. Now and then we had a real party.
Our kids learned Arabic quickly, but after we left Egypt they forgot it immediately. Two of them went to a small kindergarten run by an English woman.
We took a wonderful trip to the Red Sea where we slept in tents in the sand and went snorkeling in the magnificent coral reefs
My mother and step-father, Joe Caldwell, visited us in Port Said. In addition I went with Mother and Joe to Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, and then on to Eastern Jerusalem, which was controlled by Jordan at the time. We stayed at the American Colony Hotel, which had once been a family-run missionary colony in the 19th century. At this point, the last survivor of this family, Bertha Spafforrd Vector, was running the hotel. She was in her eighties then and became a friend of Mother’s . Bertha had written a well-known book called Our Jerusalem. I think its still available on Amazon or something). (Found it! http://www.amazon.com/Our-Jerusalem-Bertha-Spafford-Vester/dp/B0007J4AGOA) few years later, the America Colony was sold to others; today it is probably the most elegant hotel in all of that part of the world.
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA : 1964–1967
After our two years in Port Said, we spent one year at Berkley University, in California, Bill specializing in Economics. Afterwards we were assigned to South Africa for three years, 1964–67.
We were in Pretoria, which is one of the country’s three capital cities. It is called the executive national capital (but I like to think of it as the beautiful Jacaranda City).
The legislative capital in Cape Town was where many of the diplomats lived during the six months that parliament was in session. Those officers would usually travel there by the elegant Blue Train, but the economic consuls remained in Pretoria for the entire year. The third capital was the judicial capital in Bloemfontein.
Our family lived in a suburb called the Witwatersrand. It was a magnificent landscape, but we could never forget the policy called apartheid which segregated four racial groups: white (Afrikaans, British), African, Coloured, and Indian. This policy was made official only in 1948 by the Afrikaners who were dominated by the National Party. Somehow the problems in both South Africa and the United States seemed to engross us during those times: civil rights in both countries and in our own country the problems involved Vietnam.
However, we couldn’t stop loving much about our lives at that time and that beautiful country we lived in. Chris was born in a little clinic where our nun’s first words to me after the birth were (“Oh poor Mrs. Rau, she now has four boys!”) Molly Mauntowne, our maid, was an important part of our family, she carried Chris everywhere on her back, she spoke very good Bantu, Afriaans, English, and Hebrew, she was an excellent cook as well (and she had to learn how to specially change cake recipes to make them work at 5,000 feet altitude).
One time when we were sitting by the fire, we were suddenly aware of a mambo snake right next to us; Molly came into the room, and grabbed tongs to capture the snake and threw it into the fire.
The boys Ken and Matt were now old enough to go to the English school. They started to speak English as two different languages: one sounded like South African English and in the other was an American accent.
After school, Two of the boys joined the Cub Scouts, in fact the scouts were started by someone named Robert Baden Powell in South Africa. Our cubs were called names from Kipling The Jungle Book. Their leader was Akela, or the head wolf. Other important cubs were known as Baloo (brown bear), Bagheera (black panther,) and Shere Khan (the Bengal tiger).
Another wonderful experience took place when the boys visited the Kruger Park. There we saw many of the antelopes, the hippos, the elephants, the zebras, the kudus, and of course the lions. It was much harder to see leopards, cheetahs and panthers as they came out mainly at night. After a while, the started to think that the animals were just ordinary,” Oh, not more giraffes;” they commented, “ too many giraffes!” they said about these critters. In the evening, we stayed in rest camps where we could cook our our own meat, the fires were started with big logs and we called this kind of cook-out, a “braifleisch.”
Memories of those times go on and on, but I should mention that I was also part of a scholarship committee for a women’s organization. We met some of the faculty who were Africans at the high school in the township called Mamelodi, which was not far from Pretoria.
We sponsored a number of young African seniors who went on to the only African university available at that time called Fort Hare. It had been established back in 1916 and some years later many Americans learned more about the famous people who went to that school. These included Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and DesmAlthough I never met these important personages, I was delighted to be able to invite a number of the high-school teachers to come to our house. This would not have been allowed in a South African’s home, but we were able to do this in our own house. The headmaster was named Dixon Mphalele and he was delighted to see a few movies of the well-known African musicians, who were exiled in the United States as Mariam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Their works were not allowed to be heard or seen in South Africa because they were members of the outlawed party of the African National Congress (ANC) Hugh Masekela was very well known as a trumpeter and Mariam Masekela was a vocalist with many well-known songs such as “The Click Song, “ “Pata Pata” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
After three years in Africa, it was time for us to leave. We had decided to take the famous Blue Train to Cape Town, afterwards we hoped to board a ship that would take us up the East Coast of Africa.
A few days before we left, we stayed in a hotel, where Molly, the nanny, would be put up in special quarters. On the last evening we were there, we all went to sleep when suddenly we got a call at about two o’clock in the morning. Molly was on the line, sobbing because she was in jail. That evening, she had left her quarters because she had wanted to forget about the children that were leaving . When she tried to make herself feel better, she decided to visit a cousin who lived across town in the maid’s quarters. In those days it was not allowed for Africans to be out after a certain time nor out in a part of the town in which she was not living. Bill drove across town to find Molly. Fortunately, she was allowed to leave the cell and because a white man had met her, the policeman did not charge her. The next morning, we all said goodbye. There were more tears. Years later, the sadness remained. In the song written by The Beatles:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take those wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
IZMIR, TURKEY: 1968–1971
Our three-years in Izmir was a very productive period. One year before arriving, Bill studied a hard language — Turkish — at the Foreign Service Language School. Now he would be both an economist and a language officer in Turkey. In Izmir, he was the second officer, the Consul. During Bill’s year in Washington, I went back to Columbia where the boys and I lived with my mother.
When we arrived, at first I was just concerned with getting the boys in school at the American Dependents School. I didn’t really know that this city was once called Smyrna. In the early 20th century, at first the Turks were slightly outnumbered by about 150,000 Greeks; then Jews 25,000; Armenians 20,000; and almost as many foreigners (Italians, French, British, and Americans). What an amazing change in about fifty year!. First of all, a Greek expedition into Anatolia (Turkey), was defeated when the Greek soldiers left Smyrna in September 1922. A great fire broke out at that time, which completely destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters. Approximately 400,000 refugees crammed the waterfront. Eventually the remaining Greeks became part of a population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
All of this was overwhelming for me to try to understand, but at least I could accept the name change from Smyrna to Izmir. Also, I immediately learned that the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization, existed partly as NATO in Izmir, an Air Station of the United States Air Force.
Our first new friends here were George and Kay Keeler; George was the Colonel in charge of the Air Force hospital. At first they loaned us their apartment while they were out of town. Soon afterwards we also got an apartment located on the Birinci Kordon, or the First Row of the waterfront. In the evening the area would be closed to cars and we used it as our Promenade Street, which all of us enjoyed immensely. Little restaurants were everywhere. Small carts contained simits (sort of Turkish bagels); small pared cucumbers; artichokes cut into artichoke hearts; almonds soaked in ice; and chestnuts roasted in newspaper cones during winter months. Also available were sprigs of jasmine and tiny roses, which gypsies often offered us at dinnertime. How all of us treasured these times! Not only Americans promenading around the street, but also Turks and foreigners. During these times, there were almost no covered or scarved Moslems because this part of Turkey was especially secular.
The little balconies on our apartments, were enjoyed at sundown when we especially loved the sight of the two peaks of mountains in the west. Of course we didn’t call them any established names, Instead they were known as the two peaks of “Marilyn Monroe.” All of this suggested Americans were still liked in this part of the world. Our friends here were not just Americans, but also many Turks who spent many hours with us. I’m not sure that this still exists in Izmir, Ankara, or Istanbul. Nowadays its mainly tourists.
I have great memories of the boys at that time. Ken, Matt, and Jon were all in school, but we had to find a school for three-year-old Chris. What we found was a small nursery school run by Itialian nuns. Chris disliked the rules and the fact that the nuns could take swipes at him if his manners were not perfect. Even worse was the fact that Chris had to wear a little blue smock, which he and his brothers thought to be totally “girly.” The only part of the day that Chris liked, was the ride in the horse carriage from the waterfront in the “Gary” driven by “Bill,” (obviously not a real name). (Picture of Family)
One of the most exciting times in our life was the unexpected occurrence of a large earthquake. Bill Rau and I were at dinner while the four boys were presumably asleep. As soon as the earthquake hit, it seemed to last almost a minute. In a panic we rushed back to the apartment and climbed up all the many steps to the fourth floor. When we got there, we saw that all four boys were now awake, all of them were sitting up in the same bed and said “Oh wow, that was really cool!!”
Actually, I lived in a fool’s paradise, enjoying my four children, learning a little Turkish, sewing, cooking, and going on picnics and excursions amidst the glorious Greek and Roman ruins scattered throughout the Aegean countryside. Our friend Andy Hallas was a tobacco merchant. His wife, Binky, was born in Bulgaria. Both of them knew where all the wildflowers were — especially the small tulips and the miniature iris. The magnificent scarlet poppies covered so many well-known ancient cities and some less known places such as Priene, Phocaeca, and Clazomenai/ Also, Binky, knew how to find the most exotic mushrooms and always the perfect spots for a picnic. Almost every weekend we spent our time in these rete areas.
In some of the more excavated Greek and Roman cities, we got to know several of the American archaeologists in Sardis and Aphrodisias. At one point Bill met the famous Turkish archaeologist Kenan Erim, who wanted to find someone to photograph the ruins from the air. Bill arranged for an Air Force pilot to do this for Kenan Bey.
The next year, we asked a favor from Kenan. Our eldest son wanted to join the dig in Aphrodisias. At that time Ken thought it would be a wonderful life doing such work. This didn’t come to pass, but Ken became interested in Latin because of various Roman monuments nearby. Many years later he became a Latin teacher at the private school Lovett in Atlanta.
Ken and Bill were the two members of our family who were most involved in Aphrodisias. I spent quite a bit of time doing some work with the American Woman’s Organization. We bought beautiful fabrics and also silk thread. We took these materials to a nearby village, where Turks had been recruited to work with us. In colorful shalvar, or trousers, the Turks created scarves, which were embroidered and tatted along the edges. When the work was finished, we sold the scarves to Americans. With the money, we helped the Turkish villagers to earn a little money.
I’ll commemorate three Turks who were my best friends. Deniz was very chic and had been the first model in Turkey before I got to know her. Later she worked for a well-known department store. Gunselli, another friend, had been the wife of the mayor of Izmir. However, I got to know her better in Istanbul. She had been introduced to me as Miss Turkey, though ultimately Miss World in 1952. Then our third friend Ayfer,was not a knock-out beauty like the others, but very smart, middle-class, with two sons and one daughter. What I found out many years later was that the children had become well-known professors in Turkey. Ayfer was working for Rotary and tried to teach other Turks that they had not only an Ottoman heritage but also a heritage from Greeks, Romans, and Jews.
Our many friends in Izmir were great fun, but I occasionally looked for another type of amusement I became interested in the international community, which put on various amateur shows. The director decided to put on the 1968 play “The Price,” by Arthur Miller. There were only four actors in the play, and I tried out for the one woman. I got the part — Esther Franz, the wife of the policeman called Victor. Later I learned that two celebrated actors were in the same play on television. The Esther Franz part was taken by Colleen Dewhurst. The part for Walter, a surgeon, was taken by George C. Scott. That actor I had knew in my acting days when I was at Stephens. I usually had small parts, but it was very exciting to have a few lines with this young man. I think we all knew that he would become an incredible dramatic actor on the stage and in movies.
After three years, we left Izmir, then we then went to Istanbul which was very different.
KABULL, AFGHANISTAN: 1973–1975
When we arrived in Afghanistan, we had just said goodby to five years in Izmir and Istanbul. Kabul was not what I had expected, but Bill found that it was an advancement as an Economic Counselor in the Embassy. All of us, including our dog, flew to Teheran, then to Kabul. It was summer and we had recently learned that King Zahir ShaH, had just been thrown over in a bloodless coup by his cousin Daoud Khan.
One evening we were enjoying a little party with some of Bill’s Afghan colleagues, while the boys were also at a party taking place at the home of some AID (Agency for International Development) teenagers. The party had been all men and after several rude comments I decided it was time for me to leave. I had my own little VW, which would take me over to that part of the town where I could pick them up. Unfortunately. I wasn’t sure how I would get there. All of a sudden, I found myself on a road that led to the Radio station behind the American Embassy. An Afghan soldier suddenly stopped me and threw his Kalashnikov rifle into my open window. A stream of Dari curse words came out of his mouth, but of course I didn’t understand and tried to match these words with my own English. I got out of the car and was handled roughly. Quickly entered the VW and I turned around the little car and realized that I wasn’t far from our own neighborhood: Wazir Ahbar Khan. The soldier let me leave, but in a panic I drove back to our compound. I couldn’t imagine going any farther. Someone else picked up the boys. Just a day later another American woman also drove down this street closed off to the Radio station. This woman was married to an Afghan pilot and was actually shot, but not badly wounded.
This was my introduction to Kabul. I never found out what the incident was about. Some people thought it might have been a plot to overthrow the new regime. Instead, the regime seemed to be thriving. This short decade (perhaps not really ten years) could have been called the Afghanistan “Golden Era.” Although the country was still very poor, certainly the upper class and the developing middle-class were showing changes. More and more women appeared in western clothes, rather than the chadris (which are sometimes calledburqas). Women also were beginning to work. Even a few were in the parliament.
After our two years in Istanbul with an elegant two-hundred-year-old house, now we had an attractive modern house, which was part of a neighborhood built by Bulgarian architects. Like most Americans in this part of the world, we employed five servants, who referred to us in terms that were leftover from the raj period in India. Bill was Sahib, or “master” in Pashto, Urdu and Hindu. I was the Memsahib or a married European. Our favorite domestic named Barat Ali, was called bearer — he was an Harara or considered a poorer ethnic group. The laundry man was known as a dhobi and then I can’t even remember the term for the gardener. The cook was named Mohammed, and of the ethnic group known as Tajik. Several of our domestics lived in quarters outside our house., I quickly learned from our American doctor that the five domestic servants had amebic dysentery. It turned out that all Afghan domestics could be cured of this disease. However, when they went home occasionally, they would immediately acquire diarrhea again. What we had to do was to insist that the servants keep their hands clean rather than expect another cure from the disease. The cook bought food in the marketplace, where the sewers were above ground and of course not sanitary. The meat hung on metal hooks outside the little stalls, with no refrigeration . When the cook returned from shopping I made sure that he would boil our water for about 30 minutes. Then he would clean all the fruits and vegetables (even eggs) in Clorox of permanganate. All of this work was meant to keep us healthy. But part of the time it didn’t work. We were often sick.
In spite of these problems, we often enjoyed ourselves in Afghanistan. We visited the great mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif, and the remains of what was once called Balkh, which had once been on the Silk Road and visited by Marco Polo. We thought that the two huge magnificent Buddhas in Bamiyan were the most impressive sites Nearby were the six blue lakes in Band-e-Amer –these natural lakes were like sparkling jewels in the barren wasteland. Even more trips we would have taken if we could have gotten away more often. But it was important to stay near the kids. However we went once to Dehli, India, and the four boys came with us to Peshawar, Pakinstan, and experienced the Khyber Pass.
Other beautiful places included our mountains near Kabul. The two younger boys and I learned to ski there, with a primitive ski lift that we walked to over about a mile. During the rest of the year the two of us also went on Sunday walks. One walk,I remember best, took us over a narrow wooden plank, situated high above the Kabul Gorge. Our marines went along on this hike. The two young boys handled the so-called “bridge” with no problems. I, however, thought I might fall off this foot-wide “bridge,” yet I felt I had to do it anyway because the thought of waiting for the rest of them to come back would have taken hours.
(Sara’s photographs of people outside of town; also nomads)
Although these experiences were fun, I decided that this post was not good for our teenagers The school was not very good. Moreover, the teachers were unexceptional, in fact, they seemed very much like hippies.. These were the sixties and early seventies when traveling abroad had become common along the Hippie Trail. Americans, Europeans, and Australians were having good times through western and southern Asia. Part of the allure was cheap travel, but also the thrill of the cheap marijuana and hashish. These drugs were available for everyone. We decided that it was time for us to leave; in fact we left before our tour was over. We were pleased that our eldest son got into the College of William and Mary. The other three boys had to learn how to go to public schools.
WASHINGTON, DC: 1975–1980
After years spent in the Middle East, Washington DC proved to be a five-year adventure: no traveling, no servants, no exotica, but something new. I was already 43-years-old, but I realized that this period could be one of intellectual excitement.
An initial telephone conversation with my mother suggested that I should find some sort of university graduate schooling. I remembered that Mother had done this herself, when she was about the same age and had taken a Masters in Journalism at the University of Missouri. Soon after that conversation I got together with old friends Nancy and Sharon who had been in Istanbul at the same time I was. They had found a graduation program called Editing and Publishing at the George Washington University. I decided to take it also. I was finally realizing my own Feminine Mystique, thanks to the author Betty Friedman. I had an essay published in the GW Journals and the Foreign Service magazine for their bi-centennial issue.
This course lasted two semesters. I took honors and also wrote a number of essays to go along with my developing ability to edit material. After I graduated, I was offered a job by a small publishing house. This company often subcontracted out for large elementary and high school text book publishers. I was hired as a social studies editor, and I cut my teeth on a geography book. It was published by American Book Company. It became the most popular middle-school geography book for the next ten years. Many other books were put together by my social studies editing and writing. Two of the women I worked with became life-long friends.
Our four boys were growing up fast. I had to learn how to take care of them without any help. When I got home at night from work, I didn’t even sit down before I went into the kitchen to make a meal. I brushed up my cooking and pulled out my old recipe books such as “Joy of Cooking.” I also had to relearn how to keep house and take care of the yard. All of this was hard, but possible.
Ken was in college; Matt and Jon were in high school. Chris was still in grade school, so I had to figure out what to do with him in the summer. Often he would come to my publishing house, to use the Xerox machine, organize books, and take some of the quizzes in the texts. One year he saw that the Metro had just been built. Chris rode it everywhere through DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Then one month he traveled throughout the country on the Greyhound bus, and met friends and relatives everywhere.
This life didn’t last long, only five years. Bill said it was time to go back overseas. He would go as the Economic Counselor in Athens. Three of the boys would remain behind in college. Only Chris would come with us. It was hard for me to give up my job, but I felt I had to maintain my marriage. So that’s what I did.
ATHENS, GREECE: 1980–1984
I had to give up my job in publishing when we moved to Athens. Bill became our Economic Counselor, and we inherited a magnificent house, which we called “Tara on the Aegean.” But during the 1940s, this house was the residence of the Orthodox Archbishop Damaskinos. In 1941 he had been declared the regent of Greece, while the King George was in exile. Damaskinos was very outspoken against the German Occupation and its persecution of the Jews of Greece.
After the war, the American government bought a number of Greek mansions, including
this one, which was in the suburb of Halandri. Chris was delighted to have the whole basement as his apartment. Certain parts of this basement might have been used in the past as a wine cellar.
The grounds that came with the house were so spacious that I used them for jogging — I had gotten into that habit while I lived in Falls Church near our bike trail. I also found jogging a good way to memorize those long, polysyllabic Greek words I was trying to learn. One morning when I was circling around the garden, I heard a load shot near the gate. This wasn’t a car back-firing. Instead, it turned out to be the killing of an American naval attache at the traffic light. He was hit by an urban guerrilla organization. It terrorizes not just US individuals but also British, Turkish, and Greeks; that were left-wing nationalists, who were against our bases.
Our house became a meeting place for all sort of events, including book clubs, the American Women of Greece, dances, receptions, and one large dinner that was interrupted by an earthquake.
I tried to find some work doing editing and writing. Every month I put out a newsletter for AWOG (the American women); I authored a small booklet for Foreign Service personnel, which contained important ethnic features of Greece; I had a small job involving Greeks paying attention to something called the American Environmental Newsletter; and now and then I wrote an article for the magazine Athenian, which looked a lot like The New Yorker. My attempts to continue writing and edited worked out fairly well, but did not earn much money.
What I hadn’t expected was a job editing a book. This happened when I met a woman named Mimi Summerskill whose husband was the head of the impressive school called Athens College. Before they had met or married, Mimi was a widow whose small inheritance was used up in an old 81-foot wooden racing schooner. She and her five children sailed the islands of Greece for three months. On one of these spectacular isles, Ios, Mimi bought land, which was made into a stone house over the next two years. This adventure turned into the book, Aegean Summer, which I edited. Editing was simply putting the manuscript into a manageable form, but much more fun was visiting Mimi’s Ios several times.
We also had a friend who took us to Spetses at Eastertime. Most Greeks celebrated this holiday in their hometown part of the country. A picnic took place while the lamb reached a succulent finis on the barbecue.. All Easter eggs were bright red and we hit would mash them together, with the winner’s egg still intact. Services were held at the Orthodox church atmidnight. Afterwards we carried candles home and a few excited youngsters would shoot off rifles.
Trips to the Greek islands were always adventurous, yet we decided to go further afield now and then. An Egyptian consular officer took us to Cairo and Upper Egypt. Bill and Chris went along, as did a large group of consular types on a cruise up the Nile. Close to the end of our trip, the Egyptian consular officer boarded a small felluca, dipped his hand into the water, and drank from his palm. “Thus,” said the officer, “will I return from this trip some day.” A nice thought , but a few days later after we had all returned to Athens, the officer experienced terrible dysentery, which sent him to the hospital. The rest of us had been very careful during the trip.
It was great having Chris along on this trip and other ones as well. Once he attended the Model United Nations in Brussel, Belgium. Later, after school let out for the year, he and a Canadian friend were given Eurail tickets that they used throughout almost all countries of Europe. A Grand Tour to enjoy as a graduate. As he left, I realized he was the last of our four children to leave home. From now on, Bill and I would live without children in our home.
After our three years in Athens, Istanbul proved to be our last Foreign Service post. We lived in a pleasant house, but not historical like that of Archbishop Damaskinos. What we did have as special was the elegant Consulate General building, which had once been the Embassy. A few years ago it was given up because it was too difficult to make secure with all the terrorism that goes on these days. In 1906 the property known as Palazzo Corpi was acquired by the Ambassador John G.A. Leishman. Initially he had paid for part of it. The next thing he did was to invite a large group of congressmen to Istanbul. Part of his plan was to have a stag party, for all the guests who enjoyed immensely the food, the drink, and — most of all — the poker. As time went by they decided to play for the building itself. Leishman kept his wits and soon won everything. The congressmen were so in debt that somehow they would have to come up with the money for the Palazzo Corpi. However, a professor at Robert College, recorded, “The debt of honor was accordingly paid by Congress. . . and the Constaninople Embassy was the first we acquired in Europe.”
Our Consulate was not the only bit of luck for us; the other fortunate occurrence was having the use of a vintage teak yacht named the Hiawatha. It was brought here from the United States by the Ambassador Joseph Grew sometime between 1927 and 1932. He decided to leave it here for the future ambassadors, also the consuls general. But recently it was turned over to a very wealthy Turk who now has it on display as a sort of museum piece.
The Hiawatha was often used by Americans, Turks, and quite a few on the congressional groups that visited here. I often brought a picnic along, and the Naci Kaptan might take us down the Bosphorus and on to the Black Sea. We didn’t swim on these trips, but the sights were the beautiful wooden yalis upstream via Ortakoy, Arnavutkoy, upmarket Bebek, and of course the fortress of Rumel Hisari. The yalis were mansions constructed on the seaside of the Bosphorus. (Photo of Rumleli Hisari)
One of my most enjoyable experiences in Turkey was to swim from the Asian side of the Bosphorus to Europe. I left from an old yali in Uskudar (the Asian side). Then set out with a small group of our marines. We had theHiawatha following us with the Kaptan and also Bill on board. The reason for the yacht’s alongside was to keep us out of any area containing huge ships. It took us about two hours to make the swim. At the end we took photos of the swim from Asia to Europe. This last post of Istanbul was the only one I had without any of my children along.
I was never really alone because of all the receptions that took place almost every day. Many people wanted to meet us, but there was very little said that was significant to me. I joked with Bill to say that we could make ourselves into cardboard figures, that sometimes represented the Presidents. We never stayed at any party very long, but we walked all around the compass points in the room to meet most everyone there. (Two of these events were special): Bill and I met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1987at the small St. Helena church on the grounds of the British Consul General. Bill and I represented the British Consul General because he went to the Catholic Church rather than this Anglican one. Phillip read the lesson. The other royal personage I met in that same year was the granddaughter of the last Ottoman Sultan, Neslishah. She lived on the same street that I lived on in the part of town known as Ortakoy. We met because of a stray dog, and as a result we had tea together. A few years later, the Washington Post carried her obituary and this photo I found in the newspaper. She was so beautiful and elegant, even at the time she died at 91.
All of those receptions were necessary because of Bill’s position. Many individuals gave us gifts. However, we really didn’t want them. Many of these presents were quite valuable, such as carpets, brass, and silver. In fact, we didn’t keep any of them. One Christmas we had a party for the members of the Consulate. We made it into an auction so that these Americans and Turks could buy whatever they wanted from these things. They probably paid much less than what the objects were worth.
I found some wonderful ways to get away from receptions. I’ll show us four extraordinary photos of these events
Oh I must have forgotten the first picture. Well…First we took a ship called the Orient Express from Istanbul to Venice, and I brought my car with me.
Then from Venice we went down the Dalmatian Coast — this was with a friend of mine and she came with me from Venice — and then we went to Corfu, Greece, and then back to Istanbul.
An english friend and Iwent to Budapest, Hungary
Bill and I went to a concert at the Topkapi/Harem with Concert; Mozart’s Abduction in the Seraglio.
One way was to go on a palace on Wheels to India, Rajastan, Taj Mahal, Madras, Srilanka
Next the Blue Cruise Five Days with Bechtel and this lovely picture of the Blue Cruise.
Then we had a trip with the Turkish General Electric, Aygaz Manager he planned Eastern Turkey trip and a picnic at Ishak Pasha Palace. The last trip I have is to Cappadocia: I planned this trip for Greek ship-owners (about 25 of them) who came here because their grandparents had been part of the population exchange in 1923. I knew most of these people when we were living in Athens.
The Fourth of July Reception in 1988 was our last diplomatic function. We almost canceled it. We found out just a few hours before the party, that a US guided missile cruiser shot down an Iran Air Civilian passenger plane. All 296 on board died. On the same day, the U.S. recognized the aerial incident as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret. With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to the Istanbul Consulate General and also goodbye to our Foreign Service lives.
Fine, that’s it.
- How does your tradition-bearer’s story relate to your community in both the present and the past? How does it relate to you?
Had you given this project to any other member of my family I am positive that they all would have chosen Grandma Sara to be the tradition-bearer of my family’s story. She has always been the glue that holds our family together, even in her times of weakness. Because of her story I know that she has always played this role in a sense. When her adopted sisters came into the family, when her parents faced hardships and eventually divorce she had to stay grounded and not lose sight of her family and herself. Although my grandfather was the one working as a diplomat I believe that my grandmother did something equally great. She held a family together while living a life that required a great deal of adapting. Her story might be more eventful than mine, but no more important. She just had different adventures and challenges. Although we have both had very different lives we are both inherently similar and there are some aspects of our personalities that will never change.
2. How did your perception of community history change, from before the interview to now?
My Junior year of High School I took American Studies. It was an inter-disciplinary class with English and History. We learned about World War II, of course; however, like most historical battles, I was not tremendously interested by these events. It mostly seemed like a lot of violence and conflict. Which is why I was tremendously surprised by myself when I found the sections of this oral history involving historical battles interesting! I think it was because I was able to see my grandmother being effected by the events. The efforts of the Home Front now have more meaning and hearing my grandmother talk about the connection she felt to the rest of the country made the events more real and less about boring facts in a history book.
In addition to the history of World War II I also learned a lot more about how difficult my grandmother’s life in the foreign service was. It never occurred to me just really how much their family moved and felt like outsiders. I had seen photos and heard stores, but it was always positive stories meant to amaze and inspire me. However, now I realize that my grandmother had to constantly shape herself to fit whatever new situation my grandfather brought her into. Although it no longer seems like a fairytale life I now respect my grandmother’s roll in her family much more now.
3. How did this project inspire you to learn more about your community?
Having not known much at all about the details of my grandmother’s childhood suddenly became very apparent to me during my interview. I never thought I was missing much because as far as I knew she had a quiet life in Columbia, Missouri. I figured that if there was much of anything to talk about I would already know, but I have learned that I was very wrong. I now am more more interested in learning about the early lives of other people in my family. Although I love hearing about the most amazing and enticing stories from people’s lives, knowing the more minute details of my grandmother’s childhood is just as meaningful. I do not think you can fully understand a person without listening to the little things. Because it is often the little things that make the biggest differences in people’s lives.
4. What were some of the challenges you faced during this project? What could you do differently in your next oral history interview?
Well the most obvious challenge in my project was that my grandmother was going to be away on a trip to Portugal days before the oral report was due. I was extremely excited when I realized the sheer amount of information and insight I had been given but, it was definitely a challenge to transcribe it and pause the video at the right moments to screenshot the photographs she held up. She answered most all of my questions. However, there were a few questions that she didn’t answer because I think they would have followed a more negative view of her story, such as “Do you have any regrets in living as a wife of a Diplomat?” Something I would do differently would be to ask questions more in an in person interview in order to evoke unexpected answers. I saw a lot of emotion in my grandmother’s videos however I wish I was able to be there while inquiring about her past and share in her stories in a more personal way.
5. If the roles were reversed and you became the tradition-bearer, what stories would you like to tell?
Before this project I probably wouldn’t have given a very good interview. I would have, like my grandmother, wanted to know everything before hand and formulated specific answers to the questions about my life. Although this seems like the most appealing thing to read I now would want to include the difficult pieces of my life. I would want to be less factual and more emotional in my story telling. I would like to talk about how my family has shaped me and inspired me. Almost every facet of myself can be directly connected to a family member or a life experience. I would love to talk about my favorite plays and books and hobbies. As well as the experiences I had while traveling and how each trip helped me to discover new things about myself. I would want someone to ask me to ask me the little things and care enough to really hear my answers.