Do You Know These Women – Part III

On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard, Jr became the first American in space.  Mercury-Redstone’s 15-minute flight was watched by some 45 million television viewers.

I was one of those eagerly watching.   Our junior high school classes suspended the day’s teaching and brought in television sets so we could watch this great moment in history.

What exciting times!  In the years following Americans continued to watch the launching of many rockets and learned the names of the astronauts who were heroes as the Mercury project launched six manned spacecraft between 1961 and 1963.

  • Alan Shephard, Jr – first American in space in 1961.
  • John Glenn – first American to orbit the earth in 1962.
  • Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – first to reach the moon in 1969.

Today these men’s names are easily recognized and recently a movie was even made about Neil Armstrong, whose first words as he stepped on the surface of the moon has been celebrated:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While these men have enjoyed fame, the women who worked behind the scene to make these space launches a success are known by few.

One of these women was Katherine Johnson.  Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918, Johnson clearly had a brilliant mind.  In school she advanced ahead several grades and attended high school by the time she was thirteen.  Enrolling in the black West Virginia State College, she graduated with highest honors in 1937 and began teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

Selected by Dr John W. Davis in 1939 Johnson, along with two male students, were the first black students to be enrolled in West Virginia University.

In 1952 Johnson learned of an all-black computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ at the Langley laboratory in Virginia.  There Johnson analyzed data from flight tests and studied the effects of wake turbulence.

Johnson provided math for several of the engineers and did trajectory analysis for the first launch into space in 1961.  As the engineers began to recognize Johnson’s expertise she was asked to work with them in constructing a worldwide communications network that linked tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.  When John Glenn was preparing for his orbit around the earth he was concerned about the math computations that predicted where he would reenter the earth’s atmosphere.  He was not comfortable with relying on the machines’ calculations.  He asked them to “get the girl” to run the same numbers by hand that the computer had run.  “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 after contributing to the Apollo mission sending men to the moon and working on the space shuttle program.  She has received many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This highest civilian honor was presented to her in 2015, at age 97, by President Obama.  NASA also named a building after her – the Katherine G.  Johnson Computational Research Facility.

When you consider the time in which Johnson achieved such success – a time when women had much fewer options opened to them as we do now – but also a time when black Americans were still living under Jim Crow laws in the south – she is an amazing example of courage, determination and brains.

To read much more about this amazing woman and her fellow computers – Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, check out the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

A movie has also been made based on this book.  I would recommend the movie, but to get the complete story, you need to read the book.  As all movies do, some liberties were taken in the movie.

As they say “behind every successful man is a women” this is certainly true in our space program.

These women’s history should be taught in school along with the names of the astronauts.

Anyone Remember the Icebox?

Long before electricity came to my grandmother’s house she had an icebox.  This was a wooden box usually lined with straw or sawdust that sat in the kitchen or pantry.  The ice man would come around with a 25 to 50 pound block of ice.

My mother grew up with the ice box and even after she got a refrigerator, she referred to it as the ice box.  So that is what I called it.

Until one day my daughters suggested I needed to come into the modern world and call the appliance by its correct name – refrigerator.

As a pastor’s wife I was supervising a church meal and asked a young girl if she would get the salad out of the ice box.  A few minutes later one of my daughters came to me laughing.  The young girl had come to her and said, “Your mother asked me to get the salad out of the ice box.  What is she talking about?”

It took me awhile, but I finally learned to say “refrigerator” not “ice box.”

Anyone remember the ice box?

It Has Been 35 Years!

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35 years – but the memory of that time is still clear in my mind.

I had moved back to Illinois from Missouri to be near family.  My husband of 13 years had been killed in an accident and with him my dreams of a home in the country was gone.  With two little girls to raise by myself I needed the support of family.

At the time of the move the thought that I would ever love again to me seemed impossible.

But as time passed and the years ahead all alone seemed so hard, I began to wonder if I could find happiness again.

And then I met him.

Thirty-five years this month this wonderful man asked me to meet him for coffee one morning.  Nervous and wondering if this was really the right thing to do I said yes.

We both were scared as our relationship began.  His first marriage had ended in pain and sorrow as his first wife announced one day she no longer wanted to be married.  Trying to raise his two teenage children alone he was lonely too but also afraid.

Would he be hurt again if he gave his heart away to me?  Would his kids be okay with this new relationship?

I too was scared.  How would my girls feel about this?  Could I really love someone again?  Guilt also entered my mind.  If I loved again, would I betray the memory of my first husband?

During those first days in February and March I played this song over and over as I prayed and asked God for wisdom in this new relationship.

Thankful we overcome the fears and were married.  Bought our first home!

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Thirty-five years since we met for coffee.  My, what those years have bought.

  • 20 grandchildren
  • 9 great-grandchildren
  • there has been sorrow – death of our oldest son and three grandchildren
  • there has been joy – seeing our children married, grandchildren born
  • we have walked the streets of New York with a team from Teen Challenge witnessing and reaching out to drug addicts
  • lived as missionaries in the Philippines
  • been pastors of three churches, music ministers
  • survived my husband’s heart attack and my battle with breast cancer

Today as I think back to that first coffee date, I’m so thankful he asked me and that I said yes.

 

Detroit Michigan = Motown

Growing up as a teenager in the 60’s I loved the sound of music coming from the studios of the record company Motown in Detroit Michigan.  To me at the time Detroit seemed like a world away.  Little did I know I would one day live just a little over 100 miles from the city.

Today the studio where most of the music of Motown was recorded is a museum.  Called Hitsville USA the museum hosts visitors from around the world who come to see the place where the magic began.

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Looking back now at that time in American it is ironic to me that this record company founded by a black man, Berry Gordy, and featuring black singers should rise to such success at the same time that much of the country still had Jim Crow laws.

Diana Ross told a story of being in New Orleans for a show.  When she stopped to take a drink at a fountain she noticed people all around her staring.  Pleased at first at the thought that she had been recognized by fans, she was soon disappointed to see that their stares were because she was drinking at a fountain marked “for whites only.”

When Gordy took a group of his new artists on a bus tour in the south they stopped for the night at a hotel.  Hot from the long day on the road, they quickly put on their swimming suits and jumped in the pool.  All the whites in the pool just as quickly got of the pool.  After a few minutes when they discovered that the blacks in the pool were Motown artists, they joined them in the pool.

Some of the great artists of this record company that I loved to listen to:

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Stevie Wonder

 

The Supremes

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The Temptations

I especially loved Chubby Checker who started the twist.  My brother would often tease me by singing the one line from the song:

You should see my little sis.  She knows how to rock, she knows how to twist.

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This year Motown celebrates 50 years making music.  Gordy started the business with a family loan of $800 but it quickly grew into a financial success.   It became the most successful independent record company in history and the most successful African-American-owned business in America.

 

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Motown was how it helped to break down racial prejudice.

 

 

Christmas Past – Maligayang Pasko

Well it seems I am on a roll – memories of Christmas past just continue to occupy my mind – especially at bedtime.  Maybe it’s just that I am getting old.  Maybe it’s spending this Christmas in a new home in a new state far from what was familiar.

The memories are for the most part happy ones although the last post I made did include one Christmas that was sad and lonely.

Christmas Past – Laughing Through the Tears

Still, I’m thankful that the happy times far outweigh the sad ones.

For a girl growing up in the Midwest Christmas has always meant:

  • Christmas trees and decorations

 

  • Caroling

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  • cold temps

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  • sometimes snow

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But I will never forget the one Christmas I spent without all the trees and decorations, without caroling, no cold temps and certainly no chance of snow.

I spent Christmas of 1991 at the beach on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

My husband and I had gone to the Philippines with our youngest daughter to teach in a Bible school.  While there we also spoke and often gave classes to the ministerial staff at local churches.  Our daughter began a Kids Klub with the local neighbor hood children.

I wrote about her experience there in:

The Piped Piper of Iloilo City

It never really felt like Christmas there.  The temperature was much too warm.  It was  lonely thousands of miles from our family.  There were few bright lights.  In the gated community where many of the other missionaries lived there were trees and lights.  But in our neighborhood no one could afford such luxuries.  Many of our neighbors did not even have electricity for any lights.  Most struggled to provide food for their families and there would be few, if any, presents and certainly no Christmas tree.

There were decorations in the stores downtown, but none like we were used to.  The mall downtown had some beautiful ones made from bamboo.

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The only Christmas decoration we had was a nativity set we found at a local store.  It was amazing to us that even in the Philippines, the nativity set portrayed Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus as white.  Clearly Jesus would have been dark-skinned like those from the Middle East but somehow we have made Him into an image totally foreign to what He would have been.

We held a birthday party for Jesus with the kids in the neighborhood.  We had a birthday cake, played games and had so much fun with the kids.  It was a joy to also share with them the story of the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas day we shared a picnic at the beach with another missionary couple from Norway.  Like us, it seemed strange to have no snow or cold temperatures.  As you can see, from the pictures, we really dressed up for the day.  NOT!

As I look at these pictures today I wonder where those children are now.  How many had the privilege of completing school?  How many even survived to adulthood?  It is my prayer that we did make a difference in their lives while we were there.

This year as we feel the cold temperatures, I do think how nice it was that year to enjoy sunshine and the ocean.  But I still am glad to be here with my family.  Wherever you are, whatever your Christmas is –

Maligayang Pasko – or Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Past – Laughing Through the Tears

Recently I posted a blog on my memories of my favorite Christmas gift ever.  After posting that I have found myself awake in the middle of the night thinking of other Christmas memories.  Seems this first post has now led to more.

Christmas Past – My Best Christmas Present Ever

In my second post I shared how my future husband proposed to me on Christmas Day 1968.  We had thirteen wonderful years together and were blessed with two beautiful daughters.

One of the memories that came to me in the middle of the night was a Christmas that was lonely and difficult.  In March of 1982 my husband (whose proposal I wrote about in a previous post) was killed in an accident.

Christmas Past – I Said “Yes”

This was the first Christmas my young daughters and I spent without him.  Although it has been 36 years since that Christmas I can close my eyes and still feel the pain, the deep unspeakable sense of being alone.

But along with these sad thoughts comes one that makes me smile.

That year a friend had given my youngest daughter a book for Christmas that brought us some laughs.  Called the “Ugly Joke Book,” it had the usual jokes like:

  • Beauty is only skin deep …but ugly goes all the way to the bone!
  • I was such an ugly kid. When I played in the sandbox the cat kept covering me up.
  • You know you’re ugly when it comes to a group picture and they hand you the camera.

In this day of PC I suppose these jokes would not be appropriate to many.  That Christmas night, seeing the sad faces of my little girls, I was determined to not let their Christmas night end in terrible sadness.  Out came the book.  I had us all get in our pajamas, climb into bed and read the jokes.  Some of the jokes were funny, others not so much.  But I laughed at each one as if it was the funniest thing in the world.  After reading the book and staying up way past their bed time, I laid with them asleep in my arms and thanked God that in the midst of sorrow, if we look for it, we can also find joy.

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We had spent Christmas Eve with our extended family.  We were made so sad because during the entire day no one said anything about our husband/father.  It was as if he had never existed; as if his absence was of no importance to anyone.  Before returning home, I expressed my hurt to my older sister.

I think I made her cry as she explained they had all agreed not to mention his name because they were afraid of causing us pain.  They thought they were doing the kind thing.  Sadly they had not.

So – if you have family or friends who have lost a loved one this year – or really any time in the past – don’t be afraid to mention them.  Say how you miss them.  Share memories you have of them.

God has blessed us and He brought a good man into our lives a few years after this Christmas and my daughters have married and have a family.  Our Christmas this year will not be lonely and we are happy.

But we will always remember this wonderful man that made that Christmas one to remember.  And in the midst of our celebration, our thoughts will remember dear, dear Lonnie Lott.

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Christmas Past – I Said “Yes”

Christmas always brings memories of the past as I reflect on all the years that have passed.  I remember:

  • The little wooden ornaments I painted for my little girls that they now hang on their trees.
  • The Christmas plate three of my grandchildren painted for me.
  • The live Christmas tree my husband and I purchased the first year of my marriage and how our son planted that tree in the front yard.  How quickly it grew and how sad it was when we drove by the house years later and saw the new owner had cut it down.

One special Christmas remains in my heart forever – Christmas of 1968.

My boyfriend had just completed basic training at the USMC base in San Diego, California and was coming home on Christmas Eve.  He was traveling home by bus and his parents were going to call me as soon as he let them know he was at the bus station in St. Louis.  They would then swing by and pick me up and we would go to get him.

Lonnie

It was late when the call finally came and I was so excited!  After we picked him up at the bus station we hurried to his home where his eight brothers and sisters were anxiously waiting to see him.

By the time the family reunion was over it was early morning Christmas Day and Lonnie got the keys to the family car to drive me home.  Sitting in the car before I went inside he asked me to marry him.

I said YES!

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Sadly, the wedding would not be for a while as he was headed to Vietnam shortly after the New Year.

The holidays were both happy, but sad.  So good to be together, to celebrate our engagement.  So sad to face the months ahead of separation and danger for him.  Would he survive the war?  Would we really be married?

This Christmas I think of all the service men and women who are far from home protecting our country and of their family – parents, spouses, children — who will have an empty spot at their table.

If you know someone who is serving overseas, send them a card and let them know you are thinking of them.  If you know a family who has a member who will be absent this year at the festivities, give them a call.  Encourage them and share your appreciation of the sacrifice both they and their family member are making for us.

My story had a happy ending.  After 13 months my Marine returned home and we were married.