As my sojourn in Washington, D.C., progressed and I began to feel like a real resident, I discovered new pleasures like the Watergate Inn. It stood where the Kennedy Center is now. It became one of my favorite places to take out-of-town guests. The inn’s mouthwatering popovers were its main appeal for me, but the setting was so appealing, too, facing the Potomac River as it did. The present-day office buildings and condominiums on the opposite side of the river front didn’t exist then, of course.
The National Gallery of Art became one of my favorite haunts; its collection of French Impressionists was especially appealing. A decade or so later my husband and I occasionally took our children there and discovered that each of them developed her/his favorite paintings. Both were intrigued by Manet’s “The Dead Toreador.” A guard had told us how by viewing it from certain places in the room, the subject seemed to change his prone position in the arena. The gallery had concerts once in a while in a palm-surrounded courtyard. All these cultural riches were free to the public.
Near the National Gallery’s main building is the Freer Gallery of Art. In it I came across the amazing original dining room the artist James Whistler had decorated for a wealthy client. The work was to have been done while the gentleman was away from his home. I suppose that Whistler had been given a free hand to use his own ideas, or at least he had received that impression. When the man returned, he was so offended by Whistler’s murals that he never used the room again. Paintings of gold, glittering coins, symbols of wealth were painted on all the walls.
One day when I was in the vicinity of Farragut Square, I happened to look up at the second story of a building across the street and was arrested by a painting, or rather, a reproduction of Rouault’s St. Jeanne d’Arc in a window of the Washington Bookshop. I was so intrigued by the bold and vivid style of the artist that I had to have a closer look. The post-WWII era in Washington had darkened to the beginning of the years of the McCarthy Red Scare. I was politically naive and knew nothing about the bookstore’s pro-Soviet leanings. As I entered it, I did begin to notice the Russian-language newspapers and other curious (to me), unfamiliar wares. The clerk who answered my inquiry about the painting seemed unfriendly and disinterested in me as a potential customer. I had an almost instant feeling of unease … that I didn’t belong there somehow. I left shortly afterward. Sometime later, someone I knew who worked for the CIA told me that I had probably been noted and identified by the FBI when I had entered the Washington Bookshop.
Shortly after I was married, I received notification that I was accepted as an editorial assistant in the Legislative Reference Service (LRS) of the Library of Congress. I had taken a test for the position and had passed. It was quite a change from my job with Veterans Affairs—the workplaces were so different and so were my fellow employees. To take public transportation to the library, I took a streetcar from Mount Pleasant to Capitol Hill, passing Union Station and the majestic Supreme Court building. I got off the streetcar at the next stop. Directly opposite the Library of Congress Jefferson Building was Capitol Plaza.
The lovely, tree-shaded Capitol Plaza in those days had a welcoming atmosphere. There were no physical barriers at strategic locations, no visible protective devices like today. The plaza was an ideal place to walk on lunch breaks. I might even get a glimpse of a congressman hurrying from either the House or the Senate office buildings to the Capitol. I remember how in awe of and impressed I was then of representatives and senators. Some of them were legendary, and still are.
My work in the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress was mainly editing and typing on matts reports by nationally known specialists or information specialists within LRS on timely issues. The matts could produce multiple copies for members of Congress and the general public. Sometimes the reports were re-edited for the Government Printing Office. The LRS quarters were directly next to the Congressional Reading Room, where the poet Joyce Kilmer’s son was in charge.
For the first time, I had my own cubicle for work space. It was just outside the library’s G-H fiction stacks. Although we employees weren’t supposed to, I constantly sneaked home novels without checking them out. I read all of John Galsworthy’s “The Forsyte Saga” and Thomas Hardy. “Jude the Obscure” was much more memorable than “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” which I had read in high school.
It could be exciting sometimes to work in a place that attracted so many world-renowned people. I could look over the railing of the grand staircase that led from the ground floor to the second story and see celebrities like the movie star and later UNESCO representative Myrna Loy enter the main entrance or then-General Eisenhower with his ruddy cheeks and engaging grin coming to give a speech to Congress in the library’s Coolidge Auditorium.
I was truly sorry when LRS had to make cuts in its personnel. I was one of its newest employees; hence, I received a reduction in force notice. Fortunately, I was able to find another job with a higher GS rating. It was with the National Production Authority (NPA), which was one of those temporary government agencies that were activated with the start of the war in Korea. I only stayed for a year or so at the NPA because I became pregnant with my first child. The office gave me a lovely surprise shower at my supervisor’s home, and I continued working until my ninth month when upper management got very nervous about my burgeoning condition and encouraged me to go on leave. When I gave birth, I knew I couldn’t leave my child and return to work. That decision ended my government career. I’ve never had any regrets about it.