In 1948 when I moved from Springfield, Missouri, to Washington, D.C., “Watergate” referred to a series of summer concerts by the National Symphony on a barge anchored in the Potomac, facing a bank of steps leading up to the Lincoln Memorial. My date and I sometimes concluded our time together by savoring a cool breeze from the river as we gazed up at a starry sky and drank in the glorious music.
Service bands like the Marines or the U.S. Army bands also gave free concerts on the Capitol grounds. Occasionally one of my boyfriends would invite me to attend one of these and I would accept, but I actually preferred the Watergate concerts.
Another favorite destination for daytime dates was the National Zoo. There were no pandas in the zoo at that time, but I always wanted to visit the sea lions and watch their joyful antics. I refused to enter the Reptile House, but I agreed to go in the building where the monkeys and apes lived. I always hoped they wouldn’t do anything embarrassing (I could actually blush in those days), especially when I was with a young man.
I think my most glamorous date was with a foreign correspondent who had the intriguing name of Steffan. He invited me to dinner at the National Press Club. I wore my best cocktail dress, actually my only cocktail dress that I later wore as my wedding gown. It was a beautiful copper-colored satin with a mid-calf length skirt (the “New Look” was in then) and a sweetheart neckline.
It was such a pleasure in the late 1940s to shop at Christmastime at Woodward & Lothrop (we called the store “Woodies”) and the Hecht Company in downtown Washington. Their windows were absolute marvels with mechanical toys and moving figures in snowy landscapes. Inside the stores, the Yuletide decorations enhanced the merchandise displays and made them even more tempting. There used to be a special counter in Woodies where Velatis caramels were sold. The candymaker offered several different kinds—a crunchy sugar layer on top vanilla caramel; chocolate (good but not my favorite); and plain vanilla caramel. My aunt who lived in the greater Washington, D.C., area once sent our family a box of Velatis caramels, and we thought they were the best we had ever tasted. When I moved to D.C., I visited the Velatis counter often and especially when it was time to shop for gifts.
My second abode in D.C. was a red brick rooming house just off Connecticut Avenue, owned by two elderly sisters—one who took ballroom dancing at the Washington School of Ballet and the other was a champion fencer. They left us young women alone except for the time one of us spilled a jar of jam on the stairs leading up to our rooms. The steps were carpeted so the offender had a rather steep cleaning bill, which she agreed to pay.
On Saturday mornings most of us from the rooming house walked over to Connecticut Avenue where we had breakfast at Schwartz’s Drugstore. I think the custom had already begun before I joined the group, but I instantly became enthusiastic, too, about the store’s scrambled eggs. Those breakfasts seemed a very special part of my weekends.
Just a year later I met my future husband. We were married on Thanksgiving Day 1949. In a few months I transferred to the Library of Congress to accept a position more in keeping with my academic background. We moved to a rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, which had none of the energy and diversity of that same location now. In those days the streetcar turned around just down the street where we lived and headed back into the District. In the other direction a convent was located across from our building. We were amused on the days when the nuns played baseball in the fenced-off yard facing us. We had a few small stores directly opposite us—a DGS grocery, a bakery and a dry cleaner, I think. It was a cozy little neighborhood, very manageable for newlyweds. But we moved to Montgomery County two years later, and that’s a different story.