Linda Reid Day 6: Leave it to Mrs. Davis
Inspired by the space boom of the Sputnik era, Nondas decided to study mathematics and physics, paying his way through University by working days as a salesman for DC’s famed Central Liquors, owned by the generous David Rothberg.
Until Nondas’ English skills had improved, Dave Rothberg communicated with the German expatriate by speaking a more comprehensible Yiddish.
In 1961, Nondas proudly joined NASA as a staff scientist in the Theoretical Division working on tracking Van Allen Belt radiation. As the entire world paid rapt attention to the Space Race, I found myself questioned by classmates eager to find out if my father was friends with Alan Shepard and John Glenn—any astronaut would do. I was my mother’s daughter, too, so I yielded to my love for fiction and, of course, answered ‘yes’.
The economic challenges my parents faced in their early years didn’t allow them to provide me with a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ home and a pearl-laden Mom baking cookies in its kitchen every afternoon. My mother did try to spend as much time as she could with me when her job didn’t demand her presence, and she loved to regale me with stories in Greek about princes and princesses and their glorious adventures in the Kingdom of a mean King she always named Hippocrates. As I grew older, she tried to introduce me to the literary classics that had moved her in her youth, but I had been seduced by television and its incessant stimulation and found that the languorous and loquacious writing style of the 18th and 19th centuries tried my immature patience (Jane Austen excepted).
With both my parents working, I became the 1960’s version of a latchkey child, i.e. a library child. After school each day, I’d trek over to the County Library and bury myself in the children’s and young adults’ books area, finishing my homework quickly so that I could dive into the fantasy and science fiction classics that I adored. Being part of a NASA family, I relished Heinlein, Harrison, and Asimov, imagining myself transporting into space as a crew member on the Space Angel’s vessel, or, later, of course, on the Starship Enterprise. I also discovered the novels of the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and did little to hide my full-blown crush on Sherlock Holmes, opting to buy into the insistence of the Baker Street Irregulars that Holmes was still alive and bee-farming at the age of 110. Mrs. Davis, the kindly librarian, would keep an eye on me, and make sure my homework was done and my tummy had an afterschool snack to keep me fueled until my parents picked me up after 6 pm.
After the successful moon landing in 1969, my father brought home an envelope he’d stored in his NASA Office. He told us that he’d often been asked if we’d make it to the moon; the envelope had reassured him that NASA had gathered the right team to guarantee success. I read the address written below my father’s name: NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Theological Division. Guess the astronauts did have someone looking out for them after all.
I did get to gain some NASA points with my classmates once I got to high school. We had a show and tell session in my senior Chemistry class. My presentation: My father and one of his colleagues from NASA brought, in 1970, to that classroom, genuine moon rocks. Fist pump and “yes!”
Oh, and I guess my earlier fiction did become reality one day. My father eventually became the Head of Goddard’s Radiation Physics Office before retiring from NASA with scientific accolades in 2007 at the age of 87. Ten years earlier, in the late ‘90s, Dad had gone down to Cape Canaveral to place his patented instrument measuring space radiation on a shuttle flight, which also happened to be giving 77 year old John Glenn his first trip back into space in decades. Dad met Senator Glenn, and shot me a fist pump after the flight’s successful mission. “That’s one for our generation!”
I went back to the County Library in my last couple of years of high school to work as a library assistant. The children’s room I re-entered looked much the same as it had years before, but the books were dustier, and the chairs and tables had somehow shrunk, as had dear Mrs. Davis. I thanked her profusely for her kindness to me during my latchkey library days, and then stood gazing around the room trying to blink back tears. Not having had the opportunity to join in after-school play with other children, this room, Mrs. Davis, and these books had been my childhood friends.
Tomorrow: Linda Reid Day 7: ...and Then There Was Me
Linda Reid is a physician-writer whose work has been published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Tribune International, Salon.com, Woman’s Day, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other newspapers, magazines, and web sites.
Linda was a staff writer for the TV series Family Medical Center, and has served as a medical editor and reporter for “Eyewitness News” of the CBS affiliate in Washington DC, Lifetime Medical Television, and a host of the NBC TV show “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.”
Linda started her broadcasting career as a DJ on Top 40 radio, and has worked as a consultant and guest for production companies and networks such as Lorimar Telepictures, CNN, and You-TV.
Dr. Reid is a board-certified pediatrician and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She was a founding member and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Resource Team.
Dr. Reid, her husband, and her three teenage children live in Los Angeles.