Trail of a Heart 19 – The Denver Years
Bob’s Aunt Virgie, and her husband, Harold, had invited us to come up and stay with them so we could get jobs in Denver. We could see the potential dollar signs as we were coming from our little economically depressed town of under 50 thousand. In Hobbs it seemed that the only opportunity was connected with the oil industry. Not wanting to work in the oil fields, Bob and I struck out for greater opportunity.
We arrived in snowy Denver in January of 1962. Being seven months pregnant, I was not expected to find a job yet. Bob set about finding work. He became a clerk at Martin Marietta—a government missile industry installation—south of Denver. We got into a little basement apartment in a residential house in Littleton and were finally on our own. We cozied up our nest and Monicqua was born on March 16th of that year.
Bob had told me that the deal was that if he worked, I worked. That also meant that I couldn’t breast feed as I would be going to work as soon as I recovered from giving birth. The pain of not being able to breast feed was emotional as well as physical as the method for drying up milk-producing breasts was to bind the breasts tightly. I don’t remember how long it took, but it was excruciating in every way.
So, when Monicqua was two months old, I secured a job as a secretary at the same company where Bob worked. In the beginning, Aunt Virgie took care of Monicqua while I worked. I believe we had that babysitting arrangement until our daughter was about eight months old. It was such a relief to have my baby in such good hands, if she couldn’t be in mine.
As I alluded to earlier, my having been a legal secretary proved to have been good experience for many reasons. The man who hired me at Martin Marietta had previously had a secretary with a legal background, so he was inclined to offer me the job.
It actually was an important role. I was secretary to all of the Engineers at a propulsion laboratory at Martin Marietta. The lab was named The Cold Flow Laboratory. It was responsible for testing the various propellants for upcoming space travel, which at that time was the Apollo project. It was an exciting job for anyone, much less an 18-year-old.
Shortly after acquiring my job, I also began college work at the University of Colorado, attending the extension division in Denver at night. My early dream of wanting to be a teacher became more real as I signed up for my first classes. I would take two or three classes each semester, which was more than challenging as I was not only working eight hour days, but was driving an hour each way back and forth to work.
Martin Marietta was just south of Denver, and we lived just north of Denver in the town of Northglenn. Bob and I had to drive separately to work as we both had evening classes. Simultaneous to my college work, he had entered a School of Cosmetology furthering a dream of becoming an entrepreneur. His hope was to buy and run a string of beauty shops. Little Monicqua was shuffled between us with one or the other being home with her in the evenings. Weekends were consumed with studies, house cleaning, and in general getting ready to do it all again the next Monday.
The major benefit I was afforded at my job was support for getting my education. I was allowed to use the company typewriters (yes, no word processing yet), as well as paper supplies any time I had a break and during lunch. Many days I was hard at work preparing for a class for that evening any time I could. I don’t know what I would have done to complete my education if I had not had this significant support from my employer.
There were many moments that stand out in my memory of those secretary days at Martin, but one occurred not longer after I had gone to work there. Those Americans of my generation can all say where they were when Kennedy was shot. I was working in that lab. It was an odd day. There was an eerie atmosphere that day prior to learning of the assassination. This was not a good sign. When we had a bad day at that place, it could be a propellant spill disaster.
Slowly the word traveled among the engineers and staff. I put down what I was doing and went to my car to turn on the radio. I could not take it in. We Americans are so smug. Up until that day, I am not sure any of us realized that we could be shaken. That day the world rumbled out of that epicenter in Dallas.
As I am writing this, we have endured the shock of 9-11, and most recently the Boston Marathon Bombings. It is one thing to have a personally scary experience. We all have folks around us to console us. As a nation, we are inconsolable. There is a violation that has penetrated our corporate soul. For me it began the day President Kennedy was gunned down. For a person who tends toward delusional thinking and even fantasy, this was all way too much reality for me. I still find myself having fearful thoughts of sudden disaster.
Another eventful day at the Lab was on a more positive note. Some of the astronauts were touring our facility. I got to meet Frank Borman, who was the Command pilot for Gemini 11. That was thrilling. What was disastrous, however, was thinking about Apollo 13’s tragedy. Anyone who worked at any level at any time on that project was personally devastated when that ship went down.
All in all my four years at Martin were full. I was actually very sad when it came time for me to leave after four years to attend school full time. I had made many friends among the staff and met some amazing individuals. Probably the most notable was Mr. Lowell Randall. He was in charge of the lab at one point, and I had advanced to being his secretary. He was what others might call a self-made man, but he would argue the point.
He had come up as a protégé of Dr. Robert Goddard at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. Anybody in the industry recognizes the importance of Dr. Goddard as he was the pioneer of modern rocket propulsion in the United States. As far as I ever knew, Mr. Randall had no college course work, but was so well-educated, especially in the field of propellants. He was very respected, the results of which brought about his promotion to leading such an important laboratory to the space efforts. All of this was on the merits of his experience and knowledge without the seal of any institution of higher learning.
That impressed me for many reasons. Here I was getting an education so I could “become” a teacher. I realized that I had been a teacher since I was very young. I was just adding to my experience and knowledge in preparation for formally teaching. I have counseled many of my students, my own children, and now my grandchildren concerning this truth. It is in us from the very beginning to be what God has called us to be. That’s where we might be accurately called diamonds in the rough. Acquiring education and experience polishes the stone, but the gem was already there.
Watch for the next installment of my life story…