After many years in Washington, Billie F. Blankenship returned to her Virginia home town of Hopewell in 1973, and in her words: "Big mistake. I miss that Washington area!"
Her comment was evoked by my retrospective column a week ago of my 30 years as a Washington reporter. Blankenship penned her own three-page memoir of the Washington she knew from the early 1930s, when she came here to work at Garfinckel's for $12 a week.
There was, in those days, no Jefferson Memorial, National Gallery, Pentagon or National Airport. In fact, the city's airport occupied much of the present Pentagon site.
Here I share some of Blankenship's recollections:
"In 1936, worked in Constitution Avenue temporary building for Army . . . . Brass cuspidors at desk, fans whirling and cloth towels with 'U.S. Govt.' in blue on them delivered at desk each week. We were the War Department then.
"At lunch in back of building, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, with slip showing, and queen of England strolled by with only two bodyguards -- no newspaper people! . . .
"Moved from Southeast to Broadmoor on Connecticut Avenue and lived next door to Huey Long the later- assassinated senator from Louisiana , a nice man . . . . We could see in his window from our seventh floor porch and he was usually in bed studying and reading while his two bodyguards sat in the living room.
"Down the street several years later lived Margaret, Bess and Harry Truman stated here in what would ordinarily be reverse order, but no explanation needed; he was then a senator from Missouri . Saw Bess and Margaret often . . . . Quite a talk about becoming Harry's secretary . . . .
"Worked at one time at The Washington Post then located where the J.W. Marriott Hotel now stands in the subscription and ad department front desk and saw sports writer Shirley Povich quite often . . . .
"Much more to remember. Talk about small town in the '50s as some, not I, have described it . Do even remember visiting in the '20s when Chinatown was on Pennsylvania Avenue at the foot of Capitol Hill and very few marble buildings . . . .
"Talk about a small town, it was, in the '30s! Secretary Harold L.Ickes of Interior used to watch people from his office . . . and if anyone crossed 'his' grass, he'd have them arrested. J. Edgar Hoover was the 'man of the times' after one of his FBI agents gunned down the infamous criminal John Dillinger . . . .
"They were exciting times and everyone knew one another . . . . You worked with sons and daughters of heads of departments and . . . kin of noblemen" from abroad. "So I miss it," Blankenship observed.
To which she added a postscript to me: "Any questions, youngster? Teasing."