Couple Talks About Why They Remained in the City While Others Fled to the Suburbs
Interviewees: Thomas and Mae Scanlan
Date: July 2014
Interviewed and transcribed (from audio recording) by: Joan Solomon Janshego
Location: The Scanlan residence in Chevy Chase DC
Mae Scanlan passed away on Feb. 5, 2019 at age 87
Q – I like to start at the beginning. Where were you born, Mae?
MS – I was born in Baltimore. My dad was in the Navy. Actually, he was living in Annapolis at the time. I just happened to be born in Baltimore.
Q – Was he career Navy?
MS – Yes. He graduated in 1928. Then we went to Boston when I was young, because he was doing work at MIT. Until I met Tom, I moved all over the place.
Q – Was he an engineer?
MS – Yes. He was a naval engineer,
Q – What year were you born?
MS – I was born in 1931.
Q – Tom, how about you?
TS – I was born in Philadelphia in 1924 – on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – February 12. I will be 89 next week.
Q – Did you live in Philadelphia during your childhood.
TS – My father was working for General Electric, and he transferred here in 1928. So I was a small child when I came here.
Q – Where did you live here?
TS – I lived in Takoma Park – part of the time in Takoma DC and then we moved to Takoma, MD.
I was in the first graduating class at Calvin Coolidge.
Q – Where is Calvin Coolidge?
TS – It is in the Northwest part of the city. I went to Roosevelt one year and then transferred.
Q – These were the days of segregation and so it was an all white school?
TS – Yes. I played baseball at Calvin Coolidge.
Q- Were you a good player?
TS – Yes.
Q – Do you have reunions?
TS – What is left of the class. It is mostly transfers from Roosevelt. In those days they had a February graduating class, which was small and the June class, which was large. Since my class was small, when we had the 50th reunion, there weren’t a lot of people compared to the big impersonal reunions. We became a cohesive group. We would even go on trips together. We would go to the eastern shore and stay on Kent Island for several nights. It has gotten smaller and smaller. So now there are not many people left. We meet for lunch maybe a couple times a year. They are the people who stayed here all their lives
Q – So after high school, what did you do?.
TS – Well I earned a scholarship to Corcoran for drawing. Then I went to the Army for over 3 years during the war years. I was drafted.
Q – Where did you serve?
TS – My overseas duty was Okinawa. I was there about 10 months.
MS – He was not supposed to go overseas because of his eyes. But he went to Okinawa. He was there when the war ended. If the war had not ended when it did, he would have been involved in the invasion of Japan. He was in the First Recon. Squadron.
Q – What was your specialty?
TS – I worked in the orderly room.
Q – You were there after the bomb was dropped?
TS – Yes I was there – before and after – and during.
A friend of mine who died recently – Paul Fossel – he wrote a controversial piece for the Atlantic entitled “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.” I was on his side, because I thought we would have probably been dead, because they would have taken me.
Q – What was your thoughts when you heard about the bomb.
TS – I was all in favor of it when I heard the explanation of it – as most World War II veterans are.
Q – You got out of the Army in what year?
TS – I think it was in 1946 or 1947.
Q – What did you do after that?
TS – I went to GW. I was so glad to be home. I went on the GI bill. I got a master’s degree in English.
Q – You steered away from art. It was more practical?
TS – Yes.
MS – He remained a good artist, though. When were first married, he used to get out his pad and charcoal and sketch me. He became the inspiration for his brother who became a well-know artist – in sculpture.
I don’t know if you know the sculpture of the two chess players by the courthouse. His brother did those. The older gentleman is his father and the younger gentleman is his son.
Q – What is his brother’s name?
MS – His name is Lloyd Lillie.
Tom’s father was quite an artist also.
Q – Do you do any drawing now?
TS – No. I don’t do much except for my book.
MS – He has a serious case of macular degeneration. As you can see, we have all sorts of visual aids. It is serious. He cannot read the newspaper at this point.
TS – I was studying guitar for a while when I was at GW.
Q – So you are a musician also?
T S – Well, I used to be.
After my stroke, I can’t play anymore.
Q – But you played all through the years?
MS – Occasionally, he would sit in with groups. His artist brother put himself through school by playing jazz at local clubs. He remained in the field of music in the side because he loved it. Often there would be a jam session at someone’s house and Tom would sit in on guitar. We had lots of fun with music.
Q – What did you do after your graduated from GW?
TS – My first job was at the Takoma Journal and I became a newspaperman. Then, I got a job at Army Times. I was working for the Takoma Journal when I was going to GW. I did local reporting. It is now a defunct paper.
Q – Did you write military type stories at the Army Times?
TS – Yes. It was a weekly.
MS – He wrote sports stories. He wrote about jazz. He covered stories as a reporter. He then became managing editor.
TS – It was a Ryder publication. You know Mel Ryder? He also produced Federal Times. They shifted me from Army Times, where I was managing editor to the Federal Times where I was the editor for about 15 years. Then I retired. I also had a semi-career on the side writing about jazz.
MS – He wrote many programs for the Voice of America.
Q – did they employ you or did you do it as a hobby?
TS – They paid me – pretty good pay for those times.
MS – He was a name in jazz. In fact, there was a magazine called Downbeat. I don’t know if it exists now. But at one point, he was offered the editorship of Downbeat. He turned it down, because it would have meant moving to Chicago. We had 2 little kids. Being a jazz critic requires late nights, because that is when they play. He thought that was not what he wanted to do. But he remains a judge for many art service contracts about jazz.
Q – How did this interest in jazz begin?
TS – I became a jazz addict when I was a teenager.
Q – Who were the people in that era that you liked?
TS – Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lester Young at tenor saxophone.
Q – So then did you start playing the guitar as a result of that?
TS – Sure. My favorite guitarist remains Freddie Green. He plays a straight guitar. He was the guitarist for Count Basie’s orchestra from about 1936 and until after Basie’s death.. He died about 2 years after Basie did. Another guitar player I liked very much was Steve Jordan. He was local. He played at Blues Alley. I wrote a book with Steve. It was his memoir. He worked with Bennie Goodman and Stan Kenton
Q- You never played professional but in pick-up groups?
MS – His professional interest was in writing not playing.
Q – Tell me about the books that you wrote.
TS – I wrote Rhythm Man with Steve Jordan. I wrote a book on jazz – called the Joy of Jazz. They came to me about that book. That was some time before I retired. I retired in 1985.
MS – He also wrote a book on army posts around the country – the histories of them.
TS – They are not bases. They are called posts.
MS – He is now working on a book that he has been working on for years. It is a scholarly critic of jazz criticism.
My son in Boston, John, is doing the technical stuff that has to be done on the computer.
TS – I did most of it on the computer myself. That was before I lost my vision. I have bee working on it for about 10 years. It was over 3000 pages, and I have been cutting it down.
Q – Do you have a publisher?
TS – I think I do.
MS – John thinks there may be others who would be interested. He is about through with it. It has been painstaking.
Q – Mae, do you assist him with it?
MS – I type up pages for him now, and if anything has to be done. He works with great difficulty with pen and paper. Then we talk about it and I type it.
Q – Have you learned a lot about jazz all of these years?
MS – I have read the book numerous times. I love jazz, too. We used to go dancing.
TS – She is a very good dancer.
MS – He is too.
Q – Where did you dance?
M – We used to go to the Armory.. We danced at Glen Echo. But, mainly, we danced at local clubs. They would have a combo or a trio or a quarter and they had a dance floor. Some were in PG County, some in downtown DC, and Silver Spring.
TS – We got engaged after dancing to Count Basie. Kavakos was the club. We were so pleased with Count Basie that I think we got carried away.
Q – So let’s switch to you, Mae. We have you born in Baltimore and traveling all over the country with your family because your father was in the Navy.
MS – I lived in Drexel Hill, which is near Philadelphia. Than we lived in Charleston, South Carolina. There, I christened a vessel. I was 8 years old. It was a happy memory. A lot of my childhood I lived in New London, Connecticut, which I loved. It was during the war years. My father was overseas. He had been stationed at the base there. It was a small town, and it was right on the water. I still have reunions with my grammar school classmates from New London.
I moved here in 1948. My father was transferred here. I went to senior year at Woodrow Wilson High School, which was segregated. That was a surprise to me. Segregation was a surprise to me, because we did not have it in Connecticut. I went to school with African American kids there. But there were not many.
I saw it in Charleston. I have vivid, vivid memories of the days of lynching.
I would hear about them. I remember the appalling photographs in Life magazine of white women laughing as a young black boy was hanging from a tree. It is hard for me to talk about it.
Anyway, in New London, that was not an issue. I came down here, and there were segregated schools. It wasn’t until later that this changed.
Q – Where did you live here?
MS – I lived in Cleveland Park with my parents. I went to GW also.
Tom got out before I started. Then after GW, I went up to New York, because I want to live and work in New York. I published a song in New York and got a job in Newsweek.
Q – You published a song?
MS – I wrote a country-western song called “No Survivors.” I wrote more songs, but this one got published. It was supposed to be sung by Eddie Arnold. He was the biggest thing in country-western music. I wrote home, because I thought I had it made. I was thrilled beyond belief. It was a good publisher. Just before it was supposed to come out, I got a call from the publisher who said that Eddie Arnold had run into a contractual problem and could not do it until the following year. So they were giving it to an unknown singer who had a good voice. He felt certain it would be a big hit. Well, everything changed. He was unknown, and he is still unknown. Although Billboard magazine gave my song top ratings, I got just a few royalty checks. But it never really took off.
Q – Can I ask you how you got into writing music.
MS – I started taking piano lessons at age 10, and I just fell in love with all kinds of music and I still am.
One of the things that I am most pleased with is that I played for 24 years for happy hour at a nursing home, where my father had been. It is now Manor Care in Bethesda. It was called Fernwood then. When my father was there, he was incapacitated with a stroke. While he was there, the person who played piano said she could no longer do it because of back problems.
My father said, “My daughter plays piano,” and I started to play. I loved doing it. I know all the old songs. So I would ask for requests and people would ask for their favorite songs. People with Alzheimer’s, who literally did not know that this was the door to their room or their mate, could sing word by word “Bye Bye Blackbird” or “Let Me Call you Sweetheart.’ It was such a joy to be part of that. I finally last year gave it up, because Tom had a bad fall, and I realized I could not do it anymore. I did it once a month and then extras during the year.
I always loved music. When I was in college I had a little 5 dollar Arthur Godfrey ukulele. I did not live on campus. I lived at home. I had moved to the third floor of our home, because I wanted to have some privacy up there. I had my little ukulele. I wrote that song up there, but I also wrote other things. I decided that I would write a melody to the Rubaiyat of Omar Kiam. So I wrote a melody to it and sang it. It has 102 verses to it. So I would be up there singing. It was a good thing I was there –and not even on the second floor – for the sake of the family.
Q – What was your major in college?
MS – I majored in English Literature. I took journalism too, because I wanted to work for a newspaper. The Journalism Department talked me into switching my major from English Literature to journalism. The English literature teachers found that appalling. They thought I was deserting English literature, although I was not. Then I got a job offer in New York with Newsweek, but it did not start until March. This was Christmas. I decided to come home rather than paying rent up there. But in January I met Tom. So I never worked for Newsweek.
Q – How did you meet?
MS – We met in a little bar in Georgetown at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. He was getting off work . The Army Times office was at Wisconsin and M. There was a little bar next door where often times the people from Army Times would go for a drink after work. A friend of mine and I were coming from Arlington Cemetery where we had just been to a funeral.
It was an icy, cold January day, and we had taken a streetcar from Arlington to Wisconsin and M where we were going to transfer to another streetcar and then get the L-4 bus to our homes. But it was so cold and we decided to go into that little place and have a cup of coffee before we went home. As my friend and I went in, Tom and his friend came in. My friend knew Tom’s friend. She had dated Tom’s friend. So the four of us sat together. That is how we meet.
Q – What year would that have been?
SM – January 1954.
Q – When were you married?
SM – In several months. He proposed to me several weeks after we met, because I said I was going to New York. As I said, this was after Count Basie, and he committed himself and ipso facto – me. We were married in April. I would die if my kids did something like that. My parents took it in stride. We are about to have our 59th anniversary.
Q – Where did you live when you were first married?
SM – When we were first married, I moved in with him. He had an efficiency apartment at Thomas Circle downtown. We were there for a bit, and then we moved into an apartment on Connecticut Avenue and Porter for a bit. Then we rented a house on 41st Street for a bit – at Livingston. Then we had a child and a second one on the way. We decided it was a busy street with little kids. So we moved here. Our kids were 4 and 1 at the time. We have been here ever since.
Q – What year would that be that you moved here?
MS – 1962
Q – The house was not new. Do you know the age of your house?
MS – I think it was built in 1938.
Q – How did you choose this house?
MS – I wanted the kids to go to Lafayette School. I decided it was a good school. I took a year looking for a place that was not in a busy area. I choose this little 2-block street, because I saw a lot of kids. I thought that would be nice for our kids. The day that we moved in – we moved in on a hot June day – the next morning there was a knock at the door. We didn’t go to bed until after midnight. The next day there were 6 kids there. They had 7 kids. So we had plenty of kids, which was wonderful for our 2 growing up.
We have a boy and a girl.
TS – John and Mary. We like unusual names.
MS – Our son, John, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a professor of English Literature and law at Providence College.. He lived in Providence and then his girlfriend then – she went to Wilson with him – moved to Providence to be near him. Then her job took her to Boston. She is a lawyer. So he moved to Boston to be with her. They then got married, and they live in Cambridge. He drives or takes the train to Providence. It is not too far. He has been there for years. He has tenure. He went to the University of Michigan. He is very happy with what he is doing.
Q – And your daughter?
SM – She lives in Springfield, Va. She is a senior editor. She has 2 kids. Our grandson is a junior at Rutgers. He is in aerospace engineering. Our granddaughter is 15. We see my daughter a lot. We are very close with our kids. I have a sister who lives in Rockville, and we see her all the time, too. We are a close family.
Q – Are there still kids in the neighborhood?
MS – Yes there are. They visit us and we love it.
Q – What was it like in 1962 when you moved here?
MS – Quiet – There were not many cars on this block of 32nd Place. We got curbs 6 months ago for the first time.. We were classified as a temporary block. The street is 2 blocks long. The upper block was permanent and we were temporary. For years, they would not plow. People would attack plows to their cars and plow us out. Still, if there is a snowstorm, this is the last street to get treated. But it was quiet and wonderful for the kids. They could play. The only people who drove by were those who lived on the street. And not everyone had a car.
One thing that Tom did not mention was that he was an ace gardener. He loved gardening. I can say this, because I had not part in it whatsoever. Our front yard and our backyard were beautiful, particularly after he retired but even before. People would stop and comment, and the backyard was glorious. In the spring, – riots of hyacinths, tulips and daffodils and then cannas. After they died down, he planted whatever he wanted in the way of annuals. It was beautiful. I would go out with him and help him load the car up with stuff and then turn him loose – but he would do it all himself. In fact, I would ask before I picked a flower, because I didn’t want to upset him.
He had a serious stroke 9 years ago, and it impaired his right side. He no longer can do gardening. He is almost 89.
TS –I find I can get down, but getting up is hard.
MS – It is frustrating for him because he can’t do gardening the way he did. He can’t play the guitar the way he did. He does not complain. But it has got to be frustrating to have the things you love that you cannot do.
Q – So your kids went to Lafayette?
MS – They went to Lafayette. Then Deal and Wilson. I remember when they went to Deal – our son, John, who is 3 years older than Mary – that was right when they started busing. Many of our friends who had kids at Lafayette who would be going to Deal moved to Maryland. They said, “I’m not dealing with that – too many problems.’” But we didn’t. it was fine – although there were some rough times.
Q – What was your thinking – why you didn’t move to Maryland?
MS – Well, number one, I believed in the public school system. I believe in everybody being together – so does he – and I didn’t want to run from something like that. I knew it was going to be hard times, and it was. There were shootings and all kinds of things.
Q – There were shootings? Where?
MS – Outside of the school. I forget the details of some of it. It was a rough period adjusting to it all.
Q – How old were you kids t the time?
MS – They were at Deal – 7th and 9th. It was both kids, but it was harder on John because the year he started Deal was when it happened. You feel for these kids. They would be bused in from the poorer sections of town, and then the minute that school was over, they would be bused out again – back to their neighborhoods. Yes, it was integrating the schools, but integration didn’t mean very much until there was busing. There were so many problems. But our son got on the baseball team. I think for a while he was the only white member of the baseball team. So his friends were black.
Q – So he had black friends, as a result?
MS – Yes and he has a black wife.
Q – Even though the kids got bused back to their neighborhoods, was there much social interaction – or was it mostly when they were on teams?
MS – It was mostly when they were on teams. I think if they were involved in sports, they could stay until it was over. But it was a hard system as opposed to if they lived in the neighborhood. But then, John, especially when he was older and in high school and was able to drive, he would want to go over to some of these rough neighborhoods to be with his friends. I said, “Well, I can’t say it is OK for them to come here, but it is not OK for him to go there.” It goes against what I believe in.
Q – But you worried a little bit?
MS – Well, I worried a lot.
Q – The fact is that because they went to integrated schools, their horizons expanded.
MS – Their horizons expanded, and they got good educations. Some of the teachers at these schools are the ones who inspired my son to go on to study.
Q – I thought I was told that African American teachers came here before the kids were bused? Did he have African American teachers?
MS- He had African American teachers at Lafayette.
Q – When he was at Lafayette, there was no busing?
MS – There was no busing. As far as I know, at Lafayette, there were all types of kids. But the busing changed a lot of things.
Q – What year was that – the busing?
MS- Well, let’s see . He was born in 1957 and he would have been 11 – 12 when he got out of Lafayette. . So it would have been 1968 – when there was a lot of unrest anyhow, with the riots going on when Martin Luther King was assassinated – all that era of civil rights turmoil.
Q – Was there a time when houses didn’t sell that well here with people moving to Maryland. Did others move in, and it was OK?
MS – No – someone else moved in.
Q – It wasn’t like the houses went down in value?
MS – No. The houses have never gone in value to my mind, unless they did recently because of the economic situation. But it was minimal – because of where we are.
Q – Do you recall what you paid for your house?
MS – $27,000. I got him down from $27,500 to $27,000, and that seemed like a lot then.
Q – Did you work outside of the home?
MS – I worked until I had kids. I worked at an ad agency on Connecticut Avenue for a while, and wrote ad copy for Cinerama and Hahn’s shoe store, and I don’t know what all. Then, I wrote a humor column for about 10 years – for Navy Times. Although we had no connection then. We did not know each other – even though Navy Times was published under Ryder publications, as Army Times was. We didn’t know each other at all.
Q – So you worked here before you got the job opportunity at Newsweek in New York.
MS – Yes. I started this humor column before I met Tom.
Q – So you were working here after college?
College, I went right to New York, but I was already writing the humor column. I don’t remember exactly when that happened, but I did do it for 10 years, I know. But then, I came back from New York and that is when I worked for an ad agency here when we were first married. Then when I got pregnant, I didn’t work, but I kept this column going for maybe 7 more years. Then I went back to work when our daughter was in high school. I worked at American University. I worked at what I think was called the Department of criminal justice. I started out as a receptionist. It was hard to get a job after all those years. Some of my references were dead. I couldn’t get past a lot of receptionists. I wanted to do some writing – getting involved with television stations. I had some happy years at AU. I got involved with grad students in the field. It became the Department of Justice, and so it took in pre-law and going into police work and FBI. It was students who wanted to go into some type of law enforcement. I made many good friends there that I still have. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was 10 minutes from home.
Q – Did you work there a number of years?
MS – I would say 5 or 6 years. While I was there, I had breast cancer and had a mastectomy. That was in 1979.
Q – Did you have chemo?
MS – No. I don’t know how much they did chemo then. In those days, it was not talked about much. One of my idols is Betty Ford. Her cancer came right before mine. She was upfront about it. In fact, we had some of the same doctors. She was up front about it and talked about it. Bless her soul. I just loved her.
Then, my mother was dying. One of my loves in life had been photography. So I decided I needed something to be a counter-balance, because I ran over to the Naval Hospital all of the time. I was able to take free courses at AU, because I worked there.
So I took a course in photography thinking it would be honing skills on framing pictures. But it was about developing. I thought that I didn’t really care about that, but I signed up for the course. Well, I tell you, Joan, the first time that I took a piece of blank paper and slipped it into a vat of chemicals, and I saw my picture come up, I was totally and completely hooked on it.
As Tom will tell you, I would be there late at night in the lab. And sometimes I would go out to Glen Echo and use their lab. I could just not get enough of this. Tom said finally, “Look, you are having so much fun with this. Why don’t you quit your job and do photography. Then I would get to see you.” So I did. Everyone warned me against it. They said, “You are not going to make any money in a town like Washington, it can’t be done.” Well, I was not out to set the world on fire, but I was out to make some money, and I did. I did not go into the kind that pays big money like fashion photography or advertising photography.
I went into editorial photography. I started out covering a few things. I went downtown and covered some Democratic function, and I did some weddings and that kind of stuff. Then I became a stock photographer, which means that you get together a bunch of photographs, and you advertise. People will come to you, and slowly, they did. I did a lot of calendar work, travel guides – that kind of thing. I had a good time doing it.
Q – This was your own business?
MS – Yes.
Q – This was before the internet.
MS – Yes. I printed up cards and letterhead and paper. I went to the library and to the bookstores and looked at who puts up what. Then I went to the telephone and made calls and wrote letters. I got a base of things to start with, and I would see that this company used this type of picture and that company used that kind of picture. They started buying my stuff.
Q – Were you developing and printing?
MS – No. They only wanted slides. So I would take a lot of pictures. For instance, Hallmark bought a lot of my pictures – particularly cat pictures and scenic. That is what I would specialize in – animal pictures and scenery. I would send pages – 20 on a page – of maybe 40, 60, 80 photographs and ask if they would suit. They would say, “Three of them will do or whatever.” I have 70,000 slides upstairs. Then Tom has all these jazz records. We don’t know what to do with them.
Q – No wonder you don’t want to move to a 2-bedroom condo.
MS – I said we have to figure out what happens to all of this stuff. That is one of the things that keeps me up nights. I did it until the digital stuff came along. Then all of a sudden – I love the digital cameras. You don’t have to change film.
Q – Does it take as much skill?
MS – I still believe as many people say, photography is 90 percent the eye of the photographer. It is what you see, and if you can capture that. The rest is technical. I don’t like to play with photography. In other words, I don’t like to misconstrue it. Back when I worked with chemicals, I could make the clouds come out bright. But as far as what people do now on the computer, I am not interested in it. But all of a sudden I am learning about J- pegs. It was overwhelming. Right about that time, Tom had a stroke. Right about that time, a close friend of ours died whom we were taking care of. I just thought I couldn’t handle all of this. So I got out of it. I am not sorry that I did, but I was making some money, and it was nice.
Q – And you were enjoying it.
M S – I thoroughly enjoy it.
Q – Do you still take photographs for your own enjoyment?
MS – Yes. But I don’t go downtown like I used to. Of course, since 9/11, it is very difficult. I used to go downtown walk up the steps of the Capitol, go into the Capitol and just shoot to my heart’s content. I will show you a book that Tom and I put together that has gone in several editions.
Q – Walking Washington DC. Is the book. These are your photographs and it is Tom’s writing. How beautiful.
MS – I would just wander in the Capitol and take pictures like that. Now, you cannot even walk up the front steps of the Capitol.
Q – When did you do the book?
MS – This is a later edition. It is republished. But I think it started in 1988.
Q – Are they still selling it somewhere?
MS – I got a call several weeks ago. They will put out yet another edition of it soon.
Q – It is called Beautiful America’s Washington DC. It is newly revised, including a mall-walking map. It has beautiful photographs of the familiar Washington scenes.
MS – But I used to go downtown when he was still working and spend the day down there. I would park, and when the 2-hours was up, I would find another parking place and go to another area and just loved it. I met a lot of interesting people. I was there for the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial.
Q – In a professional way – or did you just take photographs?
MS – I took photographs and sold them. But I was there that day. It was an emotional day for everybody, and, of course, I come from a military family.
Q – How about the FDR memorial. I see you have photographs of that. Were you there for that dedication?
MS – No. But I like the design of that memorial.
Q – So you are getting royalties for these photographs?
MS – No. I was paid a sum and each edition has several new pictures, and I get paid for the new pictures.
Q – You have written your books and you did this one together.
MS – It was fun to do it together. The publisher is in Oregon, and he had bought some of my pictures, and he called me from Oregon and asked me if could do a book of photographs. I said, of course – of Washington – and he flew here. He came and talked to me and signed me up to do it. He said to me, “Would you happen to know any writers? He said that the writer that he had signed up died. I said, “I know exactly the perfect writer – Tom.”
Q – What year was that?
MS – 1988 was the first edition.
Q – You took these photographs specifically for this book?
MS – Yes
Q – I was wondering what else it was like living in Chevy Chase in those years. You talked about the schools, the issue of busing and the quiet neighborhood. Did you have block parties here?
MS – Yes we do. This block we can’t say enough good about it. It has changed a lot over the years. The neighbors at the two corners were here when we first moved in. Everyone else is new.
TS – We are the old timers.
MS – But consistently everybody who has moved in, we like so much. We have wonderful block parties.
Q – Do you close the street?
MS – Yes. Everyone here that we called on when we needed to are helpful. One neighbor we coordinate with when we get our Christmas tree. I pull up in front of his house. He comes out of his house. Gets it. Puts the stand on outside. Then he brings it into the house and sets it up for us. He asks us to let him know when we want to take it out to the alley. They are just wonderful neighbors. When one family moves out, I grieve, because I hate to lose track of them. But I know someone nice will move in. And they stay in touch. We had a couple from Sacramento visit us not too long ago. They knocked on the door and said “Don’t know if you remember us, but we lived next door 15 years ago.” “Of course, we remember you, come in,” I said.
Q –Any other kind of neighborhood activities?
MS – Well as I said, people are always willing to help whenever there is a power outage. In 1989, there was a vicious storm – a wind sheer thing – and hundreds of trees went down. They all went in one direction. I happened to chronicle that with photography. I have a couple hundred photographs, which I have decided will go to the Chevy Chase Historical Society. It was a major event.
Our car was under a tree for 6 days, because the power company could not handle it. It was just a small section of Chevy Chase that was affected.
Our block parties have been super, because everybody likes everybody. Sometimes people have just dessert parties. We have the works – people grilling hot dogs and we have chicken and so on.
Q – Anything special happen at Christmas?
MS -Yes. One thing that is lovely is our neighbors 2 doors down – she is a flute player with the Washington Opera Society. He is a violinist with the National Symphony. They and their family and some of their friends — about 15 people who go caroling Christmas Eve. That is something I don’t see very often. It will bring tears to your eyes. They are wonderful. They sing harmony and everything. They knock on the door around 7:00. They tell you about when they will come, and we open the door and come out on the front stoop. They sing about 3 carols and they wind up with “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” These little angelic kids looking up at us and signing their hearts on – and the parents and grandparents. They are of all ages. It is almost the nicest thing about Christmas – those neighbors.
Q – When you were here in the 1960’s, were there any black families here.
There were not at that time, but later there were. This block has had all sorts of people – all races and various nationalities and everybody has liked everybody.
When I first came to Washington and lived in Cleveland Park. We had a Spanish family, a Persian family, an Indian family, a Chinese Family and us.. It was like a United Nations and that was great.
Q – Are you associated with a local church?
MS – I go to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Bethesda. Neither of us was affiliated with any church. About 10 years ago, my brother-in-law was very ill and dying. My sister had become a member of this church and wanted very much for me to see it so that I would understand how pleased she was. So I went and I thought the pastor was marvelous. I liked the people. I went again to be with my sister. Then I realized, “I like it here.”
Soon after then, Tom had a stroke. The pastor was at the hospital seeing him right away. The friends at the church – who I barely knew at that time – were sending stuff. So I am very happy there. It is not necessarily because it is Lutheran. I am comfortable there. Tom was an altar boy in the Episcopalian Church, and my mother was Episcopalian, and my father was Catholic.
Q – What about Broad Branch Market?
MS – I remember Curly at the Broad Branch Market with great fondness. He was the bald, tall guy who delivered stuff for years and years. I remember in the old days everybody would go there after school. I would stop by to pick up something that I needed.
Q – Did you use Curly’s delivery service?
MS – Mainly what I did was to go get my groceries, and for a while before there was a Safeway or Giant, there was a DGS where McGruder’s is now. I used to take the kids in a stroller. You didn’t pick this off the shelf. They got it for you off the shelves.
Q – Did you walk there?
MS – Yes. That was when we were on 41st Street. It was a long block away. I just walked down there and got what I needed. To show what a small world it was back then, the manager of the DGS when our kids were born gave us baby presents. With Broad Branch, it was just pick up something.
Q – Any other stores that were memorable to you?
MS – Well, of course, Peoples. My son worked at Peoples. It is now where the CVS is. Down the street was Drug Fair, and my daughter worked there. Drug Fair was on the same block but closer to where the American Diner is.
I went to the banks of course.
Q – How about the Avalon Theater?
MS – Oh yes. We were always there. I remember pre-Tom days, the Uptown Theater was a block from where we lived in Cleveland Park, and we would always go there. It was 35 cent to see the movies – either my sister and I, or my mother and I, or my father and I. Somebody was always going to see the movie. One movie would run Monday and Tuesday. The other would be Wednesday and Thursday, and then the blockbuster would come in on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then Cinerama movies came in. That was fun. Of course, I did the commercials for that.
Then there was the barbershop in the Arcade and Tom still goes to the same barber – Jose. He used to go to a barber in Southwest, because his office was, there. After he retired, he got on the metro and went to southwest. After his stroke, he couldn’t handle the metro. I said, “I am not driving you to southwest.” So he started going to the same barber that he went to when we first moved in here.
Q – What about the restaurants?
MS – We would go to the Parthenon. We tended to go to the restaurants in Cleveland Park and downtown, Of course, Wisconsin and Western was different too. They had Raleigh’s and some other stores. That all moved out. The only thing that remained was Clydes and they put in a new Giant.
I remember when they built Woodies. By the way, I worked at Woodies downtown between high school and college.
Q – What department did you work in?
MS – I was a contingent, because I was not a regular. So I worked in whatever department they needed someone. The first day that I worked there, they put me in a bakery. You had to wear a little uniform. It was busy. I remember a guy said he wanted “that cake down there.” I wanted to please him, and I got the cake down there and it hit the top of the shelf. I thought “there goes this job.” But everyone was nice about it. Then the next job was in woman’ girdles. I am 17. Remember you didn’t pick out a girdle. You had someone wait on you. And I had to help this women put them on and fit them. What I knew about girdle was zero.
They had a dress code. Women didn’t wear pants. You wore conservative colors. They had Jelleff’s Department stores – gone – they were good. Woodies and Hecht’s and Garfinckels – although I didn’t shop there.
TS – Tell Joan about your work with the press club.
MS – I did some parodies for the National Press Club. Tom is a press club member. Throughout the years. we have gone to a lot of functions there. Somehow someone found out that I do song parodies. For long-time members, they have what they call “hoots.” Because there are owls. If you have been a press club member for 25 years, you are a silver owl. If you have been a member for 50 years, you are a golden owl. Well, Tom is a golden owl. They hoot where they get together, and they honor certain people. They do song parodies. I did one for Helen Thomas and Mark Russell. I have done them for the club in general.
Q – Are you still doing it?
MS – Whenever they ask, I do. They may have one this spring.
Q – Do you feel any pressure doing them?
MS – No. I have been doing them for so many years. For Mark Russell, we went to see him for years. He was at the Shoreham Hotel for many years. So I knew a lot about him and that is the same for Helen Thomas. So if I am asked to do one for someone I do not know, then I have to do a lot of research.
I also do the Style Invitational in the Washington Post. It runs every Sunday. It is a humor contest. I submit things.
TS – You see those things on the refrigerator?
MS – Each one represents one of my wins. If you win the top prize, you get a statue. I have gotten some of those. Then second prize you get a T-shirt or a mug I have gotten some of those. But if you appear at all, you get one of those little things. I have been doing it for many years. It is word play. Sometimes it is poetry. Sometimes it is change a word with one letter. It is fun. Sometimes they have parties.
Q – How did your interest in humor come about in your life?
MS – I always loved humorous verse. I have been successful with it. There was a publication called Light, which was a quarterly. When I heard about that, I submitted something. It is humorous verse. I consistently got in it. In fact, in one issue, they featured me as the poet, ran a lot of my stuff and interviewed me.
Q – Is it still in existence?
MS – It just folded because the editor just died. But it has been taken over by somebody else, and it is going to be on line – with the same name. She hasn’t gotten it started yet. She will let me know when she does, and there will be a call for submissions. I submitted a lot of stuff to publications in England. Actually, I have had more success there. They don’t use much light verse in America anymore. The Spectator, which is the oldest publication in England – or anywhere I guess – runs a column every week. I was the first American to win their top prize.
Q – Do they pay you?
MS – That one does pay. It pays I think 25 pounds or something . Another one I got 300 pounds, which turned out to be close to $500. I find out a lot of this stuff on line. I enjoy doing it, and it takes the place of photography because I can do it at home.
Q – When you say on line, what do you search?
MS – I know sites where I can find out if some publication in England is looking for humorous verse. I check occasionally there will be something in this country in a college review or a magazine put out by a university. Usually that is serious poetry, and I don’t do much of that. I like to stick with the humorous stuff, which I feel can make a very serious point.
Back when I was a kid there were all sorts of areas where you could read serious verse. Ogden Nash was huge. There were many poets back there who wrote humorous verse. They were famous, and they became my idols. I have done this since I was six years old. I just love it.
Q – When did you join the Northwest Neighbors Village?
MS – I think it was just about this time last year. Tom had fallen. He was in the nursing home all of January and February. He had fallen on the front steps outside and smashed up his knee and had to have surgery. He went to a nursing home for 2 months for rehab. The surgeon said he would be OK. But he had had a stroke, and he was limited because of that.
The first thing was did was put in wrought iron railings outside, and then we put a second set going upstairs. When the doctor assured me he would be able to handle stairs, I became more comfortable. I put grab rails upstairs. I was thinking I just don’t want to go a retirement home. We so much want to be in our own home. We want to be part of young people as well as old people. We are old people and God bless them. But we love the diversity of here. Tom just loves it when the girl next door comes over and says, “Hello, Mr. Scanlan.” I made this for you.”
Anyway, my daughter said , “You know Mom. I found something on line. Maybe you would like to look into it. It is called Northwest Village.” I did and I talked to Marianna, and I was sold on it I think it is an absolutely wonderful organization. So far, we have not needed it a lot, and I am glad. I am delighted to be a member of it. I am sure as time goes on, we will need it more. It is comforting to know it is there. Mariana gave me numbers to call for things. I almost called to have some annuals planted. I did it myself. But it was not easy. This year, I might call for help.
Q – Is there anything that I haven’t asked that would be of interest?
MS – One big interest is baseball. Ton is an ardent baseball fan. He was a fan of the Philadelphia Athletics when he was a boy. He knew Connie Mack, the legendary manager.
Q – How did you know him?
MS – Because he went to ball games.
TS – Mack sat in the stands with the regular people before the game. I got to know him that way.
MS – Tom says that he called him “Tommy.”
TS – I called him “Mr. Mack.” The player called him “Mr. Mack,” too.
MS – We almost went to spring training on our honeymoon. I love baseball, too. My father was the star pitcher on the Naval Academy team. We didn’t do that. But many times since, we have been to spring training in Arizona and Florida. We took our kids out of school on opening day when the Senators played here at the RFK Stadium. We are very excited about the Nationals. We jut love them. We watch every game. Tom in the attic has 39 scrapbooks that he made about the Philadelphia Athletics when he was a boy.
Q – There are newspaper clippings?
TS – Yes. – and Red Smith columns.
MS – There was a man who was writing a book on a former Athletics player. He asked if he could come down. He came from somewhere in Massachusetts and spent the day. Tom brought the 39 books down. On the carpet was nothing but books. It was a wonderful experience. He said that he got all sorts of wonderful information
Our son and daughter both love baseball. That picture over there is one of our son and his daughter at Fenway Park in Boston. Our granddaughter is the world’s expert on the Red Sox at 12 years old.
I don’t watch the Super Bowl. But you can’t pry me away from the World Series.
Q – Do you watch all the Nats games on television?
MS – Absolutely. Tom just loves baseball. It is a huge part of his life.
Q – It is interesting that your interests mesh together.
MS – Yes. Because we married so quickly, we really did not know that. We knew that music was a common bond. We knew writing was, but not baseball. On our first date he said, “Would you like to come to my apartment to hear the Alex Guinness tape of Macbeth?” – not come to see my etchings. I thought this is an interesting approach. We found a lot that we shared throughout the years. At some of these trips that I would take so that I could take scenic pictures after he retired, I would say, “How about fall pictures. Does that sound good to you?” We would get in the car and drive up to Vermont for 2 weeks. He would sit there with a note pad while I would go out of the car and say, “this is the such and such church” in a small town in Vermont. He would take the notes for me. We would stay at country inns.
We also twice went cross-country by train. I was glued to the dome car – especially through the Rockies and Glacier National Park. We would get off the train at various places and did the parks.
Q[- Have you been overseas?
MS – We have been to South America. My favorite city outside of this one is London. I just loved London. We spent some time in London. We have been to Venezuela and Canada and the Caribbean. We have not done as much European travel as we would have liked, because he had his stroke. But that is OK. I don’t miss what I have not seen, because I have done other things.
We were never ones to take a tour. We mapped our trips out ourselves and did what we wanted to do. For example, when we went to London. we went to the British Museum, turned right. We walked into a room and saw all of these documents by Alexander Pope and Oliver Goldsmith and we were there for hours. On a tour, that would never happen.
Our son specializes on Samuel Johnson. He is giving a speech in the fall in New York. He is happy with what he does, and that makes us happy
Hi wife, Agnes, is down frequently testifying before Congress. She deals a lot with privacy issues. She passed the bars for Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and DC, and she practices before the Supreme Court. She stays with us and sometimes with her sister who lives in Silver Spring. If our son is making a speech and travels somewhere, she calls to tell us that he has arrived safely. She keeps us informed about our granddaughter. She is just wonderful.
Those two met at Woodrow Wilson. They were both in the orchestra together. They went to college and went their separate ways – had boyfriends and girlfriends and whatever. Nothing clicked. Years later, they met up again and started seeing each other. You could tell right away that this was it. But they went together some years before they got married. They both got married at age 39 for the first time. Several years later, they had our little Sophia. We used to go there at least 6 times a year to visit, help out and babysit. Now we can’t do it. But we did it then.
I think mainly we are blessed to be where we are. We have gone to funeral after funeral of our close friends. We sit in the evening, and we say to each other “We are blessed.” He could have had mental issues. He doesn’t. He talked a lot. The stroke quieted him down. For a while, he groped for the worlds. Even now, he asks me about a certain word. It is the residue of the stroke. Happily, we are doing well.
We are doing well and we want to stay here as long as possible. But I realize that things can change in a minute. But right now, we are doing well.
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