Martha Lemasters’s gripping memoir tells the remarkable story of her life as a single mother employed at Cape Kennedy during the Apollo years. Fiercely determined, she works her way up, finally realizing her dream of becoming a writer in a male-dominated workplace, and witnesses history first hand.
In this riveting insider's look at the real dream team who made landing a man on the moon possible, we get to know many of the main players in the most powerful scientific and engineering team of its time.
The space race and the sexual revolution collide in this true story of what it was like to be a part of this remarkable era, and the historical accomplishment of launching our astronauts to the moon.
|Morgan James Publishing
|Barnes & Noble
About the Author
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GROWING UP IN FLORIDA
Maybe it's my parents, or going to Sunday school that instills in me a great urgency to never use the words, "I can't."
I grow up in the 40's and 50's in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, going barefoot most of my early years except for school and church. Every day from the age of 10, I am either on the tennis court or at the beach. I can still smell the ocean and feel the sand beneath my toes ... the burnt smell of my skin from too much sun.
We kids walk or ride our bikes everywhere. We don't lock our doors either ... how would our friends get in? No one in my family has ever owned an umbrella. If it rains we just run through it and get wet.
Nasty, annoying mosquitoes are rampant. In the summer, the highlight of every evening at twilight is the spray truck that rides through the neighborhood dispersing DDT to kill the mosquitoes. All the kids jump up, run out of the house into the dense fog of DDT as if it is some magic cloud.
My Dad, a tall, handsome, Georgia boy, owns an awning and canvas company, located in a building facing New River, maybe 50 steps from the bridge on Andrews Avenue. He is a humble man, of few words, unencumbered by a high sense of ego, who provides modestly for our family of five. I have one brother and one sister. My Dad not only sews awnings but is also a master craftsman, or so he says, for making beautiful sails for huge, expensive yachts.
One of his more memorable customers is the movie star, Errol Flynn. "After I finished loading his sails aboard his yacht, Flynn insisted that I come sailing with him so I can see my sails billowing in the wind. I had to tell him what I tell all my customers: Can't do it. I get seasick," he says to the family at the dinner table.
My mother, tall and apple shaped, works all day with her household duties. I don't know of any women my mother's age who work outside the home. My mother rules the roost and is the voice of the family. She is also a strict disciplinarian who makes us pick our own switches from the yard when the need arises.
"You can do anything you set your heart to do ... you have intelligence ... use it." She also refuses to allow us to complain. "Complaint is poverty ... and we are not poor."
My mother has crippling, painful, rheumatoid arthritis that's left her hands and feet badly deformed. Still, she does all the work that is required of women of her day — cleaning, washing, ironing and cooking everything from scratch — while the children take over clean up duties in the kitchen following our meals. Those crooked hands sew and mend my clothes, and darn the holes in my Dad's socks.
She doesn't enable her deformity to give her permission to neglect us. Having grown up seeing her with badly malformed fingers and feet, I don't realize they're different from any other mother's hands until late in the sixth grade when Mary Lou Cunningham asks me what is wrong with my mother's hands. Then, the wonder of all she accomplishes hits me and I am amazed at my mother, in awe of her perseverance and determination. She is an inspiration. Because if she can accomplish so much and never complains, imagine what I can do with healthy hands and feet.
Mama takes to bed most days in the afternoons. Later, the arthritis develops in her knees and she is unable to walk except within the house. She misses all my school events: never sees me play tennis, or even graduate. Finding shoes that don't cause additional pain is also difficult. By junior high school I realize that my mother is in too much pain to care for another infant.
One day, Dad brings Mom home from a "doctor's visit" and I see blood running down her legs. She stays in bed for weeks, running a fever, my Dad looking after her. Our house is small, just two bedrooms, it's easy to hear my Dad talking to my Mom through the thin partitions. He is trying to sooth her tears as she tells him "I'm so sorry. I would have liked to have another child but I just can't do it. My fingers can't even open a safety pin. Please forgive me."
"Don't you bother asking forgiveness from me. I see your pain, and I feel it too. I know how painful every step is for you. I'm just sorry I couldn't afford to send you to a real doctor to have this done," he says holding her crippled hands in his. Later, Dad brings all the kids together in our small living room.
"Your Mom's real sick, kids, so I'll need you girls to take good care of her while I go to work," says Dad, as he directs his speech to me and my sister, Zola, since my younger brother is only in the first grade. "She's not going to be able to cook or wash your clothes so you've got to help out. You've got to fend for yourselves."
We make sandwiches for everyone for several days until my Dad can't take it anymore and appeals for help from my Mom's brother and his wife, Charles and Ethel. When they arrive we are treated to real food again, country fried steak, mashed potatoes with gravy and fresh vegetables, and clean sheets.
Another doctor is called to the house. I overhear him tell my Dad, "It doesn't look good. She's got a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. I can't put her in the hospital — she'll be arrested for having an illegal abortion. You'll just have to wait it out. That guy that performed this probably didn't use sterile instruments. Rich couples have access to good doctors that will perform this procedure if the money is right, so I understand your situation. I'll leave her some medicine. Good luck."
I realize the seriousness of my Mom's malady when she is unable to get up in the mornings to fix our breakfast. When questioned, she just asks us to pray for her. And we do. It takes several weeks but each day she rallies a little more until finally one morning she gets up, dresses and fixes breakfast for everyone.
My mother has only five spices in her kitchen: salt, pepper, mustard, ketchup, and Tabasco. Every Sunday we are treated to fried chicken, pole beans, mashed potatoes and her wonderful pies; lemon, chocolate meringue, or key-lime ... and on special occasions Charlotte Russe, which has to be served in the footed cut-glass bowl that my grandmother has brought from Alabama.
In our backyard are avocado, mango and kumquat trees. My mother's idea of a salad is a sliced avocado with lemon juice on it. Her only other salad is a tomato, iceberg lettuce, onion and mayonnaise mixture, with lots of salt and pepper.
During the heat and humidity of the summers, right after dinner, we are loaded into the car and taken to the beach where we play in the surf until almost dark. Later, in our beds, with only a fan to cool us, we are so tired from swimming in the surf that we fall fast asleep, oblivious to the sweltering heat.
When I am old enough to learn to drive and earn my learners' permit, my Dad takes on the task of teaching me. He is not a man of great patience. He often yells, only to reinforce my inability to get the clutch in smoothly. When parking, he advises: "You must find shade. Those seat covers and even the steering wheel can get hot enough to burn your skin."
My grandmother, my mother's mother, also lives with us, sleeping on a rollaway bed in the living room at night. She and my mother's entire family come from Alabama. Granny, as we call her, has an old book entitled, The Confederate Soldier. It is similar to my school yearbook. It has all the names of the Confederate battles and the officers who commanded the troops. My grandmother's dad was an officer in the Confederacy so she spends many hours instructing her grandchildren about his courage and honor. She spends the rest of her time reading Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy.
She always asks me where the young men are from when they come to the house for a date when I am older. If they are from the south, she wants to meet them and find out exactly where his family is from in the south. If he is a Yankee, she will not even come out of her room.
My Dad is equally entrenched in southern history and fills our vacations with trips to every Civil War battlefield and museum in the south.
My mother never fails to point out lone standing fireplaces, the only remnant left from a house fire, as evidence that Sherman has burned the house to the ground. For years afterwards, every time I see a lone fireplace I am sure Sherman has been there and burned down that house. According to my calculations his march extends much further than Atlanta to Savannah.
Dad, cigar hanging from one side of his mouth, plaid shirt with his tie tucked in-between the buttons, cuts down a pine scrub for our Christmas tree and we decorate it with tinfoil and popcorn. My mother, with her bright apron on, fixes the traditional Southern meal: turkey, cornbread dressing and giblet gravy with boiled eggs, sweet potato pie, pole beans ... and always a Claxton, Georgia fruitcake that Aunt Lila sends us.
By high school I have blossomed into a 5 foot 8 inch, well shaped brunette with killer legs. My mother thinks I'm too much of a tomboy. She sends me to a charm school where I learn to correctly walk and hold myself. I even win a contest for "Miss Leg Perfection." I enjoy high school, have lots of friends, make better than average grades, play on the tennis team ... have one boyfriend throughout the last two years. I excel in English and writing and put my writing talents to work on the school newspaper and yearbook. I even quarterback the junior girls to a first-time victory over the seniors in flag football. The latter provides my Dad's favorite photo of me, as the guys from the football team carry me off the field on their shoulders.
I soon learn that our four seasons in Florida are not the same as up north. For instance, I am astonished when I learn that in the northern states the leaves fall off the trees in the fall and winter. Our seasons are hurricane season, love bug season, tourist season and fire season.
When a hurricane approaches we have about a day's notice to button up our houses. We gather round the radio, staring at its wooden veneer for the latest information. My Dad works up until the last minute that is humanly possible before the hurricane strikes. He fills those precious minutes taking down the awnings of his customers, which he does for free. "They're my customers," he explains, when my mother asks him how much he will receive in payment. "I don't charge my customers. They've already paid for their awnings."
After the hurricane passes he goes back to each customer and re-hangs every awning, again with no charge ... because they are his customers. One time a radio crew from a major station follows him around as he works right up until the last moment. I am convinced my Dad is a hero ... more for the fact that he never charges his customers for this service, than the danger he faces in his race against the hurricane.
Hurricanes usually come in September, which the students don't mind since it means we have a few days out of school. When one comes through, we hunker down with the family in our wooden house with the screened-in porch that wraps around one side, right across from the court house, where inmates are kept on the top floors. We eat Spam and Vienna sausage sandwiches and lose our power for days. Afterwards, my Dad drives us to the beach to see all the fish and sand that has blown over A1A; we sometimes find valuables, like big shells or small boats.
I have some interesting friends in high school: Barbara Anheiser of the beer family, who gives great parties. My boyfriend Gordon's best friend is Fred Wakeman, Jr. His father has just written a book called, The Hucksters. Fred tells us that Hollywood is going to make a movie of his Dad's book and they want Clark Gable to play the lead.
"Mr. Gable," says Fred, "thinks the book is filthy and not entertain able and is refusing the part." One day a group of us are at Fred's house playing Ping-Pong and in walks Mr. Clark Gable with Fred's Dad, in full Technicolor, his famous moustache in place. We are in shock; mouths fall open as this screen presence walks among us, smiling gently with his famous, recognizable grin. Shortly afterwards, Fred tells us that his Dad has explained his main character in the book and reels Gable in to accept the role.
I return home and tell my mother I met Mr. Clark Gable. As so many women in the south and in the 50's, my mother thinks that the movie, Gone with the Wind is second only to the Bible in importance and devotion. Our parents take us to see it every time it plays at the Lyric Theater, and my mother always cries at the same place, when the daughter dies from a fall from her pony.
My mother, of course, insists that I tell her every mannerism, every word that I heard coming from the lips of Mr. Gable. I revel in her undivided attention as my little brother, Hersch, and sister gather round waiting for my answers, which I, of course, embellish as much as I can by acting as though I had officially met him.
"Oh my, he is sooo handsome, not as tall as he appears in Gone with the Wind ... but oh sooo charming, sooo nice, soft spoken ... he looks each one of us in the eyes when Mr. Wakeman introduces us." (He never introduced us at all.)
Every spring, college kids descend upon Ft. Lauderdale, performing their usual pranks such as putting a shark into the hotel swimming pool. Spring also brings dances, and graduation.
My senior year I attend the prom with skinny, redheaded Gordon McCully, the best tennis player on our high school team. After the dance we drive west out to a local dive. Years later Hollywood makes a movie about our antics and calls it, Porky's.
For our senior class trip, and for those who can afford it, we fly an hour away to beautiful Havana, Cuba. We tour the perfume factories and visit Moro Castle. Havana is beautiful, but I quickly learn that two years of high school Spanish does not help me understand the locals at all.
On our last night in Havana a riot erupts in the bar across from our hotel. Gunfire breaks out and the police are called. "Some upstart called Fidel Castro is named as the cause of the trouble," says our Spanish teacher and chaperone, Mrs. Jett, after reading the morning paper. Fortunately, we depart after breakfast.
When it comes time to consider college I have two choices: the University of Florida in Gainesville, which has previously been an all boys' school, with a ratio of 12 guys to every gal; or, Florida State University in Tallahassee, which has previously been an all-girls' school with a ratio of 15 gals to every guy. There is no question — I talk my parents into sending me to Gatorland. I go to college, majoring in Journalism at the University of Florida, and became a Gator for life. One of the first rules I learn is that all female students must wear raincoats when wearing shorts and walking across the campus. Heaven forbid that our legs might show.
However, my college years are cut short because my parents simply can't afford to pay for my completion. By the time I finish all the college I can get, my parents move up state to central Florida, to Eau Gallie, a suburb of Melbourne, Florida.
During the summer, I apply for my first job as a secretary with Radiation, Inc., which later becomes Harris Corporation. With my first paycheck I pay down on a TV for my parents. Still living at home, I wallpaper my bedroom with a beautiful pink flowery motif. My sister, Zola, heads to Texas for better job opportunities and moves in with my aunt Lila and uncle Albert; I now have a whole bedroom all to myself. We live on the second floor, above my Dad's business. I've never lived on a second floor and it seems a lot hotter during the summer months.
I never really felt like I said goodbye to my youth until I secured that first job. I like to recall the memories of my early years. They are a gentle reminder of a kinder, slower time when we filled our lives with family vacations, and the outdoors. I like to remember the grit and "can do" attitude of my parents: the triumph of my mother over the pain and difficulty of her life; the high level of pride in my Dad's work and his commitment to his customers.
Even though I don't finish college, I never look back; never entertain any regrets, or doubts for my future. I will make the most of what comes my way because my parents have showed me how to do it.
I pay down on a car, buy some professional looking clothes and become even more determined to be the best secretary I can possibly be, until I can, somehow, someway, someday, be a writer..(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Step"
Copyright © 2016 Martha Lemasters.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 Growing up in Florida,
CHAPTER 2 The Journey,
CHAPTER 3 Early Space Program,
CHAPTER 4 Apollo Begins,
CHAPTER 5 My Life as a Secretary,
CHAPTER 6 I am Promoted to Writer,
CHAPTER 7 A Time to Sing,
CHAPTER 8 Apollo 10,
CHAPTER 9 I Become a Safety Hazard,
CHAPTER 10 Let's Slide,
CHAPTER 11 IBM's Control Center ... and Apollo 11 Dinner,
CHAPTER 12 The Match,
CHAPTER 13 And Then Along Came Jack,
CHAPTER 14 Countdown Demonstration Test / The Germans Arrive,
CHAPTER 15 IBM ... Ready for Launch,
CHAPTER 16 Apollo 12 Through 17,
CHAPTER 17 1975 ... we march ...,
About the Author,