The day I was to meet Dr. Lebensohn, I wore a polyester blue pant suit I'd made on my Singer Sewing machine in San Francisco. The pants were bell bottoms, the top was a hip length tunic, and the textured petroleum-based material was new and in vogue. I was a good seamstress as were my mother and grandmother. But on that day, as I contemplated my appearance, I was ashamed. My bony physique, the brown roots of my dyed auburn hair, my dangly Russian earrings, my Dr. Scholls sandals, even the bright red lipstick; it all seemed wrong. I looked like a nobody left at a rural bus stop, lost and hungry.
After a slow breakfast of Dannon yogurt, fruit and coffee, we were off to the city in my mother's yellow AMC. The appointment was at 11:30 near Dupont Circle, an hour and a half from Warrenton. We arrived early, stopping to notice the window display of Toast and Strawberry's, a clothing and jewelry store stocked with bold printed outfits and exotic dashikis. Its bazaar-like atmosphere and promise of fashion pulled us right in as if we were two starved clothes horses from the country. I remember meeting the owner that day, an African American woman named Rosemary, someone I would visit often during my many trips into D.C.
Nearby was Dr. Lebensohn's office, located in a lovely old building: red brick, three stories, with a small flower garden facing R Street. We walked up two flights of stairs through a large wooden door and down a short hallway. Inside the reception area we were greeted by an older, grey-haired woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Brick. And she seemed like a brick: stiff, square and unflappable; someone experienced with people like me I thought. As I sat down and pulled out a Virginia Slim from my purse, she didn't hesitate to intervene, "No Smoking Miss Goin. Put that out please or you can go outside." I casually returned the cigarette to its flip-top case thinking how nice it was she could speak to me so directly.
Within 10 minutes, Dr. Lebensohn came in. He was a small man, in his 60s, neatly dressed in an expensive suit and classy red tie. His voice was low and mellow as he greeted Mama and me, sharing polite words with both of us. He then motioned a discrete smile, reached out his hand, and guided me into his office on the other side of Mrs Brick. As he sat behind his desk, he began to ask me questions.
To be continued ...