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A 13-year-old boy strolls down a city sidewalk, hands stuffed in his pockets, hat resting at a jaunty angle, a look on his face that says, There’s nothing I can’t handle. “I can tell you exactly where I was when that picture was taken,” says Malcolm Lawrence, pointing at the black-and-white photo on the cover of his new book. “I was walking down F Street, between 12th and 13th, headed to Murphy’s 5 and 10 to buy big-band records.”
It’s no surprise that Lawrence, now 78, remembers that day’s particulars. His new bookSomething Will Come Along: Witty Memoirs of a Foreign Service Officer With Nine Childrenis packed with details that prove Lawrence’s love of record-keeping.
The book begins with Lawrence’s birth in Washington, in 1925, and travels briskly through his boyhood on Fuller Street NW; his courtship of Jacqueline Drullard, a classmate at Coolidge High School; and his career as a part-time dance-band drummer. After completing a tour in the 8th Air Force Division as a radio operator and gunner during World War II, Lawrence returned to the District to marry Drullard, finish his studies at George Washington University, and resume “beating the tubs.”
Theresa Ann Lawrence arrived shortly thereafter, in 1947, followed by Catherine in 1948, Joan Marie in 1949, Malcolm Jr. in 1951, Louise in 1952, Joseph in 1954, and Frances in 1957. And as Lawrence’s young family grew, so did his ambitions: From a clerk-typist post at the State Department, he was promoted four times before joining the Foreign Service in 1957. During six years in London and four in Bern, Switzerland, the ample Lawrence family enjoyed any number of amusing experiences. Lawrence remembers a baffled butcher in Dorking, Surrey: “He heaves a 12-pound roast onto the counter and asks where he should cut it. I said, ‘Why, nowhere. I’ll take the whole thing!’”
While her husband worked as an economic-defense officer, Jacqueline Lawrence traveled throughout England speaking about “the American way of life.” As a diplomatic spouse, she was required to attend frequent social eventswhen she wasn’t giving birth to their “English babies”: Ann in 1959 and Ellen in 1961. “My wife is an amazing woman,” says Lawrence. “Nine children and she never lost her figure.”
She also never lost her cool while creating a home in countless apartments, hotel rooms, ships, and houses. “[N]o matter where we are or for how long,” Lawrence writes, “she always opens everything up and sets up housekeeping.”
The family’s decade overseas was as joyous as it was chaotic; according to Lawrence, the advantages outweighed the hassle. “The Foreign Service offered terrific benefits,” he says, which allowed the Lawrence brood to live comfortably. “The hard part was coming back to the States and losing that help!”
Lawrence’s memoirs end on July 5, 1968, the day the family flew home “for good” to Chevy Chase, Md. “I picked that year also because it was when the older kids started to fly from the nest,” he says. “Maybe one day they’ll tell their own versions of our time abroad.”
The Lawrence children have decamped for various corners of the United States, but they still share fond memories of their unconventional childhood. The family has to date been joined by 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
And Lawrence’s archives continue to grow: Four appendices touch on what he and his wife have been up to since 1968. His “chron files” yielded his first book, 1998’s Tilting at Societal Ills and Other Capers From the Lawrence Papers, which addresses the quality of American public education and the abuse of illegal drugs. “We had a rude awakening when we came back to the States and enrolled our children in school in Montgomery County,” he says.
Whereas his first book is serious in nature, Something Will Come Along was meant to be “amusing, entertaining, and light.” “I hope that this book encourages others to write their own memoirs,” Lawrence says.
“Best sellers usually deal with tragedy, sex, violence, and the supernatural,” chuckles Lawrence. “This isn’t that kind of book. We’re just plain-old, down-home folks.” Anne Marson