Laura Ann Gotlieb was born on March 22nd, 1931, in Wellington, New Zealand, the child of Bernard Gotlieb–American Consul in Wellington–and his wife, Gwen Ormiston, New Zealander. Her brother, Ted, was born two years later.
Shortly after Ted’s birth, the Gotlieb family was transferred to Sicily, where they stayed for two years. Mr. Gotlieb was then sent to the consulate in Trieste, Italy, and the family found a nice house with a huge cherry tree in its front yard in a tiny village called Opicina, up the hill behind Trieste, where they stayed for over six years.
One or two months before Italy joined Nazi Germany in declaring war on England and the United States, the Gotliebs were directed by the U.S. State Department to pack up their belongings and return to the United States. The wife of the Vice-consul (they had no children) joined the wife of the Consul (with their two children) on board the last ship to leave an Italian port before the formal declaration of war. Their husbands–Consul and Vice-consul–stayed on the dock, waving goodbye to their loved ones, because they had been asked by their government to smuggle certain documents into Spain and Portugal. Being a patriotic American, Bernard Gotlieb had accepted the mission without complaint, although he knew (as did his government) that, being Jewish, he would face more than the usual hostility if caught by enemy authorities.
Ann’s father–whom his friends and relatives called Dodd–returned safely from Europe, and was assigned to Nuevo Laredo, a town on the Rio Grande, opposite the American city of Laredo, Texas. The family lived on the Texas side of the great river, while Consul Gotlieb drove across the bridge every weekday morning to the consulate on the Mexican side. This was the children’s introduction to American life, but they continued to be home-schooled, as they had been in Italy. Their mother, Gwen, gave occasional talks to women’s clubs, as part of her duties as wife of a consular service official, but her efforts to describe recent life in Europe, with the rise of Naziism and Fascism and the terror it was inspiring in thousands of helpless people, was met with polite disbelief and frank disinterest in most of the upper class women, who invariably wore fur coats (despite the heavy heat) onto which they pinned large orchid corsages. For many years afterwards, Ann associated fur coats and large orchids (particularly those colored magenta) with loud, patronizing women who made her mother cry with frustration behind her closed bedroom door. The entire family developed a deep dislike of all things Texan, which was never expressed in words, but which colored their view of the whole country for many years, until experiences called New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire, among others, softened and mellowed their perspective and their hearts.
Bernard Gotlieb’s next post, one year later, was Santiago-de-Cuba, the second largest city in the island of Cuba, where the children continued home-schooling, learned Spanish from the cook, picked a bouquet of scarlet leaves which were called Guao and experienced intense itching and welts all over their bodies. They watched with great interest the hysterical screaming of the maid when she discovered small black, shiny spiders with red markings on their stomachs, weaving white coccoons near the back door of the kitchen. On a horseback ride to Siboney, a favorite beach of the Cuban families, Ann saw pale green orchids–small and delicate–weaving a tapestry high up in a very tall tree, and the color magenta never entered her mind.
One year and a few months later, Bernard was sent to Havana, at the opposite end of Cuba, to work in the American embassy under the American ambassador, a political appointee who belonged to the John Birch Society (about which Ann and Ted knew nothing at all), and they were transferred again just in time to avoid the beginnings of the revolution, when a young man named Fidel Castro decided to lead his countrymen out of their misery and suffering, which had been considerable for many, many years, and the Cuban president, Fulgencio Batista, a man of great stupidity and habitual corruption, saw the end of his dictatorship and failed to persuade his powerful friends in Washington to help him regain it. The American leaders, unused to revolutions that close to their shores, reacted with fear and hostility, and–instead of trying to entice Senor Castro into fellowship with North America–drove him into the arms of the experts in revolution, the communists of the Soviet Union, and lost him and the hearts of the Cuban people for decades.
None of this was understood by Ann or her brother at that time, since they were very young, and it never occurred to their parents to explain the world of politics and power to them, which was unfortunate, since they would have benefitted greatly from discussions of that kind, had they been available.
Ann’s father was assigned his last post in Windsor, Canada, across the border from Detroit, Michigan. The family lived there for four years, during which time Ann attended Alma College, a private girls’ high school in Canada, for two years, and High Mowing School in New Hampshire for the final two years of high school.
After Windsor, Bernard Gotlieb retired from the Foreign Service and the family moved to San Francisco, California. Ann’s parents then divorced each other, in a friendly way (and they remained friends for the rest of their lives).
In San Francisco, Ann went to an art academy and studied commercial art. She had drawn and painted all her life, and thoroughly enjoyed this training. She met and married a fellow artist, and the couple moved to Los Angeles until Ann became pregnant, when they moved back to the Bay Area to live with Ann’s father, who had suffered a heart attack. By the time the baby–a boy named Christopher–was born, the marriage was at its end. Ann’s father had regained his health and was able to live independently; Ann found a place in a housing project for herself and the baby, and settled into a new learning experience: how to be a poor single mother.
Ann found a job as a medical transcriber in a large hospital complex on a hill called Mt. Parnassus, in San Francisco. The father of her child told her that he was going to marry a university graduate who would be able to stay home and take care of little Christopher, and he urged her to give her son a better life than the boy could experience in the housing projects. Ann eventually agreed that the baby-care available in their present home was not what any loving mother would wish, and gave her boy into the care of an apparently warm and affectionate step-mother, who said that Ann could visit him every week in his new home. This arrangement was soon changed by Christopher’s new parents, for reasons that appeared reasonable, but which eventually ended up depriving the child of enough of his mother’s presence and emotional support just when his stepmother was bearing her own children and beginning to turn Christopher into the family scapegoat. Despite this traumatic childhood, the little boy grew into a successful adult, an exceptionally good teacher, and a member of Mensa. He did, however, suffer from bi-polar depression. (His mother suffers from a continuing sense of guilt.) His stepmother, on her deathbed, apologized to Christopher for having treated him badly; but by that time, the damage had been done.
Shortly after having given her little boy into the care of his father and new wife, Ann moved into an apartment below the University of California Hospital. Her first love from high school came back into her life, and they married. Ann paid her husband, Vadim’s, way through medical school, after which he discovered richer territory in a Los Angeles heiress, and said to his wife something like this: “If you really love me, you will release me so that I might marry this wealthy lady who can make life much easier for me.” Ann divorced him and paid all his accumulated bills, while experiencing mild to moderate depression and no insight whatsoever.
Ann met her third husband, a Jungian analyst (psychiatrist) at the hospital, and they were married after she became pregnant. They lived in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city of San Francisco, and during the following eight years, they had two more children, a total of three–two girls and a boy–all of them beautiful, highly intelligent, and possessed of fierce integrity, along with a natural empathy and compassion. Their father suffered from an addiction to extra-marital affairs, and after several such adventures, Ann divorced him. She and the children lived across the street from their father, and Ann went back to work as a medical transcriber.
In the Fall of 1978, Ann met a man who was true and loving–a chemistry genius whose life’s work was the invention and exploration of psychedelic drugs. They were married on July 4th, 1981, at a surprise ceremony in the middle of a holiday picnic in their back yard. The man who officiated their ceremony–a man who loved them both and whom they loved dearly–was an official of the Drug Enforcement Administration. (One year later, that same man was married to his second wife in that same back yard.)
Thirty-three years later, Ann and her husband, Sasha, are still married and still love each other intensely. They have co-written two books, PIHKAL and TIHKAL, both of which continue to be discovered by new readers, and they consider themselves among the luckiest and most blessed of human beings. Their children and grandchildren have filled them with pride, their friends have given them love and loyalty, and they are grateful beyond measure for all of this.
Ann is presently writing Book Three, which will presumably tell everything else that needs telling.