With permission of Frank & Julia Bielowicz, we are sharing Jackie’s chapter from Geek Elders Speak to honour her memory. She left us on 10 February, 2023.
“I do have a dream. When I die, my soul will show up in ENTERPRISE’S sick bay, sipping down some mint juleps with McCoy” —Jackie (Bielowicz) Kramer
I was born April 25th, 1945 at the U.S. Naval Station in Lakehurst, N.J. where my dad worked with the blimps patrolling the Atlantic for Nazi subs. And, yes, that makes me older than Earth’s Atomic Age. This is important because I grew up watching all B-class BEM (Big-Eyed Monster) movies that mutated from atomic power used unwisely. This led to SF, books and movies, which hooked me on SF/Fantasy TV.
While I sort of knew about fandom, I was that weird girl who read the weird books… and I was alone. I lived in the Bible Belt where almost ALL activities were school, Girl Scouts, and church. In fact, some Okies to this day aren’t sure the moon landing wasn’t filmed in Hollywood! I spent hours reading Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Isaac Asimov, but my favorite series was Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. Even now I re-read the entire series about every couple of years, wishing I had my own dragon to fly Thread.
I was never a “fan” of anything. Not Elvis Presley or the Beatles or James Dean. (Ask your grandma about the latter.) My family did NOT understand my love of Star Trek. My dad always thought the reason Gerald Ford wasn’t re-elected was because he named the first space shuttle ENTERPRISE. My entry into fandom got a slow start due to the Marine Corps and marriage.
All that changed on September 8, 1966 with the absolute first episode of STAR TREK: TOS. I had been on tenterhooks for weeks. Every time the trailer came on, I’d be glued to the TV. Finally, the day arrived. It was the last day of my vacation and I had been staying with my maternal Grandma Kramer. Fifteen minutes before the show started, my paternal Grandma Jones arrived to wish me farewell. Can you spell “freaked out”? Luckily, my Grandma K. lured my Grandma J. with tea and gossip, letting me alone with my upcoming new love. And once I saw it, I was in all the way.
I only got to see the FIRST episode because the Sunday after that showing, I left to attend the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. I had picked up one of those movie magazines to read on the plane. In it was my first ST picture, the one with Spock, Rand, and Kirk. On an old prop plane that was clawing its way through a thunderstorm, I’m cutting out that picture, in a bouncing plane, using manicure scissors, by only the reading light over my seat. I immediately fell in love with that sexy Vulcan Spock. That’s why even now, I’m a faithful Spock/Chapel fan. But viewing that picture got me through many a stressful night. And I still have that picture in my pocket folder.
When I reached my first duty station, I discovered a little Marine Corps tradition. That means on EVERY Marine station, Thursday night is ”field” day. That means EVERYTHING is deep cleaned in preparation for Friday inspection. For me personally? That meant the TV room in my barracks on Thursday (or what I called Trek night) was off-limits! Did that slow me down? Noooo! I bought a small portable TV that fit in my wall locker. I’m proud to announce that by the time I left San Diego, I had weekly meetings where I watched Star Trek with 10-15 fellow fans. The size of the group depending on who had dates that night.
A couple of years into my enlistment, I was stationed at the Marine Corps Supply Depot in Barstow, CA. We supplied all needed materials to Viet Nam. At the time, on the wall of my personal space in the women’s barracks, I had hung a 3’ X 4’ poster of Spock. You know, the one where he is holding a model of the Enterprise. My commanding officer, a brand-new second lieutenant who had less time in service than I did in rank took one look at my poster and had a hissy fit. She made me take the “weird” thing down and told me she didn’t want to see it again. A couple of weeks later, the word came down from the base commander that posters WERE allowed in our personal space as long as there was only one and not racy. So, up went my poster and every time my “looie” saw it, she clenched her teeth. A month later, we had a “Base Commander’s” inspection which occurs once a year. So, I’m standing at attention next to my area when here comes the commander and his entourage. He stops, looks at my poster and says, “Isn’t that Dr. Spock from that TV show?” Okay, he said doctor rather than mister. Who am I to correct my commanding officer? After my “Sir! Yes, sir!”, he nodded and smiled. “Cool.” He continued on his tour while I gave my “looie” my biggest smug smile I could.
I never went to Viet Nam. I was trained in radio repair and inputted supply codes for materials sent to Viet Nam. The only exciting thing that happened to me was when the U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans on 23 January 1968. Because their communications officer didn’t burn his codes, my lieutenant and I spent 20 hours a day changing all the codes on the base for the next four days!
As for my marriage, Star Trek did interfere with it. It wasn’t like my ex-husband hadn’t been warned. The first time he asked for a date, I told anytime EXCEPT when Star Trek was on. He not only agreed but he always had me in front of TV in time for the show, even if was in a bar. After the wedding, he joined me when I got more active in fandom but over the years, he picked up other interests that took him away from the family for long periods of time. That worked okay for me because it gave me time to learn to write, and boy, did I write!
One great thing the marriage contributed to fandom was two new members. My sons. Frank and David never knew me when I wasn’t in fandom. Both were in their teens before they realized that other cars had radios. No matter where we went, there was a filk tape going, all of us singing as we went down the road. Frank was 18 months old when I hauled him place to place, posting flyers about the fan group I was starting with other fans. At age five, when his father let him pick out a birthday gift for me, all by himself, he chose a plastic Mr. Spock bank. David wasn’t as deep in fandom as Frank. At age 3 ½, he ran into a moving car, fracturing his skull in two places. He had an extended period of recovery and, by that time, I was deep enough in fandom that my fan friends became extended family. Meetings, parties, conventions…no matter where he wandered, someone had eyes on him. Today, Frank is a Dr. Who fan and David is into fantasy. No Star Trek, but geek enough to warm a fan-mother’s heart.
Since Star Trek WAS my gateway to fandom, I did it all except art. After hooking up in a used bookstore with my oldest ST friend (in fandom, not age) Karen Fleming, I was introduced to FANZINES!! I have to admit, when I first started, I read EVERYTHING – Spockanalia, Babel, IDIC, Interphase. I went from general to specialty zines like Spock/Chapel, K/S, Klingon-centric, and character-specific. And I didn’t restrict myself to the USA, but also zines published in England and Australia.
This habit led to writing my own fan fiction. I have had about 30 short stories published. Writing led to publishing my own fanzine, SOL PLUS, with Karen and Mary Wallbank, another new ST friend I met from a 3:00AM TV commercial I taped, touting a new club we were starting, STARBASE TULSA. And what’s the good of having a ST/SF group if you don’t use your newly drafted slaves to start your own convention, OKon 1 in 1977 in Tulsa, Oklahoma? At the time, it was the largest Science Fiction con in the state and we drew thousands of fans, dealers, and SF guest stars. We had always used STARBASE TULSA to introduce Star Trek fans to general SF. At this time there was a certain amount of conflict with long time SF fen and we wanted our younger members to learn about the rich heritage that the show shared with science fiction. While OKon was geared more towards SF, there was madness to our method. The stars from Star Trek wanted room/board, travel expenses, AND a hefty fee. SF authors came for room/board, travel expenses, a chance to sell and sign their books, and a bottle of their favorite booze which they were glad to share. So, you see why the con was mostly SF but Star Trek was represented by panels, costumes, and merchandise. A win-win for everyone.
In my spare time, I collected memorabilia, fanzines, and filk tapes. I also attended conventions like MediaWestCon in Lansing, MI, Space Trek in St. Louis, as well as other cons (whose names escape me) in Kansas City, KS, and Dallas, TX. This where I found “family”. First, my immediate group known as The Great Broads of the Galaxy (GBOG) and a wider group from Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, Iola, KS, and Houston. We all had attended the same conventions and really hit it off. When going to cons became too hit-and-miss, we started meeting at a church campground in Chouteau, OK annually in November and have been together for over 30 years. Of course, we named it “Kamp Khan.” We shared many fandoms, sometimes the same ones or sometimes not. But the glue that keeps us bound is Star Trek, in all its forms.
The final thing I got into was filking. I learned to play the autoharp (sort of) and, after a couple of years of performing at cons with the GBOGs, Kamp, and at the GBOG monthly meetings, we wrote and recorded our own filk tape, COSMIC CONNECTIONS, now available on YouTube.
I signed up every letter zine around and exchanged letters with tons of my “best” friends. We shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yes, there was some ugly but most of my fan life was something I would still be doing if I were younger, and got more than my Social Security check. When I became a single mother/ nurse working 12 hours shifts, a lot of my fan activities went by the wayside. But I’m glad to say, in retirement, some of the broken links are repairing. Friends re-friended, fanzines reread, and filks re-sung.
One of the greatest things fandom did for me was make me a published romance author. My first book was a Silhouette Desire Baby Bonus which put me on the USA Today bestselling list. My next two books (Broken Pledge and Coming To Terms) and a time-travel novella, The Bride-Seeker, were published by one of the earliest e-publishers, Hard Shell Word Factory. My fourth book, Warrior’s Heart, was published by Five Star and won the HOLT Medallion for Contemporary Romance. The HOLT is the second most prestigious award in romance. My first book is available on all electronic platforms as Christmas Bonus, its original title. At present, I’m working at re-publishing all my titles electronically while completing my latest time-travel romance, Tears of the Sun.
Nowadays, when I speak to writers’ groups, I proudly announce that writing for fanzines is where I learned to write. One thing, other authors have asked me, is if editors ever gave me trouble about starting my career in fan fiction. I have to say no. But then, when I sold my first book, the Internet didn’t really exist, so editors didn’t have a clue what fan fiction was! And since I’ve sold everything I’ve ever written, I’m guessing that most editors are more interested in the quality of your submission than where you learned to write.
One final story before I close. I’m a retired RN with 33 years experience in pediatrics. Any medical unit that specializes in kids does the same thing every Halloween. We dress-up in costumes. Another thing that happens in ALL hospitals is that if one unit is short of nurses and another unit even or long on nurses, one of the second unit’s nurses is “pulled” to staff the unit that is short. Can you see where this is going? Yep! One Halloween I dressed as blue-skinned Andorian and got pulled to an adult cardiac step-down unit. At first, I was a little embarrassed being the ONLY nurse in costume but the patients loved it! They even gave the regular nurses a hard time for not dressing up! It had always astounded me how much Star Trek was embedded into the culture. And this was way back before Star Wars or superhero movies. Before being a Star Trek fan was cool!
Would I do the same again? Nope!
I would have entered active fandom a lot SOONER! I’d have written more stories, sung more songs, and gathered more friends.
Enjoy those mint juleps with Dr. McCoy, fannish sister. You are missed.