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THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

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WE ARE A WEB


Like it or not, we are a web. We are connected in ways we cannot imagine. Back in the dark ages, we were girls of seventeen and eighteen and parted ways to begin our lives, careers and families. Through the years we tried not to think of our age, which makes it interesting now to celebrate 90th birthdays so often.

By and large, everyone is holding up well, give or take a few aches and pains, though four out of nine have lost children, three in this past year. All but one are widowed, and the strength in each is admirable and enviable. All but one still live in their own home. All but one still drive. One is giving her car up next week at the urging of her children. Yesterday’s birthday girl passed the DMV test, had her license renewed for 5 years, and bought a new car in celebration.

There comes a time, if you are cognizant, that you need to throw away the car keys. In my case, I found fading sight was to blame, but I think there are also tiny things like jumping when another car horn frighten you, or slowing down when others are speeding up. So many small warning signs.

It is always interesting even after seventy plus years to hear that someone is related to someone that is a friend of someone else. One friend worked for the Oakland school district with the Godmother of my daughter. A few years ago, I met the sister of another friend and mentioned that a good friend of mine was moving into a lovely senior development. She asked if it was “blah-blah” and I said it was. She told me that she sings at a church in Walnut Creek, and I told her that our cousin donated the stained glass windows. Someone mentioned a few girls and someone else said those are my cousins.

One had a menu from the Matson Line ship Lurline from 1948 where one of our ladies was listed as a passenger. My cousin was the captain of the Lurline at that time.

Of course our conversation flows from subject to subject and includes things which need to be discussed either for ourselves or for other aging friends. One women received a new scam telephone call which she warned about. I don’t believe that this group of women are particularly vulnerable, but in a weak moment, you never know. One friend who is 95 and not in this group, is sharp as a tack and has all her marbles, but when someone told her she needed to send $15,000 to Mexico to help her grandson, she sent it. Luckily she was able to get her money back.

The picture of the frail little old lady is not always a true picture. Some grannies may be packing a small derringer in their pocketbook.

However, yesterday afternoon, my daughter was shopping and a frail little old lady was clearly confused and panicky beside her. When she asked if she could help, the little lady said that she wanted to get back home but couldn’t remember where it was. My kind daughter put her into her car and found where she lived and got her home again. When I said how proud I was of her, she said it might have been me. You just don’t know from one day to the next.

Memories are great, but we tend to forget that there is still time to add to them while polishing up the old.

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YOU CAN’T GO BACK


“You can’t go back”, but what if you didn’t go anywhere, and things changed all around you? Places and people change, stores and restaurants go out of business, people move and others move in, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

How did it all happen? Silicon Valley beckoned, and people arrived to fill the need for tech workers, who in turn needed a place to live. So the developers continue to have a field day, turning vacant spaces into high rise apartments after filling the larger areas with single family developments. To arrive on time for an appointment, one must leave an hour early to drive across town.

Years ago, a man commented that the streets in town were nice and wide and easily navigated. Today those streets are filled with the traffic generated by the newcomers at all times of the day.

We are told to use less water, so our gardens are dying of thirst, all to accommodate those newcomers. Where are the people on the planning commission?

I’m glad we found this town so many years ago, when you could still walk down the street and possible know your neighbors along the way. When your children could play outside till dark or walk to school without worry on your part, and when you didn’t make sure all doors were locked before your went to bed. Homes which a short time ago sold for a nominal price now go for upwards of a million dollars, thus making the term “millionaire” meaningless.

For many years I left the doors open to the studio while I worked, and people often stopped to pass the time of day and see what was going on. It was nice. There were two large dogs in those days, Lisa, the German Shepherd, and Max, the Dobie. Both welcomed visitors, with the correct amount of wariness. It was nice.

Do I sound old and crotchety? I suppose so, though I try to go with the flow and realize this phenomenon is repeated itself in most places today. It is just the way things are and are likely to continue, so “get used to it lady!”

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PUNCH AND JUDY


Since earliest times people have used puppets or marionettes to deliver the wisdom or insults we are afraid to say ourselves. Imagine the Thai shadow puppets, the Muppets, or even Edgar Bergen’s wooden son, Charlie McCarthy, whose sole purpose is to entertain while delivering a punch to the gut.

To the continuing delight of children and adults alike, the Punch and Judy show remains popular and mostly unchanged since it was introduced in 1662, in Covent Garden, London. It has always seemed a fearsome play to me, but children being children, roar with laughter when Judy gets her licks in.

Played in a small wooden theatre by a single puppeteer, the story is traditional and mostly violent. After capturing the attention of Charles 11, the show was performed on a 20 x 18 foot stage after which the King gave the Italian puppeteer a gold chain and medal worth $3,000 today. Today the show is a popular boardwalk seaside attraction in England. As a child I watched the shows on the boardwalk in Long Beach, California, alongside the merry-go-round, pony rides, games of chance, and other seaside attractions.

The story revolves around Pulcinella (Mr. Punch) and his wife Judy who have an eternal noisy quarrel resulting in one or the other being whacked over the head with some sort of mallet. There are several stories which can be played, with a changing cast, all in the confines of the small theatre. The puppeteer keeps something in his mouth to give the main chracter the weird raspy voice and cackle of Mr. Punch when it’s his turn to speak. He often screams out “That’s the way to do it!” after hitting someone.

The original characters were marionettes, operated by wires attached their limbs and to a bar from overhead. Today they are mostly glove puppets operated by one person.

Another facet of the ancient Art of Theatre.

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MIDNIGHT INVADER


Sleeping peacefully in our bed last night, a familiar soft groaning sound let me know that Charlie had a call of nature. Old dogs and old people share the same propensity for frequent toilet visitation. In his early years, a 10 pm visit would see him through the night, but of late the call of the wild comes in the wee small hours.

Never quite trusting that he hurries about his business, I monitor him at the open door. Last night he stood alertly on the back step sniffing the air, rear legs shaking in some sort of paroxysm of anticipation.

silently a few figs dropped from the tree beside the back door and he was off in a blur of white, on the trail of a creature equally as large as himself. So as not to alarm any neighbors at the midnight hour, I flailed around behind him as he raced the fence line, intermittently trying to climb the fence; {Charlie, not me} There is absolutely no way to get through to a dog’s brain when he is hot on the trail, and no amount of the offering of treats, or threats of punishment filter into it. We finally made it back into the house after a half hour of exercise.

A very large black shape settled itself atop a shed and smirked at the scene being played out beneath him. He was aware that there were plenty of figs left on the tree after the action on the ground stopped, to which he would soon return.

As a teenage girl someone gave me a cute stuffed raccoon which I took to bed with me each night. I loved that raccoon and even named it, though I don’t recall what the name was. No one was brave enough to tell me I was too old for stuffed animals, but when I went on my honeymoon at 18, my beloved raccoon did not make the trip with me. I have always blamed my mother for packing my traveling bag.

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THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT


I have noticed that when a new cleaning person has been hired to straighten up the mess you have made of your home, at least 99 percent of the people spend a couple of days cleaning house before the new cleaning lady arrives. It’s human nature to want to be seen in the best possible light.

I don’t mean pushing the vacuum cleaner around the middle of the room, or fluffing the feather duster over the books, I’m talking about really scrubbing. Move furniture and toss out all the old magazines. Heaven forbid that anyone would see that hidden corner in the kitchen you’ve been meaning to clean for several months.

Cleaning people know what they need to do the job, and they want to know if you have all the stuff available for them. My Grandma used the expression to “give it a lick and a promise”, which meant wipe it up quick and promise to do better next time. I have respected this mantra for 71 years with very little complaint. The beauty of it is that you can always do it tomorrow.

Eyesight fades as one ages which adds another perk for the old guys. The less you see, the less there is to clean. But cleaning ladies see it all with the first perfunctory glance. “Oh yes,” they say”, “this will take time.”

It behooves the homeowner to decide just why they hired someone in the first place. For instance, those of us who share our homes with four-legged ‘children’, want someone equipped with a vacuum cleaner better than that which lives in the hall closet. It’s a fact of life: dogs shed, and gravity does the rest. I have never heard anyone complain about the dust collecting on the book shelves, but I have developed a number of friendships with other frustrated owners of dogs complaining of their hairy homes. For some unknown reason Jack Russell Terriers leave a path of white hair in their wake. At some point in time, I look forward to once more enjoying the carpets in this house.

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PREJUDICE


It’s a big subject. Too big for a simple blog, but we encounter it in some way each day in our private and public lives, so it needs to be addressed.

Conducting an interview with myself, I wondered when I first became aware of the mean spirited effect of prejudice. The strong Yankee-bred women in my family were ardent Republicans who thought the last best hope for the country had been Herbert Hoover. They gladly overlooked the Depression which was consuming the country; possibly as a result of Mr. Hoovers’ miscalculations.

Without knowing or caring who Franklin D. Roosevelt was, it was apparent from their conversation that he was the devil incarnate, and his busy body wife was a disgrace. My father, away at sea most of the time, did not participate in the conversations, so I had no idea on which side he dwelt.

Somehow, listening at dinner tables and eavesdropping in nearby rooms, I felt uncomfortable with the negative conversations. Surely this man was not as bad as they thought. I often differed from authority, and this gave me one more reason to determine my own path. When my father returned from a voyage, I found that he had voted for this same Franklin D. Roosevelt, which made me feel validated.

Prejudice touches so many facets of our lives. Politics and religion always draw the most heat, making them the most interesting of subjects. Due to my Grandmother’s dynamic leadership, we attended the Christian Science church, at least my Grandmother and I did. My mother and aunt, though believers, were usually busy on Sunday mornings. My father, needless to say, had no interest in the study of Christian Science. Auntie and Uncle Phil, with whom I lived occasionally, followed no religion, and we usually spent Sunday at the movies.

I never determined why, but overheard conversation told me that the Catholics, and possibly a few other religions, were not appropriate friends. I knew no blacks, though there were a few Japanese living in Long Beach in those days. We were a strong Masonic family, with various relatives holding office in the organization. We were a proud flag waving, Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. Not that any of these things were talked about; they were simply there, and you knew.

I had exhibited a few minor talents from an early age. I had a pleasant voice, I could dance, and I could draw a straight line. Grandma was convinced that I was a winner, yet I knew many other girls who surpassed my efforts, so it seemed uncomfortable to take any credit for anything I produced.

My feelings of being at odds with the accepted beliefs sent me on solo trips around town exploring various churches and the lone synagogue in Torrance where we were currently living. It was a marvelous education in the various views people held in the acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus as the Savior. I realized that I had no opinion either way, which was no surprise. In fact, I took offense to the words of the entrance hymn which entreated the Christian soldiers to keep marching on to war.

On my first trip to the Southwest with my Indian friend Georgia Oliver, I immediately tried to fit in with the locals by identifying which village someone came from by the way they wore their hair. I whipped off a small sculpture of a woman’s head with something which looked like a Dutch cut, Georgia just smiled and said that I missed the back style. I smugly identified a man riding by on his horse as a Navajo. With a curled lip and a sharp retort, Georgia shot back “He’s a Mexican.” Clearly here lived prejudice, even in a country comprised of people who lived rather low on the totem pole.

Yes, there is prejudice wherever we look. It lives in small children and in the very old who should know better. Give it a chance, recognize it when you see it, and speak up to make a change.