How the Navajos Got The Blanket

How The Navajos Got The Blanket” watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

The reservation is a private world, a world of beauty, of great silences, of contemplation. They are a people steeped in myth and mystery. In that beauty and silence one’s whole world and way of looking at the world would be changed.

Many miles from the peaceful reservation, World War II erupted in the Pacific with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Along with young men all over America, Navajo boys rushed to the nearest recruiting office. I know of one underage boy who walked 25 miles from his remote home to enlist, only to be turned down because of a lack of a birth certificate. (Many babies born at home in those days did not have birth certificates.) This boy returned to the recruiting office the next day, and through the use of a forged cetificate of some sort, suddenly became 18.

During the early months in the Pacific, Japanese intelligence experts broke every code the United States devised for combat messages. In any war situation, the rapid and accurate transmission of messages is essential. Japan was learning in advance, the time, place and direction the American attack forces would be deployed. Something had to be done to enable the American forces to communicate freely and secretly in the Pacific.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, a group of twenty-nine volunteers left the tranquil canyons and mesas of their Navajo homeland. Little did they know of the crucial role they were about to play in the U.S. war effort.

These twenty-nine volunteers were the direct result of an idea presented to the Marines by Philip Johnston. His idea, born from his childhood days as a missionary’s son living on the Navajo Reservation, was ingenious.

The idea was to devise a code utilizing the complex unwritten language of the Navajo. Knowing the complicated syntax and intricate tonal qualities of the language, he convinced the Marines it would baffle the best of cryptographers. This language sounds different to the Anglo ear. Through the years I used to hear it, I called it “twisted tongue”; impossible for an Anglo to pronounce unless he had been raised around it. Johnston said the language could be used as the basis for a code to transmit vital information and battle plans.

With the help of the twenty-nine Navajo volunteers the task of creating code terms was underway. Words from their native tongue were selected to describe complex military equipment and operations. Instead of changing at a scheduled period of time, the code was changed constantly, often several times a day.

At full strength there were about 400 Navajos who were “Code Talkers”. These men were considered so valuable each had been assigned a personal body guard. The Navajo Code Talkers were so effective the Japanese were completely baffled and their master cryptographers never broke the code. In the words of Major Howard Conner, signal officer of the Fifth Marine Division at Iwo Jima, “during the irst 48 hours, while we were landing and consolidating our shore position s, I had six Navajo radio networks operating around the clock. In that period alone, they sent and received over 800 messages without an error”. Conner went on to say that “were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima”.


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It’s a dilemma that has been occupying my mind for some time now. How do all those pills we take know where to go? Seriously, I’m pretty sure there are not street signs directing this one to the heart, another one to the stomach, and a third to your headache. Yet each morning, we religiously sort them out and pop them into our willing mouths. If you take 6-7 pills, how does each one know where to go?

The ache and pain ones are very big business, and almost everyone at some time or other takes them, even for a sore finger, or an aching muscle from too much digging in the garden. But how do they get the message that that is what they are for?

Dr. Advice believes that the pain pills go directly to the brain, but I don’t see them making you any smarter than before you take one. Sometimes I think they stop off for coffee in some hidden corner before they get wherever they are going, since it takes them so long to do their job.

And they come in such delicious-looking colors; pink ones, blue ones, jelly-looking ones, (those are supposed to really be good for us), and many different shapes. They even give you small pill-cutters in case they don’t want us to to take the whole thing. I am taking one which needs to be cut into quarters! Now why in the world didn’t they simply cut the prescription mg. down? I’m not sure they really know what they are doing. Maybe that’s why they call it a “practice”.

Those are just the ones the doctor tells you to take. There is such an enormous array of over-the-counter medicine and vitamins it is truly mind-boggling. Do they make us feel better, or even look better? How about old-age wrinkles; is there a pill for them? I could make a million bucks selling them at the retirement homes.

The Native American Shaman has it made; he can do a little chanting, blow some smoke over you, and maybe prescribe a small dry hallucinogenic mushroom and you can float away in a soft blue haze and imagine yourself well.

My lovely aunt, whom Dr. Advice always thought resembled the movie star Ginger Rogers, recently passed away at the age of 99, and to my knowledge, never popped a pill in her life. What does this tell us?
Well, I’m feeling so good about myself right now but I think I’d better go take another pill just to be sure.


Holocaust drawing (2)
Drawing by Raymond Verdaguer

Seventy years ago today,a group of young men and women fired the shots that began the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was an extraordinary act of courage in the face of certain death.

In 1940, the Nazis herded over half a million Polish Jews into a ghetto in Warsaw. The Nazis forced them to build a wall, and then sealed them inside, using them for slave labor and worse. Many began dying from cold, and disease from lack of proper medicines, then in 1942, the Germans began daily deportation to the death camp in Treblinka.

It was not easy to organize a Jewish resistance from inside the Ghetto wall under the extreme circumstances, but somehow guns and ammunition were smuggled in piece by piece, and an organized group of men and women dedicated to fight to the death were formed.

By early 1943, most Jews of the Ghetto had already been gassed. Those who remained were often young and alone, having lost their families. In January, 1943, Jewish fighters surprised the German forces entering the Ghetto with gunfire, and the Germans soon ceased the deportation. The Star of David and the Polish flag were raised side by side on the Ghetto’s tallest building. Three months later, the Germans set fire to the Ghetto. Those who did not burn in the fire were shot, or sent to concentration or death camps. When the Germans surrounded them, many of the fighters committed suicide.

The only way out was the sewers, and one young man, Marek Edelman, led the last surviving Ghetto fighters to freedom through the horrors of ancient sewers. They were trapped for days underground, and many died on the way. Only about 40 survived the terrible trip through the sewers. Edelman was the last living commander of the uprising, and after the war, he continued to fight the Germans with the Polish Communists.

After the war, Edelman became a cardiologist: “to outwit God”, as he once said. He is still celebrated as a hero in Poland.

((This information was taken from an article by Marci Shore, associate professor of history at Yale University.)


“Talkin’ It Over” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Good conversation has a beginning and an end. I regret to say that some people don’t know how to end one. Let me explain: first, check out their body language. No, that doesn’t mean to give unnecessary attention to certain parts of their body. If they begin fidgeting or their eyes glaze over, or they begin looking for a fast way out, you know that the conversation is over. It absolutely does NO good to pop in another subject. They really need to get away. And don’t take offense. They probably like you all right, and they’ll be OK with it another day. But for now, gracefully drift away.

I watched a wonderful example of good conversation on TV the other day. Six elderly Chinese women in their 90’s were asked the question “what do you talk about together?” It turns out they talk about everything women everywhere talk about, which is everything! Children, family, health matters, politics etc. took precedence in those women’s conversation. And if they still had husbands, they probably used them as an inexhaustible subject! The important thing was the way they conducted their conversation, by taking turns, no one interrupting the other, but with expectant faces waiting to jump in when the time was right. Conversational ping pong!

General rules for good conversation go like this:

1. Eliminate the overuse of the word “I”.

2. No name-dropping.

3. No unsolicited advice.

4. No deliberate digs at their politics or religion, although those subjets are no longer taboo. In fact, they have always been the most interesting of subjects if you can keep others from clubbing you to death.

5. When in a group of people and you are not the speaker, try not to doze. It may be imnpossible in some cases, but do try to drink another cup of coffee or something to keep you awake until you can take your leave.

6. No monologues!! This is a huge rule. Try not to forget this one.

7. Sports is always a great opener. Just try not to bad mouth the other person’s favorite team or Alma Mater.

8. It’s perfectly all right to discuss sex, as long as it’s discreet and not about your next door neighbor.

A good conversation is energizing, and should give you material for your next conversational ping pong game. Just go for it!


Many thanks to The EyeDancers for nominating me for a Best Moment Award! Considering all the wonderful blogs out there in cyberspace, I am humbled to be nominated. Two years ago, I knew nothing about blogging. I had undergone a complete shoulder replacment, which ended my many years as a sculptor and potter, at least for the time being, so when http://cheriblocksabraw, with her great blog ‘Notes From Around the Block’, suggested I do some writing, I thought I’d give it a try. Plus she gave me the added incentive to try posting photos of my sculpture and painting. Voila! my art career wasn’t really gone, it just took a vacation.

I thought maybe the only people who would read it were my family, so it has been very gratifying to find there is an audience for my random scribbling. While I used to tell my stories in paint and clay, I have now found words. Thank you to everyone who follows, reads, and visits the Pachofaunfinished site. Please come again and come often; I love your comments and welcome your feedback.

Thanks again to The Eye-Dancers for nominating Pachofaunfinished for the Best Moments Award! The Eye-Dancers is a wonderful site, with all kinds of great stories, movie reviews, etc. Do check them out soon.


Dr Seuss_0002

The Joyous Leaping of Uncanned Salmon” by T. Geisel

Theodore Geisel collected hats. He even encouraged visitors to wear one of his hats when they came to call. Hats were an obsession with him, and there were many which were weird enough to have been created especially for the characters in the books he wrote for children. In fact, most of the characters in his books wear hats, obviously crazy hats. Names such as “Yertle the Turtle, “The Bipolo Seed”, and “Green Eggs and Ham”, were music to kids.

He didn’t cure aches and pains, and he can’t cure a headache or fix teeth or brains, but Dr. Seuss has delighted three generations of children by introducing them to the menagerie of wild and crazy creatures of his imagination. Between 1937 and 1991 Theodore Seuss Geisel wrote 44-45 books and caused millions of children to grin and giggle when reading books such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Horton Hears a Who”. I read my first Dr. Seuss book in 1937, which happens to be the year he wrote “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.”. His colorful language took learning to read many steps–many fun steps–beyond “Dick and Jane” and “See Spot Run”. Dr. Suess is good for anything which ails a child. He’s the Fix-it-up Chappie”. That’s why kids love Dr. Seuss–he’s very silly. The path to literacy begins at birth. Dr. Suess makes it fun.

But there’s another less well-known side to the Dr. Seuss story. Throughout all those years, Ted Geisel harbored a secret, one that is only now becoming public. After hours, when he was done with his day’s work on the children’s books that made him famous, he painted just for himself. The work ranges from cartoon-type line drawings to intricate oils. He painted birds, elephants, made-up creatures and cats. Lots of cats. Everything that Geisel did had that wacky, whimsical, quirky, Seussian quality. Also little-known, were the ‘Unorthodox Sculptures’ of fanciful creature heads. His was a mind which thankfully never stopped thinking of ridiculous creatures in ridicullous and unlikely situations.

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Watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen


How does it happen that all the trees are bare skeletal armatures one day, and the very next day they burst out into full leaf? Two weeks ago the entire town was blooming with flowering pear and redbud trees, and now that has given way to a beautiful green avenue on both sides of the downtown street. Now and then there is a Chinese magnolia finishing its seasonal bloom. Fremont was planned to be a “City of Trees” years ago, and it still lives up to that name in certain areas. It is difficult to maintain, since there are five separate districts, much like New York city, and covers a very large area.

My tulips and early crocus are only remembered by this painting, but the new apple and two new figs are showing promise, the kadota fig even has tiny fruit along some branches. There will be plenty to share this year, and I’m already sorting out ways to use them. The old fig which Dr. Advice whacked nearly in half, has forgiven him and sports small bunches of green at the tips of each branch.

The early plantings of primrose have given way to coriopsis and blue salvia. The perennial color scheme of blue and gold in tribute to Dr. Advice’s beloved University of Calif. But when the blue tends to purple, the University of Washington gets a nod.

My old bones mumble and grumble louder each year as I crawl around pulling winter weeds and now and then yell for a little help with a tough job , but every year we seem to make numerous visits to the nursery for more planting mix and seed, and come home with new azaleas, or just ‘one more’ something to tuck in the corner. Dr.Advice labors in another part of the yard stopping now and then to bring us a cup of tea or a cookie to eat under the old orange tree, before we begin our jobs again. His bones are older than mine, but they don’t seem to creak as loudly, which doesn’t seem fair does it?

My friend Judy helps tend one of the City-owned public gardens, and has been generous with things from her own garden such as brilliant orange clivia, which she has planted in a shady spot along with fern, and other things only known to her alongside a tiny old-looking bridge over a rock stream. I must get some of the clivia for one of my own shady spots. I had some years ago, and just as it looked as if it might bloom, my fellow-gardener chopped it out of the ground, thinking it was a weed! You can’t trust these old guys!

“I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly, give them fruit for their songs.” Joseph Addison


St Raymond'sAs funerals go, it was a 3.8. Yes, I believe in awarding credit to a good funeral when it is deserved. Nearly everybody has one at some time or other, so it is important to do it right. My husband’s cousin, Louise Ann, lived for some time in Kansas City, but when the time was right, she moved back home. She didn’t want a large monument like some of the others in our large family plot, so she brought a large stone she found somewhere to serve the purpose. It was unique, and since she was a rather well-known artist/interior designer, quite fitting.

Some of my husband’s late relatives are living out eternity in the old Pioneer Heritage Cemetery in Dublin, Ca., which has as its cornerstone the Old St. Raymond’s Catholic church, the oldest Catholic church in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Built in 1859 by some of the original pioneers in the Valley, and while no longer used for general services, it is occasionally used for a funeral of a pioneer descendent. The cemetery itself, and the small museum beside it, relate the history of the area, as does signage at the head of some of the family plots, telling the individual history of that family.
the museum was originally the tiny schoolhouse, and my father-in-law and his ten brothers and sisters began their academic studies in it.

The Valley was settled by both Irish and Scandinavian immigrants, many, including our family, still living in the vicinity.
Small, but charming, it is exactly the place Louise Ann would choose for her final departure. The creaky little building was filled with long-lost cousins, a few friends, family and ex-husbands. There were three of the latter, but the second one chose not to make an apprearance, and I don’t remember him anyway. The first one was the father of her three children, but the temperature had become so heated at the end, she decided to change all of her three children’s surnames to her own maiden name.

One daughter, who had been estranged from Louise for some time, did not come to say farewell, however her husband, who had always had a prickly hedgehog relationship with Louise, came, stood and spoke a few words in her favor. His memorable description of her was that “Louise never saw anything or anyone she felt she couldn’t make better.” The last ex-husband agreed with that statement, and it is likely that that was the reason he became an “ex-husband.” The daughter who planned the occasion per Louises’s instructions, had placed a large photo of her mother at the front of the church, beside a collection of small sheep sculptures to which we were invited to help ourselves. She said she had never been able to convince her mother to stop wearing bright red lipstick, as it did not become ladies beyond a certain age. I doubt that Louise cared very much what anybody thought.

There was no minister, no service beyond the exchanging of memories, and all in all, it was a happy, friendly atmosphere. Unobserved by most of us, a small New Orleans jazz band dressed in appropriate white uniforms and hats, struck up the first notes of “When The Saints Come Marching In”. It was a delightful and surprising ending, and we all marched out behind them as we wound our way through the cemetery to the burial site, coffee cups or wine glasses in hand, and some singing the words to the music on the way.

Her Kansas City rock had been placed, a few flowers scattered, and we said a fond farewell to an indomitable lady who never cared if anybody liked her red lipstick, or anything else. I liked her style.

R.I.P. Louise Ann.


junkboat 2Hong Kong 1960

I am so drawn to faces. These two people show the ravages both of time and of hardship. And yet they have survived for who knows how long? Ancient yet ageless. They cling to an old-style of dress, perhaps the only clothes they own, perhaps their best, yet they wear the farmers’ hats to shield their faces from the relentless sun. Her jade earrings may have been a wedding gift from the groom’s family, and they have elongated her lobe through the years. Together they are an enigma. I can’t take my eyes from them, or keep my mind from creating a history for them. Were there children playing around them once? Where are they now?

He is altogether pleased with himself! We wonder why that is. Has he just won a game of Mah Jong, Pai Gow or Sic Bo? His old eyes are blurred, yet he sees all he needs to, and passes the time of day while his wife sits behind the trays of cheap tourist knick-knacks for sale, while studying each person and evaluating a possible customer. He sits under the large umbrella and smokes his hand-rolled cigarette watching the constant flow of humanity.

Where do they go at night? Do they live on one of the many junk boats at rest in the busy harbor? I hear her loud cackling voice chastizing him, but he pays no attention to her, and remains King of his own domain. His old head nods in appreciation when a pretty girl goes by, perhaps remembering his old wife in their youth.

More important: have they discovered something that we don’t know? The art of survival, and satisfaction with simply being alive?

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287Today is my 85th birthday, which is a nice sturdy, confident number don’t you think? Eighty-five has a certain panache to it. You have gone past the years of indecision, people credit you with a certain amount of wisdom whether it’s true or not. You have accumulated a lot of memories, and if you can’t remember them precisely, it doesn’t matter, because no one will ever know anyway because they weren’t there.

You no longer have to worry if you’re hair is ‘just right’, or if you are wearing the ‘right’ shoes. You can authentically be the person you really are. Shopkeepers know you and give you better service than when you were 35 or 50. You are likely one of the oldest people in your family, and if you don’t push your weight around, you collect a lot of respect. All in all, it is a comfortable time of life.

There are three places in the world in which I am most at home and invigorated; Paris,France, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Carmel, California. They are all “painters” cities, and I am quite comfortable in them. I celebrated this year’s birthday twice in Carmel, which is the closest to my home in Fremont. My two daughters wined and dined me, and we spent a fabulous girl’s weekend there, doing all the things girls love to do; shop, shop, shop, and eat!

This weekend Dr. Advice, my dear husband of 66 years, took me down again and we had a delightful and romantic “real” birthday (and repeated most of the fun we had last weekend, but with more art gallery visits and trips to the Carmel Bakery.) We drove around and smelled the pine trees and the ocean, and wondered why we don’t wake up each morning with the same view.

Birthdays are wonderful occasions for celebration. No matter what country you are from, they have a version of the “Happy Birthday” song. It doesn’t matter whose birthday it is, it is an affirmation that we are still here, and no matter where we come from, it’s nice to convey our good wishes to those who have achieved another milestone.