A HOUSE FULL OF WOMEN Kate’s Journal


EPISODE 3
Long Beach, California

It always seemed big to me during the years I lived in it.
We were crammed in nicely; a house full of women, except when my father was in port. Grandma, my mother and her sister Corinne and various female renters made up our family.

Dad 1928

Mama 1928
My Parents in 1928

Aunts and Great-Aunts have had an influence in most of our lives, some of whom are elevated to “Auntie”, as if setting them apart from just being an ordinary Aunt. I had all of these, with Grandma’s sister Georgia at top of the Auntie list. Given the fact of my birth to my nineteen year old parents in a shaky economy and in an unusual living environment, Auntie and Uncle Phil wanted to adopt me, which obviously did not happen. However, their Highland Park home formed my alternate home throughout my younger life.

Running up the middle of American Avenue, now Long Beach Avenue, was the Pacific Electric Railway, otherwise known as the Red Train. This rail line was the brilliant idea of Henry Huntington, one of the Big Four railroad tycoons. The streetcar connected us with Los Angeles where My mother would hand me off to Auntie in the morning and Auntie was waiting with me to be returned at the end of the work day.

The Red Train holds other memories as well of my kindergarten beau Richard, with red hair and freckles, whose father was the conductor of the Red Train. The ultimate job for a father to have.

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The Long Beach Baby parade

first day of school kayti louFirst Day of School, Long Beach

By the time I entered school we had spent time in San Diego twice where I have fleeting memories of one room apartments/bathroom down the hall, and being very glad to come back to Grandma’s house.

I had a police record of sorts when I was lost at the age of four. Victimized by six year old twin boys who thought it a grand idea to desert me at the bottom of a deep ravine near our apartment. Later, when returning in the third grade, I met the boys again, who obviously remembered the thrashing I had given them when I was recovered, because they avoided me like poison, as I had been given lessons in self defense by my father, who did not tolerate cry babies.

Navy life was filled with hellos and goodbyes; some happy and some not. In the times we were stationed somewhere for a time, life was good. It was the three of us and my father was home each night.

Mom, Dad and Me 1934 1934, Long Beach

We were stationed in Bremerton, Washington twice, and lived across the Sound in Port Orchard, where puppies came into my life. Grandma did not tolerate dogs; dogs were dirty and had fleas. She would not be happy today to know that Charlie, Master of the House, sometimes slips into the room where her large favorite chair provides a night’s resting place.

GypsiesGypsy Camp Wikipedia

I have written about our time in Port Orchard in second grade on a previous post and the fear I had in walking to school passing the camp of gypsies. This is similar to my memory of it as I ran past. There was also the collapse of the large sand hill where we played which buried two of my classmates.

My mother became active in the Navy wive’s club, where the Admiral’s wife took an interest in us. They frequently sent the shore boat over to Port Orchard and I was sometimes allowed to steer the boat. Thrilling on a windy day. I repaid this kindness by climbing the Admiral’s cherry tree and falling out breaking up a perfectly sedate tea party, and sending me to the infirmary for patching up.

The other good thing I remember about the second grade is being selected to hang the class paintings which probably gave rise to my future occupation in the art world.

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GRANDMA, GOD AND AIMEE


Episode 2

1928

Aimee slipped unbidden into my dream last night, which brought to mind my grandmother’s fascination with her.

Aimee Semple McPherson was a Los Angeles evangelist and media celebrity from the 20’s and 30’s, the largest among the flurry of religious salesmen, all of whom were selling salvation, a commodity always in demand, and which costs them nothing to supply.

Aimee Semple McPherson

In Aimee’s philosophy, God being Love, desires only that His children be happy, and they cast money into the collection box with reckless enthusiasm to assure them of that happiness. “Just give a little more” she would cajole, and they did.

Aimee’s call to Love offered an eternal Costa Del Sol, liberally supplied with food, drink, sex and sun. Evil had no place in this ethereal paradise.

Grandma was a liberated woman seeking a new source of religious interpretation, and was enchanted with the notion that another woman could supply it. Life was not easy for my Grandmother at that time; single and raising two young daughters, while working and running a rooming house in the Great Depression.

Grandma, Mama and Connie
Grandma, my Aunt Corinne and my mother at the beach

My mother Kathryn, pregnant with me, was having a difficult time in her pregnancy. She and my father Walter were very young, and he was recently embarked upon his career in the Navy, and was frequently away at sea. Grandma decided that the only sensible living arrangement was to make room for us in her house, and they quickly moved in.

As my mother’s time came near it seemed she might die in childbirth, so Grandma appealed to Aimee at one of her prayer meetings, to have her congregation offer prayers for our well being, prayers which apparently were answered, because I soon arrived with all toes and fingers on April 2, 1928. The only problem was my feet, which were turned to the outside. An orthopedic surgeon was called in and made braces for me which I apparently wore for some time because they are facing the right way now. It would have been a real dilemma for a future tap dancer.

Kaatie Lou
Katie Lou

The spiritual bubble burst for Grandma, a highly moral woman, when Aimee became romantically involved with her secretary, who was also married. This was simply too much for Grandma.

Aimee was ostensibly kidnapped, and disappeared from a California beach with boyfriend in tow, only to turn up days later with a thrilling story of her captivity.

Dozens of God-fearing people crowded the beaches and even dragged the ocean searching for her body. At least one man drowned in the failed effort. A ransom note was delivered which “confirmed” the terrible news that she had been kidnapped.

When she returned unharmed, the money poured in from grateful followers of her Four Square Church, her Temple filled to capacity, but without Grandma. She rightly felt that she had been duped, and that Aimee was merely another false Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a shiny curtain.

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Great-Grandfather George Kendall, Grandma, Great-Great Grandmother Lucy Kendall, and my mother Kathryn

AND SO IT BEGINS:


EPISODE 1:

Southern California 1928 — 1938

As in every story, mine begins at the beginning.

I sit her trying to decide what was important to my life and what was negligible, and I realize it was ALL important; every stumble or achievement, as well as all the people who contributed to it.

The grandparents who influenced my life the most were Jim Black and Nellie Kendall. Jim was a high school track star who came down from Montreal, Canada to compete in Nellie’s high school in New Hampshire. They married the day she graduated, and moved to California with their two little girls in the early 1900″s.

Young, and with no money but with the pipe dreams often associated with youth, Grandma made a bee line to Beverly Hills, where she rented a large home next door to Harold Lloyd, an early comic movie star with large horn-rimmed glasses and an acrobatic bent.

The next problem to come up was how to pay for all this posh lifestyle, so she did the only thing she felt she was good at; she rented out rooms and made hats for society ladies at premium prices. I don’t know how the celebrity neighbors felt about all this, but they didn’t live there long before they moved on to another rented house in Los Angeles, bringing their paying guests with them.

Grandma could be an overwhelming presence and she overwhelmed Jim and soon divorced him, leaving her to weather the storms of single motherhood, and Jim to love her forever after.

Nellie was an excellent seamstress and an excellent cook, the only skills she had learned as a daughter of privilege, and instead of merely renting our spare bedrooms, she elevated her paying guests to boarders.

The money Nellie made often didn’t stretch far enough, so my mother and aunt made sure the boarders ate while Nellie went out and got whatever job she could as waitress or hostess at hotel or restaurant. This was an additional skill she had, since she had often waited tables in the large resort her father owned in New Hampshire.

Plump and pretty, accompanied by a sense of humor, grandma was a magnet for the boys, and loved dancing and parties, though she allowed no drinking or smoking. No one ever dared do either in any house she lived in. She was married four times, and her last husband did both, so it was incredible to see her happily sitting at his feet with his pipe smoke drifting in swirls over her head. She had married him at the age of 76 saying she would marry “the devil himself if it would keep her from being a burden” to my mother. I guess there’s a reason behind every rhyme.

Though the two sisters were always close, Grandma and Georgia were opposite in every way. Auntie was taller and lean, and quite plain. Both Yankees, Georgia typified the usual definition of a strait-laced New Englander, though she possessed a wry sense of humor.
Auntie taught me that “Lips which touch a cigaroote shall never park beneath my snoot.” And that “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.”

Nellie’s closet was always bursting with pretty clothes, while my recollection of Auntie’s small closet contained one “nice” dress, one or two everyday dresses, a pair of dress shoes and her everyday shoes. It would never have occurred to her to want more, though by my childhood evaluation, they were the “wealthy” part of the family. Later, after the Great Depression had begun to take its toll of every family, I remember asking my grandma if we were poor. She assured me that rather than “poor”, we were broke. We were broke for a very long time.

Nellie’s sister Georgia had chosen to go to normal school and became a teacher before she married Uncle Phil and moved to California. I mention this because Auntie was one of the great influences on my life and whose home sheltered me more times than I can remember.

THE MOVING FINGER WRITES


The moving finger writes and having writ moves on–and on–and on.

Children always want to know all your secrets; when they’re little, it’s your age, where you met Daddy, why did Daddy yell at you last night? When they reach the teen years they want to know when grandma let you wear lipstick and why can’t they? Or how old were you when you got to go on your first date. The date thing can get pretty personal the older they get.

What they really want to know is your feelings on just about everything you have placed in your mental vault. What you were thinking when you were in high school, or when you got married, or had babies. They want you to revisit your childhood to compare it with their own. They want to know your life.

My mother died over thirty years ago, and several months ago it troubled me that I couldn’t remember if she used cream in her coffee; so you can see how that goes.

Several years ago our daughter gave us each a large book entitled in large letters (so that we could see them) “MY LIFE”, with instructions to fill it out. We set them aside with arbitrary intentions.

A couple of months ago we met the same daughter and her husband for breakfast in San Francisco at the Delancey Street Cafe. I love presents and she gave my husband and I each a large nicely wrapped package. Naturally I ripped the paper off as quick as I could, only to find a familiar book–“MY LIFE”. Some people just don’t give up.

I started to write in it–I truly did. All the amazing ancestral forebears and their birth, marriage and death dates were duly entered with any scandalous information I could glean. Then I realized that it wasn’t that that she wanted, so I am beginning a memoir of sorts which I hope will be of interest to some readers.

Though I think my life has been quite ordinary, it has been long, and I’m counting on a lot more of it.

V-J DAY 1945


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The stories have become priceless, because those who lived them are fading into the lost memory of time. The smell of death, gunfire and blood are part of a life gone from a generation of people all over the world who can never forget.

My father, who stood on the deck of his ship amid the unimaginable horror during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; Dr. Advice, who was merely nineteen year old Sam Rasmussen then, watching the first kamikazi dive over Okinawa, became part of the generation of men who didn’t want to talk about it.

This day marks the 70th anniversary of V-J Day, the day the Japanese surrendered to the Allies and the war came to a merciful end. It is a stark reminder of what some call the most momentous event in human history.

According to the World War 11 Museum in New Orleans, 16.1 million Americans fought in the war. An estimated 855,000 are still alive. Nearly 500 die each day, and fewer than 100,000 will survive to celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day.

It’s hard to think of a comparable event that affected so many people in so many parts of the world. Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute reminds us that it was the most lethal event in human history. with seventy million people killed—greater than the Black Plague, World War 1 and the Napoleonic wars. It entered every ocean, every continent.

A young Japanese woman asked a 92 year old Marine friend who had made landings in every major Pacific Island, why we bombed Nagasaki. She knew nothing of Pearl Harbor. “Because you would never have given up”, he told her.

Without the bomb, as terrible as it was, our own casualties would have been over one million in the invasion.

In the silence of devastation Emperor Hiro Hito said “I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to accept the Allies proclamation.”

As the news of the surrender spread around the world, a collective breath was taken, sucking up air which had been filled with the waste of the youth of a generation. The world had been changed, and we were changed as well.

Those who had left as boys returned as hardened men, but in the meantime all Hell broke loose. Wherever we were, we celebrated–loud and long. At sea, aboard Sam’s ship, they brilliantly fired a 5 inch gun—straight up in the air. Fortunately it landed right beside the ship and not in the middle of the cheering men; the captain, the oldest man aboard, was only 28 years old.

The offices in San Francisco, where I was working in my first job at Matson Line at the age of 18, exploded at the seams as we all plunged down the middle of Market Street shouting and laughing. I don’t remember how I got home across the Bay.

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THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT


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“Bird Of Paradise” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Did you ever stop to think how arbitrary the naming of things can be? For instance: has anyone ever really seen a bird of paradise? In the rich history of the English language a word has been invented for just about everything including things we have never seen.

Now and then words go missing when we need them and then unexpectedly pop up again in the night while in the middle of a good dream. Haven’t you wished you could think of a great word to apply to someone who does things which are particularly annoying or irritating–whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window or in tedious meetings at work?

It’s fascinating for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. There are several I’m sure, but we can avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian. Do you see how useful it could be?

Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinion to follow popular trends. It comes from a girouette another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical position according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.

Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one–ironically.

Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation, unlike the words such a person is likely to use. Many years ago I was annoyed with my father and wrote him a long pedantic and complaining letter. He immediately dashed one off to me using words I never thought he knew. It is universal to believe that we are far more brilliant than our parent, until we are once again proven wrong.

A Buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way was the one who provides us with the first recorded use of the word “bad” to mean “good”, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh. So you see, when someone says another person or musical group is “bad-ass” and means they’re good, it’s really “old-hat”.

Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. One of its root words is “humbug” or a hoax. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug. So don’t complain too loudly or people may call you a “humdudgeon”.

One of the great words featured in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth century Dictionary is bed-presser which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’.

There must be other annoying words–or rather, perfectly nice words that describe things people do–or things which get your goat.

We borrow from other languages, invent new words, combine words, and still wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t understand us.

THE COURAGE OF SMALL THINGS


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Rwanda Landscape Wikipedia

Now and then we come across a story, simply told, about someone who opens a chain of thoughts in our own minds.

This is David Brooks’ inspiring story about his friend Clemantine Wamariya. She was born in Rwanda 27 years ago. When she was six the genocide began and her world started shrinking. The beautiful land she knew was changed forever.

To escape the mass murders, Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, were moved from house to house. One night they were told to crawl through a sweet potato field and then walk away—not toward anything, just away. Away from family, home and friends and not to look back. They left with only the clothes they wore and no food.

They crossed the Akanyaru River living off fruit. Clemantine spent the rest of her young girlhood in refugee camps in eight African nations.

Claire kept them on the move, in search of a normal life. Clemantine wrote her name in the dust at various stops, praying somehow a family member would see it. Their struggles in the camps, for water and much else, gave them a sense that life is arbitrary.

In 2000, Claire got them refugee status in the United States through the International Organization for Migration. Claire went to work as a hotel maid in Chicago. A few years later, Clemantine was one of 50 winners of Oprah Winfrey’s high school essay contest.

In the middle of the 20006 show celebrating the winners, Oprah brought Clemantine and Claire on stage. Oprah asked when was the last time the girls had seen their parents. It had been 12 years. Then Oprah gave them a surprise: “Your family is here!” Her parents, brother and sister had been found in Africa, and now walked onstage. They all fell into one another’s arms. Clemantine’s knees gave out, but her mother held her up.

Clemantine’s story, has a comforting arc: separation, perseverance, reunion and joy. It’s the kind of clean, inspiring story that many of us tell, in less dramatic form, about our own lives, with clearly marked moments of struggle and overcoming.

In David Brooks’ words, “Clemantine is now an amazing young woman. Her superb and artful essay reminded me that while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another.”

We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots. Each relationship is intricate, fertile ground for misunderstanding.

Clemantine displays the courage of small things: the courage to live with feelings wide open even after trauma: the maturity to accept unanswerable ambiguity; the ability to create tenacious bonds.

David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, NEW YORK TIMES
July 7, 2015