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.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

14 thoughts on “AND SO IT BEGINS:”

  1. You have begun well! Just enough detail to help the reader engage but not so multi-layered that one might lose interest. I am very much interested in reading each episode.


  2. Our version of the saying was, “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.” The thought’s the same, though your version is more memorable and creative.

    It’s especially interesting to me that you had an aunt who played such a role in your life. I did, too. We hear a good bit about the role of parents and grandparents, but aunts and uncles have great influence, too. I can’t remember ever seeing a study about it — or even much literature. Maybe I’m just not remembering.

    Your comment about being broke reminded me of one of my favorite David Grisman songs: “I Ain’t Broke, But I’m Badly Bent.


  3. Our minds frequently run along the same lines, perhaps you have noticed. I have long thought about writing a story about all the aunties in my life. Now that I apparently am writing a sort of autobiography, I know it will be included. I didn’t think this would include so much of recalling my early past. You see what happens when children prod you for information?


  4. I, too, was taught “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.” I’m so glad you’ve embarked on this chronicle–I’m sure it will be prized by your family for a long time to come. I often think that California must have been a true paradise in the period you’re describing.


  5. I think it must have been. We lived very close to the beach, right in the city, and there were orange groves everywhere. You could smell the blossoms on a warm night. Of course in Long Beach you could also smell the oil wells on occasion!


  6. I think it’s wonderful you’re telling so many stories about a your life, and thus a time in history that is easily being forgotten. What wonderful characters you have in “your story”. And your personality certainly comes out too in future installments.


    1. Thank you so very much. I find it hard to write about oneself without using the word “I” often! I always laugh when I think that everyone when looking at a photo, picks themselves out first! Human nature I guess. I’m glad you are enjoying the stories.


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