NAUGHTY & NICE Kate’s Journal


Episode 13

Highland Park, CA., 1943

All our lives are made up of periods of nice and not so nice. We may as well get used to it. I went to stay with Auntie and Uncle Phil in April, 1943 for the last couple of months of school. Probably not nice for any of us.

Alameda, CA., 1943

We moved to Alameda in the summer, into the old home that was built by my Great-grandfather and now owned by Great Aunt Helen. Yes, another Aunt took us in! Let me tell you, it’s good to have a lot of Aunts.

Alameda Ave. 1613

Mr. Lloyd Sisler was the drama teacher in the high school, and also gave voice lessons on the side. In my first solo concert at his home, I stood beside the piano facing the audience, and my voice refused to escape my mouth. In spite of that, he gave me lead parts in several operettas during the next two years.

I didn’t see him again till our 40th class reunion, and he had not aged gracefully, wearing full stage make-up and a dark wig slightly askew. I introduced myself feeling sure that he would remember me as his star pupil, and talented actress.

I was shocked to find that he not only didn’t remember me, but said my voice must not have impressed him! I raised my eyebrows and said that “My mother is not going to be happy to hear that.” He roared with laughter and said I had a great sense of humor. Well, better a sense of humor than a great voice I guess. Since my mother had passed away two years before she never got a chance to appreciate the humor.

I joined the R.O.T.C, which came with a uniform and an entire Battalion of boys! It was the style to bleach your bangs, but I went whole hog and bleached my entire head one day when my mother was gone. It looked good too–better than mouse brown.

ROTCThere I am in front row.

Confessions are in order at various times of our lives. We can either be perfect or lucky. I have been lucky, but also too trusting of other people. After a morning horseback ride with a group of kids, a girlfriend I learned not to trust, convinced me to borrow one of the boy’s cars and take it around the corner even though neither of us drove. She took the safer passenger side and I “drove”— right into a lamp post and a tree. I worked a long time to repay my mother for the damage, and received strong discipline from the judge.

In our small attic apartment I set up my studio and began painting very bad portraits of my friends. The space was like a small dark cave with a single light bulb, but I thought it was pretty snazzy. My first “payment” was a glass bell which lost its clapper when I took it out of the box.
Shadows of Our Ancestors“Shadows of Our Ancestors” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen ( This painting was done many years later.)

I needed money so I went door to door again, and boldly lied to the manager of the J.C. Penney store that I had worked for Penney’s in Grants Pass. He took me on to fold men’s jeans, but when the window dresser quit shortly after I took over his job, eventually doing the advertising layouts for the newspapers. At 17 I imagine I was the youngest art director in Penney’s history. However, I don’t advise lying to anybody, it’s not nice and it can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

There were few place that teenagers could congregate safely. The war was on, and though there was a local U.S.O. where girls could go and dance with young servicemen, the creamery closed early and except for private parties, that left the Alameda Theater. Several of us found an empty building and after much effort in raising money for rent and donations of recreation equipment and record players, we opened the Alameda Teen Center. It was a moderate success at least as long as I was there.

None of my girlfriends had their own car, however, we were permitted to drive our parents car on occasion if we replaced the gasoline we used. At eighteen cents a gallon, we pooled our money to take us to and from Oakland and San Francisco. We mostly walked our way around the island of Alameda. My mother taught me to drive on Otis Drive which was locally known as Lover’s Lane. When without a date, we spent Friday and Saturday evening patrolling to see whose windows were steamed up.

At Christmas, 1943 my mother and I drove to Torrance to be with my Grandmother. While there she became ill and we stayed for two months. At the end of the semester, having missed two months of school, I received an F on my report card in history. It was the first time I had ever failed in anything.

I went to summer school for a number of weeks with the same teacher who had flunked me: Miss Hook. Now let me tell you about Miss Hook. There is a word for people who resemble their names and Miss Hook exemplified it. Tall, skinny, drab, pointed features, buck teeth, and smug. As she handed me my report card with an “A” on it, she said ‘You see what you can do when you don’t worry about boys?” I never told her the reason I had missed so much school. There was a lot of “naughty” and “nice” in that year of high school.

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THE ROGUE I REMEMBER KATE’S Journal


Episode 12
Grants Pass, 1943

Across the mountains of Southern Oregon flows a mighty errant river in a great hurry to blend its waters with those of the Pacific Ocean. Early French visitors called it Coquins (rogues) describing the local Indians. It could also have been called that for its wild changes of behavior between hairpin bends and boiling rapids before suddenly flattening out into sleepy pristine waters where native fish shelter beneath overhanging trees.

rogue river2

This was the Rogue River of my father’s youth, where he developed his love of the outdoors, nature and fishing. My grandfather raised cattle outside of town and was the only butcher in Grants Pass. They say he was a master sausage maker.

My Sweetland Grandparents, Walter and Tena, raised six children, my father coming in towards the end. He was a trickster and a tease who wasted a lot of school time trying to prove the teacher wrong. He was smart, and a smart alec. He was excellent at solving math problems but a lousy teacher. He had no patience for stupidity, so I stopped doing math in the 4th grade.

Grandparents Sweetland

Each of us in our family have our memories of the Rogue. One of my daughters shudders remembering being caught in a rapid between the rocks, so the Rogue was not a happy river for her. Much later I tried my initial foray into water-skiing on the Rogue. Having risen to the occasion on a single ski, I chose never to do it again. Probably none of us felt the magnetizing pull of the River as my father did after the War. The clarion call of home had been ringing in his heart for too many years.

Rogue river

Arriving in Grants Pass, I was a stranger to cousins I had never known, and family history better left between the pages of history. Dad’s sister Ardith had two boys I liked; the youngest, Bud, a wild kid who loved to jump off the bridge at the park in Grants Pass, grew up to be a railroad engineer, and his brother Walter who became a worm farmer.

Aunt Hazel’s brother Uncle Charlie owned the pool hall in town where we went for ice cream, committed suicide one morning before work. I don’t recall with perfect clarity whether that was before or after we found out his daughter Doris was a prostitute.

All of these things were debated with great interest with Aunt Hazel’s dog Bounce, whom she swore could talk. Sitting out in the sheep barn with him we discussed Life’s great imponderables. Bounce was well known for carrying a basket of gladiolus at the head of the annual Caveman Parade.

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In Grants Pass I temporarily changed my name to Arvie, sang in the jazz band, was on the debating team, found I was not good at team sports, fell in love again, and began to smoke cigarettes.

Once a week, sitting in a fire lookout on top of the mountain as enemy plane spotters, my girlfriend and I were enveloped in blue smoke as we puffed ill-gotten cigarettes, happily ignorant of health issues, our only fear of future consequences coming from our parents.

I was hired at the local soda fountain at fifteen, after assuring the owner I was sixteen and would bring proof soon. My new boss had at one time been a serious suitor of my Dad’s older sister, Aunt Arline. Though he asked again for my work permit, he did not pressure me and I was allowed keep scooping ice cream and making the skimpy tuna sandwiches he required. On good days I was permitted to help make the ice cream with another High School student, a boy who became another casualty of the War in another year.

The new sensation of being recognized because of my name in this town, gave rise to an unfamiliar sense of belonging. I began to understand the meaning of “home”.

CATCH A FALLING STAR Kate’s Journal


EPISODE 11
Grants Pass 1942

How do I recapture those few months after Pearl Harbor? With Japanese subs patrolling along the west coast it became apparent that we were moving again; this time my mother and I would go to Grants Pass, Oregon, my father’s home town. The only specifics I remember of that time are that I graduated from the 9th grade, turned 14, and my father’s mother, Grandma Tena Grey Sweetland passed quietly from this world to the next. She was laid to rest in the family cemetery alongside a flock of ancient Sweetlands
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We stayed temporarily with Aunt Hazel and Uncle Jean who made room for us in their rustic two room house out on the highway where they had lived for many years. Its rusticity included another outdoor privy, which recalled our time living in the Connecticut countryside.

Though they owned a large amount of acreage, plus a few buildings in downtown Grants Pass, they preferred their simple style of life, quietly watching the passing of time with their Australian shepherd dog, Bounce, and a few cats. Formerly there had been a few cows and sheep in the barns, and chickens roamed freely.

Uncle Jean had come to this country from France as a talented race car driver to race against America’s best, which at the time was Barney Oldfield. I can picture him then; a young hot shot driver, probably full of himself and sure of getting any girl he wanted. He chose Hazel, my Grandmother Tena’s sister, recently divorced from a high powered San Francisco lawyer and happy to return to Grants Pass where she was born.

Years before, when I visited them as a young child, I remember offering him a bite of my shiny red Delicious apple. He had pointed out that there were “stars” sprinkled all over the red skin. He declined my largess however, saying “Darlin’ I got no teeth.” Today I understand that limitation.

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My mother and I shared a bed in the main room of the house, where we listened each night at 10 p.m. to “The Richfield Reporter” for news of the war, calling out now and then to Aunt Hazel and Uncle Jean in their adjoining room as to which Island was under attack.

I would be starting my sophomore year in the local high school in a few weeks, but we still had no place of our own in town. I would be taking a school bus which was a new and somewhat frightening experience.

The ranch was comprised of many acres, with some areas overrun with delicious ripe blackberries which my mother turned into equally delicious pies. Aunt Hazel was knowledgeable about the things most city people know little, such as cloud formations, where the best fishing holes were, and when it might rain. She was on first name basis with the local squirrel population, and flights of migrating birds knew they could expect a hand out.

On August 12th Aunt Hazel handed us blankets and told us to go out and sleep in the field for a treat; it was the start of the Perseid meteor shower. I remember lying there with my mother enthralled with each shooting star all night long. We wished on each one, and naturally our wishes were for my father’s safe return.

perseid2Perseid Shower

The warm night was filled with the pleasant sound of crickets and an occasional small nocturnal creature disturbed the dry grass. You could still smell the heat of the day bringing the memory of ripeness in fruit and flowers. Uncle Jean thought we were crazy to sleep there in discomfort and told us that August 12 was known as the “Glorious Twelfth” in the UK and marked the traditional start of grouse shooting, which made a lot more sense.

hopsHop Field in Grants Pass, Oregon

There are fields of hops growing outside Grants Pass, which in wartime did not attract the migrant pickers it usually did, so it was suggested that schools and some businesses be conscripted to bring in the crop. My mother and I signed on, and for a week joined others in town stripping the hops into large bags hung around out necks. I was working alongside the first friends in town whom I would soon see when school began.

When I think of Grants Pass now, I think of that summer, and the closeness of my mother and me, and the kindness of family who took us in and made us welcome. Things were going to be OK.

THE ONE I WAS


Kayti at 40Me at 40

I awake to a silent house. No sounds of coffee being made or of dog being fed. Unfolding my right arm from its cramping bent position, I realize it’s Monday and he has gone to buy the paper because the local doesn’t deliver on Mondays.

Looking up I see my face in the portrait hanging on the bedroom wall as it surely must be, since it wouldn’t be appropriate to hang it elsewhere. I see my forty year old self; solemn, staring directly at the artist, dark hair piled on my head, where today there remains but a grey remembrance.

I am wearing the lapis ring my daughter reminded me that she took from me when she left home, but she would have had it anyway. Four of the small turquoise bracelets I bought from The Shop of the Rainbow Man in Santa Fe, New Mexico are on my wrist. Do I still have that small gold pin? I don’t remember.

Chanel ShoesChanel shoes

For some reason, I remember these shoes. Possibly because I coveted them, then and bought them for my 36th birthday for the astronomical price of $36.00. I loved them so much I wore them out. Chanel has brought them back now; for the astronomical price of $800. It shows that what goes around comes back around.

The sun is just beginning to wake also, and a few tiny dots of sunlight sprinkle themselves at the bottom of the picture, filtered through the lace on the bottom of the curtains. Why do I keep those curtains? They are no longer to my taste, but they go with the antique bed I suppose. I used to be able to climb on the bed to take them down to wash, but either the bed or my legs are too wobbly now to attempt it, so they hang quietly from their rods waiting for someone else to do it.

So much changes in our lives doesn’t it? We are obliged to go with the flow or get run over. Every day holds promise, and though it isn’t the promise of the past, we adapt. The Khan Academy slogan is “You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything.”

He has returned with the newspaper, and brings me a latte while we get ready to learn everything.

Good morning sunshine.

SUDDEN LIFE CHANGES Kate’s Journal


Episode 10

Torrance, 1940-1941

It’s strange to look back and realize that such a short amount of time–a mere three months actually, can bring such change in a life. Torrance High School brought me a mild amount of recognition, a great deal of embarrassment, a group of friends which I had never enjoyed before, and a sense of belonging.

The tennis player roomer brought about changes for my aunt and mother as well. Suddenly one evening I came upon them, along with my grandmother, dressed in full length fur coats. As I rippled my hands through the late squirrel’s fur, I was made aware that they had discovered a second hand store–today more commonly known as Thrift Stores. Though it was a humiliation to them to admit they could not afford to buy the same coats at the local department store, they wore them proudly. We seemed to be moving up in the world my grandmother had left behind.

My Grandpa Jim, active in the Masonic Lodge, encouraged me to join Job’s Daughter’s, which under threat of having to ride a goat, I did. I found that the circle of girl friends I already had were also members.

I remember those girls fondly, and can easily bring their faces to mind. Barbara Locke, Pat Rojo, another Barbara with long red curly hair we dubbed “Fuzzy” and Nadine Paour, who was tall, dark and beautiful. We were all at the training bra stage of our lives, which makes me laugh now to think we had to be in training to wear such a simple piece of clothing. None of us had much if anything to put into them, so I purchased a pair of rubber falsies.

After bringing them to an overnight slumber party, we all tried them on to see the effect, when our hostess’s little brother burst into the room. Trying to cover our embarrassment, we told him they were soup bowls. Now even a six year old knows you can’t keep soup in a rubber bowl. We took turns wearing our new chests to school till we tired of fishing them up from having slipped down to our waists.

It was a beautiful sunny morning in Southern California, and I was wearing the new red wool plaid suit which was supposed to be my Christmas present bought from money my Dad had sent, but even though it was only December 7, I had wanted to wear it before the holidays. I loved it so much I wore it all the way through high school.

My Dad had been gone for most of that year, the longest cruise yet, though we had no idea where he was. He could not tell us where his ship was and according to his censored V-mail letters he was “somewhere in the Pacific’, but we didn’t know where. It was apparent that there might be trouble sometime soon.

I remember the house smelling all warm and delicious from the cake my grandmother had just taken from the oven for Sunday dinner. We had two girls who boarded with us and they were hurrying to get away to the beach for the day; I had just fed our dog Wimpy and put him outside, when I heard the crackle of the big Philco radio change from music to the voice of President Roosevelt saying that “this day will go down in infamy.” I had no idea what the word infamy meant.

Everyone gathered around the radio in the bright sun room to hear the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I stupidly asked “where the heck is Pearl Harbor?” but no one else knew either, so we got out the large atlas and saw that it was “somewhere in the Pacific”, in the Hawaiian Islands.

We did not get the news until much later, that my Dad’s ship had been in Pearl Harbor, and was moored across the channel from the disastrous bombing of the USS Arizona. The majority of America’s major fleet, including the main battlewagons, were destroyed or badly damaged during the sneak attack.

450px-BagleyDD386 USS Bagley at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

It killed America’s isolationism, and made the American population determined to go to war and soon after, we joined Britain in fighting in Europe.

Having been out at sea for such a long time, they had come into the harbor to take on much needed food and water, but the attack happened before that could occur, and the ship was immediately sent back out to sea.

He would be at sea for another four years. Yes, I remember Pearl Harbor, and now I know where it is.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM


kermit-435

Autumn is coming. I can feel it in the early morning air that frames the day’s heat, a crisp tingle that chills the sunrise. I can see it in the leaves beginning to fall from the trees in our yard.

This time of year always brings a very old memory I would like to forget of a boy on the cusp of beginning. A boy with an easiness to his smile, a boy racing toward adventures which await a boy of nearly 13. His photograph shows the sweetness of his smile looking out at a world that waited with who knew how many wonders.

He had worked so hard to be ready for his Bar Mitzvah, and to be as good as his older brother had been two years before at his coming of age.

He and his friend and classmate at Oakland Technical High School, Frank Oznowicz, were involved in puppeteering, making their own puppets and writing scripts for them. Frank would later be associated with Jim Henson of the Muppets, doing the voice of Miss Piggy and others.

The boy stayed home from school that morning with a cold, and his mother ran a quick errand to the corner grocery. Exactly what happened that morning we’ll never know. There was a gun in the house and the boy alone. He probably thought it was unloaded. It wasn’t. By the time his mother arrived back home, he was dead.

That death caused not even the smallest disruption in the rhythm of the days that structured our lives. One small boy disappearing from the face of the earth did not create a large emptiness in space.

I won’t belabor the statistics of gun deaths. You’ve heard them all and so have I. And by hearing them too often they become yet another accepted peril. We have to end the tragedies that the click of a trigger can create.

I realize that I may hear from those whose advocacy of firearms is a rationalization rooted in antiquated constitutional rights and the need for self protection.

When morning comes the weapons of their survival are slipped back into drawers or stuck up on closets, maybe loaded, maybe not, until the night comes again—or until a child’s hand reaches out.

The truth is sad, simple and undebatable: An entire family died that morning and a gun did it.

HIGH PERFORMING SENIORS


bathing ladies

These women with whom I spend time every month are tied together like knots in the rope mooring us to shared memories. We traveled in parallel lines in the long ago, touching base when necessary, but not really reaching the stage of complete truthfulness.

Knots“Knots” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Memory is a complicated thing. A relative of truth but not its twin. Ann Beattie says “People forget years and remember moments.” I’m sure that is true, because as we meet over lunch, moments of our pasts are revealed and relived by some but not all. “Where did we go for our Senior picnic, do you remember?” Several choices may be given, but who can be sure?

Our ballet dancer remembers marching a squad of ROTC boys straight into the railroad yard, whereas I, marching along beside her with another squad, have no recollection of it. Memory can be a squirrelly thing. Looking back I was clueless until the age of 50.

We are beginning to lose friends, but I’m at a time of my life when illness and death and grief aren’t the surprise visitors they once were. The casualties are increasing among the people I loved and even the people I didn’t love, but they still shock and unsettle you.

We had role models as young people, but none in old age. How do you learn how to be old? My friend says we are ‘high performing seniors’, and that seems good enough to me.