FAREWELL SWEET PRINCESS


“Look what I found Mom! It’s your silver charm bracelet I took five years ago when I left home!” All delivered in a voice of some amazement while my daughter nodded her head in sage acceptance, reminding me of the lapis ring she took from me some years ago. I recall the pair of scissors I brought from my mother’s sewing basket when I married 69 years ago. They long ago lost their edge, but then so have I in the ensuing years. Perhaps they were payback for the beloved stuffed raccoon my mother kept when I left on my honeymoon.

Is this an unconscious method of keeping some part of our childhood or of our past? I think it must be, though I can’t imagine why I took scissors–surely there were other things more useful?

Our Kate, world traveler that she has been as a tourist or traveler, departed today for London as a resident which is an entirely different thing. She called the other day to tell me about the woman in Paris who wore a full length mink while leading her little dog wearing an identical coat. She said “I fit in Paris—I have tried to fit in in London, but it isn’t the same.” Although she has been a frequent visitor of her new home, it will take time to “fit in” as she calls it. A Londoner of my acquaintance says it sometimes takes a long time to feel comfortable in that large labyrinth of a city. I might add that all moves take time to make you comfortable. It’s more than learning which Underground gets you to where you want to go. It’s really about making the people you smile at, smile back. Bon Voyage my Kate. Please don’t make Luca wear a fur coat.

CROSSING THE COUNTRY Kate’s Journal


Episode 6
New London, Connecticut, 1938

Through these past years I have blogged about various events which happened during our time in New London, Connecticut. Whether more things happened to me during that time, or whether I was simply old enough to have a better memory I can’t say, but Connecticut made a deep impression on me.

Still living in the details of my memory; the hurricane of 1938, my near-kidnapping, rustic country life and the summer-long case of poison ivy which greeted our arrival in New London, Connecticut.

In 1938 we received orders to go to New London, for two and a half years where my father began training in the submarine service. We loaded our belongings into our used black Chevy car and set out across country, like today’s migrants.

Assigned to the submarine base, both enlisted men and some officers could choose to find their own living quarters, which were few and far between off the base.

Our first was a one-room apartment bathroon-down-the-hall over a small grocery store, and the second was slightly better though it had no indoor plumbing, just a privy some distance away. Water had to be pumped each morning, and baths were taken in a tub after water had been heated on a huge wood stove. It sounds awful, and it was, but for two and a half years it was our home.

outhouse

The whole monstrosity overlooked a large field and a small lake which in New England is called a pond. The field was promptly planted with vegetables, and the pond supplied recreation both in summer and in winter when it froze solid and we skated. During the winter freeze I skated part of the way to school.

Connecticut abounds with rivers and streams, and we lived between the pond and across the road from the Thames River, a deep-water river with the Submarine Base situated on its shore. Local kids swam in sight of the diving tower, where my Dad trained. It was there I first learned to swim when my father threw me into the river.

The Base had a commissary, or ship’s stores, where we did most of our shopping. There was a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other places of recreation. A large parade ground was in the middle of the compound, and there was always a dress parade on Saturday mornings, where I loved to watch my father, in his dress blues, march in formation behind the Navy band. We Navy kids used to play ‘parade’ with a majorette, and the rest of us following behind blowing on combs covered with waxed paper.

The first winter we lived there, New England felt the tremendous power of a hurricane, still referred to as one of the worst of the century. It was a school day and we were all hustled into the hallway to protect us from flying glass should the windows cave in. The incredible roar of the wind and the rain pounding on the roof was very frightening. One of the big double doors at the end of the hall blew open, and three teachers pushing on it could not close it. When the noise quieted, and the wind calmed somewhat, we were sent to our various homes.

It still amazes me that we were sent on our way alone in the wake of such a terrible storm. But the road was impassable for cars because of fallen trees etc. I lived some three miles from the school and walked each way except for cutting off about a mile in winter. The rest of the children were local farm children whose parents in most cases had attended the same small school.

The school consisted of two rooms and the principal’s office and I went there during part of the fifth and all of the sixth and seventh grades. We were expected to memorize poems regularly, and a Charles Kingsley poem reproached: “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.” I still feel a twinge of guilt knowing I grew up more clever than good, and as a “sweet maid” I was a disappointment. Having practiced being “good” up to this time without gaining the benefit of friends, I chose to be funny.

I still remember the smell of oiled wooden floors in the closkroom, wet wool snowsuits, and egg or tuna sandwiches emanating from the tin lunchboxes or paper bags containing our lunches. I had close contact with these odors on the occasions when I was sent out of the room to consider my acts of disobedience.

My teacher, Miss Lillian Ingraham, was possibly the best teacher I ever had, and thought I was smarter than I was, because I had read the most books, for which I received a prize. She was quite tall and skinny and had dyed red hair and eyes in the back of her head. She placed me in the front row, not because I had trouble seeing the board, (which I did) but so that she could keep one of her eyes on me.

A boy named Cecil Kirk was in my fifth grade class and passed me a note one day suggesting that we meet after school behind a certain stone wall, where he would show me ‘his’ and I would reciprocate. I ran most of the way home never looking at the aforementioned stone wall. We never spoke again.

I was not a star at team sports, but I was a fast runner, and could shinny up the flag pole faster than most of the boys. I was also an apt pupil of my father in games of marbles, cards, and mumbly-peg, which was a game of skill in throwing a jack-knife point down into a preordained spot within a large circle drawn in the dirt. I ‘m afraid that most of the games my father taught me were not looked upon with great favor by my teachers.

PERSONAL GRAVEYARDS


First let me say that I think everyone needs a “personal graveyard”; because we all have grievances which need to be buried.

What do you do with the small niggling thoughts flying around in your memory that need to be forgotten? It speaks poorly of me to admit that I remember all of them. They may come unbidden at odd times, but especially when lying quietly in bed trying hard to think of nothing. These are the troubles which need to go right back into Pandora’s box because that was yesterday’s story.

Years ago I took a boy having prepubescent troubles to visit a gallery show I had just hung to get his take on the paintings. The boy was a budding artist with potential in computers as well as in painting. The featured artist had recently recovered from a serious illness and I wanted to show how her choice of color had influenced her painting.

The first room of the gallery showed the artist’s illness in very dark paintings with lots of black and red. In the other two rooms we hung her “I’m all over it, take me out to the ballgame” paintings. The young boy “got it”.

I recognize that we all don’t paint, but choose your own way to bring these feelings out into the open just to give them some air.

During my lifetime I have collected memories both good and bad. I long ago chose to paint them all, making it my personal graveyard. I slashed the canvas and splashed it with paint and small icons for parts of my life for which I had anger; codes only I knew, I gritted my teeth and got myself into a real snit, and then I put it up in the attic.

We are at the stage of life when we need to get rid of things we no longer need; it was a good time to visit the attic.

Dragging out old ancestral pictures and bad paintings of my own, I came upon my personal graveyard painting and found I no longer remember why I painted it.

When we leave this house someday, as we all must do, I will tell my children to “toss it in the bin with the rest of them.”

DANCING THE BLUES AWAY Kate’s Journal


Episode 5
Long Beach 1934-1938

Indomitable people always seem to find a way to lift their spirits and in the Great Depression, spirits needed a lot of lifting. Grandma loved to dance, and often went out in the evening dressed in great style, sometimes taking the boat to Catalina Island to dance at the famous Avalon Ballroom. I liked to rummage through her closet looking at her lovely evening gowns which she probably either made or picked up at a second hand store. Both she and my mother were excellent seamstresses.

The phenomenon of the marathon dance came about during the Depression. Dancing couples would remain dancing as long as possible on their feet, only taking time for a bite to eat and bathroom breaks. Otherwise, they even slept one at a time while dancing. If one or both fell they were disqualified. There was a monetary prize, so it was a good incentive to stay on your feet. People paid to watch, sitting on hard bleachers, and followed favorites, calling encouragement now and then.

Grandma was also a sucker for a sob story, and everyone seemed to have a story to tell her. I remember so many faces which showed up for a meal or two and then left. Harry Hance was the only male roomer we had and he lived with us for many years. I never knew if he started out as a “stray”, but he became part of our resident “family”.

Grandma’s theory was that everybody deserved a second chance. “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” You can always find few rubies in the rubble.

Harry had the biggest bedroom in the house, one which my mother and I had occupied for a short time before he came to us, which probably led to any feelings of resentment I had toward him. He came and went through the laundry room which always smelled a bit like dry cleaning solvent because Nellie cleaned her own clothes. It’s a wonder she didn’t blow us all up, but that was the extent of thriftiness then.

I was named for my Great-Grandmother Kate Hadley Kendall and for my mother who went by the name of Kathy. The name now belongs to my Granddaughter Kate.

As a child I was dubbed “Katie Lou”, and I disliked it so much I began changing it with each new school I went to. It gave me a sense of mystery because no one really knew who I was. It was harmless entertainment and got me through the initial period of being the new kid on the block.

In 1937 we were stationed in San Diego again, the town of my earlier bullying at the age of four. I lied once more and used the name of “Elsie” when asked by the teacher. I greatly admired a neighbor of Auntie’s named Elsie Brown who was a few years older than I and may have played the piano.

My fourth grade class was putting on a talent show for which we signed up to perform our particular talent. For some unknown reason I chose to play the piano, which was a terrible choice since I did not know how to play the piano.

In the class of nine year old strangers I heard my “name” called to come to the front of the room. “Elsie Sweetland will now play a Russian piece on the piano for us.”

At Auntie’s I was allowed to bang away on the piano as often as I liked, though I somehow knew the mandolin resting against the wall beside it was off limits. Staying there often I was steeped in the classical music playing off their record player. I don’t remember listening to music at Grandma’s, though I often heard that Grandpa Jim was a lover of classical music, and his sister Corinne was an opera singer in Montreal.

I confidently stood and not looking at anyone I walked to the piano and sat on the small bench. After announcing my intention, I pounded away until the teacher mercifully brought my performance to a close. I believe I was as surprised as anyone that I could NOT play the piano.

Shortly after my disastrous debut the census was being taken, and a man came to our door and after assuring himself that my mother was indeed Kathryn Sweetland married to Walter Sweetland, came to question number three: “And you have Kathryn and Elsie in school?” I was busted.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY BEAUTY


002

You can’t trust beauty; we bought a beautiful Pink Lady apple tree a year or so ago purely on the grounds of beauty, and thinking it would get along well with the Golden Delicious. Maybe a nice combination for pie. It has proven to be untrustworthy in all respects.

The first year it had 2 apples and I forgave it. Last year five apples made it to the finish line. This year there were 3 and one fell off after Charlie’s leash got wrapped around the branch. I apologized to Dr. A because I was on the other end of the leash.

It’s lovely pyramidal shape has been nipped down to its buds because of fungus attacks in spite of dousing it with spray. It looks like a disappointed old crone waiting for a dance. Its apples were hard and sour and didn’t ripen until late October anyway.

So off with its head! And let that be a lesson to any other tree in the orchard.

FRAGRANCES OF MEMORY Kate’s Journal


Episode 4
Long Beach 1934

I blame it on the neighbor who had a grand mal seizure on my bedroom floor. Was she contagious? Among all the other vaccinations, I didn’t have that one either.

Grandma had discovered Christian Science in the body of Mary Baker Eddy, and we did not believe in doctors or vaccinations. She took my mother and aunt Corrine into the fold, but not my father and me.

I was a silent rebel, dutifully attending church services three times a week, wearing my shiny black Mary Jane’s and hat with streamers down the back. When I was sent to Auntie’s the shoes were exchanged for brown high top Buster Browns, a Dutch cut and no church.

Grandma and me 1935
Grandma and me about 1935

We lived a few blocks from the beach and there was always the smell of the ocean along with the acrid smell of oil from the derricks on the north side of town. But on warm silent evenings the perfume of orange blossoms filled most of Southern California. I believe it was the beaches and the orange blossoms which drew so many people to California in those days. The promise of jobs didn’t hurt either.

Along with other aromas flickering through my memory, the water in early Long Beach was undrinkable due to its smell and its color. Yellow sulfurous liquid poured from the spigots reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. Everyone had a large bottle of water delivered to the house for drinking purposes but the bathtub was filled with deep cadmium yellow which fortunately did not stain the body.

Auntie and Uncle Phil had an avocado tree with climbable branches and Grandma had a fig tree shaped appropriately as well. I liked them both and spent a great deal of time up the fig tree. From its top one could see directly into the dentist’s office next door which gave good entertainment when he was working on a patient’s open mouth.

I could have made a lot of money inviting the neighborhood kids to climb as well, charging a nickel apiece. You could buy a lot of candy from the penny candy store around the corner in those days. The dentist was a nice man who gave me free tubes of Ipana toothpaste which I saved and gave to my teacher at Betty’s Dance Studio, where I was a primo tapper.

The movie star Laraine Day lived around the block, and I always hoped she could get me a job in the movies, but obviously it didn’t happen. Nancy Joy Peterson was a fellow tapper, whose pushy mother curled her hair high on her head and let her wear lipstick, didn’t make it either.

Me 1938
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The Great Depression was a terrible time for the country. We were among the lucky ones. My father had a job and grandma had her renters, plus she and my mother and Aunt Corrine often were able to get a short term job. Grandma knew about the restaurant business from helping at her father’s summer resort, and there was always a need for a good waitress. My mother also once worked in a hair salon giving what was called a “marcell”; pressing the hair into waves with a hot iron. Grandma was also a great seamstress, and sometimes worked in a nearby factory sewing. None were high paying jobs, but people took what they could.

Though I was too young to understand the magnitude of its impact on our society, I retain memories of the Depression which I realize are due to the hardships we endured. My mother told me of the times we had no food in the house and so she did not call me in for dinner hoping the neighbors would invite me in to share theirs. I was often sent to Auntie’s at those times.

Many people rose late in the day to eliminate an extra meal. Coffee grounds were used more than once and then put on plants in the garden. Occasionally I went with Grandma to a place where we were given paper bags of vegetables for soup or stew. My dear aunt Corrine used to cringe with guilt to remember once stealing some empty milk bottles, because you could get a nickel apiece and three bottles could buy enough vegetables for a pot of soup.

Long Beach was a beach town and a navy town with plenty of suitable entertainment for those hoping for a respite from Depression blues. More about that later.