DON’T MESS WITH FAMILY CHRISTMAS TRADITION Kate’s Journal


Episode 22 Oakland 1950

If I can ever pass along any words of wisdom to you, they will be: don’t try to mess with your family’s Christmas traditions.

Our first Christmas in our new house if you will remember, was spent holding our new baby girl after drinking Moscow Mules while listening to “Sam’s Song on the record player.

The Rasmussen Family Christmas Breakfast at my mother-in-law’s house was compulsory, but I wanted to do it myself at our new house. Getting past that hurdle meant choosing an impressive menu with a few awe-inspiring decorations thrown in. There is nothing more determined than a young inexperienced married woman trying to register her footprint.

As I was growing up, on Christmas we were often in some other city or state, in temporary lodgings, or part of a larger group of personnel on a Navy base. At Grandma’s on Christmas, I was more interested in grabbing whatever present had my name on it lying under the tree than paying attention to what she had made for breakfast.

In spite of her feelings of disinterest in my dear little Grandpa Jim, he was always invited, though directed to sit at the far end of the table. I was always told that Santa brought the tree on Christmas Eve. My own opinion is that we probably couldn’t afford it before then. Nevertheless, it was beautiful as all Christmas trees of whatever shape are, even if you aren’t a believer in the reason for having one. (I have lots of Jewish friends who just like the looks of them. One family kept one in a playpen so they could whisk it out of the room when their mother-in-law dropped in.)

The tree, fully decorated, stood in our living room in Long Beach, behind the sliding doors of the dining room. We usually had one roomer, Harry Hance, so Grandma’s crowded left-over bedroom was off the living room. I was never allowed in it before Christmas because it was the place where all the Christmas decorations were being prepared. So on the great day, probably at the crack of dawn, the doors slid open, the radio played a Christmas song, and we all piled in destroy the carefully wrapped gifts.

Matt & Brady SolvangRasmussen’s in Solvang

In the Rasmussen family, the Danish tradition prevailed, and one present was allowed to be opened on Christmas Eve, depleting the disgustingly overwhelming pile of gifts not at all. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

On Christmas morning, breakfast reigned supreme, with the bestowal of gaily wrapped packages following. My mother-in-law was nothing if not energetic, and somehow the Rasmussen Christmas Breakfast was loaded onto the dining room table.

Platters appeared filled with halves of broiled, sectioned grapefruit topped with brown sugar and a cherry, other platters contained ham, bacon, and sausage; accompanied by another platter heaped with hash-browned potatoes. Silky scrambled eggs glowed brightly on another platter, while hot biscuits rested in a basket. A large pitcher held hot country milk gravy for the biscuits, though it was a shame to cover them up because my mother-in-law was a superior biscuit maker. All they needed was the home-made preserves and butter sitting amongst all those platters.

The amazing thing was that we could drag ourselves away from the table to attack the tree, but we did, only after the dishes were washed and put away for the big dinner to follow in the afternoon. Amazingly, these were all skinny people.

The year that I chose to make my mark, I had studied cookbooks, newspapers and magazines, and came up with what I thought would knock their socks off. I had made our own Christmas cards, the house was decorated and filled with good cheer, and I began bringing platters out to the table.
kayti cooking
Making Ableskiver

I don’t really remember what it was I made that year, perhaps something containing chicken livers or creamed something or other. I’m sure it looked beautiful, and I’m just as sure it tasted good, but the entire table, including my lovely husband, turned their collective noses skyward. It wasn’t the Rasmussen Christmas Breakfast.

I’m nothing if not willing to take advice, and I don’t need a Christmas tree to fall on my head. I got their message, and thereafter, a replica of the Rasmussen Christmas Breakfast appeared on my table.

dANISH cHRISTMAS TREE

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THE YEAR THE MOUSE ATE THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE Kate’s Journal


Episode 21 Christmas, 2015, Fremont

watch cat The Christmas cakes and cookies have been baked, and the cards were made and sent on time for a change, the presents bought and wrapped. I’m feeling pretty good about Christmas this year instead of having a near panic attack as is usually the case. But one thing I’m not making this year, or maybe ever, is another Christmas gingerbread house.

We made some pretty limp attempts when our children were small, but one year when the grandchildren arrived, I went all out and built the world’s biggest, most fabulous three-story gingerbread Victorian mansion ever imagined by man or child.

It stood about 18 inches high, and the gingerbread was totally covered with either frosting or candy. It was beautiful beyond belief and everything a gingerbread house should be.

At the annual Christmas party it was the hit of the evening and as its architect and builder, I glowed with pride. It stood on its own separate table in the place of honor, but unfortunately, I have lost the photos I took of it from every angle, so you will just have to take my word for it.

When the season was over, we carefully lifted this enormous confection and lovingly packed it away till the following year. We protected it with tissue paper and bubble wrap, and carefully sealed the cardboard container against dust and dirt in the attic.

The following Christmas, while taking down the collection of holiday decorations, I opened the large cardboard box to find—–nothing.

Going downstairs, I asked my husband, Dr. Advice, what he had done with the gingerbread house. Just as puzzled as I, he looked into the box and found instead of a glorious gingerbread house, one or two pieces of candy. Nothing else–just two pieces of candy.

Mouse

As we all know, it gets pretty cold and lonely outside for a small mouse, and our mouse obviously has a sweet tooth as well, so who can blame him for seeking shelter in a warm box containing an irresistible feast fit for a king, and even inviting some friends over for a snack or two? Not I.

HUDDLE UP


Fremont is the home of the California School For the Deaf, which made this excerpt from How Football Explains America by Sal Paolantonio catch my eye. The football huddle was invented at a college for the deaf–Gallaudet University in Washington DC–as a means of hiding signals from other deaf teams. it was then institutionalized at the University of Chicago as a means of bringing control and Christian fellowship to the game.

“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or schools Hubbard merely used hand signals–American Sign Language–to call a play at the line of scrimmage, imitating what was done in football from Harvard to Michigan. Both teams approached the line of scrimmage. The signal caller–whether it was the left halfback or quarterback–barked out the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was hidden from the defense. There was no huddle.

“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf schools could read quarterback Paul Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in 1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided to conceal the signals by gathering his offensive players in a huddle prior to the snap of the ball,.–Hubbard’s innovation in 1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on, the huddle became a habit during regular season games.’ states a school history of the football program.

Gallaudet

“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on other college campuses, particularly the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man credited with nurturing American football into the modern age and barnstorming across the country to sell the same, who popularized the use of the huddle and made the best case for it.

“At the time, coaches were not permitted to send in plays from the sideline. So, while Stagg clearly understood the benefit of concealing the signals from the opposition, he was more interested in the huddle as a way of introducing far more reaching reforms to the game.

“Before becoming a coach, Stagg wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a divinity student from 1885 to 1889. Thoughtful, pious and righteous, Stagg brought innovations to football as an attempt to bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He wanted his players to play under control, to control the pace the course, and the conduct of what had been a game of mass movement that often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as a kind of religious congregation on the field, a place where the players could, if you will, minister to each other, make a plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan and one another.”
……………………………………………………………

Whether the players of today know the origin of the huddle, or whether they adhere to the precepts that Stagg put forth, on occasion, is a moot point. That “mass movement” that often ended in fisticuffs, is still part of the game.

THE OAKLAND YEARS Kate’s Journal


Episode 20 Oakland, CA

053“Watercolor” by kayti sweetland rasmussen Iris from my first real garden.

Living in a semi-rural and hilly part of Oakland in the 50’s was quite different from our flat island of Alameda. With Sam traveling from Monday to Friday and me without a car, there were adjustments to be made. One of them was Al Cook’s small corner grocery store which not only delivered, but also let you run a tab. The girls walked to school, I walked to the bus for school, and we all walked 2 miles to Jan’s piano lessons.

We acquired Hilda, a small black and tan dachshund with strange long legs, who stayed with our family for many years. She actually became part of the neighborhood pack which included a large furry collie who was repeatedly attacked by a small chihuahua who buried himself in her thick neck fur to hide from his parents.

I joined a women’s singing group and we sang at women’s clubs, churches, etc. One of our members was a woman from Centerville, before it became Fremont, whose husband owned a nice steak restaurant there. She became ill with tuberculosis and had to be in an institution for a year and a half. When she returned in good health, she found that her husband had found other means of entertainment while she was gone, so she divorced him. The restaurant has changed hands several times since then.

We had a very active Campfire Girls group, and though it I met a very inspirational woman in her 80’s from Fremont who had been a real mover and shaker in the organization for many years. I will write later about her when we move to Fremont. In trying to find an interesting theme for our girls group, I had chosen Japanese children’s holidays which morphed into much more a few years later when they moved into high school.

I found returning to school to be harder than I had realized. Math and chemistry were not my strong points, but glaze calculation required a certain knowledge of.. them. I met a lovely old Japanese potter who was horrified that I could not retain the right information. When I begged for a simple calculation, he exclaimed “But that’s fourth grade math!” I told him I knew that and that’s what I wanted to know. I also began to be interested in a class about window dressing and display to see if it was different from what i had done for J.C. Penney in Alameda.

Sam’s parents had moved to Centerville which was just emerging from rural farmland, with a couple of very nice neighborhoods being built. Sam’s sister’s family followed a year or so later into a new home. At that time there was perhaps 6,000 population. There was bus transportation to Oakland, and there was a train to Sacramento. Our weekends were often spent together at the cabin at the Russian River, where the whole family gathered.

Our little neighborhood was safe and we had good neighbors. A creek ran behind our house at the bottom of a hill. Bishop O’Doud high School was on the other side of the hill. Neighborhood children played in the shallow creek, and the mothers all felt quite safe.

One morning I received a terrible ill-written note in the mail, accusing me of trying to steal someone’s husband. No name or return address. It was disturbing and I threw it in the fireplace. A few days later I received a package in the mail containing another note a pair of dirty men’s socks. I called the police, and in today’s world, I’m sure they would not bother to come. I was frightened to think that someone even knew that we were there and alone. Later we heard that a man had exposed himself to the kids walking the long distance to school. We were mentally gearing up to move when I looked out my upstairs window to see someone obviously proud of his manly equipment looking directly at me.

We had been happy in our first little home, but it was time to move on, and we chose to join the rest of the family in the little town of Centerville.

WHEREIN LIES THE TRUTH?


It’s amazing that we get along as well as we do. I recently read “A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, in which he points out the truly unique thing about human beings–the thing that distinguishes us from the family pet and other animals–is our ability to have a commonly held belief about things that do not exist or cannot be empirically demonstrated at all. At a given time of day, you cannot convince a dog it is not time to eat or go for a walk.

Dr. Harari says “The truly unique feature of Homo Sapiens language is the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.”

Before the Cognitive Revolution, many animal and human species could say “Careful! A lion!” Later they acquired the ability to say “The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.” This is about the time that legends, myths gods and religions appeared for the first time.

carnarvon imageThe Carnarvon cave paintings at Queensland, Australia

Aboriginal cave paintings whether in Australia, France or the United States, depict the common beliefs of the people living there at that time.

It’s relatively easy to agree that only Homo sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist. You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. Why is it important? Because fiction can be dangerously misleading or distracting.

Any large-scale human cooperation is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. States are rooted in common national myths.

We seem to gather into ‘silos’ of common belief, clearly demonstrated in the presidential performances here in the United States. One of the most interesting beliefs is that of Donald Trump, who has convinced himself, though not any of the people who supposedly would know, that ‘thousands and thousands of people danced and cheered in the streets of New Jersey, as the World Trade Centers were blown down.

This is reminiscent of the aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, or the Loch Ness monster in Scotland who pops up for air every few years. Bigfoot I could believe—maybe.

But the truth is our own, and thank whoever or whatever, that we can cherish our own beliefs.