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.

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.

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.

THE COURAGE OF SMALL THINGS


Rwanda-Landscape_R1_5917_2_-3
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

LITTLE GOODY TWO SHOES


goody-two-shoes

Trading insults over a card table one evening, a friend tossed out a challenge in retaliation to one of my own: “OK, Little Goody Two Shoes!”

It’s such an old saying, but where did it come from? We’ve all read the story of the little orphan girl who had only one shoe, and how smug she became when she finally acquired a second. But the phrase was older than the story.

I began searching, and found that the 1765 nursery rhyme seems to have been possibly–a neat kind of backformation, where a story was invented to account for the phrase. Or perhaps the story existed as an oral folk tale before it arrived in print.

The story itself was so long it was called the first children’s novel and even compared to Cinderella who also had a missing shoe. The difference between the two stories is that Goody went about gloating over her good fortune which gives us the moral: don’t shout about your sudden good fortune; it makes you hard to be around. Remember that when you win the lottery or get a new pair of shoes.

The phrase was in use even before the story; it’s found in Charles Cotton’s 1670 book “Voyage To Ireland In Burlesque”. But who wrote the story? First published in 1765, it is thought that Oliver Goldsmith was possibly the author.

It was around before the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the works of Lewis Carroll which attempted to promote excessive goodness to an unbearably sentimental degree. Many of the books I was given as a child praised the good child and sent the bad child to bed with no dinner. Naturally, I did not miss a meal.

A BOOK NO ONE WILL PUBLISH


A dejected young man trudging along Madison Avenue in 1937 was probably not an unusual sight during the Great Depression, but this one bumped into a friend from his college days who asked him what he was carrying. “It’s a book no one will publish” said Theodor Geisel, stinging from his 27th rejection, “and I’m taking it home to burn”.

As luck would have it, his friend, Mike McClintock, had just that morning been made editor of children’s books at Vanguard Publishing Co. He invited Geisel to his office where he bought the book the minute he read it. With the book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” became the first published children’s book of Theodor Seuss Geisel using the name “Dr. Seuss”.

When the book came out, the legendary book reviewer for the new Yorker, Clifton Fadiman, announced: ‘They say it’s for children, but better get a copy for yourself and marvel at the good Dr. Seuss’s impossible pictures and the moral tale of the little boy who exaggerated not wisely but too well.’

In college, Geisel had used the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss and later used Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone. Though Dr. Seuss has become a household name, Geisel also worked as a political cartoonist, an illustrator for advertising campaigns and during World War 11 he worked in an animation department of the United States Army. He added the “Dr.” to his pen name because his father had always wanted him to become a doctor.

Leaving Oxford without earning a degree, he began submitting his work to magazines, book publishers and advertising agencies. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in 1927 in The Saturday Evening Post, and earned $25. Later that year Geisel’s first work signed “Dr. Seuss” was published in the humor magazine “Judge”.

Increased income allowed Geisel and his wife Helen to travel, and by 1936 they had visited 30 countries together. While returning from an ocean voyage to Europe in 1936, the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”.

During WW2, Geisel joined the Army Air Force where he wrote propaganda films and army training films. After the war, he and his wife moved to La Jolla, California where he returned to writing children’s books.

r. Seuss

Many of his forty-four books remain wild bestsellers. Theodor Geisel is selling 11,000 Dr. Seuss books every day of the year. As inevitable as Dr. Seuss’s appeal seems now, Mulberry Street was rejected by twenty-seven publishers,

Though he devoted most of his life to writing children’s books, Geisel had no children of his own, he would say when asked about this, “You have ’em’; I’ll entertain ’em.”

dr. seuss 2-3_0001

A LIFE DELAYED


There was a time when all we had to worry about was the next biology test, Friday night’s date, and getting your Dad’s car back home unscathed. We never thought about drugs; cocaine and marijuana may have been around in some dark quarters, used by loser kids, but the designer drugs hadn’t been invented as yet, so our parents couldn’t warn us against them.

So we drank a little, and smoked a little and made out in the back seats of our cars, and the boys left to win the War.

Things began to change in the 1960’s, and my daughter informed me that groups of high school kids were smoking marijuana in the local park. Later we had a conversation regarding what we thought was the most threatening thing coming to our country. She said overpopulation and I said drug use. It turns out we were both right.

By the 70’s and 80’s drug use was not only evident but available to anyone. The argument of whether marijuana use led to hard drugs was tossed back and forth in intellectual groups as if people knew what they were talking about.

By the 90’s we began to be concerned with late night “raves” and more frequent partying in fraternities and sororities. The so-called “gourmet” drugs were far more frightening than marijuana.

In 2011 or thereabout, we visited a teenage drug rehab residence to visit our fourteen year old great-granddaughter.

If you have not experienced a beloved child being hooked on a chemical substance, it’s difficult to imagine the impact it has on an entire family. Through many visits to many rehab establishments, the same childish faces appear, growing a little more streetwise with each visit. As the years go by, you realize that the things which made the teenage years so pleasant for you would never apply to this child.

She had been using drugs since the age of eleven and she told me “I tried it and I liked it.”

Who gives eleven year old kids drugs? There is no bearded fanatic hiding in the bushes, it’s schoolyard friends who trade back and forth. The chain of connection is so indirect it can’t be traced. Prescription drugs and cold medicine, found in most homes along with alcohol and even bath salts are readily available.

Obviously not everyone is a potential victim. Chronic stress and trauma in childhood play the determining factor in predicting who will lose control once they start using drugs. Early life experience programs the brain and body for the environment it encounters. A calm nurturing upbringing predisposes a child to thrive, while scarcity, anxiety and chaos threaten. We all need a little stress to condition us to handle the big stuff, but when someone encounters an emotional roadblock too large to hurdle, it can send us over the edge.

A broken home, a lack of self-esteem, shyness or rebelliousness, the sudden introduction of another child into the family, trauma which comes in doses that are too large or too unpredictable over which the person has little or no control are all contributing factors to future drug use. All of these triggers were there for us to see.

Our granddaughter, a sweet and beautiful young woman, will be twenty years old this year and at present seems to be doing fine. We tend to focus on the ones who slip through the cracks, but many of these kids go on to lead successful, productive though delayed lives.

SKATING INTO THE NEXT 50


(Taken from my diary, 1978)

I am sneaking gradually up on my 50th birthday. It sounds pretty ancient, but feels good that I have come this far. Half a century—my God! They say our life span should be 120 years—if so, I’m still a babe in the woods.

Last month I started the grandsons on roller skating lessons. After the lesson I free skate with them, and it is so much fun I’m asking for roller skates of my own for my birthday, white ones of course.
I went my myself to the rink a week ago, and it felt like flying! Roller skates were an extension of my legs when I was a child, and then ice skates joined them. Until I got my first bike, roller skates were my mode of transportation.

Joanie has been taking her granddaughter for lessons too. Last week we decided to come skate and then go to lunch in honor of our birthdays. Hers is March 29, and mine April 2, but she is only 48.

She picked my up in the rain, and when we arrived at the rink, out jumped eight of my friends including my dear daughter Jan, who drove all the way up from Ben Lomond so early in the morning.

Joanie had arranged a surprise skating party and it was a big surprise to see how many of us remembered how to skate. We all remembered having a skate key hanging around our necks on a dirty cotton string. After skating for a couple of hours we all went back to her house for a birthday lunch.

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Fast forward through 37 years of Life.

A kaleidoscopic look at years of sadness and joy, during which small roller skaters grew up and had children of their own, and yet we somehow still remained 50. It must be a trick of nature.

We were building a large room addition at the time of the birthday, and were able to have own skating parties on the large cement floor, before the tiles were installed. I think all the kids thought everybody had their own skating rink in their house.

I cleaned out some closets today with stuff destined for the thrift shop, and found the white roller skates I had been given for the long ago birthday. Shortly after they were in my possession I tripped and fell and broke my elbow, and they were forever relegated to the back of the closet, a reminder of early skating parties.

Two weeks ago we said goodbye to our dear friend Joanie. I hope she knew how many times I thought of flying around the rink with her.

THE PAIN OF REJECTION


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“Little Dancer” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Our universal need to belong and to matter are as fundamental as our need to eat and to breathe. When we ostracize or reject another it is one of the most powerful punishments one person can inflict upon another.

Brain scans have shown that this rejection is actually experienced as physical pain in many cases. Pain is experienced whether those who reject us are strangers or close friends or family.

Imagine the pain and anxiety a child feels while waiting to be chosen as a team member. To be last in line, tells him he isn’t quite as good, not only as a team member, but as a person.

This reaction serves a function: it warns us that something is wrong. We don’t measure up in some important way.

Belonging to a group is a need, giving us better self-esteem and a sense of control over our lives. A belief that our existence is meaningful.

REJECTION

Ostracism threatens all these needs. Even an argument, verbal or physical is a connection; But when we alone stand on the outskirts of a group it is a uniquely harsh blow because it implies wrong-doing. Worse, the imposed silence forces us to generate more and more self-deprecating thoughts. You can fight back, but no one will respond, because we are invisible.

For most people, ostracism usually engenders a concerted effort to be included again, at least by someone. We do this by mimicking, obeying or cooperating with another group.

As a military child I went to a new school every year, in some cases more than one, making me a perpetual newcomer. Human nature cautions us against newcomers, and our automatic reaction is negative. A prime example is our prevalent attitude toward those who come to our countries from elsewhere.

Childhood bullying is an extreme example of rejection, and I survived several bouts of bullying. My mother’s comfortable, easy, soothing words always leaned toward “They’re just jealous.” Right. Even a third grader wouldn’t buy that excuse.

Children can be bullied for many reasons. The victim is smarter, the victim is dumber. The victim comes from another country or town or has either more or less in the way of clothing, food or athletic equipment. They can be either too chubby or tt skinnyIn other words, it really doesn’t matter how good or how bad you are, some kids are natural targets.

The little dancer staring out her upstairs window today may wish to be included in the group playing below, but chances are she would not be. Her goal is to dance.

We all have to find our own path into acceptance and a good life. Maybe the little boy forlornly standing on the edges of the playing field will find himself standing on a stage accepting the Nobel prize for finding the cure for cancer someday.

FATHER OF FITNESS


jacl lalanne

Jack LaLanne was certainly a fitness superhero. Exercise guru, promoter, inventor, Jack could do it all, and kept doing it until he died at 96. Maybe that’s what it takes, find out what you’re good at and keep doing it.

Julia Child taught us to cook by way of the TV, and Jack LaLanne taught us to exercise to keep the excess weight in bounds also by watching TV. Each of them appeared on morning TV for a half hour, and we learned how to make an omelet, and how do do deep squats afterward.

Our kids didn’t bother too much with Julia, but Jack was a different story. He commanded you to stop whatever you were doing and flex those muscles. He frequently had his dog on the show, a nice white shepherd dog, which caught the attention of the little ones.

Where Julia spoke slowly, as if feeling her way along, Jack talked in machine gun mode, and you were forced to tear yourself away from the sight of Jack in his blue jumpsuits, to follow him in each exercise.

He did amazing stunts such as swimming across the Bay while towing 13 boats, long after he could have been quietly enjoying life. He lived in Morro Bay down the coast, and ate at the same restaurant each evening. The waiters knew he had the same table and a small glass of red wine.

When parking meters were first installed in Oakland, he and some cohorts showed off by bending them to the ground. No idea if the cops caught the boys.

julia

Julia occasionally dropped something on the floor and picked it up with a laugh, advising you not to tell your guests. She guided you through an entire dinner party with decorations on the table. You were always sure of a chuckle, because she was obviously having such a good time. Her many cookbook grace the shelves of kitchens worldwide.

Both Julia and Jack LaLanne were the innovators of good things, and both lived long lives, Julia passing at 91 and Jack at 96. Maybe we should take another look.