PREJUDICE


It’s a big subject. Too big for a simple blog, but we encounter it in some way each day in our private and public lives, so it needs to be addressed.

Conducting an interview with myself, I wondered when I first became aware of the mean spirited effect of prejudice. The strong Yankee-bred women in my family were ardent Republicans who thought the last best hope for the country had been Herbert Hoover. They gladly overlooked the Depression which was consuming the country; possibly as a result of Mr. Hoovers’ miscalculations.

Without knowing or caring who Franklin D. Roosevelt was, it was apparent from their conversation that he was the devil incarnate, and his busy body wife was a disgrace. My father, away at sea most of the time, did not participate in the conversations, so I had no idea on which side he dwelt.

Somehow, listening at dinner tables and eavesdropping in nearby rooms, I felt uncomfortable with the negative conversations. Surely this man was not as bad as they thought. I often differed from authority, and this gave me one more reason to determine my own path. When my father returned from a voyage, I found that he had voted for this same Franklin D. Roosevelt, which made me feel validated.

Prejudice touches so many facets of our lives. Politics and religion always draw the most heat, making them the most interesting of subjects. Due to my Grandmother’s dynamic leadership, we attended the Christian Science church, at least my Grandmother and I did. My mother and aunt, though believers, were usually busy on Sunday mornings. My father, needless to say, had no interest in the study of Christian Science. Auntie and Uncle Phil, with whom I lived occasionally, followed no religion, and we usually spent Sunday at the movies.

I never determined why, but overheard conversation told me that the Catholics, and possibly a few other religions, were not appropriate friends. I knew no blacks, though there were a few Japanese living in Long Beach in those days. We were a strong Masonic family, with various relatives holding office in the organization. We were a proud flag waving, Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. Not that any of these things were talked about; they were simply there, and you knew.

I had exhibited a few minor talents from an early age. I had a pleasant voice, I could dance, and I could draw a straight line. Grandma was convinced that I was a winner, yet I knew many other girls who surpassed my efforts, so it seemed uncomfortable to take any credit for anything I produced.

My feelings of being at odds with the accepted beliefs sent me on solo trips around town exploring various churches and the lone synagogue in Torrance where we were currently living. It was a marvelous education in the various views people held in the acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus as the Savior. I realized that I had no opinion either way, which was no surprise. In fact, I took offense to the words of the entrance hymn which entreated the Christian soldiers to keep marching on to war.

On my first trip to the Southwest with my Indian friend Georgia Oliver, I immediately tried to fit in with the locals by identifying which village someone came from by the way they wore their hair. I whipped off a small sculpture of a woman’s head with something which looked like a Dutch cut, Georgia just smiled and said that I missed the back style. I smugly identified a man riding by on his horse as a Navajo. With a curled lip and a sharp retort, Georgia shot back “He’s a Mexican.” Clearly here lived prejudice, even in a country comprised of people who lived rather low on the totem pole.

Yes, there is prejudice wherever we look. It lives in small children and in the very old who should know better. Give it a chance, recognize it when you see it, and speak up to make a change.

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THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

THE NAMING OF BABIES Kate’s Journal


Newly pregnant parents spend a lot of time searching through lists of baby names to bestow on the newest little one. My parents had no choice in the matter as my Grandmother named me for her long dead mother. This seemed logical since she had given my mother the same name.

Kate Kendall was taken from her family at the age of twenty-five, leaving a grieving young husband and three motherless children under the age of six. The stories which filled my childhood of my Great-Grandmother were of necessity filtered through the uncertain memory of a six year old. Who was Kate Kendall really? Her passing left her children to create the person they thought she was.

My Great-Grandfather, George Kendall, remarried soon after Kate’s death to an even younger woman who became a stern step-mother. Though George was an avid photographer, all photos of Kate were destroyed save one un-named mourning photo which may or may not have been Kate. It shows the value of putting names on our old photos.

Grandma remembered her as a happy playful companion who loved to dance and sing. Bits and pieces of an all too short childhood were often related to me if Grandmas saw in me a likeness to her mother. Grandma said her mother had been a teacher, but when I got her death certificate it showed that her job had been a mill girl. A not uncommon occupation in the cotton mills in New England. She probably had been a Sunday School teacher in one of the Congregational churches. Grandma said Kate had died because of catching a cold dancing in a draft, but she really died from consumption, probably from dust from the cotton mill.

Searching through the faded red velvet autograph/journal which is signed “Miss Katie Hadley, White River Junction, Vermont”, I don’t think anyone traveled too far from home in those days, but according to her diary, she spent a few months in Kansas City where a number of people signed her book in the flowing cursive writing of those days. Among the signers was George Kendall, who seemed interested in pursuing a relationship when he wrote: “Although our acquaintance has been short, And the time has swiftly flown, Permit me to call you a friend like those I have longer known.” It is dated August 13, 1886.

No knowledge of how they met, whether at a dance as Grandma thought, or from a work association, because her father and George’s father were cabinetmakers? George himself was a contractor, having at that time built many of the public buildings in Bristol, New Hampshire as well as many private homes.

Grandma said they never knew their Mother’s family, the Hadleys, though they apparently lived nearby. Why was that? Yet soon after Kate’s death, they came hoping to take the middle child, Aunt Georgia, home with them. They did not want my Grandmother because she was too “strong-willed” nor did they want the two year old baby because he was a boy and boys are too boisterous. It didn’t set well with their father, and they never saw them again.

Many years later, as I was entering the names of some of our children in the big Kendall Family Bible, I stumbled on the entry for Kate and George Kendall’s wedding date, April 22, 1886. Grandma Nellie’s birth date was October 13, 1887. Looking closer, I saw that the final digit in the marriage date was smudged and changed to 1886. Why would George write his ”hopeful friend’ poem in Kate’s diary four months after they were married? It seems clear to me that Kate was pregnant with Nellie on her wedding date, which would not lift an eyebrow today. Did the smudged digit show that Kate had rubbed out the original with a spit dampened finger, to make it all ‘come right’ with future generations? Did the Hadley grandparents disown Kate upon learning of her pregnancy? We will never know, and it doesn’t really matter, but it may have answered some questions at the time.

Why do we choose the names we do for our children to carry throughout their lives? They seem to come in great variety today, though family names still carry down through the ages. We often name babies for people we love or admire which is a nice tradition too. It is flattering to have someone named after you. It shows that someone cares enough about you to want their child to bear your name. Our granddaughter is the latest ‘Kate’ in our family. Grandma would be happy to know Kate Kendall’s name lives on.

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY


I always knew that I had to write about Uncle Henry; one of those uncommon men who enter your life quietly and remind you that goodness abounds in unlikely places.

Uncle Henry married my mother’s sister, Aunt Corrine, in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1950’s when both were working for Aramco. It was a fortunate union for both of them.

During the 1950’s I was involved with family and work, so I missed most of the good stuff as I like to call their life over there, but later, when they returned to their native soil after 30 years overseas, I caught up.

Henry Alisch was born in New Jersey to a German-American family, and whose cheerful Bavarian mother was often ill. Henry, much like his mother in personality, was her loving caregiver.

Late in the 1920’s when he finished high school, he and his best friend met a man who gave them his business card and offered them jobs in the movies if they wanted to come out to California.

Saying goodbye to family and New Jersey, they hopped a train and came to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they presented the business card to the person at the gate of the movie studio, they found that their benevolent “producer” no longer worked at the studio.

Friendless and out of cash, they quickly found jobs as bell boys at one of the hotels in downtown Beverly Hills, where they were paid 25 cents plus tips per bag to carry them up to the rooms. Both boys being good looking and personable, they amassed a small stash of extra cash.

Lindbergh had already made his flight across the ocean in the last decade, and the barnburners were on each corner offering flying lessons for $5.00 each to eager young men. Feeling brave and optimistic, Henry, or Hank as he began to be called, took a few lessons and got his pilot’s license.

The war had started in Canada, and Hank’s friend went off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Henry’s eyesight prevented him from joining up, but he spent four years in MATS, Military Air Transport Service, ferrying planes to Europe during the war. Being highly intelligent, he became an expert in airplane maintenance.

In 1946 the War was over and Henry saw an ad for Airplane Tech, top pay, overseas. Knowing he was qualified, and looking for new adventure, he stepped off the DC-3 and onto the hot tarmac in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia into 124 degree heat. Wishing him well as they picked up their suitcases and stepped onto the waiting airplane were two young men on their way back home.

Aramco, or American Arabian Oil Co. had a few planes, and Hank was in charge of their maintenance. Dhahran had an American community where he met a beautiful blonde secretary who had arrived in 1949. On a two year contract with Standard Oil of California; this was my Aunt Corrine.

For the next 30 years they lived an exciting life while traveling around Europe for work and pleasure. While Aramco had very few planes when Henry arrived, through the years that number greatly increased. They went often to the Rolls Royce factory in England, and to the Hague to KLM Royal Dutch Airline to check up on engines and parts for the Aramco planes.

During their travels, my Aunt, who had extraordinarily good taste, was able to collect first edition books in England, lovely Persian rugs, handmade furniture in Copenhagen, and china wherever she found it.

Children were only allowed to stay until they reached high school age, and my cousin went off to school in Cannes, France. Years later, while shopping a younger woman remarked on my gold bracelets. When I mentioned Saudi, she immediately said “Oh, Aramco!” I asked where she had gone to boarding school and she had been sent to London.

In 1953 Corrine and Henry’s son Kendall was born. Kendy was Henry’s first born child, and with Down Syndrome it was apparent that he needed help. Henry’s early skills as a caregiver kicked in and through the years he devoted much of his time lovingly trying to give Kendy a happy life. While my Aunt was frustrated much of the time, Henry never tired of taking care of Kendy before he went to live in a school in California.

Years later, after they had moved to Brookings, Oregon, Henry looked at his computer and saw a puzzling message from a long lost and nearly forgotten friend. “Hey, are you the same Hank Alisch who went out to California from New Jersey and learned to fly?” His boyhood friend had found him on the internet.

There are things a born caregiver knows that the rest of us don’t. They know if you need your pillow plumped, or a bite of out of season fruit, or whether you want to talk or just sit and stare at the empty TV. Henry Alisch knew all that, and when each of my parents became ill, they were living next door to Henry and Corrine in Brookings, Oregon, he was able to give them care which I could not while living in California. Later on, after their passing, my Aunt needed someone kind and loving to help her through the days, Henry Alisch was there. They both passed at the ages of 98 and 99. I’m glad I knew you Henry Alisch, you helped me through the pain of losing my parents and were a kind and altruistic friend.

ROOM TO LET Kate’s Journal


When I was a child living at Grandma’s house, the largest bedroom in the house was often the first to be rented, because it brought in the most money. In Long Beach this room was in the rear, and was off limits to me. Grandma slept in the small room off the living room at the front of the house, where she somehow managed to surround herself with all the belongings of a lifetime.

At one point between renters, my mother and I shared the big bedroom. I must have been quite small, because I remember the furniture as being very large. I was so pleased with the transition that I stood on a chair before the mirror and cut my first bangs. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to have control over such an important part of their anatomy.

The change in my appearance, though pleasing to me, distressed the women in my immediate family. Auntie however, common sense Yankee that she was, took the newly shorn culprit to the local barber and ordered a “Dutch cut”, which went well with my ugly Buster Brown high top shoes. Grandma’s image of me with patent leather Mary Jane’s went counter to her sister, Aunt Georgia, who saw me as an ordinary rough and tumble kid. My own self-image landed somewhere in the middle.

I was born with both feet turned the wrong way, and while years of “step-shuffle-step” lessons did not make me a prima ballerina, they did make me a noisy tap dancer practicing on the linoleum kitchen floor.

One thing you learn early on when living in a house with paying guests, is how to be quiet, so for one reason or another, I was often sent to stay at Auntie’s house in the hills near Los Angeles.

In the early spring, those hills were covered with tall grass, which was the perfect conduit for cardboard box sleds. There were few neighbors around the hill, perhaps eight or nine at the most, and fewer children, but those who came to check me out taught me skills I could never have learned while living in the city.

Country kids know what’s going on in the outdoors. They know what bugs to pick up and which to leave alone, as well as which of the snake family is friendly and which should be avoided. We built large cages for the friendly snakes and fed them the bugs we didn’t like.

Days at Auntie’s were kept to a pattern: early to bed, early to rise. Puffed wheat or rice for breakfast, often accompanied by a slice of cake. Since cleanliness is next to Godliness, we cleaned house each morning. I still remember the smell of Old English furniture polish on the dust cloth hung in the cleaning closet.

Auntie had few clothes in her small bedroom closet; a couple of house-dresses and a dress-up one, and maybe two pair of shoes. We cleaned up early and went visiting perhaps once a week, and one or two people occasionally came for lunch. Her food and cooking were as simple as her clothing. Though she and Grandma grew up in the same well-to-do family in New Hampshire, they were quite different in their life approaches.

Each of my long visits with Auntie had to end, and I was returned to Grandmas’s house. I don’t remember that the big bedroom was ever empty again while she lived there, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to sleep there once.

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS


S & K

It was the brilliance of momentary decision when he said “I do” and she said “I do too, and that began the journey of seventy years of light- hearted experience and on the job training.

The boy with the little blue car came home from the War in the Pacific and sat on her front porch for two weeks until she agreed to marry him.

Alameda Ave. 1613

Older and wiser heads said it would never last. They were too young, they had no money and no jobs.

Seventy years later they are still going strong, which goes to show you can’t believe all the older and wiser heads.

THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES Kate’s Journal


Navajo Grandmother“Navajo Grandmother” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In the early days in the Southwest, I saw many Navajo grandmothers, many looking much like this lady, sitting comfortably in a large chair in the back of a son-in-law’s pickup truck. I was told by this lady that it was the custom, as she didn’t have a lot to do with her son-in-law. In fact, she did not speak with her son-in-law.

Women owned and cared for the flocks of sheep, and these sheep were owned by her daughter. After shearing, the fleece was taken to market in their pickup, with grandma in the back.

Sheep near Taos“Sheep Grazing on Reservation” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

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In our euphemistically imbued age of political politeness, the middle years are referred to as the youth of old age. We are urged to “get it while you can”. “The end is near.” “From now on it’s all downhill.” To a certain extent that is all true. But we still have energy, imagination and inclination to do great things. The middle years are a whirlwind of work, creativity and preparing for the inevitable.

When you leave middle age you bump into other unexpected adventures. Children leave and get married which brings lots of other experiences, that of becoming grandparents possibly being one of the most pleasant. You have been cautioned to do your traveling early because when old age strikes you may have the time and the money, but you no longer have the inclination. You become an appreciator rather than a participator. As an inveterate collector of other people’s art, I have become an admirer rather than an acquirer.

As you leave the middle years you realize that in the early days you fight because you don’t understand each other, but as you grow older, you fight because you do. Either way, marriage has a certain amount of misunderstanding and disagreement, some of which may cause you to wonder how you ever got into it. But you persevere and realize that if you were being graded on your performance, you probably flunked. Luckily, there is a do-over; it’s called apology.

The bright side of marriage, especially that of long standing, is that you understand that you are not alike and never have been. This person who attracted you at an early age may have done so precisely because he or she was different from you. Marriage can become a home schooling effort, each learning from the other.