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
1

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.

GRANDMA, GOD AND AIMEE


Episode 2

1928

Aimee slipped unbidden into my dream last night, which brought to mind my grandmother’s fascination with her.

Aimee Semple McPherson was a Los Angeles evangelist and media celebrity from the 20’s and 30’s, the largest among the flurry of religious salesmen, all of whom were selling salvation, a commodity always in demand, and which costs them nothing to supply.

Aimee Semple McPherson

In Aimee’s philosophy, God being Love, desires only that His children be happy, and they cast money into the collection box with reckless enthusiasm to assure them of that happiness. “Just give a little more” she would cajole, and they did.

Aimee’s call to Love offered an eternal Costa Del Sol, liberally supplied with food, drink, sex and sun. Evil had no place in this ethereal paradise.

Grandma was a liberated woman seeking a new source of religious interpretation, and was enchanted with the notion that another woman could supply it. Life was not easy for my Grandmother at that time; single and raising two young daughters, while working and running a rooming house in the Great Depression.

Grandma, Mama and Connie
Grandma, my Aunt Corinne and my mother at the beach

My mother Kathryn, pregnant with me, was having a difficult time in her pregnancy. She and my father Walter were very young, and he was recently embarked upon his career in the Navy, and was frequently away at sea. Grandma decided that the only sensible living arrangement was to make room for us in her house, and they quickly moved in.

As my mother’s time came near it seemed she might die in childbirth, so Grandma appealed to Aimee at one of her prayer meetings, to have her congregation offer prayers for our well being, prayers which apparently were answered, because I soon arrived with all toes and fingers on April 2, 1928. The only problem was my feet, which were turned to the outside. An orthopedic surgeon was called in and made braces for me which I apparently wore for some time because they are facing the right way now. It would have been a real dilemma for a future tap dancer.

Kaatie Lou
Katie Lou

The spiritual bubble burst for Grandma, a highly moral woman, when Aimee became romantically involved with her secretary, who was also married. This was simply too much for Grandma.

Aimee was ostensibly kidnapped, and disappeared from a California beach with boyfriend in tow, only to turn up days later with a thrilling story of her captivity.

Dozens of God-fearing people crowded the beaches and even dragged the ocean searching for her body. At least one man drowned in the failed effort. A ransom note was delivered which “confirmed” the terrible news that she had been kidnapped.

When she returned unharmed, the money poured in from grateful followers of her Four Square Church, her Temple filled to capacity, but without Grandma. She rightly felt that she had been duped, and that Aimee was merely another false Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a shiny curtain.

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Great-Grandfather George Kendall, Grandma, Great-Great Grandmother Lucy Kendall, and my mother Kathryn

AND SO IT BEGINS:


EPISODE 1:

Southern California 1928 — 1938

As in every story, mine begins at the beginning.

I sit her trying to decide what was important to my life and what was negligible, and I realize it was ALL important; every stumble or achievement, as well as all the people who contributed to it.

The grandparents who influenced my life the most were Jim Black and Nellie Kendall. Jim was a high school track star who came down from Montreal, Canada to compete in Nellie’s high school in New Hampshire. They married the day she graduated, and moved to California with their two little girls in the early 1900″s.

Young, and with no money but with the pipe dreams often associated with youth, Grandma made a bee line to Beverly Hills, where she rented a large home next door to Harold Lloyd, an early comic movie star with large horn-rimmed glasses and an acrobatic bent.

The next problem to come up was how to pay for all this posh lifestyle, so she did the only thing she felt she was good at; she rented out rooms and made hats for society ladies at premium prices. I don’t know how the celebrity neighbors felt about all this, but they didn’t live there long before they moved on to another rented house in Los Angeles, bringing their paying guests with them.

Grandma could be an overwhelming presence and she overwhelmed Jim and soon divorced him, leaving her to weather the storms of single motherhood, and Jim to love her forever after.

Nellie was an excellent seamstress and an excellent cook, the only skills she had learned as a daughter of privilege, and instead of merely renting our spare bedrooms, she elevated her paying guests to boarders.

The money Nellie made often didn’t stretch far enough, so my mother and aunt made sure the boarders ate while Nellie went out and got whatever job she could as waitress or hostess at hotel or restaurant. This was an additional skill she had, since she had often waited tables in the large resort her father owned in New Hampshire.

Plump and pretty, accompanied by a sense of humor, grandma was a magnet for the boys, and loved dancing and parties, though she allowed no drinking or smoking. No one ever dared do either in any house she lived in. She was married four times, and her last husband did both, so it was incredible to see her happily sitting at his feet with his pipe smoke drifting in swirls over her head. She had married him at the age of 76 saying she would marry “the devil himself if it would keep her from being a burden” to my mother. I guess there’s a reason behind every rhyme.

Though the two sisters were always close, Grandma and Georgia were opposite in every way. Auntie was taller and lean, and quite plain. Both Yankees, Georgia typified the usual definition of a strait-laced New Englander, though she possessed a wry sense of humor.
Auntie taught me that “Lips which touch a cigaroote shall never park beneath my snoot.” And that “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.”

Nellie’s closet was always bursting with pretty clothes, while my recollection of Auntie’s small closet contained one “nice” dress, one or two everyday dresses, a pair of dress shoes and her everyday shoes. It would never have occurred to her to want more, though by my childhood evaluation, they were the “wealthy” part of the family. Later, after the Great Depression had begun to take its toll of every family, I remember asking my grandma if we were poor. She assured me that rather than “poor”, we were broke. We were broke for a very long time.

Nellie’s sister Georgia had chosen to go to normal school and became a teacher before she married Uncle Phil and moved to California. I mention this because Auntie was one of the great influences on my life and whose home sheltered me more times than I can remember.

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.

V-J DAY 1945


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The stories have become priceless, because those who lived them are fading into the lost memory of time. The smell of death, gunfire and blood are part of a life gone from a generation of people all over the world who can never forget.

My father, who stood on the deck of his ship amid the unimaginable horror during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; Dr. Advice, who was merely nineteen year old Sam Rasmussen then, watching the first kamikazi dive over Okinawa, became part of the generation of men who didn’t want to talk about it.

This day marks the 70th anniversary of V-J Day, the day the Japanese surrendered to the Allies and the war came to a merciful end. It is a stark reminder of what some call the most momentous event in human history.

According to the World War 11 Museum in New Orleans, 16.1 million Americans fought in the war. An estimated 855,000 are still alive. Nearly 500 die each day, and fewer than 100,000 will survive to celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day.

It’s hard to think of a comparable event that affected so many people in so many parts of the world. Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute reminds us that it was the most lethal event in human history. with seventy million people killed—greater than the Black Plague, World War 1 and the Napoleonic wars. It entered every ocean, every continent.

A young Japanese woman asked a 92 year old Marine friend who had made landings in every major Pacific Island, why we bombed Nagasaki. She knew nothing of Pearl Harbor. “Because you would never have given up”, he told her.

Without the bomb, as terrible as it was, our own casualties would have been over one million in the invasion.

In the silence of devastation Emperor Hiro Hito said “I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to accept the Allies proclamation.”

As the news of the surrender spread around the world, a collective breath was taken, sucking up air which had been filled with the waste of the youth of a generation. The world had been changed, and we were changed as well.

Those who had left as boys returned as hardened men, but in the meantime all Hell broke loose. Wherever we were, we celebrated–loud and long. At sea, aboard Sam’s ship, they brilliantly fired a 5 inch gun—straight up in the air. Fortunately it landed right beside the ship and not in the middle of the cheering men; the captain, the oldest man aboard, was only 28 years old.

The offices in San Francisco, where I was working in my first job at Matson Line at the age of 18, exploded at the seams as we all plunged down the middle of Market Street shouting and laughing. I don’t remember how I got home across the Bay.

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WHAT WILL I REMEMBER?


What will I remember when I get old; when now becomes then? Will it be something from the rarefied past, cleansed of impurities and less dense?

Once I had the self-assurance of the very young. Now I realize that everyone looks better in the rear view mirror, and no one is very different from anyone else. Sometimes an artist’s first invention is himself, and it usually needs a little alteration. I never doubted that my direction was the right one, and plowed right through a problem till it was solved. Now I sometimes spend time doubting if I know what I think I know. Or maybe it’s simply a failure of the imagination.

We go through many levels of becoming in a lifetime. It takes more than a village to mold a memory; we are creating new ones every day. I will choose to remember the good things; the things no one else knows. Small fleeting bright spots which flicker through my consciousness unbidden like the swelling of the ocean beneath your boat.

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier, photo by Jerry Johnson

A small sailboat easing round a bend on a sunny morning, and seagulls crying at the beach. The thought of Mount Rainier rising majestically through the clouds above the rabble below, or Mount Shasta in the moonlight. Just glimpses. Quick flashes of memory tying me to a moment in time. I will remember the smell of wet clay or the warm smells of sugary desserts coming from my oven. We all have them, and they are like the warm yellow windows of home on a dark night.

The larger memories of precious family, present and past, and friends who graced me with their presence, I will think of often, and I will snuggle in my bed smiling in contentment thinking of my husband, and the luck which led him to my doorstep so long ago.

I will hide the dark things, the roadblocks which come to us all. We have survived. There is no need to relive them. Sometimes nature takes pity and leads us to a better place.

Albert Schweitzer’s quotation says it better than I could:
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

ROAD MARKER 28


ocean

There was a wide space which let the errant ocean flow into the shore between rocks which had delayed its progress for a thousand years or more. The small sandy beach which was its destination continued deep into a sheltered cave of rock, forming a secret hideaway. This was our private picnic spot, unknown to the rest of the world, and to which we rushed with shovels and pails and a picnic basket filled with our dinner.

We cruised Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean for years looking for the perfect place, with impatient children hungry for dinner jumping around the back seat of the car. There were no seat belts in those days, so kids used the back seat as their playground.

Finally we hit pay dirt when we discovered road marker 28. It stood alongside the highway alone and beckoning us to come explore the beach below. Road marker 29 was somewhere ahead, and somewhere behind we had passed road marker 27, but neither of those showed much promise of a flat, sandy beach where a small family could safely build sand castles and paddle in the water. Reading the tide tables, it gave us a window of time to avoid the rush of the waves through the channel and into the cave, thus washing away all remains of tuna fish sandwiches and potato chips.

Once found, it would be a challenge to find it again, so using my age at the time, which was 28, we used that as our compass rose. Thereafter for the next year, we drove to road marker 28, unloaded our gear and raced to the beach.

Of course all good things must come to an end, and though no one else seemed to have found our private beach, we lost it and it became part of our family memory. Sometime during the year, I turned 29, and road marker 28 never looked quite the same.

DON’T CALL IT “PLAIN” VANILLA


shalimar
If you thought chocolate was the world’s favorite flavor, you’d be wrong. It appears that vanilla wins hands down. The surprise revelation according to some scientists, is that we get our initial attraction to it before birth from our mothers. Breast milk and amniotic fluid are filled with the scent of vanilla. Who knew? It could be worse, we could have inherited the love of pickle flavor.

We can no longer call it plain vanilla. It’s the x-factor in most fragrances, conjuring feelings of cravings, warmth and familiarity. Other scent friends come ad go, but not vanilla. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to use the bottle of vanilla for perfume when your mother was baking a cake? I certainly did.

In the perfume industry the person who creates all those delicious smelling scents is called a “nose”. They can differentiate each fragrance much like a snobby French waiter can tell you what curious components are in that $60 bottle of wine you just ordered.

Some vanilla beans come from small farms in Madagascar that takes three years to grow and must be pollinated by hand within 24 hours of a blossom appearing. “This is a vanilla like you’ve never experienced” says Camille McDonald, president of brand development at Bath and Body Works. At $2,200 per kilogram, this vanilla is also the most expensive raw material the company has ever used in a fragrance, she says. The vanilla ingredient is used not only in perfumes, but in bath oil, body cream, etc. Proctor and Gamble introduced Downy fabric softener scented with vanilla in 2004, which led to vanilla fragrances in detergent, dryer sheets and dish soap. I will certainly be more prudent when splashing myself after a shower from now on.

Vanilla’s natural pollinator is the melipona bee found in the crop’s native Mexico. In the 1800’s, advances in hand pollination techniques allowed vanilla to be more widely grown in tropical climates, including Madagascar, Uganda, Indonesia and India.
Vanilla is part of the orchid family and there are many varieties, each producing a slightly different characteristic. It’s growing conditions and processing methods determine its versatility, making it a popular tool.

Vanilla milestones in the perfume business apparently started with the creation of “Jicky” by Guerlain in 1889, and continued on to Guerlain’s “Shalimar” in 1925. I have a special memory of “Shalimar”, because it was my grandmother’s favorite perfume and came in an incredibly beautiful bottle. When I was a Junior in High School, a boy I liked worked at the local grocery store. I had been walking past the produce department daily trying to get his attention for a month or so, when he finally succumbed to my nubile charms and invited me to a movie. I doused myself liberally with “Shalimar” and we hopped on the bus to Oakland. He never asked me out again, but I still have my grandmother’s bottle of “Shalimar” as a lesson not to be repeated.

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Chicken With Artichokes


Rooster

The same three options keep cropping up as dinner choices at wedding receptions and Bar Mitzvahs: Steak, salmon and the inevitable chicken. Only of late do we get to decide upon a vegetarian meal, and who in the world wants a plateful of veggies at a party? We can have that at home.

I gave up attending an annual luncheon for my high school compatriots because the luncheon choice was either a salad or some sort of concoction containing chicken. You’re safer with the salad.

Mind you, I like chicken, during one period of my early life my father built a chicken coop and populated it with a few chickens. We lived in Connecticut at the time, and he concerned himself with running the nearby navy base, at least I thought he ran things over there. He certainly ran things at home; with the exception of the chicken family, which it turned out, was my job. You’d never imagine my father in his spit and polish uniform was a country boy, but he was, right down to the large vegetable garden and those blasted chickens.

As soon as we named a chicken and took note of its daily routine, my father dispatched it and my mother cooked it. I am not a country girl at heart, and I was never quite comfortable eating Esmerelda, but we did many deeds in the Depression which were not politically correct.

Chicken

Now as a Sunday tribute to all the Esmereldas and Henriettas we have eaten:

CHICKEN WITH ARTICHOKES

Dip skinless and boneless chicken thighs in beaten egg, then shake in flour.
Heat a little butter and oil and brown chicken lightly. Remove from pan.
Add 1# sliced mushrooms and a couple cloves of garlic and cook till mushrooms release moisture and are done.
Put chicken back in pan and pour 1 cup wine over. I used Marsala in this one but any white wine would do. Cover and cook on stovetop or in oven in moderate heat till done.
Add 1 can artichoke quarters and a small can of sliced water chestnuts. Add 1/2 cup whipping cream or more and a squeeze of lemon.

50+ LIVE BETTER, LONGER


As the Mills Brothers said years ago “No one wants to be old at thirty-three”. But some people really Are old at that age. A friend asked me how we were handling the aging process, and I realized what a great question that was for ANY age you might be. No one wants to be considered OLD, but as the joke goes: think of the alternative.

In Nora Ephron’s best-selling book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, she laments about the sorry state of her 60-something neck. “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” Well, it’s true I’m sorry to say. You can only get so much “stretch” out of skin, and unless you have a long neck, what’s the point? Face lifts are great and I know a lot people who have them. One doctor friend came to a function of ours, looked at another guest and stated “Face lift and nose job”. And he was right. Another friend approaching her second or third marriage had a lift so that she would knock the socks off the groom. Unfortunately it turned out badly, so she postponed the wedding until things calmed down.

We do spend a lot of time and money trying to reverse the signs of aging. We need to get over our stereotypes about growing older and the loss of our beauty. But it’s going, so do what you can and forget it. It’s even bad to refinish antique furniture because you greatly diminish its value.

The change of decades in our lives brings many different reactions. Long ago, a friend asked if he might spend the evening with us as it was his wife’s 30th birthday and she was feeling testy. I began asking people how these changes affected them. Several men seemed to feel anxious at forty, feeling they had not accomplished what they had hoped by that age. It’s different for everyone. Dr. Advice seems to take a great deal of pride in informing people that he will soon be 89. Women, while not exactly hiding their age, do not broadcast it so readily.

Don’t get bogged down in all the hype about aging. There’s nothing you can do; the clock is going to tick away.

Your life won’t stay the same, aging changes everyone. Our frame of reference changes. Our bodies change, and ill health sometimes puts us out of commission. A dose of healthy denial can improve your attitude. The people who do that aren’t thinking that much about getting older. They have accepted the changes and are aging gracefully.

If you live to be 95 years old you’re a survivor. You probably are not going to be living in a big house and driving your car to the grocery store and walking a mile for exercise. Life grows smaller, we get slower, and our steps get shorter. But if you know that ahead of time, it’s much easier to manage it.

But is it possible? Of course it’s possible. It may take a little more effort than you have become used to, but we all have to accept the challenge and learn the new “language”. You don’t REALLY want to be younger again no matter what your age. You simply want to fit in with whatever age group you are with.

One of the best parts of growing older is you have so much more to remember, but you need to keep making those memories all along. Keep learning new things; remember that people are learning from you. The GenFab (those in their 80’s) have no role models; they just have to keep making it up as they go along.

50th Anniv