FUNERARY GRADE POINTS


St Raymond'sAs funerals go, it was a 3.8. Yes, I believe in awarding credit to a good funeral when it is deserved. Nearly everybody has one at some time or other, so it is important to do it right. My husband’s cousin, Louise Ann, lived for some time in Kansas City, but when the time was right, she moved back home. She didn’t want a large monument like some of the others in our large family plot, so she brought a large stone she found somewhere to serve the purpose. It was unique, and since she was a rather well-known artist/interior designer, quite fitting.

Some of my husband’s late relatives are living out eternity in the old Pioneer Heritage Cemetery in Dublin, Ca., which has as its cornerstone the Old St. Raymond’s Catholic church, the oldest Catholic church in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Built in 1859 by some of the original pioneers in the Valley, and while no longer used for general services, it is occasionally used for a funeral of a pioneer descendent. The cemetery itself, and the small museum beside it, relate the history of the area, as does signage at the head of some of the family plots, telling the individual history of that family.
the museum was originally the tiny schoolhouse, and my father-in-law and his ten brothers and sisters began their academic studies in it.

The Valley was settled by both Irish and Scandinavian immigrants, many, including our family, still living in the vicinity.
Small, but charming, it is exactly the place Louise Ann would choose for her final departure. The creaky little building was filled with long-lost cousins, a few friends, family and ex-husbands. There were three of the latter, but the second one chose not to make an apprearance, and I don’t remember him anyway. The first one was the father of her three children, but the temperature had become so heated at the end, she decided to change all of her three children’s surnames to her own maiden name.

One daughter, who had been estranged from Louise for some time, did not come to say farewell, however her husband, who had always had a prickly hedgehog relationship with Louise, came, stood and spoke a few words in her favor. His memorable description of her was that “Louise never saw anything or anyone she felt she couldn’t make better.” The last ex-husband agreed with that statement, and it is likely that that was the reason he became an “ex-husband.” The daughter who planned the occasion per Louises’s instructions, had placed a large photo of her mother at the front of the church, beside a collection of small sheep sculptures to which we were invited to help ourselves. She said she had never been able to convince her mother to stop wearing bright red lipstick, as it did not become ladies beyond a certain age. I doubt that Louise cared very much what anybody thought.

There was no minister, no service beyond the exchanging of memories, and all in all, it was a happy, friendly atmosphere. Unobserved by most of us, a small New Orleans jazz band dressed in appropriate white uniforms and hats, struck up the first notes of “When The Saints Come Marching In”. It was a delightful and surprising ending, and we all marched out behind them as we wound our way through the cemetery to the burial site, coffee cups or wine glasses in hand, and some singing the words to the music on the way.

Her Kansas City rock had been placed, a few flowers scattered, and we said a fond farewell to an indomitable lady who never cared if anybody liked her red lipstick, or anything else. I liked her style.

R.I.P. Louise Ann.

HIDDEN MESSAGES IN NURSERY RHYMES


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A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go—-”

For centuries children all over the world have been delighted by these charming nonsense ditties.

But these little songs frequently held hidden messages covering a more serious saga of a political person embroiled in the throes of a scandal, or perhaps even a royal personage falling out of favor. More often than not though, they were simply humorous rhyming verse sung as an amusement to children.

The frog parable is the story of a young frog who went courting his lady-love, Miss Mousey, who in one version runs a neighborhood pub. They were married by her uncle Mr. Rat, and left on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, the merriment was interrupted by a prowling cat, who ate the rat, as Miss Mousey wisely hid under a nearby leaf. Poor Froggy quickly left for home, but on the way he was swallowed by a large white duck. (These little tales rarely ended happily.)

The marriage of the frog and the mouse was sung as early as 1714, with fragments being sung repeatedly through the years. It was prevalent during the Old Price Riots in Covent Garden in 1809, due to the rising prices of theater tickets. This was important because the Drury Theater had burned down and Covent Garden was the only theater left. The riots lasted for three months until the manager apologized and brought back the old prices.

Nursery rhymes were often used as rhythmic accompaniment to spinning, and as a family game to improve memory, due to their repetitive wording. They are found throughout the world, and included in “Nursery Songs From the Appalachian Mountains “ in 1906. The Frog story became an especial favorite in the U.S.A. with 40 versions of it found in various folk-lore societies.

A Gaping Wide-Mouthed Waddling Frog” was featured in “The Top Book of All” in 1760, and was a long 12 verse bit of cumulative nonsense reminiscent of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. It was often performed rapidly by singing it all in one breath.

Rhymes, songs and riddles have entertained people through the centuries, and perhaps lightened the sting of an ill-humored subject.

TOTAL NOISE CULTURE


There are people to whom silence is odious. The radio and/or TV must be on or they become uncomfortable. The art of conversation is not lost on them; for to them silence is not golden. If TV should fail them, they talk.

A man friend of ours is devoted to classic jazz, which he cranks up to the decibal of a B-17 bomber. He is also an antique clock collector, and each of his many beautiful clocks chimes the hour, the half-hour, and some even announce the quarter hour.

But we are so overburdened with data, rhetoric and spin that it is difficult to absorb, much less try to make sense of. We are entertaining ourselves to death.

A friend living alone and with a slight hearing loss, was fitted for a hearing aid, thinking it would give her twenty-five year old hearing once more. Not so. She thought it would be a little “pre-old-age” touch to prepare for for the inevitable. Now she is aware of the slightest creaking of her house in the dark of midnight, the rhythmic pulse of the refrigerator, with it’s periodic glassy crash of the ice-maker disturbs her sleep. The rustle of the leaves in her garden sound like a freight train rumbling through the yard. You begin to hear sounds you heard before but weren’t aware you were hearing, and they aren’t always pleasant.

We are failing in our efforts to pin down this increasingly incomprehensible reality. The ubiquitous cell phone ring tones, the lyrics to contemporary pop music, the sounds of today’s everyday life of course skipped our ancestors, and have left us envious of the “quiet life” people speak of.

We can recapture that delicious “aloneness” when hiking in the wilderness, running a well-known trail, or fishing a solitary stream, or walking beside a quiet sea at sunset. During the War, to get a little peace and get away from the pounding of the engines, my husband used to sit at the fantail of his ship and listen to the sound of the screw while watching the phosphorescent wake pealing out behind.

Peace and tranquility are what we sometimes need for our own well-being.

RETAIL THERAPY


Lauren I can’t help myself. I am a firm believer in retail therapy. In those long, cold boring days of January, there’s nothing like a “SALE” sign to brighten the spirit. Why do you think they have the half-yearly sales? They want to keep you coming back in February too, but remember, the new stuff won’t come in until March.

My friend, Betty, was a savvy shopper as well, and like all of us, had to occasionally clear out the old to make room for the new. She once called me to come help her decide what to throw out, and since we were the same size, I naturally jumped at the chance. I scored a cute pair of light green sling-back shoes, never worn by her because they hurt her feet. They hurt mine too, but they were so cute I could force myself to wear them. While I was trying to determine what I had in my closet that actually went with them, she knocked on my door and asked for them back. What a disappointment. But next day she came again and thrust them through the door snarling in a disgusted way “Take them!” So I did.

We had a running exchange for several years with boxes of See’s chocolates. When I was a couple of pounds too heavy, I hid mine in the attic. It took a trip to the garage to get the ladder and climb into the hall opening to reach it, so I could stay away until I forgot about it. One day she knocked on my door and handed me a box of See’s with 7 pieces left. I solved her dilemma by dividing the odd piece and we each ate 3 1/2, rather like a modern day Solomon.

We took tap lessons together, and once when my father was visiting we had him check out our new routine, complete with top hats and canes. When we were through tapping our hearts out, I asked him what he thought of it. Without a moment’s hesitation, he declared “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

I miss him and I miss her.

GOODBYE UNCLE LENNIE


LENNIE_0004 He wasn’t our uncle; he wasn’t even related except by choice. For over 65 years he was our “big brother”, wise advisor, lawyer and well-loved friend. The only photos I could find among the many taken during the years of our friendship, had someone’s arm around him, so I’m including this one. He was “Uncle” Lennie to many people for his wisdom and good humor, especially to us and our family.

He loved kids, and as his grandchildren began arriving, he took them all for a day of fun every Saturday. When our own grandchildren arrived, my husband’s first remark was to say he wanted to be the same kind of grandfather as Lennie. I think he has been.

For thirty years he gave his own all-male birthday party at Scott’s, a prominent Oakland restaurant, to which over 100 guests came, entertained and were entertained with jokes and hi-jinks. He was fond of saying that women were also invited as long as they would jump out of the birthday cake naked! To my knowledge that never happened. He always arrived at the party in a limo wearing a tophat and his red clown nose and a big bow tie.

Lennie was a joke-teller supreme. He told jokes to his grandkids, to the postman, the waiters, and to anyone who would listen. The coming of the internet with its joke-sharing gave him constant new material. His penchant for crazy hats and a red clown nose added to the fun. At one memorable party he brought the mascot mule for the Oakland A’s and at another, the cast of the musical “Chicago” came to liven things up. Red clown noses were passed out at his funeral which he would have approved.

He was a CPA, and at the age of 44 he went to Law School and became an attorney as well. Besides that, he became Probate Referee for the County of Alameda for many years. His loyalty to the University of California was legendary, and he loved the Cal football team, win or lose.

He was a good athlete, including tennis and raquetball, and loved golfing, was a member and also the president of the prestigious Sequoya Country Club. Upon his death, the flag was lowered to half-mast in respect to a man loved not only by fellow members, but by the bar and wait staff as well.

Most of all, he was our dear friend, and we will miss him. He always used to say, “Just because they don’t call you, you call them. The phone works both ways. Remember, you’re a long time dead.” Lennie Gross, your 94 years went all too soon.

HIDDEN STAIRWAY WALKS IN SAN FRANCISCO


Among the many enviable sights in San Francisco are the hundreds of stairways up and down its forty-two hills. The sometimes majestic, quirky stairways link the diverse neighborhoods of this wonderful city.
Adah Bakalinsky’s book, Stairway Walks of San Francisco describes each of the walks. Pack a lunch and let’s go.

For this stairway walk you need to go along Battery St. to the large brick Levi Strauss building, and a small stairway on the side of the hill across the street takes you up through thick foliage and flowering plants in season. Climbing about 375 steps with small stopping places to catch your breath, you will pass the entrances of charming houses built on the side of this steep hill. In the many times we have climbed it, I have never discovered where they enter with groceries, etc. I’m quite sure they don’t carry things up and down by foot. But this fairyland of whimsical private entries has captivated my imagination for years.

This walk is famous for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. Home to a large flock of feral parrots comprised of both cherry-headed and blue-crowned conures, midway up the hill while enjoying the view of the startling blue of San Francisco Bay, the chatter of these birds seem to surround you. For years they were cared for by Mark Bittner, a young musician living in a cabin on the hillside. They became quite tame as you can see.

The culmination of this walk is the crowning glory of Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. With a 360 degree view of the city and the Bay it is well worth the climb. Find a nice place to sit and enjoy your lunch and then go inside. The tower was paid for with money left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit at her death in 1929.

Lillie was a true San Francisco eccentric. She loved to chase fire engines, and at age 15 after running to see a fire, she threw her schoolbooks to the ground and pitched in to help the firefighters. She became the mascot of Engine Co. No. 5 and an honorary firefighter. As an adult, she loved to gamble, often dressing as a man in trousers, and smoking a cigar.

Inside the tower you will be charmed by the murals on each wall. Commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project, they were the first of the New Deal Federal employment programs. Created by artists mainly from the faculty and students of the California School of Fine Arts, with one done by Adah Bakalinsky’s father, which includes a likeness of her as a young girl. Most paintings are done in fresco, with the exception of one in egg tempera.

Take the elevator to the top of the tower and after you have enjoyed the amazing view of the City of St. Francis, walk down the other side into North Beach, where small shops, bakeries and restaurants will paint the finish to a perfect day. Be sure to stop at Molinari’s Deli for cheeses, perhaps some ravioli or maybe a sandwich for dinner.

Grab your walking shoes, your camera and a sandwich and let’s go!!

ALL THAT JAZZ


Jazz is a musical style first seen at the beginning of the 20th century. Born from a mix of European and African music it is a restless mix of improvisation, syncopation and blue notes. It is spontaneous and mirrors the vitality of the performer who never plays the same composition twice.

A visual artist never develops a subject twice the same way for similar reasons. A lovely landscape or still-life can be painted hundreds of times and be different each time. Even a portrait will never be the same again. Certainly the light will never be quite the same, but the intensity or desire of the artist will not be the same either.

The most satisfying works in music or art need the concentration and love of the artist.


“Jazz Nights” Oil painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The inspiration for any form of art frequently comes unbidden, and results in something entirely different from the original thought. The painting above came about from remembering the little “band” my grandsons and I formed after I taught them to play guitar. Strangely enough, there isn’t a guitar in the painting! It’s original title was “Bammie and the Boys” which was a little “too cutesey” for comfort!


“A Tip of the Hat” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This painting popped onto paper after a Christmas shopping trip to Harrod’s in London, where I bought a derby for Dr. Advice. It looked very nice on Julianne!