GROWING UP IS HARD TO DO Kate’s Journal


Episode 18 Oakland, 1946-1951

As toddlers we stumble along, pick ourselves up and continue on our way; a prelude to our grownup selves. Life is not perfect, and we learn as we go to learn each lesson as we stumble upon it.

The years after our wedding were eventful learning experiences. Sam continued to work for his father while I learned more about the dentistry business than I wanted to know. We were very frugal and our mode of transportation was the old company pickup truck. It was air conditioned; as I recall, you could watch the pavement go by as you drove along.

I learned to cook by watching our older friends, I even tackled a turkey when entertaining the three great aunties from Canada, sisters of my grandfather; aunt Mae, aunt Lottie and aunt Corinne, who was an opera singer. Grandma always said that was where I got my love of singing.

When the three little ladies came to visit in our apartment, we assumed that they were teetotalers, and got in tea and lemonade. They all took their whiskey straight surprisingly.

When the turkey announced that it had cooked enough, I went to check it and it flew out of the oven and slid across the kitchen floor which had a definite dip in it. One of the aunties grabbed a kitchen towel and picked it up and announced that dinner was served. I loved her forever.

kayti cooking 2

A day’s outing hunting squirrels far out in the country, turned terrifying when an unloaded rifle suddenly went off and shot Dr. A in the knee. The unbelievable difficulty getting back home while covered in his blood has left me forever wary of guns.

Invited to a “real” cocktail party by newly met friends, we were served our first martinis. I remember the violent reaction my stomach gave, and Dr. A’s stomach was also rebelling. I don’t recall how we got home.

With each tiny step along the way, we learned growing up lessons. Sam belonged to the Jr. Chamber of Commerce, which as far as I can see, was simply an excuse for partying. I learned to fend off unwanted attentions from others on their grownup journey. But we gained a group of older life long friends who marshalled our behavior and taught by example.

We were devastated by the passing of our first daughter in 1948, which by necessity had caused us to move out of our little attic apartment and in with my inlaws. I changed jobs, going to work as a typist for Sunset McKee paper company in Oakland.

I have always believed that the answer to people who want to know if you are capable of doing a certain job, is “Yes”, whether you can or not. You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything. Climbing the ladder of “yes”, I was working in the capacity of secretary to the treasurer when I became pregnant with our oldest daughter.

A cousin recently in the real estate business, showed me a few houses to buy. Pulling up in front of a cute place near the Oakland Zoo, I went in the front door and said “We’ll take it!” We shopped and bought furniture for our little nest, which would not be delivered until after the first of the year. Hugely pregnant, we moved in three days before Christmas 1949, and our daughter was born on December 28. Close friends helped us with our move, and we sat on the floor of the kitchen drinking Moscow Mules from copper mugs while the record “Sam’s Song played on the victrola.

I cleaned and polished everyday until an older neighbor came by one day and gave me one of the best lessons; “Ten years from now no one will know if you cleaned your kitchen floor every day, but they will know if you have produced a happy child.” I do not clean every day.

In 1951, a year and a half after our oldest daughter, our tiny red haired daughter was born, the two greatest blessings of my life. We were well on our way to being grown up.

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.

MOTHER LOVE


Mother Love
“Mother Love” stoneware sculpture 3ft.tall by kayti sweetland rasmussen

What stronger bond is there than the love of a mother for her children? During my life of art, I have been privileged to paint or sculpt people, and some of the most rewarding have been mothers with their children. Wherever I have gone, I am always touched by the enveloping warmth of a mother’s love for her children.

As a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, I can share this singular state of being. Children are our legacy to the world. It’s our responsibility to make it a good legacy.

100 Words

PUTTING LIGHT INTO THE DARK SPACES


Women painters were not always granted friendly acceptance by the male artistic community. In fact their efforts were often viewed as a curiosity. Artemisia Gemtileschi was a 15th century woman painter best known for her specialty of painting strong and suffering women. As it turned out, she had a good reason for doing so.

Born in Rome in 1593, she learned to paint alongside her father Orazio Gentileschi who tutored her and recognized her genius. When she showed promise at the age of 17, he engaged another painter, Agostino Tassi, to tutor her privately. Handsome and charismatic, Tassi was interested in more than teaching Artimesia to better her painting skills, and after much harassment by him and by other artists in his studio, Tassi raped her. As she was a virginal teenager, this enraged her father on many levels, as her reputation was ruined and she was no longer considered marriageable.

Artimesia’s mother had died when she was 12 and she had no female influence in her life. Her father rented an upstairs apartment to a woman tenant, Tuzia. Though Artimesia befriended Tuzia, on the day of the rape when she screamed for help, Tuzia ignored her cries. Later Artimesia’s work contained a strong sense of solidarity and unity between women, something that Artimesia had not found in real life, but showed a great longing for this kind of relationship.

Suzanna & the Elders, Artemisia Gentileschi
“Judith and The Elders” This painting may have been done before the rape during the period she was being sexually harrassed by Tassi and his friends.

After the rape, Tassi promised to marry her, but reneged on his promise, and was brought to trial by Artimesia’s angry father. During the ensuing seven month trial, it was discovered that Tassi was planning to murder his wife, whom he had acquired by rape, and had an adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law. He also had plans to steal some paintings from Orazio’s home.

A transcript of the infamous seven month court trial still exists, showing that Tassi was found guilty and was given the choice of five years hard labor or exile from Rome. He chose the latter, but he was back in Rome within four months, probably due to influence in high places. The trial influenced the feminist view of Artemisia Gentileschi during the late twentieth century, and she was rediscovered by modern feminists. She painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible, and made it her speciality to paint the Judith story. Judith Beheading Holofernes showing the decapitation of Holofernes, shows very well her feeling toward her rapist.
She was criticized for painting bloody and sadistic paintings, notwithstanding her opportunity to show the unfairness of men toward her victimization. Her rebellion was duly noted and condemned.

That she was a woman painting in the fifteenth century and that she was raped and then participated in prosecuting the rapist, long overshadowed her achievements as an artist. Notwithstanding, today she is regarded as one of the most progressive artists of her generation.

Judith slaying---ArtemesisG.
“Judith Beheadidng Holofernes” The painting displays a strong sense of solidarity between women.

A month after he trial, Orazio arranged for a marriage for his daughter to Pierantonio Stiattesi, an uninspired artist from Florence, who it turned out was more interested in gambling than in painting. They returned to Rome ten years after the court case had mostly been forgotten by the general public. It was never forgotten by Artimesia.

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PART TWO

There are many great women artists I grant you, but why are there not more of them represented on the walls of our museums? Being an artist and having had a lifetime of being female, I have given this a lot of thought.

Being an artist is a career choice which takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. This is after a woman overcomes the male perception of the traditional role of women, which is as the guardian of hearth and home. At first women artists kept busy making needlepoint flowers, weaving, china painting, etc. These things made the house look better, so they were OK occupations.

The fact is also that the raising of children takes a tremendous amount of time and energy and doesn’t leave a ton of free time during which the brain is bursting with creativity. Women are also good at nurturing their husbands, making it possible for him to concentrate on art or whatever his profession may be.

Michelangelo had somebody to cook his meals, Rubens”wives darned his stockings so that he looked good while getting all those commissions. Gauguin had females taking care of his every need. And we know all about that. He left his wife and family and lounged around in the South Sea sunshine. Even Van Gogh was jealous of that.

It’s a matter of choices. A female artist can take care of other people or concentrate on art. It’s impossible to do both and reach the comparative level of famous male artists.

Rosa Bonheur had no children, no husband. Mary Cassatt, no children, no husband and an independent income. Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t have children, and her husband actively promoted her career. Grandma Moses was a Johnny-Come-Lately.

As far as “serious” art was concerned, it involved perhaps painting nudity, which of course was totally unsuitable. An artist, male or female, was considered a bit eccentric, and some people are uncomfortable with that.

Nevertheless, we are grateful for the women who persevered and have given us the privilege of sharing in their dreams

STORIES ARE LIMITLESS


Stories are either written or oral, and are at the base of every civilization. Even cultures who had no written language had storytellers. At a lecture by F. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian writer and educator, he stated that at some time in everyone’s life, he must know from where he came. The Native American has no such problem, because he has been taught the legends of his people over and over his entire life. He can recite his family tree for generations back, and can also remember and tell stories about ancestors long dead.

Stories are painted and carved on rocks throughout the world. Reminders to us that we are not unique, and that those who have gone before us left their legacies for us to interpret.

In the 19th century, missionary schools began popping up on reservations all bent upon teaching the white man’s ways to the Indian children, but in 1870 the first off-reservation schools were organized to ensure that children would come to be Euro-American.

Emmett
“Emmett Oliver” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Our good friend Emmett Oliver, dear friend and educator, recently celebrated his 101st birthday. His mother was a product of one of the off-reservation schools, forcibly taken from her family. Tales of mothers clinging to the fences outside these schools are heartbreaking.

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“A Hole In My Heart” Stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It was said that a hole formed in the hearts of mothers so that her children could climb back in.

Children were given American names, and boys were given short haircuts and American-style boots. All were taught to work for their keep. Often when boys returned to their homes they knocked the heels off their boots and returned to moccasins.

Once back in the arms of their families, they again became part of the stories of their family.

I Am Home
“I Am Home” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In this sculpture, the child, standing within the warmth of the blanket, is surrounded with the stories of his people. He hears the words once more, and again feels a part of the story.

“What cannot be changed must be accepted. What is accepted must be endured. Back when we were a people on foot, running up and down the mountains, we lost our advantage. People took our land, our children. We accepted everything, except the loss of our children. When you look at us now you will see a big hole in our hearts. This is so our children can climb back in. We go out to your world and come back, trying to decide which way to go. The young travel to places they think will give them everything. After awhile, they come home. They stand in the plaza, looking up at the mountains, seeing our ancestors. We older ones say nothing. Isn’t silence better than a scolding?”

AT A MEETING OF THE GIRLS


Germany: Ore Mountains - Seiffen Nutcracker Factory

I wish I could show you what the luncheon table looked like the other day when the Alameda High School friends met for lunch. Going to the same restaurant in Alameda almost ensures us of the same table for eight we have become accustomed to. It is on the water overlooking the whole of the San Francisco skyline which is a treat in itself if the sky is clear and blue. On some days another group may have confiscated it and we just give them our disgruntled old lady stares until they look sufficiently guilty.

We don’t do table decorations so it was a surprise and a treat to find a small wooden nutcracker at each place, and our former ballet dancer already there with a catnip smile on her face as she chortled “Seventy-two years!”

This is the seventy second anniversary of the Nutcracker Ballet in San Francisco, and what makes it special to us is that our friend danced in it for the very first performance and for the next eleven years. She was Clara in the first performance, and said they all played every part. She was glad not to have ever played the Mouse! I asked her when they started rehearsing for it each year and she remembered it as being in October and fitting it in between school.

She danced with the San Francisco company as well as the New York Ballet before retiring and teaching other fortunate young dancers. The mother of one of the other members of our little group was her first teacher, and was herself a ballet mistress in both New York and Montreal, Canada. Coincidentally, a 92 year old neighbor took her dancing lessons from this lady as well.

Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker Ballet in 1892 and it was an immediate success, and of course, has spread all over the world with Christmas performances thrilling both children and parents ever since. When it appeared in San Francisco in 1962, my children and I were in attendance as well as in succeeding years until they married and moved away. It was a very special before-Christmas treat with all of us dressed in our holiday finery. Their own children were introduced to that wonderful music and colorful costumes in their own time in both Seattle and Santa Barbara.

ON SUNDAYS


rice paddy

ON SUNDAYS

On Sundays students who can afford to,
take English lessons to work

for parents who work
in English because English

is where the money is. But
she doesn’t teach English, Sundays

she walks two miles deeper
from the building, where she lives

with other teachers, to find
students weaving bamboo baskets

while watching younger siblings, then
walks between rice fields to

rice fields to find their parents.
And waits. At break or lunch

under a tree, she listens to them
say, the words don’t feed

the stomach. Yet she comes
so that by evening, when they arrive

home, they find her in the yard
drawing words on the dirt

while students work and watch
and say. Then they eat dinner.

Over rice and yam, boiled water
cress and salted radish, they find

other things that feed the stomach:
the height she’s gained with mud

sticking to her thongs; or, as the children
say it, their heads thrown back

in open-mouth laugh, the bamboo snapped
at her weaving; or the way “l”

is tall and skinny, and then “b”
is “l” with their father’s stomach. Soon

her students come to class
because the teacher is nice

and parents don’t want her
to walk so far on Sundays.

(Poem by Nhan Trinh)

HOPE OF SURVIVAL


clouds

“I remained in Buchenwald until April 11. I shall not describe my life during that period. It no longer mattered. Since my father’s death, nothing mattered to me anymore.

I was transferred to the children’s block, where there were six hundred of us.

The Front was coming closer.

I spent my days in total idleness. With only one desire: to eat.

I no longer thought of my father, or my mother.

from time to time, I would dream. But only about soup, an extra ration of soup.”

From “NIGHT” by Elie Wiesel

A DANISH ORIGINAL


HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN

His earliest writings were based on stories he heard as a child, but he soon began constructing new and original stories, some of which reflected his humble background and ungainly looks. “The Ugly Duckling”, while universal in theme, is believed by some scholars to be an expression of his struggle with his homosexuality in an era in which same sex relations were illegal.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish author who left us an incredible legacy in the form of stories that transcend age and nationality such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Little Match Girl”.

In it’s proverbial form, “The Ugly Duckling” is an account of an unprepossessing, unsatisfactory member of one species evolving into a beautiful, admired member of another and encourages us to expect for ourselves an eventual transformation of situation and self for the better, whatever the restrictions of our early circumstances and the current low opinion of others.

Obviously this story is of irresistible appeal to insufficiently appreciated children, but also to those whose familial praise and appreciation seems in direct opposition to those of his peers. As an only child, I had been led to believe that I somehow possessed superior qualities in whatever field I entered. It was a pity that no one else shared their opinion!

Many children imagine themselves in the role of Prince or Princess, having somehow been switched at birth into a royal or more privileged family. I expressed a common desire to be found better than I was, and occasionally embarrassed my self by jumping into the fray only to be discovered lacking in whatever talent to which I had laid claim.

On one such occasion in a fourth grade talent show, I confidently sat at the piano and pounded out a “Russian” piece which I made up as I went along. The scalding looks and silence which greeted me fortunately kept me away from any further public piano recitals.

“The Ugly Ducking” assures us of the hope of acceptance during our unhappy times, while confounding all those authority figures who have given up on us or who have failed to see the possibility of excellence.

ugly duckling

The inclination to bully those different from ourselves is universal, beginning in childhood. It involves the first taste of class consciousness, as well as the ability to exercise power over another. As a child, I attended a different school each year, in a different state. I was therefore somewhat different, and fair game for those inclined to bully. Bullying can take the form of rejection, sarcasm, a promise of some future aggressive action, or casual derogatory remarks, any of which can leave lifelong scars on a sensitive child.

The object of hostility, or at least aversion, can be either one who is richer, poorer, beautiful or homely, smart or dumb, fat or skinny. In other words, someone different from one’s self.

The current rash of NFL abuse cases springs from people trained to hit first and then ask questions. The difference in size and strength, the exorbitant amount of money paid these people, plus the weekend adulation given them, somehow makes them immune to ordinary behavior. We can only hope that public opinion and a steady reduction in their paychecks will eventually make them rejoin the human race.

It is interesting that “The Ugly Duckling” was Andersen’s most constant favorite and one for which he exclaimed to a friend in 1843 “It’s selling like hotcakes”! The similarities between Andersen’s life and the ugly duckling are irresistible. Andersen was gangly, poor, and uneducated–yet he became a literary star despite the under-appreciation he suffered. In a similar fashion, the hatchling is mistaken for a common duck and mistreated before discovering that he is a beautiful swan. He often remarked that “The Ugly Duckling” was the hardest story to compose, as it was the most autobiographical.

This classic example of an animal tale also spawned one of Andersen’s most famous quotes: ‘Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg’. In Andersen’s day, the definition of artistic genius was shifting and was less bound to class than it had been before. He was part of this exciting new breed, and the tale’s inspiring and hopeful message continues to make it one of Andersen’s most beloved stories to this day.

All of us know moments of oppressive solitude of the soul. What we want most at such times is the assurance that we are not unique in our emotions, that others have the same yearnings, have suffered similarly. “The Ugly Duckling is an instrument of profound comfort.

LITTLE BUSINESSMEN


Children sold paper news sheets in colonial times, and even larger numbers became newspaper handlers with the advent of the penny paper in 1833. By 1962, there were 600,000 “paperboys”, thanks in part to exemptions from Depression-era child labor laws for youths if they were at least 12 years of age. The labor laws also exempted youths involved in acting, baby sitting, farm work, a family business, and making Christmas wreaths. The laws apparently still required a work permit in 1943, as I was asked to present one to a new employer in my first job as a soda jerk. I was 15 instead of 16 with no permit, but I kept showing up and eventually turned 16 never having had anything showing I was old enough to work.

In 1833 New York urchins roamed the crowded bustling streets of the city hawking the Sun newspaper. They took over the coffee houses and taverns shouting and waving the newspaper for one cent. The “newsey” became a common American icon. You can see that their costume of knickers and the cute caps, eventually became quite chic! I may still have one buried deep within my closet.

Newspaper boys in Jersey City

Selling penny papers continued into the 20th century, when the shift to home delivery system increased. Nearly every boy had a paper route by the time he was 12 years old. Even my great grandfather had a route which he accomplished riding his pony and small trap. By the time children entered middle school, they acquired two or three jobs based on their paper route experience. The first year-round job was augmented by seasonal work—picking berries, mowing lawns, harvesting apples, hauling coal, shoveling snow, all sandwiched between daily home chores, and all depending upon where one lived. Great grandfather expanded his paper delivery service by working at an ice cream shop. By the time he was 16 years old, he owned the shop, and ready to entrust it to a subordinate, he went on to being a contractor and hotel owner in both New Hampshire and Florida, where he was the first to offer tennis courts, golf and swimming poolsat his resorts. Just goes to show what a lucrative business the newspaper can be. Ask Mr. Rupert Murdock.

We checked out a new sports venue and the manager came up asking if we remembered him, which with our failing memories we didn’t, until he reminded us that he had been our paperboy! Nice guy, but he’d better get back on his bike as he has a few extra pounds since we knew him.

We get our news now in more ways than we can absorb—TV, three newspapers, and of course our trusty computers wherein we see emblazoned across the top the list of everything we might want or need to know—mail, news, sports, finance, weather, entertainment, health, ad infinitum. Of course, none of these carriers of information ever promised GOOD news, so they can’t be accused of reneging on a promise not given.