LIFE CHANGES Kate’s Journal


Episode 30 1969–1974

Moving can enable the powers of uncertainty. The act of transporting oneself from one place to another is exciting because you don’t know what awaits on the other side. It’s like going through a door, or climbing a stairway you hadn’t noticed before.

stairase“Ascent” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Once we had decided to make the move to Seattle, the job of making it happen began. We were both active in the community, my display business had to be disposed of and I needed to quit my teaching job. And we needed to find a place to live. My partner Joan, wanted no part of JoKay Display, so we simply went out of business, the City shed no tears at my departure which left a quick visit to the Northwest to househunt.

Dr. Advice was in the best shape. The Company was moving us, he would take over the Seattle office plus have as his territory all of Alaska, and all of the northern states. Fish and the Great Outdoors were calling and he was ecstatic. Though he had traveled to the Pacific, to China and to the Philippines during the War, he had gone to very few other places, and I think he rather imagined himself as a self-sufficient Mountain Man.

Though moving from Oakland to Fremont had been tinged with regret, the death of the son of our close friends by suicide and the poison pen letters I had received plus the presence of a perverted flasher made it easier.

Our oldest daughter was living in the Sorority house at San Jose and engaged to be married, our youngest would join us at the end of summer before the start of the Fall session.

We had lost Hilda, the dachshund with abnormally long legs, at a ripe old age, and Mrs. Emma Peel came to live with us. Mrs. Peel was a sweet cuddly brown dachshund who spent a lot of time being groomed by Rudy, an independent grey and white cat who had arrived in my Christmas stocking. The small tan chihuahua with the unlikely name of Tuffy, made up the menagerie we would be transporting with us.

In clearing out one bedroom, I discovered all sorts of junk still under the bed of Janet, the friend who had lived with us during her last year of high school, when her parents moved to Jacksonville, Oregon. Janet had come equipped with a large Mercedes Benz and a flute, and a penchant for living in her coat. Now in my later years, I can see with more compassion how lonely she must have been. Janet stuffed all sorts of stuff under her bed including candy with wrappers, Coke cans, etc. I had respected her privacy and had never looked. As for the coat, I can understand that it was for protection from outside interference rather than from the cold. Much like me having changed my name at each school I went to. Taking yourself away from an unwanted situation.

In January, 1969, knowing absolutely nothing about the area, we drove to Seattle looking for a place to live. For those who are unfamiliar with the area it can be confusing, because there are so many wonderful choices other than the city itself and they are all beautiful and green. We eliminated Seattle as a possibility and decided a semi-rural location would be best. Someone from the Company kindly drove us around for a look-see. He lived on Mercer Island, which as it turned out, would have been perfect, but for some reason, he never showed it to us. Our youngest daughter after her marriage lived and raised her family there.

We drove through Kirkland, which is a small and delightful town on Lake Washington. I could see lots of small shops, a couple of galleries and restaurants though not as many as now that the town has become yuppie/gourmet. It is just across the bridge from Seattle giving us the feeling of the Bay Area only smaller.

Driving down the road we spotted a FOR SALE sign by a small red and white farmhouse with a white fence around it. It was located on a small lane and had trees–lots of them. It seemed perfect and they were willing to wait until June till we could move in. In fact, the realtors were glad it would be awhile because they were busy harvesting the raspberries and other fruit coming into season! As we flew home I felt that we too, were coming into a new season.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT


crew

The warm October sun clings to the lost days of summer like the shorts on the long-limbed girls strolling along the bank of a flat calm lake. The two boys rowing ten feet off shore aren’t unmindful of the tanned walkers. One of the boys yells a loud “Hi”, and the girls giggle.

I have just finished reading “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, and was sorry to see it end. It tells the stories of nine boys from the University of Washington who came from poor and sorry circumstances in the Great Depression, yet worked their way through to obtain college degrees and become the finest crew team in the world.

Rowing is an ancient sport, and at both the University of Washington and the University of California they give it deep respect. Crews from both schools have captured gold medals at the Olympics, and Washington’s biggest win was when they did it at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, leaving Hitler red faced and in an especially foul mood, as it had been planned and expected that Germany would grab the gold in all events, and for awhile it looked as if they would. Berlin and the surrounding Olympic venues had been sanitized for the Olympic events, everything depicting a picturesque and sublime Bavarian life, but the terror of the Holocaust had already begun and lurked behind scenes, resuming when the Olympic flag was lowered.

Race rowing was a big sport at Eton College and Westminster School in England, and the elite sport then spread to the east coast of the U.S.A. and from there to the west coast.

The racing shell, unlike the ordinary rowboat, is an extremely narrow, extremely long boat, originally built of wood, and outfitted with long oars and sliding seats. The boat for an eight man crew is sixty feet long and 24″ wide! An eight man crew actually has nine men, eight rowers and a coxswain who is in charge of the steering and navigation of the boat. He sits facing the oarsmen and shouts his orders while the boat ghosts along the water, the long oars dipping in unison and leaving not a ripple. Bobby Moch of the UW team was one of the finest coxswains in that or in any time.

A second generation boat builder whose father built boats for Eton, George Yeomans Pocock came from England to the University of Washington in 1912 and began to build boats used by nearly every college in America.

A champion sculler himself Pocock worked out of a boathouse on the campus of the UW and built his beautiful wood racing shells over the next half century. Shells today are made from reinforced carbon fibre, strong and graceful for sure, but the polished beauty of the wood boat is gone forever. Pocock was a mentor to many of the rowing coaches of the day, including Al Ulbrickson, head coach at Washington, and Ky Ebright, head coach of the University of California, Washington’s rival, for whom Pocock also built boats.

For the four years the boys struggled to stay in college and stay in the boat, Ulbrickson drove them hard and Pocock gave them gentler suggestions steering them toward their biggest victory in Berlin in 1936. During this time, Seattle’s most famous sports writer, Royal Brougham, registered every win and loss of the UW crews, and helped fuel the enthusiasm for crew racing still felt today. Seattle is a big sports town and partly because of the lack of TV coverage in those days, the public swelled with pride at every win heard on the family radio and every word of praise in the local newspaper.

Brougham traveled with the team to Berlin and reported every move of the American teams. His excitement was boundless and on the day of the varsity win over Hitler’s teams, Brougham pounded out probably the greatest column of his 68 year career with the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Unfortunately it was never seen because of a union strike the next day in Seattle.

You might ask why my great interest in the story told in this book? We grew to love Seattle and the University in th years we lived there. One of our daughters and her children graduated from the University, and we attended every sports event for five years. We still fly up for occasional college football games.

Living on the banks of Lake Washington, the vision of rowers, crew or single sculls was an everyday pleasure. Here in California, we of course also root for the Cal boys in their boat since that was Dr. Advice’s school. They row down the Oakland estuary, which lies beside my old home on the island of Alameda. While living in Connecticut in the 30’s I watched the Harvard and Yale crews rowing on the Thames river in New London. The Thames was also the water in which I learned to swim. I don’t seem to be able to get too far from water!

As a final irony in Berlin, Bobby Moch, coxswain from the winning University of Washington, stood on the podium alone to receive his gold medal. Unbeknownst to Hitler and his band of evil, intent on the destruction of an entire race of people, Bobby Moch was a Jew.

WHERE SHEEP MAY SAFELY GRAZE


sheep grasmere

Life is much different in the countryside. City and suburbanites usually know what to expect, good or bad. If the lights don’t work, one calls an electrician, plumbers are available to fix a leaky faucet, and if the neighbor’s fence falls into your geraniums, get a carpenter. The craftsmen who operate in the country may be out fishing or hunting, or merely lollygagging around, and will come when it suits them. In the meantime, phone calls are made at a pay phone, laundry is done at the launderette, and you gain an education in patience.

We were made aware of this phenomenon in the first week we took over ownership of the old farmhouse in Kirkland, Washington years ago. It sat amongst ancient trees within walking distance of Lake Washington, with no neighbors within shouting distance. There was a small orchard with pears, apples and cherries and a patch of large juicy raspberries ready to pick. Nearly were enough blackberries to keep the freezer filled with pies for those willing to pick them.

To say it needed some loving care and a good push into the twentieth century would be an understatement, but we were game and filled with the enthusiasm of stupidity. It sat alongside a shady lane at whose culmination were the two homes of an old Swedish man who adored us, and his daughter who seemed to wish we would move back to California. Mr. R. watched with interest while we labored day after day, lending us tools, giving advice and sharing rhubarb wine. He was a retired homebuilder who miraculously had built our small house for himself and his late wife, and was filled with stories of the families who had subsequently lived in it. We felt very fortunate.

We had managed to find a roofer, who was not only available immediately, but expected us to help him. It was apparent that “us” meant “me” as Dr. Advice set off for Alaska, Montana and points North, leaving me on the roof with an old gentleman in his 70’s to teach me where to place the shingles. At our first dinner party I had not planned ahead and neglected to take into account the small size of the dining area, so our next project was a new family room.

Looking back it seems as if we tackled all the projects at the same time, until I began to feel like the heroine of Betty MacDonald’s “The Egg and I”. I wrote page after page to family back home describing in detail each unfamiliar endeavor. I stopped holding the various craftsmen in awe as we learned each trade by virtue of do-it-yourself books.

The acre and a half we sat on began taking shape, with sprinkler systems, ornamentals such as rhododendron, azalea and camellias tucked in amongst the trees, and the whole enclosed by a circular driveway and white fencing.

It also became evident that we needed a large building to be used as entertainment, extra sleeping quarters for the many curious friends who thought we were out of our minds, and not least, studio space for my sculpture and teaching.

So with no prior experience and the grace God gives to idiots, we built a barn with sleeping loft ready to hold eight intrepid visitors willing to climb a ladder for access, which passed all inspections the City sent us, all within about 200 feet from the house.

Life was good until the neighbors horses got loose one night and discovered our new lawn. We woke that morning to find them munching happily on the ripe pears in the orchard, with broken sprinkler pipes poking up, and with no name tags on any of them.

During the five years we lived there, Dr. Advice spent two weeks of every month in Alaska and points north and east, giving me additional experience in ditch digging and containing the small creek which often overflowed, and the various projects of home repair. A whole new market opened up in the Seattle area for my work, and my North Coast education began in earnest.

North Coast ShamanHaida Shaman” sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

My work day in the barn usually began about four in the afternoon and lasted until midnight. I have always preferred working at night when things are quiet with no interruptions, the creative juices seems to flow more easily when alone with no thoughts but your own. The young today would say it’s “zoning out”.

One late night when sleep overtook me, I put away my tools, turned out the lights and locked the barn door, ready to walk back to the house in darkness like the 9th plague of Egypt. I remember the silence and the darkness with no moon. Suddenly I heard a very loud belch as from a nearby man. I ran the rest of the way to the safety of the house and of the two dogs whom I had neglected to take to the barn with me. Needless to say there was no sleep for me that night.

Early in the morning I took the dogs and went outside, where looking at the meadow behind the house I saw a small flock of sheep which had moved in during the night. Speaking with Mr. R. later in the day, I learned that these cute fuzzy creatures DO burp—rudely and loudly.

The lambing once over, the sheep moved out and several horses moved into the corral behind the barn, and in due time, we moved back home to California to a new grandson.

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GREEN ELEPHANTS IN ALASKA


green elephant

We came into possession of this antique green ceramic elephant about fifty years ago when I discovered it hidden and covered with the dust of ages in the recesses of an unlikely antique shop here in our town. I wet my finger and drew a line down its back to better see the glaze, and realized it was a treasure indeed, so I bargained with the proprietor, and claimed it as my own.

Shortly thereafter we moved from California to Seattle, Washington, and settled in a picturesque old red and white farmhouse in the little town of Kirkland by Lake Washington. The old green elephant made himself at home on a bookshelf in the living room beside other old decorative items, and we thought no more about it while we remodeled and added onto the old house.

The house had seemed so charming to us when we first saw it in January, but by June, when we finally made our move, we drove right past it. In the preceding six months and the nearly constant nourishing winter rains, the weeds and grass had grown tall, and the wild blackberries so large and tangled it was nearly unrecognizable. A white rail fence surrounded it and continued down the lane which went along one side of the property. The weight of a fallen branch had obliterated a couple of rails, and remained in the weeds beside it.

The upside of it was that the fruit trees and berry bushes were loaded with cherries, pears and raspberries, there were horses in the field behind which we could enjoy watching but did not have to feed, and best of all—there were no neighbors! At least we thought the lack of neighbors a good thing, until we found there was no one with the necessary information about people to help with the work, or even how to find a public telephone to call someone until we had our own phone hooked up. This was long before someone thought of inventing cell phones!

With very little room for guests, we took on the job of building a barn for entertainment and my studio. It had a game table, TV, comfortable chairs and beside the necessary furnace, an antique Civil War pot-bellied stove for heat AND ambiance. It had a sleeping loft above which would hold eight brave people agile enough to climb the ladder to access it.

We knew how important this additional building was as I had learned my lesson early when I invited a number of people from my husband’s office for dinner and suddenly realized I had no place to seat them! I had left my large dining room furniture with a friend until my daughter was married and ready to take it. Instead, I had brought my kitchen table, a venerable square and heavy oak piece which had seen many years of hard usage, but which at most might seat six individuals if they were of normal size. Through the graciousness of our guests, we survived the evening, but realized we needed more room, sooner rather than later.

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Among the first guests who came, were three gentlemen from Juneau, Alaska, with whom my husband did business, one of whom took an interest in the old green elephant on the bookshelf beside the fireplace, and asked where I had got it. I related what I had learned of its history which was that it had been purchased in China many years before by the niece of an elderly woman friend of mine in our small town in California. The woman, Laura Thane Whipple, had moved with her husband to Alaska in the early part of the century, to join her brother, Bart Thane in the mining business. Mrs. Whipple’s unmarried niece went with the family, and they settled near Juneau, in an area subsequently named “Thane” for their family, and where she started a school, which taught elementary grades. The young teacher had told stories to her class of her time in China, and shared her mementoes, among which was the elephant. Surprisingly our guests had all been students in her class! Also surprisingly, two of them remembered seeing the green elephant.

They told us that the settlement of “Thane” had actually become Juneau, which was now the capitol of Alaska! So our old green elephant has the distinction of being one of the first residents of Juneau, Alaska!