IT ISN’T EASY BEING OLD


Crow Print by Marvin Oliver

It’s a shame that just when you get comfortable being youngish, you suddenly find yourself being classified as “elderly”. You see strangers being referred to as elderly when in their 70’s. I suppose we are lucky that the longest period of our lives is called middle age. But the middle of what?

What makes us “old”? Since Dr. A, at the age of 91, is often seen out and about, either walking Charlie or sweeping leaves, he is often offered help; either to get up if he is pulling a weed, or loading a bag of compost into the car. Shaking his head, he wonders if they think he is old. I always use the line uttered by Hermine Gingold to Maurice Chevalier “Oh no, not you.”

The question is not so much how we look. Obviously the years take their toll in ways we would rather not think about. The story inside a beat-up second hand book is just as good as when the book was new. I a heard young man the age of forty something complain that he was getting “old”.

The First Wednesday group met last week and celebrated two more 90th birthdays. We were joined this time by two daughters, one granddaughter, and a little great-grandson. Generations in action. I began paying more attention to the questions my friends asked. One asked me if any of Dr. A’s old friends were left.The answer has been “no” for many years. Another asked if I were still cooking. The answer is “yes”, she was not. Another asked if my hearing was still good. She had just got hearing aids, and doesn’t like them. I have never heard of anyone who loved wearing them. They fall into the same category as false teeth; an unavoidable necessity.

Do all these things make us old? No, they are the exterior signs of lives well spent. If we are given the gift of age, it behooves us to do the best we can to get on with it. Dwelling on what we have lost is boring and non-productive.

Having said that, I visited the eye doctor again yesterday for a new glasses prescription. Something glamorous and sexy and makes me look 65 again would be nice. Before this can be achieved, you review the same old tests everyone takes to determine how much you can actually see. The result was neither more nor less than I expected, since my eyesight has been failing regrettably faster than I thought.

On the last visit, they showed me a few magnifying devices said to help failing eyesight. Yesterday there were a whole shelf full of lighted ones, a couple to wear on your head, though I couldn’t find the buttons meant to work like binoculars. Strange looking things which would scare the dog into thinking you came down from an unknown planet.

I have found that some things, like youth, cannot be recaptured; sight being one of them. We need to go with the flow as long as the river runs.

Back to my original question, “What makes us old?” It isn’t the loss of our looks, or the loss of our capabilities. It’s the loss of hope. The loss of interest in new things. The loss of someone or something to care about, or who cares for us. All those things are at the core of Life. If we lose them, yes, we are old, and it isn’t easy being old.
As a good friend called over his shoulder the other day while leaving the house, “Old age sucks!”

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PERSPECTIVES OF A CHURCH


“Ranchos de Taos”
watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It’s entire name is “San Francisco de Asis Mission church and it has stood in the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico since 1816. Possibly one of the most photographed churches in the Southwest, its rear view has attracted the attention of artists from all over the world because of its smooth sculptural adobe form.

Ansel Adams used the church as part of his Taos Pueblo art book Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. I have been fascinated by its colonial era beauty since I first came upon it in the 1960’s. I have painted it many times in watercolor, oils and acrylic and it changes each time, and each time I paint it, I love it more.

Front view of Ranchos de Taos Church

MAKE YOUR BED


“Downtown Lady” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Making one’s bed is pretty basic to most of us, like changing your socks, returning your phone calls and possibly eating your oatmeal.

It happens to be the title of a new book by former Navy Seal Admiral Andrew McRaven, whom I saw interviewed on TV. I haven’t read the book yet, but I began thinking of what a primary life lesson it calls to mind.

As a child, I went with my mother to a Navy wives function at the home of the Admiral in Bremerton, Washington. I remember the Admiral’s wife asking if I cooked breakfast for my father. She said that she cooked eggs each morning for the Admiral. I have thought many times of what a gracious and unassuming action it was.

The bed is personal to each of us. My mother in law rarely made her bed when age made it more difficult, though until the age of 92 she kept going strong in all other respects. A cousin remarked while walking past his bedroom with its unmade bed, that it had become his best friend.

I like to think that making one’s bed is akin to clearing the deck for the rest of the day’s work. This is a lazy day as far as work goes, but I made my bed this morning just in case.

MILO ONE


Piles of milo

You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything. It’s amazing what we don’t know, but comforting to know that there is so much we can still learn.

Colorful milo grain lies in orderly piles on the Kansas plains, confounding the uninformed as to just what they are. Tiny beads of gold and saffron fall in random design after the harvest, ready to serve as fodder.

Seeing the fabulous photos taken by Shoreacres prompted the return of my paintbrush, for how can one resist mountains of red, orange and yellow lying where Mother Nature put no mountains.

HOPPER, AN AMERICAN PAINTER


HOPPER“NIGHTHAWKS” 1942

Edward Hopper’s paintings seem to be located in a twilight zone born in his own imagination. They depict a world no longer in a state of innocence, but has not yet reached a state of self-destruction.

Hopper shows us a situation that no other American artist captured in quite this way. his spare, personal vision of modern American life became a forerunner of American Pop Art. As a teacher introducing students to Hopper, I found that most were more comfortable painting flowers and sunsets a close second. His use of silent space was sometimes uncomfortable, or perhaps encouraged too much thinking.

He struggled to find his personal style, sometimes going months without finding what he wanted to paint. Working in oil on canvas, watercolor and etchings, he did posters for the War effort, jumping from one medium to another. Often painting over a previous paint while he changed his mind. Once the religious feeling present in the earlier works had dissipated, nothing new replaced it. Only emptiness, a vacuum remained. It wasn’t so much Hopper’s themes that were typically American, as the actual things he depicted; railroads, train stations and gas stations. He was likely the first painter ever to dignify the latter feature of American landscape by using it as a motif in art.

Hopper was a great admirer of Ernest Hemingway. In 1927, Scribner’s Magazine, for whom Hopper did illustrations, published Hemingway’s story The Killers. Hopper wrote a letter to the editors, saying how refreshing it was to find such an honest piece of work in an American magazine, after wading through the endless sugar-coated mush that was usually published. And, he added, the story made no concessions to mass taste.

His ideal was to make his paintings with such simple honesty as to give almost the shock of reality itself.

In 1923 Hopper married Josephine Nivison, an artist who was his exact opposite in every way. She was short, gregarious, sociable, and liberal. He, on the other hand, was tall, secretive, shy, quiet, introspective, introverted and conservative. She once said that “talking to Eddie is like dropping a stone in a well except that it doesn’t thump when it hits bottom.”

Edward_Hopper_-_Girl_at_a_Sewing_Machine_(1921)“GIRL AT A SEWING MACHINE” 1921

He began painting short isolated moments saturated with suggestion. They have silent spaces and uneasy encounters, touching us where we are most vulnerable.

He got more of the quality of America into his paintings of urban landscapes which were filled with poetic meaning.

Typically Hopper, he said “I was never able to paint what I set out to paint.”

research included: (Ivo Kranzfelder)

LEARNING TO GET ALONG Kate’s Journal


Episode 19 Oakland

By 1951 the patterns of our early married life were being formed, convivial, but hardly ever serene. Two diametrically opposed personalities frequently clashing.

The trucking company had been sold, and Sam went to work at the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. where he was to remain for nearly 40 years. His expertise in transportation and in safety engineering sent him up and down the West coast from Monday to Friday every week. The dye was cast for him to become “Dr. Advice” in the future.

Meanwhile I was what came to be known as a “stay-at-home” mother, just as my mother and all the women I knew then were. I learned to knit, crochet, sew, wallpaper, garden and cook. I tried my best to be perfect, still too young to realize that would never happen. (In case you wonder at the wallpaper skill, it was very important in the 50’s. Every room in the magazines had wallpaper.)

Our older women friends had long since realized that none of the above were important skills, but I still fed on their praise when I was showing off. Much like the feeling I got as a small girl when I got approval for being a “good girl”, or learning something new.

Since Sam traveled all week, and we lived in a more rural area, I thought a dog would be a good idea. Calling a pet adoption organization, I expressed the desire for a large dog. The woman said they had one but it was too much dog for me, so I took him home. Sarge was a slow, sleepy and very large Great Dane, who wanted badly to be part of someone’s family. He slept in our downstairs family room, and late one Friday night when Sam returned home from traveling all week, Sarge refused to let him into the house. Though Sarge was a family dog, it became clear that ours was not the right family.

Sam and Kayti Going to the Oakland Flower Show, Oakland in those days had a more upscale social life.

I tried to rejuvenate my painting skills, but I soon realized I needed help. I submitted a painting of my daughter to the “Famous Artists Schools” which was a correspondence school for illustrators. I received a thumbs up from them saying I had possibilities which planted a seed in my brain.

Famous Artists School

I waited for an opportune moment and announced my intention of signing up for the school. It was met with the utmost of negative reactions. As a matter of recollection he said “Over my dead body!” I believe I said OK!

Many years later I met a gentleman who had been a graduate of that school and had become a very successful illustrator of women’s clothing for newspaper advertising. This was before photographs of actual people were used.

Not being at all deterred in my quest for further education, at the beginning of the next semester, I entered the California College of Art in Oakland, sharing baby sitting with a neighbor, and walking two miles to catch a bus. The halls of higher education held wondrous possibilities, and though my intent was to someday call myself a painter, there were other avenues to pursue as well.

NAUGHTY & NICE Kate’s Journal


Episode 13

Highland Park, CA., 1943

All our lives are made up of periods of nice and not so nice. We may as well get used to it. I went to stay with Auntie and Uncle Phil in April, 1943 for the last couple of months of school. Probably not nice for any of us.

Alameda, CA., 1943

We moved to Alameda in the summer, into the old home that was built by my Great-grandfather and now owned by Great Aunt Helen. Yes, another Aunt took us in! Let me tell you, it’s good to have a lot of Aunts.

Alameda Ave. 1613

Mr. Lloyd Sisler was the drama teacher in the high school, and also gave voice lessons on the side. In my first solo concert at his home, I stood beside the piano facing the audience, and my voice refused to escape my mouth. In spite of that, he gave me lead parts in several operettas during the next two years.

I didn’t see him again till our 40th class reunion, and he had not aged gracefully, wearing full stage make-up and a dark wig slightly askew. I introduced myself feeling sure that he would remember me as his star pupil, and talented actress.

I was shocked to find that he not only didn’t remember me, but said my voice must not have impressed him! I raised my eyebrows and said that “My mother is not going to be happy to hear that.” He roared with laughter and said I had a great sense of humor. Well, better a sense of humor than a great voice I guess. Since my mother had passed away two years before she never got a chance to appreciate the humor.

I joined the R.O.T.C, which came with a uniform and an entire Battalion of boys! It was the style to bleach your bangs, but I went whole hog and bleached my entire head one day when my mother was gone. It looked good too–better than mouse brown.

ROTCThere I am in front row.

Confessions are in order at various times of our lives. We can either be perfect or lucky. I have been lucky, but also too trusting of other people. After a morning horseback ride with a group of kids, a girlfriend I learned not to trust, convinced me to borrow one of the boy’s cars and take it around the corner even though neither of us drove. She took the safer passenger side and I “drove”— right into a lamp post and a tree. I worked a long time to repay my mother for the damage, and received strong discipline from the judge.

In our small attic apartment I set up my studio and began painting very bad portraits of my friends. The space was like a small dark cave with a single light bulb, but I thought it was pretty snazzy. My first “payment” was a glass bell which lost its clapper when I took it out of the box.
Shadows of Our Ancestors“Shadows of Our Ancestors” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen ( This painting was done many years later.)

I needed money so I went door to door again, and boldly lied to the manager of the J.C. Penney store that I had worked for Penney’s in Grants Pass. He took me on to fold men’s jeans, but when the window dresser quit shortly after I took over his job, eventually doing the advertising layouts for the newspapers. At 17 I imagine I was the youngest art director in Penney’s history. However, I don’t advise lying to anybody, it’s not nice and it can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

There were few place that teenagers could congregate safely. The war was on, and though there was a local U.S.O. where girls could go and dance with young servicemen, the creamery closed early and except for private parties, that left the Alameda Theater. Several of us found an empty building and after much effort in raising money for rent and donations of recreation equipment and record players, we opened the Alameda Teen Center. It was a moderate success at least as long as I was there.

None of my girlfriends had their own car, however, we were permitted to drive our parents car on occasion if we replaced the gasoline we used. At eighteen cents a gallon, we pooled our money to take us to and from Oakland and San Francisco. We mostly walked our way around the island of Alameda. My mother taught me to drive on Otis Drive which was locally known as Lover’s Lane. When without a date, we spent Friday and Saturday evening patrolling to see whose windows were steamed up.

At Christmas, 1943 my mother and I drove to Torrance to be with my Grandmother. While there she became ill and we stayed for two months. At the end of the semester, having missed two months of school, I received an F on my report card in history. It was the first time I had ever failed in anything.

I went to summer school for a number of weeks with the same teacher who had flunked me: Miss Hook. Now let me tell you about Miss Hook. There is a word for people who resemble their names and Miss Hook exemplified it. Tall, skinny, drab, pointed features, buck teeth, and smug. As she handed me my report card with an “A” on it, she said ‘You see what you can do when you don’t worry about boys?” I never told her the reason I had missed so much school. There was a lot of “naughty” and “nice” in that year of high school.