MY TEA CUP RUNNETH OVER


There are all sorts of tea parties. There was the Boston kind which wasted a great deal of good English tea, but got the message over. Then the political kind, whose movement now sails under another name. Extraordinarily, this year I have attended two of the finer gatherings of ladies which have actually served tea.

I have been gifted each year to a special birthday treat by my two daughters. This year’s birthday celebrations culminated in a lovely high tea at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel.

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The Fairmont is one of the fine old historic hotels in San Francisco, and has been featured in many films and television shows. Nearly completed, but nearly destroyed in 1906, at the time of the great San Francisco earthquake, it was rebuilt by Julia Morgan, who was also famous for building William Randolph Hearst’s castle San Simeon, down the coast a bit.

The hotel was ready for occupancy by 1907 and business has been brisk ever since. One of its attractions is the Tonga Room, with its Hurricane Bar, a historic tiki bar. It features a bandstand on a barge which floats in a former swimming pool, a dining area built from parts of an old sailing ship, and artificial thunderstorms. In 2009, the owners announced plans to close the Tonga Room. In response, a group filed an application to make the Tonga Room an official San Francisco landmark. I’m happy to say that Dr. A and I, in our hey-day, sat under the thunderstorm a few times. Great fun.

The Venetian Room was where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961. A statue of Tony Bennett was unveiled outside the Fairmont in August , 2016, in honor of his 90th birthday, the performance and the song’s history with San Francisco.

As if we three ladies weren’t giggling enough, we were joined by my granddaughter, who flew in from London, and a sneak attack from her brother. Oh yes, they also served tea.

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THE BEST LAID PLANS


You can plan all you like, but you can’t plan on the weather. We had set aside yesterday for a picnic in Alameda with friends. The weather had simmered away in the 80’s and 90’s for a number of weeks, keeping us cooking and cooking our heels at home.

Yesterday the smell of petrichlor filled the air and heralded the imminent arrival of the first raindrops, ready to wash the summer dust off the leaves and give sustenance to a thirsty soil.

Brave souls as we are, we decided to wing it and go on our picnic anyway. Stopping at a favorite place for lattes first, we sat inside watching the rain charging down the estuary on pattering feet. Two gentlemen of a certain age sat nearby wearing short-sleeved summer shirts and shorts, obviously visitors on vacation, while I at least, sensibly dressed in wool turtlenect sweater and raingear. The cold sandwiches waiting in our picnic basket didn’t seem too inviting as opposed to a bowl of hot soup at that point.

The estuary is where so many wonderful crew races have taken place through the years, and the Cal boathouse is just across the channel from where we sit watching and hoping that either Cal or the University of Washington win. It is sometimes troubling to be torn between rooting for one or the other. It was not a day for racing.

Alameda is my hometown and though we fight the traffic now when going there, it is lovely to drive down its peaceful tree lined streets, and revisit familiar and much loved old homes and other spots where my life became interesting. The beaches are deserted in the rain, but with the recent warm weather, they were frequently filled with families enjoying the water to cool off.

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The rain let up a little and we arrived at our picnic spot near the Bay with all of San Francisco at our feet. Several juvenile egrets joined us, though they are not hungry beggars like the gulls, who are absent when it rains. They came close, but not too close, and pulled a few worms from the grass for their lunch while we chomped our cold sandwiches quickly before the next rain fell. It was, after all, a satisfying day.

THE SECOND OLDEST PROFESSION Kate’s Journal


Episode 17 Alameda, 1946-1949

What was I thinking? I had quit my good job in San Francisco, and now my new husband tells me to “get a job”. I began tromping the streets in Oakland asking if anyone needed help. I literally had no skills except being a nice looking willing to work child bride.

I found a respectable job with an advertising dentist who happened to be the father of a friend. Is that nepotism? I wore a white nurse’s uniform including a cap, and began learning which instrument was needed for a specific task. We decided to live on my salary and save his. Rather trusting in retrospect don’t you think?

After returning from overseas, Sam’s plans to return to Cal were delayed due to the need to help his father in the trucking business.

In essence, the Silk Road became the world’s first trucking route. This modest non-road became one of the most transformative super highways in human history.

In 1907 two brothers and a a brother-in-law in San Francisco began an ambitious endeavor which in turn became a small local ‘Silk Road’. Fulfilling the need of residents living atop Nob Hill for cigars, whiskey, food and other necessities, they transported goods by horseback, referring to their newly formed business as “The Mustang Express”. As Business grew, they purchased wagons, and took in a younger brother recently graduated from school. The ‘younger brother’ was my father-in-law, Victor. The newly formed company was named RB&S Trucking, for Rasmussen Brothers and Svane. Svane being their brother-in-law. The purchase of wagons became the purchae of trucks and the name changed again to the “Inter-Urban-Express Company”, which conveyed merchandise throughout the Bay Area. Their familiar green and yellow trucks could be seen from San Francisco to Oakland for many years. Later, Svane’s son, Peter Victor, formed his own small trucking company carrying goods in San Francisco.

Victor Rasmussen
Victor Svane Rasmussen

Though the principals of the company did no driving of trucks, each of the sons and son-in-law and a grandson took their turn at not only knowing how to drive the large semi trucks, but also what went on inside them. Many years after the Inter-Urban was defunct, I watched Dr. Advice in a business suit help a young truck driver get straightened out when he had managed to jack-knife his truck. The boy was about 20 years old, and panic stricken, with traffic built up behind him, and he looked about to cry. Seeing the boy needed help, Dr. A stopped, climbed into the boy’s truck and set it straight. Getting back into our car, he remembered how someone had helped him, at age 16 when he had been in the same fix. Some things you don’t forget.

Some years later, my father-in-law left his brothers and started his own company named the East Oakland Drayage Company on 10 acres of land in East Oakland. His own father had told him that if you took a silver dollar and threw it as far as you could, you should buy the land. The trucking company would make a good living, but the real value is in the land, not the business on it.

Ten years later my father-in-law retired and sold the company and told the boys to ‘get a job’.

As to what the ‘oldest profession’ is, I’ll leave that up to you.

GOTTA PUT THE ONION ON Kate’s Journal


Episode 15 Alameda, 1945

Of all the aunts and great-aunties who gave us shelter during the period of my growing up, Great-Aunt Helen was surely the most quirky and endearing. She was my paternal grandfather’s sister, a country woman born and bred who circulated comfortably in society without reliquishing her down home persona.

She raised her own two daughters, and a niece and nephew with the same practical yet loving regard. No teenager, myself included, would put anything over on Aunt Helen, who was always two steps ahead of all of us.

Living on the third floor meant having to pass by Aunt Helen’s front door, so while in high school there was no way to hide the fact that I was trying to slip in unnoticed. They had recently stopped using the ferries from Alameda to San Francisco, so now I walked with Uncle Fred to the bus each morning on our way to Matson in the City.

Like so many older women, Aunt Helen’s feet were a constant source of pain, but for her weekly bridge games she reserved her dressy “sitting’ shoes. She would gather up her cronies and cheerfully call out “off we go in a cloud of hen dust!” and away they would go. I’m not sure she was the best of drivers, but her car full of chattering ladies didn’t seem to mind. Comparing in my mind the attire of a roomful of bridge players of today, they were certainly from another age. Everyone wore a hat and dolled up in their best. Today’s women are far less formal.

At the end of the afternoon, she would announce that she needed to go “Put the onion on.” Uncle Fred, whom the family called “Pop”, after walking home from the bus always entered the house through the front door as Aunt Helen entered through the rear. Her first job, even before removing her hat, was to chop up an onion and put it on to cook. She knew the smell of a cooking onion was irresistible to a hungry man, and Uncle Fred would be happily sitting in the front room with his evening newspaper, feeling that his dinner was on the way.

The War was finally over in August, 1945. (I have written about this momentous occasion in the post “V-J DAY, 1945” posted August 14, 2015.) Through the feelings of relief that the war was over, there peeked a wary suspicion of “what happens now?” Rationing was still in force to an extent, and life was carrying on much the same.

I had left the mail room at American Hawaiian behind and was now in the front office. Though I don’t recall a tremendous raise in salary it was a definite boost in prestige.

The glorious feeling that life would somehow be changed, and the boys would come home right away didn’t happen. I remember wondering if it was time for me to quit this nice job and go back to school.

HOW LUCKY CAN YOU GET? Kate’s Journal


The summer after high school was warm and lazy, and I took advantage of each day at the beach; no boyfriend to worry about, no time schedule, but also no money. I began to feel disapproval from Great Aunt Helen as I trudged home tired and sunburned after my day in the sun. I felt the ominous suggestion that I get a job.

My two choices for employment in the City were Matson Line and American Hawaiian Steamship Lines in the same building. I snatched the opportunity at the latter and received the staggering salary of $95 per month as a mail girl. Uncle Fred and I rode the bus each morning and were greeted with the wonderful aroma of fresh roasted coffee drifting from the Hills Bros. plant located just under the Bay Bridge as we approached San Francisco.

Now a mail girl’s job is better than it sounds, because I delivered mail to places up and down the Embarcadero, plus the mayor’s office and offices within both Matson and Amer.Hawaiian.

What a magical city San Francisco was. Not the crowded skyline it has now, but the epitome of sophistication and panache nonetheless. Chinatown, Playland at the Beach with its gigantic rollercoaster, and wonderful carousel, crooked Lombard Street, the Mission District, The impressive PG&E Building,restaurants and hotels, the waterfront with the piers where my father was apt to come in. The largest office I ever saw was that of Mr. Roger Latham, whose place of employment I can’t recall, but he received a lot of mail, and never seemed to be in his office. There were so many things to choose from to have a good time.

Hats and gloves were expected and were worn, thus taking one from a schoolgirl to a grownup in the length of time it took to traverse the Bridge. I moved up from the Mail Room to the Reception Desk with no more salary, but loads more distinction,. It was also a good place to meet people, and I met and dated several young officers who, upon reaching port, stopped off in the office.

Me at 17

A heart can be heavy thing, and slowly but surely, mine mended. I wanted to go on to college, but there was no money, and life was not treating me too badly at that time. My grandmother and Aunt Corinne and Judy, who was now seven, had moved to Alameda, taking an apartment right around the corner from us. Grandma had married Mr. Fred Lessing by this time, and with my Alameda relatives nearby as well, we were a family again.

GRADUATION Kate’s Journal


Episode 14
Alameda, 1944

It is hard to recapture feelings which you had 70 years ago. The events of our lives spring up in chapters, but how we actually “felt” at that time escapes us.

No one changes their mind more frequently than a teenage girl, and when it comes to boyfriends just when you’re in, you’re out. That’s the way it happened to me the summer of 1944. The new one had a classy little 1936 blue Ford coupe with spotlights and pipes, the old one had a horse. I couldn’t wait to have it parked in front of my house. The occupant also had a blue and gold block sweater to go with it, signature of a high school VIP.

Sam & friendsSam Rasmussen, second from left. Owner of the blue Ford

In spite of having a steady boyfriend, life went on in my life as a senior at Alameda High. As a result of our being caught drinking in the local movie theater, my friend Nancy Cranmer’s parents shipped her off to Westlake School for Girls in Hollywood, where Shirley Temple was going. My Aunt Connie ( Corinne) campaigned for me to go as well, taking me away from any bad influence I might have in Alameda. My Grandma’s dream of me being a second Shirley Temple when I was a child would mean I would at least be a classmate. Where they planned to get the money was a mute point.

I liked Nancy a lot; her nickname was Flea for some reason, and she was in my wedding later on. We discovered that we had a similar event in our family history in that an ancestor was burned at the stake in England. Her ancestor was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and mine was Bishop Nicholas Ridley; Bishop Hugh Latimer joined them in the event. A lovely memorial of the three martyrs stands at Oxford, England, as a grim reminder of Bloody Mary’s power.

oxford martyrs

Meanwhile, the boy with the blue Ford took over my summer, and I found a steady boyfriend in Sam Rasmussen.

The draft hung like a specter over all our boys, and Sam enlisted in the Merchant Marine Cadet Corps whose training camp was nearby in San Mateo. I had two or three spiffy evening dresses to wear to the weekend dances. Someone had left these lovely dresses on one of the Matson ships, and by virtue of Uncle Fred, I inherited them. There was often something left in a cabin after the ship hit port, with no forwarding address.

All in all, I did OK from things rich passengers left on board as they departed. Great Uncle Fred was an executive in the company, and Dad’s cousin was Captain of one of the ships. That’s also how I got my first camera, a fancy Leica.

Graduation class Couyote Hills MM AcademyGraduation class Coyote Hills Merchant Marine Corps 1944 Sam in middle of front row

Graduation came for me and it was bittersweet. Sam would be graduating as well and shipping out. The night of my graduation I looked for Sam, but he hadn’t come for some reason. The reason came clear soon enough when I found I had been “dumped”.

kayti hi schoolGraduation day, June, 1945

I spent the rest of the summer on the beach at Cottage Baths in Alameda, feeling sorry for myself, though my mother was understanding about the breakup of my “big romance”, since I was only 17, she and my father, still overseas, felt better than I did about the whole thing.

My next move was the same as most graduates; get a job or go to college. I decided to get a job first and think about the rest of my life later.

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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