a-hat-for-all-seasons “A HAT FOR ALL SEASONS” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Is there a different category for each of those tiny gene things we confidently assume make up our personality? Just because Great aunt Hattie was an accomplished oboe player, will that make us a musician? If Uncle Henry cashed it in at the ripe old age of 102, does that mean we will follow suit?

Of course not, what a silly thought. But what about the clothes shopping gene? I can only answer for myself, and I’m sorry to say that because of the women in my family and their example, I have not only spent an inordinate amount of time and money in the rag trade, but have passed that gene on to my female descendants, including a ten year old great granddaughter, to my shame.

Call me shallow, but I even remember the new coat I had at age 11 when we went to see “Gone With the Wind”. The Depression made it difficult for people to indulge themselves, so that pink coat was a one-off experience for me.

I can’t remember a time when shoes have not attracted my attention; either on someone’s feet or in a store display. Perhaps it was the effect of the shiny Mary Jane’s my Grandmother bought me. I spent a lot of time washing their soles at the end of the day. One of my first jobs in dressing window displays was trying to make men’s work boots attractive. This was before I made a business of doing it a few years later.

No one can go into the clothing trade unless you truly love clothes. My grandmother, mother and aunt were accomplished seamstresses who also had a great deal of good taste, and I became comfortable sitting at a sewing machine as well. One of my daughters at age six was annoyed with me for not mending the hem of a dress as soon as she wanted it, so she grabbed a needle and thread and did it herself. I think sewing may be a lost art among the young today.

My mother in law tired of sewing soon after I married and gifted me with her old electric sewing machine. They were not always electrified. As a small child staying with an auntie, I slept in her sewing room, where her old foot pedal Singer machine stood.

My ‘new’ sewing machine was a Damascus Grand. It had copper fittings inside and when it need repair, there was only one old man in town who knew how to fix it. It perked away for years, keeping me and the girls presentable, eventually turning out clothes for the grandchildren. When it finally gave up the ghost, we made a lamp out of the head, which stands now in my studio.

We seldom throw things away, sometimes keeping them long after their usefulness is a memory. It is fortunate to have a friend of the same size and taste as your own, and closet cleaning is a fine time to share. Some years ago a friend called and asked if I could come help her clear out her closet. You can only do that with a close friend. At the end of the afternoon, glass of wine in hand, she decided she could bear to pass along a pair of light green sling back shoes I had admired. A few days later she knocked on my door at 7:30 a.m. to say she really wanted them back. What could I do? Sometimes we become too attached to our belongings.

So saying, I said a sad goodbye to my collection of ‘never-to-be-worn-again shoes by loading them into the trunk of a friend’s car. She is happy.


lunch box I happen to like PBJ sandwiches. It used to be only with grape jelly, but I graduated to strawberry some years ago. Fresh baked bread of course is primo, but in a pinch any bread will do.

Peanut butter and jelly remind me of the lunches my mother packed for me in my grammar school days. It was sometimes bologna with mayo; mustard came later when my palate matured, and avocado or left over baked beans made a good sandwich too. The very best as I remember was meat loaf. Each in their turn packed in a brown paper bag with my name clearly written on the front. They didn’t have the cute metal lunch boxes with cartoon characters on as yet. There was always an apple and a couple of cookies, and usually a screw cap jar with milk which had turned warm. Lucky we didn’t get ptomaine poisoning.

I asked Dr. Advice what he took when he was a wee tyke and his list was pretty much the same as mine. We were children at the same time after all. I think he was taken aback at avocado, baked beans and jealous at the meat loaf; he was probably more interested in playing than eating, which is his current persona.

I began to wonder what other people took for their childhood lunches, so I interviewed two friends while we were at lunch yesterday.

T. is from a farm family in Malta, one of 16 children, 8 boys and 8 girls, all carrying their lunches to school. Once at school, each carrying their own small spoon, they were given a graham cracker with jam, and the teacher poured cod liver oil into each spoon. I tried that with my kids by disguising it in orange juice. They have never forgiven me.

She had a hard boiled egg every day, and bread and jam. The bread was like foccacia with olive oil. It was wrapped in waxed paper and carried in a cloth bag. She usually traded the egg for a penny which she spent on candy! Maltese children traded off their lunches just as we did! I don’t remember getting any money for mine though.

T. is an accomplished seamstress, and when I asked her when she first learned to sew she said she always ate her lunch while sitting and sewing on the roof of the school with the principal!

J. went to a convent school in Jamaica, her father a gentleman farmer of English descent. A car came for her and her three brothers each morning, depositing them each at their individual schools.

Her sandwiches were of mashed sardines or potted meat and wrapped either in waxed paper or often in a slightly damp linen cloth, the weather being so very hot. There were no cookies or fruit, but a man brought in “patties”, which are small pastries filled with spicy meat, somewhat like a pasty. Very flaky and crumbly and wrapped in brown paper. They still make them, but they are now made with taro root and called coco bread. Though we have been to Jamaica a couple of times, I don’t remember the patties.

Though it was fun to reminisce, it wasn’t about the food as much as the memories, which it always is really. I wouldn’t trade my lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce for the PBJ or even the meat loaf sandwich, and the dessert wasn’t bad either.

“Lily White, Fiji” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen


Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s dying. So long ago and in another life. Sometimes it hardly seems as if she was here at all.

She was such a tiny wisp of a lady at only 4’11”, and gone too early before her 73rd birthday. My father had given her a snow mobile the winter before, which she drove through the snowy Oregon woods at top speed. They lived at Diamond Lake, Oregon during the summer months, and in Mexico during the winter. She took classes and learned to speak a passable Spanish, while my father simply pointed to what he wanted.

In her last year or two they remained in Oregon, buying a home in Brookings on the coast, but still spending a lot of time at the Lake, where she worked in the resort grocery store and ran a gift shop at the Lodge. She had never worked, always using possible poor health as her reason, but in her role as a “lady of some importance”, she bloomed. Earning her first money, she was able to spend something on herself. She had had very dark hair as a young person, but it began turning grey when she was only in her 20’s. It became a lovely white, and since she had an innate sense of color and style, she was as pretty as she had been when my father married her.

They married at the age of 19, and the love affair lasted through all those years, surviving the many absences caused by his Naval career, including five long years during WW II when he was at sea.

Though she never seemed to be a strong person, being overshadowed by my Grandmother, in whose home we lived, I’m sure she had a certain inner strength. During peacetime when we were often stationed in another place, I never heard her complain about starting a new home, however short a time we might be there. More often than not, she was given only a week or so to pack and move. She was a good seamstress, and if we happened to be living in a one-room apartment, which we sometimes were, she made curtains, bedspreads, etc. to make it as pretty as she could. I often had a small cot on one side of the room, and if possible, she hung a dividing curtain between my side and theirs.

When we were stationed in Connecticut at the Submarine base, my father did not want to live on the Base, so they found a rather ramshackle place out in the country which we called home for the next 2 years. It had been a trailer, to which a room had been added. There was no running water, a wood stove and an outhouse a distance away. It sounds awful, and it may have been, but they were the happiest 2 years of my childhood. I have often wondered why that should be. My Grandmother’s rooming house was large and in a fine neighborhood, and the Auntie with whom I often lived during a great deal of my childhood had a lovely home. But we were all together, and my little mother was happy, which was not always the case.

She was given her grandmother’s name, and I was given hers. My Granddaughter is also a Kate, so she will not be forgotten. After she died, I came across a small slip of paper she had tucked away which said “I hope if they remember me they will say I was fun”.