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.

TO BE A STAR


Shirley Temple

In my grandmother’s eyes, I was destined to be a star. Fortunately no one else’s eyes were aimed in the same direction.

Hollywood, in the decade of the 1930’s during the height of the Great Depression, made cheerful, happy musicals; such as those featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, and most important to my grandmother—Shirley Temple. It seemed almost like there was a new Shirley Temple film a month, and we saw them all. If you lived within a radius of 50 miles near Hollywood, especially in the early days, you were aware of the movies wherever you looked. They were cheap, and every kid went to the Saturday matinee for a dime.

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baby parade When I unexpectantly won the Long Beach Baby Parade in my silver lame body suit and cleverly concocted wire top hat, the three women in my family; my mother, grandmother and aunt, decided that I had unforeseen talent. And so I went to dancing class along with all the other untalented five year olds, where we practiced our step, shuffle steps and our five year old struts in our shiny new black patent leather tap shoes, under the watchful eyes of devoted mothers and grandmothers.

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My father was a Navy man, and we lived with my grandmother when he was at sea. Occasionally when he came briefly into port in San Diego my mother joined him and I stayed behind. During those periods, I was sent to stay with my Grandmother’s sister Aunt Georgia.

Aunt Georgia was a serious no-nonsense Yankee, so when I took up residence, my Shirley Temple curls were cut in a Dutch Boy style, and the patent leather shoes were replaced with practical Buster Browns. But on Sunday afternoons we went to the movies to see Shirley Temple.

first day of school kayti lou

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I had a love and a mild talent for singing, and when I was thirteen Grandma again zeroed in on the idea of stardom. I had an audition with a voice coach in Hollywood who worked with Deanna Durbin, who was then making light-hearted films such as “Three Smart Girls” and “Every Sunday” with Judy Garland. She was a Canadian lyric soprano and though I was a mezzo soprano, her coach agreed to take me. There was one small drawback; his fee was out of our price range at that time, and so we opted for a local voice teacher.

I studied for five or six years until I got married when we all had to admit that I was not going to be a star.

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Many years later my husband and I attended a high school class reunion of mine and across the room I recognized my old singing teacher. Still tall and thin, but now wearing a tip-tilted toupee, with rouged cheeks and lips, he seemed strangely pathetic. Rushing over to him I introduced myself by my maiden name. He seemed not to recognize my name, though we had worked together for several years and he had given me choice roles in a couple of operettas. He peered at me a few minutes then said as he turned away “Your voice must not have impressed me very much.”

I was embarrassed, thinking back to the hardship it must have caused my family to raise the money to pay him for my lessons. I glared at him and though both my mother and grandmother had been gone for some time, I said “My mother is not going to want to hear that!” He countered with “Well, you’ve got a sense of humor.”

Sorry grandma—I never got to be a star.