A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY


I always knew that I had to write about Uncle Henry; one of those uncommon men who enter your life quietly and remind you that goodness abounds in unlikely places.

Uncle Henry married my mother’s sister, Aunt Corrine, in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1950’s when both were working for Aramco. It was a fortunate union for both of them.

During the 1950’s I was involved with family and work, so I missed most of the good stuff as I like to call their life over there, but later, when they returned to their native soil after 30 years overseas, I caught up.

Henry Alisch was born in New Jersey to a German-American family, and whose cheerful Bavarian mother was often ill. Henry, much like his mother in personality, was her loving caregiver.

Late in the 1920’s when he finished high school, he and his best friend met a man who gave them his business card and offered them jobs in the movies if they wanted to come out to California.

Saying goodbye to family and New Jersey, they hopped a train and came to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they presented the business card to the person at the gate of the movie studio, they found that their benevolent “producer” no longer worked at the studio.

Friendless and out of cash, they quickly found jobs as bell boys at one of the hotels in downtown Beverly Hills, where they were paid 25 cents plus tips per bag to carry them up to the rooms. Both boys being good looking and personable, they amassed a small stash of extra cash.

Lindbergh had already made his flight across the ocean in the last decade, and the barnburners were on each corner offering flying lessons for $5.00 each to eager young men. Feeling brave and optimistic, Henry, or Hank as he began to be called, took a few lessons and got his pilot’s license.

The war had started in Canada, and Hank’s friend went off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Henry’s eyesight prevented him from joining up, but he spent four years in MATS, Military Air Transport Service, ferrying planes to Europe during the war. Being highly intelligent, he became an expert in airplane maintenance.

In 1946 the War was over and Henry saw an ad for Airplane Tech, top pay, overseas. Knowing he was qualified, and looking for new adventure, he stepped off the DC-3 and onto the hot tarmac in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia into 124 degree heat. Wishing him well as they picked up their suitcases and stepped onto the waiting airplane were two young men on their way back home.

Aramco, or American Arabian Oil Co. had a few planes, and Hank was in charge of their maintenance. Dhahran had an American community where he met a beautiful blonde secretary who had arrived in 1949. On a two year contract with Standard Oil of California; this was my Aunt Corrine.

For the next 30 years they lived an exciting life while traveling around Europe for work and pleasure. While Aramco had very few planes when Henry arrived, through the years that number greatly increased. They went often to the Rolls Royce factory in England, and to the Hague to KLM Royal Dutch Airline to check up on engines and parts for the Aramco planes.

During their travels, my Aunt, who had extraordinarily good taste, was able to collect first edition books in England, lovely Persian rugs, handmade furniture in Copenhagen, and china wherever she found it.

Children were only allowed to stay until they reached high school age, and my cousin went off to school in Cannes, France. Years later, while shopping a younger woman remarked on my gold bracelets. When I mentioned Saudi, she immediately said “Oh, Aramco!” I asked where she had gone to boarding school and she had been sent to London.

In 1953 Corrine and Henry’s son Kendall was born. Kendy was Henry’s first born child, and with Down Syndrome it was apparent that he needed help. Henry’s early skills as a caregiver kicked in and through the years he devoted much of his time lovingly trying to give Kendy a happy life. While my Aunt was frustrated much of the time, Henry never tired of taking care of Kendy before he went to live in a school in California.

Years later, after they had moved to Brookings, Oregon, Henry looked at his computer and saw a puzzling message from a long lost and nearly forgotten friend. “Hey, are you the same Hank Alisch who went out to California from New Jersey and learned to fly?” His boyhood friend had found him on the internet.

There are things a born caregiver knows that the rest of us don’t. They know if you need your pillow plumped, or a bite of out of season fruit, or whether you want to talk or just sit and stare at the empty TV. Henry Alisch knew all that, and when each of my parents became ill, they were living next door to Henry and Corrine in Brookings, Oregon, he was able to give them care which I could not while living in California. Later on, after their passing, my Aunt needed someone kind and loving to help her through the days, Henry Alisch was there. They both passed at the ages of 98 and 99. I’m glad I knew you Henry Alisch, you helped me through the pain of losing my parents and were a kind and altruistic friend.

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AT HOME IN THE LITTLE DIOMEDES


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“Inuit Mother and Baby” watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Returning from a trip to Nome, Alaska some years ago, Dr. Advice brought back two black and white photographs which had been taken in 1913; one of a handsome young man bundled into his furs, and another of his wife, lovingly cuddling her baby in the hood of her fur parka. They were of an Inuit family living in the Little Diomedes, a group of islands off the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. These Little Diomedes Inuit are actually Danish citizens, and speak not only English, but Danish, French, Russian and various other languages. I found them so appealing that I did sculptures and paintings of both of them.
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Sitting in our sunny garden this morning with a latte and watching a small hummingbird perform an acrobatic flip on the feeder, I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy about living here in this moderate Mediterranean-type climate. The snow has never to my knowledge, buried this house, nor prevented me from walking to a grocery store if I could.

Yet for some reason, I also thought of the large group of people who live far north in the Arctic, and who somehow live just as satisfying a life; marrying, raising a family and who have repeated this cycle for a millennium.

Nevertheless, I’m not trading places. I like it just fine right here, and when our excuse for winter weather arrives, I will turn the furnace up a notch and make another latte while I challenge Dr. Advice to another game of gin rummy.

MINNIE AND MICKEY GOT MARRIED


Minnie and Mickey got married and joy reigned supreme in the magical kingdom! After 27 years of singlehood, raising two fine children and carving out a very successful business career, our youngest daughter Cori, (aka Minnie) was married in a beautiful countryclub setting to Jim, (aka Mickey), surrounded by both families, and over 100 nearest and dearest.
As a first date, she invited him to a Halloween party, where they won first prize dressed as Minnie and Mickey mouse, whiskers, ears and all. If a new date can withstand that introduction, he must be a keeper!
Cori has a sense of fun which she imparts to everyone she meets. Instead of one “best” friend, everyone she meets feels as if they are her best friend. She is always there for everyone in sickness and in sharing happiness.
In Jim , she found a partner who has the same spirit of fun, and with whom she can share her love of travel, skiing, biking, hiking, kayaking, and golf., as well as just sitting by the fire and watching old movies.
It was a fairy tale occasion on a perfect evening in the Northwest, and made even more special as one of her oldest friends officiated in the ceremony, incorporating the words of an ancient Native American blessing into the ceremony. Her sister from Southern California, was the matron of honor, and Jim’s best friend, whom he has known since elementary school, was his best man.

Cori and Jim have a special affinity for Hawaii, and friends sent orchid and maile leis which helped decorate the cake table. Hawaiian music played softly during the ceremony.
After dinner and a great coconut cake, everyone (including Dr. Advice and I) danced up a storm.

I have never felt a such a palpable sense of joy as was being sent forth around a room as it was for Minnie and Mickey’s wedding!
May the blending of these two families bring happiness, more joy, peace and contentment and fun for the rest of their lives. AHO

Cori and Jim with her children


Dr. Advice, Cori and Me

THE FRAGRANCE OF MEMORY


Long Beach, California in my childhood was a beach town, an oil town, and a sailor town. The memory of odors is very rich.

We lived a few blocks from the beach, within easy walking distance for a child, and the smell of the ocean is like perfume to me. The Pike was an esplanade with rollercoaster, merry-go-round, and all sorts of shops, etc. which led onto the beach, and the smells of hamburgers, cotton candy and salt water taffy beckoned a hungry kid with a dime in her pocket. It was the time of the Great Depression, and if you couldn’t scrape up a dime, you took a tuna sandwich made with lots of pickle relish in your pocket.

Oil had been discovered on Signal Hill and aside from the oil derricks decorating the top of the hill, it gave off an unmistakeable scent.

The Port of Long Beach has always been an important one, and home to the Navy, and the place from which my father departed and returned frequently. On the occasions when we dined aboard my father’s ship on a Sunday afternoon, I was allowed to steer the shore boat.

In our small neighborhood the ice man delivered, and the man who tarred the many cracks in the street came with his smelly hot oil, which if you waited till it hardened, you might steal a piece to chew on. The Red train ran straight up the middle of American Ave. where we lived, and took you to Los Angeles, where my Great-Aunt picked us up. In their great wisdom, someone tore it out some years ago. I always thought it had a distinctive and exciting odor. Maybe it was the smell of anticipation.

There were always fresh fragrant oranges, ripe figs off the tree, and a penny candy store which smelled divine. A nickel bought a lot of candy, and there was a dentist right there who gave out sample tubes of Ipana toothpaste, which if you never smelled it, consider yourself lucky.

Each morning after my mother tortured my straight hair into Shirley Temple curls with a curling iron heated on the gas stove, and with the smell of hot hair still in my nostrils, I ate breakfast alone and went off to school. My only friend in the neighborhood was Gail Hollandsteiner, whose father was a banker, and who I thought must have been rich because her mother slept late every day, thus allowing Gail to trick the maid into thinking she had actually eaten her breakfast. I tried it at home, but my mother got up early, so it didn’t work.

Larraine Day was an early movie star who lived next door to Gail, and we always hoped she could get us jobs in the movies. That didn’t work either.

The Long Beach of today has nearly half a million people in its confines, the neighborhood I grew up in is mostly industrial now, and the Pike has been replaced by the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction. Whoever coined the phrase “You can’t go back” was right.

HUNTERS vs. GATHERERS


The Old Arrowmaker, w/c by KSR

Hunting season is practically a religion with some people.  My father was a deer huner.  He tried very hard to convince me that if the herds were not controlled, they would starve to death in winter.  That may be true, but if I were a deer, I’d rather go hungry than to see all those maniacs running through my forest dressed up in their camo and crazy red hats, and waving the latest model rifle my way.  Of course the deer do make a game of it by hiding behind bushes and trees and making the hunter work for every shot.

Hunters spend a lot of time readying themselves for the hunt.  Cave man simply had to pick up his club and grunt goodbye to his wife.  But today’s hunters go into a fervor getting properly outfitted in the attire of the proper hunt.

A number of years ago, two young grandsons retreated to their ancient memory of the Hunter.  Armed with new bows and arrows, camping gear and boys,  we set off for a spot near Lake Almanor in Northern Caifornia to take them on their primeval deer hunting experience.

Dr. Advice and I are not hunters, unless you consider a sale at Nordstrom in my case.  We have done a great deal of scrounging the depths searching for fish, and he did some pheasant and duck hunting in the past, but I don’t think we could be considered part of the Hunter economy.

Day One of the hunt.  With a number of other seasoned hunters readying themselves in the campground, the boys dressed in their new camo clothing, dirtied up their faces, pocketed their compass,and as a final addition, sprayed on  Fox Urine!  (It was described in more colorful language).  It is female fox hormone and smells so bad you will never forget it, but is supposed to attract prey.  However, how fox hormone can attact deer is beyond me, don’t they have their own scent?

We drove them to the dropping off point, and set the pickup time.  Since they had no watch, I gave the youngest one my “Rolex” watch to wear.

We arrived at the appointed time to find both hunters sitting on the side of the road, the youngest one with tears running down his face, saying he had lost my “Rolex”.

I could have let him suffer, but instead I told the truth, that it was a phony his Dad had given me anyway.  I told them the good thing was that some hunter was going to find it and think he had found the real McCoy, saying to his wife “Honey I didn’t get a deer, but I found a real Rolex!”

As a dyed- in- the- wool Gatherer, I fed them large plates of “Hamburger Helper” and told them to wash their faces.

CHILDREN OF THE DESERT


While attending a conference in New Mexico some years ago, my friend Georgia Abeita and I were pleased to be invited to a celebration where numerous young dancers performed in the costume of their various tribes.

There was lots of green chile stew and fry bread, and great platters of melon of all sorts.  There were dozens of displays of artwork for sale, including great pottery, basketry and blankets.  Far too much to take in in an afternoon although we gave it a good shot, and ended up happily leaving a little money by the end of the day.

But the excitement of the day for me came with the colorful dancers, with their feathers, beadwork and deerskin boots all moving in unison to the insistent beat of the drummers who sat alongside the circle of dancers.  Lots of tribal elders had their usual suspicious frowns, watching to make sure no one was photographing, which is always a bit nerve-racking, as you need to keep your cameras out of sight until the dance is over.

There were young men and women from all over the Southwest mingling and laughing together as young kids do until the serious business of dance began.  Then they arranged themselves naturally into the circle dance and gracefully flowed into the age-old steps with lovely looks of concentration on their beautiful faces.  The various tribes and villages were recognizable not only by their dress, but sometimes by their distinctive features.  Pueblo, Kiowa, Plains Indians of many tribes were represented, and the color was amazing as they passed by.

At the end of the dance, when talking to some of the dancers, I was given permission to photograph, and came away with these two young people which I painted when I returned to my studio.

The sweetness of the girl contrasted greatly with the wonderfully arrogant expression of the boy, who had not not yet  become confident in his young manhood.

O’Odham Tash  watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen                                                                                         Black Eagle, Kiowa  watercolor by KSR

THE HAT THAT WENT EVERYWHERE


A Hat That Goes Everywhere/  watercolor/  KSR

She was my paternal grandmother’s much younger half-sister, and probably in her day, she would have been known as a “fine figure of a woman”.

She was large-boned, though not fat, with a full, well-shaped bosom, strong arms, and sturdy legs.  I remember her as a rather homely woman with large teeth who smiled a lot and was fun to be around.  On top of short, wispy grey hair she wore a hat that went everywhere, which was crocheted of an ecru string, and had a brim which was wired on the edge to make it stand out.  She looked terribly home-made and out-of-date, but I’m sure she felt she looked quite smart.

She belonged to many of the social clubs that country women often delight in and would plop her hat onto her head and head five miles into town for the day.  Since she owned a great deal of the town, she probably conducted business on a lot of those days.

She was a lover of animals, at that time especially a red Australian shepherd named Bounce, whom she insisted could talk.  I know we all say that about smart or clever dogs who live with us, but she actually believed Bounce could enunciate words.  He slept beside the old wood stove and groaned out his messages when she began a conversation.  Since she was also a devotee of Yahtzee, of which we played endless games, maybe the messages came through Bounce.  At any rate, Bounce was a jolly companion after her husband, Jean passed away.

Each year Bounce led the annual gladioli  parade through downtown Grants Pass, Oregon, carrying a basket of gladioli.  He was a town fixture, and everybody knew Bounce.

My grandmother and Aunt Hazel had the same mother though different fathers.  I always thought of her as being old, and was surprised to learn that she had gone to high school with my aunt Arlene, my father’s sister.

She had a brother, Uncle Charlie, who owned a pool hall in Grants Pass, where I remember going for an ice cream cone when I was visiting the Oregon relatives.   My mother said that Charlie’s daughter, Doris had been a prostitute, but to be fair, I don’t think that is entirely true, because no one really knew for sure.  My mother was prone to see a too-short skirt or bleached hair as being a sure indication of a loose woman.

Sadly, Uncle Charlie committed suicide by running a hose from his exhaust pipe into his car.  I never heard what happened to Doris.

Finally the old cabin Hazel and Jean had lived in was torn down and she built a new place of cement brick which was a bit larger than the first and even had a studio.  I think the only art work she ever did in it was some pressed flowers, but nevertheless, it had lots of windows looking out over beautiful fields toward the Rogue River, and she could have done more had she wanted to.

After Bounce died, Hazel began collecting cats.  I never knew how many there were at any one time, but my daughter says there must have been a hundred, which probably is a childhood overestimation.

I don’t think it would be a stretch of the imagination to say that Hazel was a true eccentric.  My cousin called her  a “nice ‘ol Auntie”, which is a lovely tribute, and I hope someone says that about me someday.