Monday, July 16, 2018

The Leering Sphere or The Bomb in New Mexico


Today July 16, 2018, is the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico.

Santa Fe Opera interpretation of The Gadget -- "Dr. Atomic" 2018 Season

This titanium sphere -- or was it stainless steel? -- hung menacingly over the entire production of Peter Sellars' and John Adams's "Dr. Atomic" which opened at Santa Fe Opera last night [July 14], shortly before the 73rd anniversary of the detonation of the world's first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range (then the  Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range.)

The Gadget as it was called, memories of The Gadget, the enormity of what was created at Los Alamos -- a bare 25 miles from the semi-outdoor Opera House ("the audience can see Los Alamos from their seats" quoth librettist and director Peter Sellars in one of the talks we heard before the performance), and the aftermath of the atomic bomb test at Trinity Site, July 16, 1945, some 200 miles south of Los Alamos resonate profoundly in New Mexico, in some ways more profoundly than anywhere else in the world except Japan.

There were far more US nuclear tests outside Las Vegas, NV, and in the Pacific than in New Mexico (just one -- the first one --that we know of in our backyard) but ultimately the atmospheric tests elsewhere became a kind of twisted Cold War entertainment - "whoa, wouldja lookit that!" -- that was sometimes shown to school kids before their Duck and Cover exercises to scare the  shit out of them (how well I remember.)

"Dr. Atomic" deals with the tragic story of Dr. J, Robert Oppenheimer ("Oppie") at Los Alamos and Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the hours leading up to the first atomic bomb test and its echoes through time to today. 

It's a complex story that doesn't exist in linear time, and apparently the complexity and non-linearity as well as the often jarring contemporary musical score can be off-putting to some opera-goers though it wasn't apparent opening night. It was a full house. The audience's attention was as intense as the music and performances. The response was enthusiastic.

I overheard one rather fancy looking woman talking during intermission: "My friend told me I wouldn't like it. Well, I rather think I do," she said. Indeed.

I can't say I "liked" it, no. But I will say I was quite taken with it and had no problem staying for its 3 hours and 20 minute length (with intermission) and the interminable after performance getting-out-of the-parking-lot minuet. (I said to one of the parking boys, "At this rate, we'll be here all night." He grinned and said, "That's only because my co-workers are incompetent. Have a safe trip home!!" Chuckle,)

We got home at 2:45 am tired but moved.

We've been semi-immersed in the story of nuclear weapons and the struggle against them in New Mexico for as long as we've been here, for almost as long as we've been coming here (more than 35 years now). I've written several pieces about it, about visiting Trinity site, about going to Los Alamos, about duck and cover, and so on and so forth. No one of my generation escaped fear of the looming mushroom cloud. It was the defining image of the post WWII era, one that seems to have been largely forgotten now or set aside by the younger generations. Thoughts of nuclear annihilation, instant incineration, barely reach consciousness except under the most extraordinary circumstances these days. And then the images seem to be off the mark.

Hardly anyone seems to understand what a nuclear weapon is or does anymore. And maybe that's a good thing.

Peter Sellars said he tried to maintain the classical tragic unities of time and place, and he tried to tell the story of the tragedy of what happened not just to Oppenheimer but for many of those who worked on developing The Bomb and of course for the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died as a result of its use.

It's pointed out during the opera that many more Japanese civilians died during the firebombings of Tokyo and Yokahama that preceded the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To say, then, an atom bomb is a unique horror is something of a stretch, no? No, it's not a stretch at all when one bomb can cause in an instant more destruction than thousands dropped over a period of hours or days.

The scientists at Los Alamos agonized over the use of nuclear weapons, and hundreds tried to convince Washington authorities not to use the creation of their laboratories on populations -- ever, if possible. Of course, then and now, there was a contrary faction who dearly wanted to use nuclear weapons, not just for effect, either.

Particularly torn by his creation was J. Robert Oppenheimer himself. A point is made that he is driven mad by what he has created. He never fully recovers, and in a sense, his creation kills him -- as well as many, many more.

Sellars reconceived the production for Santa Fe. For one thing, the production takes place within sight of Los Alamos (if you look hard!), and within hailing distance of Trinity. Those of us who live here and have paid attention know these places and these stories rather well. Earlier productions (we have a DVD of one, I believe it was in Amsterdam) focused more on the story telling than on its meaning, and they were visualized much more completely. The DVD production uses a close replica of The Gadget that is brought out at a particular time to be hoisted onto the tower, whereas in Santa Fe the Sphere that represents The Gadget and much else is never not there; its presence looming -- and leering -- throughout.

Sellars said the shiny Sphere was meant to reflect the audience, but it doesn't really do that (at least not from where we were sitting in cheap seats toward the back of the orchestra section.) What it reflected instead were the lights on stage which had the effect of creating many different facial expressions, from evil and bloodthirsty to almost benign. It was remarkable and mesmerizing. The picture above was taken by your correspondent some time before the beginning of the performance, and it is one of the many instances when the "eyes" of the Sphere gazed impassively on the scene before it.

In this production, too, Sellars made a conscious and mostly successful effort to include Native Americans on stage and integrated into the story in somewhat the same way they were part of the story of the creation of the Bomb. This is Indian Country, the events happened in Indian Country, and the effects are still felt throughout Indian Country -- particularly on the uranium miners in Navajoland and at Laguna Pueblo. That deadly effect is not dealt with directly in the opera. Sellars was asked by a Diné gentleman at one of the talks whether he'd included the miners, and he wouldn't answer directly. He said something about the "effects on everyone then and now" are included, but that isn't what he was asked. In fact, there is no mention of miners at all. There is only passing mention of Downwinders -- people who were unwittingly affected by the fallout from the Trinity test,. But at least they are there -- actual Downwinders on stage -- along with dancers from the Tesuque, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos. They performed a ceremonial corn dance prior to the performance of the opera -- as a healing gesture -- and then returned in the second act as a Presence, representing the Original Peoples upon whom and among whom but not by whom this monstrosity of war was created and perpetrated.

The presence of the Indians helped to ground the production but I felt they were not integrated into it the way  they might have been -- and that that was probably their choice. It's not their story, and they're not telling. They could and one day probably will tell their own story, though, and it will be quite different.

As we were making our way to the parking lot before the performance, there were sheriffs deputies along the road, signs saying "Ticket holders only beyond this point" and at the entrance to the parking lot a young man asked to see our tickets. He said there were protests expected, and they had to check. Hm. As we were making our way from the parking lot to the Opera House, a young man in the high priced parking area near the venue asked that we take some literature  from the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition protesting the production and the proposed increase in nuclear weapons development in New Mexico. This was intended, said the literature, to make New Mexico the sole production site for "plutonium pits" -- something I'd never heard of -- that were the essential cores of nuclear bombs.

They were protesting the production because they saw it as a celebration of nuclear weapons and war.

Uh. No. It's not. Far from it. That's the thing about tragedy. It doesn't celebrate.





Monday, July 9, 2018

117

Early 50s Color
[July 5 would have been my father's 117th birthday.]

The faded Kodachrome above was among the 100 or so of my family photos we brought back with us from California on our quick trip in May. Ms. Ché probably has quite a few more of her family and adventurous life photos to sort through.

The picture was taken in Santa Maria in 1951. I had a sudden flash of memory and recalled an address. Googling, I discovered the picture was taken on the front lawn of the duplex where my mother, sister and I lived at the time. I was three years old. My father had come to visit from Iowa. He was a lawyer. He always wore a suit. I don't remember him ever wearing casual clothes.

This particular visit is burned in my memory. My memory, however, is often faulty. What I don't recall are the other visits my father made to California after my parents divorced and my mother, sister and I moved back to my sister's birthplace, the town where my mother grew up. He apparently came out to California at least once a year between 1949 and 1951, and there are hints in some of my mother's letters to him that he visited more often in 1950 and 1951.

What I never knew until recently was that he had several siblings in California -- in fact, practically all of them had left Iowa and lived in California by 1951, including his older brother who lived in Santa Barbara, three sisters in the Bay Area, and two younger brothers in Los Angeles. Two sisters continued to live with or near my father in Iowa until their deaths.

I don't think he ever returned to California after that visit. I went to Iowa a couple of times later on, but I did not enjoy it. I can understand why so many of my aunts and uncles left and why my mother hated it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

She was the only brown person there





I may have mentioned that Ms Ché spent the last three weeks at the Naropa University Summer Writing Program ("The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics"). She just returned yesterday, her flip phone (sometimes called a Rez phone) loaded with photos of her adventure, her bags filled with papers and books from her workshops and instructors. She did not visit Allen Ginsberg's grave (well, the depository of a third of his ashes on the Shambhala mountainside two hours from Boulder.) She's an Old Lady, aka Elder, now. Climbing that mountain was not either necessary or physically possible for her. Oh well!

On Saturday, students from the Summer Writing Program assembled on Pearl Street in historic Boulder, Colorado, to participate in the nationwide -- actually international -- demonstrations: "Families Belong Together."

It's been a long time since she took to the streets -- I've been much more active on that front, though not lately. She said she looked around and realized she was the only brown person marching and carrying signs that morning in Boulder, though the Latino garbage collectors tooted their horns as the modest multitude of mostly Anglos marched by. I've seen reports that that was the case in many other locations too -- Anglo allies marching and chanting on behalf of the mostly Central American families separated at the border by order of the regime in Washington, an order carried out by the more and more notorious Gestapo-like border patrol and immigration cops who seem to relish their freedom to harm their victims.

Given the tensions of the time, it's understandable if brown people chose to stay away from some of the demonstrations. They might be targets. When Ms. Ché stopped for a moment along the route of the march in Boulder, a man sidled up to her and whispred, "Better watch out that some yahoo doesn't run his car into the march." Yep True enough. These are the times we live in.

There's been some discussion about why some -- or many? -- Native Americans have been supportive of the migrants who have been so cruelly abused in the current roundups and family separations. After all, weren't the Indians overrun by immigrants back in the day? Shouldn't they want to keep them out now? (Besides, Hillary!, Obama!, etc.)

Ms. Ché's father was a non-white immigrant; her mother was full-blood Cherokee. Her mother was sent to Indian boarding school from the first to the eighth grade. Her father faced the kind of racial and new-comer discrimination that has infected this country from the outset. Many Natives do support the current migrants ("legal" or not) because they understand the suffering so many have experienced, and because so many of those are being abused at the southern border are indigenous peoples. There were no borders before the white folks invented them.

People migrated from place to place throughout the Americas before the white folks came and divided the land into countries with secure borders. People who needed help got help in most cases. People from elsewhere were often integrated or adopted into the tribes who offered them assistance. This is not to over glamorize Native society. It wasn't necessarily rainbows and unicorns, but there wasn't the routine sorts of cruelty we've been seeing from the Trump government (and previous ones.)

So Natives are not inclined to follow the government's lead regarding the current migrant crisis. Regardless of who occupies the White House.

Colorado still has a lot of cruel history to deal with, and progress hasbeen slow. The demonstration in Boulder was small, but the one in Denver was huge. For Ms. Ché, her participation in the Boulder demonstration was an important statement. She has plenty to say about the bullshit infecting the country. And she'll do her part...

[Meant to post this yesterday, but life intervened ... 😎😎]

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

For some reason, there are a lot of Christmas pictures among the ones we brought back from California. I guess most families take pictures at Christmas time, but the focus on that particular holiday seems like a function of the era. Christmas was the time to take pictures. It was special. It was only.

There are a number of photos of me posed in front of the Christmas tree taken year by year: 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1952. This is the first one, and it's probably the only one I will post.

Christmas Kid
There are more pictures of the tree than there are of me so don't get the wrong idea. We would see the same general pictures each Christmas until I was four, then they stop. In fact, there are very few pictures of me taken at any time after the age of four. Don't know why, but that's the way it is.

My mother is holding me up in the picture above. I recall the bracelet she is wearing. It was her mother's, rather baroque, silver and turquoise, but not Native American. It may have been Turkish. Or an American design.  From the 1920s. The turquoise stones were intricately carved, and they may not have been turquoise at all. The bracelet was part of a set that included a necklace and earrings. My mother wore the bracelet frequently, but she rarely wore the other pieces. [I've studied the picture more carefully. It's not a bracelet. It's her watch, a tiny Hamilton on a braided cord wristband. I remember both the bracelet and the watch quite clearly, and in this case confused the two.]

She also liked to wear a ring that had been given to her by her mother shortly before she died in 1941. It was topaz and diamonds mounted in filigree white gold. Topaz was my mother's birthstone. She's wearing the ring in the picture of the two of us after returning home from the hospital after my birth.

The Shiny-Brite ornaments, the tinsel, the carefully wrapped packages stacked all around the bottom of the tree, the tree itself -- always a cut tree, never artificial -- would be repeated over and over again with little or no variation. This one was perhaps the most luxurious tree of the Christmases I have pictures of, but the others come close. It was a ritual, an important one in our household, even when the household broke apart as it would repeatedly.

We have a tree up all the time in New Mexico to honor Ms. Ché's mother -- who loved Christmas more than anything. In front of our all the time Christmas tree is a company of nutcrackers, manifesting our own admiration for Tchaikovsky and the quirky "Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment" presented annually by the Festival Ballet of Albuquerque.

The tree we have up all the time is artificial of course, but it has a selection of antique Shiny-Brite ornaments (a few saved from childhood, others collected over the years) as well as modern imitations/interpretations, but mostly it's ornamented with New Mexico keepsakes such as St. Francis, cats, road runners, rabbits, prairie dogs, etc.

And no tinsel. Well, we have cats, and cats love Christmas trees, especially hangy things on trees that they can pull off and eat. In the old days, Christmas tinsel was made of thin strips of tin or lead, and of course was poisonous. Now it's made of plastic, Mylar, and is potentially equally deadly. So we don't use it.

Enough of this reminiscing for now.

There are things going on in the wider world that may need some attention.

I understand, for example, that Trump is terrified the Democrats will abolish his Gestapo, ICE. Aww. Poor baby...










Thursday, June 28, 2018

Feeding Baby


Feeding Time 1948
Things got better the way they sometimes do. Here I am grinning ear to ear around Christmastime 1948 while my mother tries to find and pick up something I've thrown on the floor.  It was not the first nor will it be the last time I threw something on the floor while sitting in my high chair.

I'm not sure I remember this particular high chair -- although it seems sort of familiar. The one I remember clearly was painted white and had a flower decal on the seat back. This one could be it, if my mother packed it into the trunk of the Packard Clipper with her various house dresses and Cuban heel shoes, and then painted it, but somehow I doubt she did that. More likely she used some of the money she got from my father in the divorce to buy a new high chair along with various other furnishings when we got to California. I know that some of her friends gave her furniture and other household items when we got settled in.

This picture was taken in the kitchen of my father's house in Iowa. I remember that room as being the largest in the house. It was in a one story addition on the back of the house, an addition that was almost as wide as the house and about 12 feet deep, not counting the screen porch.

This is a Google street view picture of the backside of the house taken in 2013. The kitchen is the part with the french doors beyond the triple window.


The room wasn't that wide when I was a tot. Beyond the french door -- which was a window back in the day -- there was a screen porch that was later glassed in and here you see it is completely enclosed.



They cleaned me up after feeding me, and here I sit on my father's lap after a good scrubbing.

Some of the things on the  bookshelf are intriguing. The photo I believe is of my (half) brother Terry whose mother died giving birth to him in the hot summer of 1935. If that's who it is, it is the only picture of him I've ever seen.

There is a laughing Buddha figure on the same shelf and a Chinese enamel vase or perfume bottle. My mother took the Buddha and vase when we left Iowa in 1949 and they were on a different bookshelf in our various houses for many years. I still have the bookshelf, but not that laughing Buddha. I have another, much larger one that sits on a Chinese style knick-knack shelf along with a seated Buddha and various other things of that sort. I also have a similar Chinese vase. These are not things I consciously acquired. They "just happened."

I have some of the books from my father's house, including some that are in the shelf seen above.

And then it was time to take a spin in the runabout stroller.
Let's go strolling 


I remember that particular stroller, and it may have come with us to California on that long drive in the Packard on Route 66 the next year. How much stuff could fit in that car anyway?

Things seemed to be working out, but no.

We'll get to that another time.

-- To be continued





Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Child Is Born

So the Blessed Event finally happened. Here I am in my mother's arms -- well on her lap -- the day the two of us came home from the hospital:

Mother and Child
My, my. I don't look happy and neither does she. Well, I don't think she was; as for me? Who knows.

Many years later, my mother told me that when she first saw me, she was shocked. She said I was all red and had some kind of scrofula all over my skin. You can see what looks like a white patch on my forehead. I believe it was an ointment put on at the hospital. There's something called "crib cap" that babies sometimes have, and that may have been what I had.

She also said I cried and cried pretty much all the time. Not the best of debuts, eh?

Though the fancy new windows are open, I've noticed there are no fans blowing through the house on these hot August days and nights. That surprises me. Electric fans were not uncommon in those days, and their absence that summer must have compounded the misery. Years later, my father would install upstairs and  downstairs window air conditioners, but I can't say they cooled the house particularly well in the hot and humid Iowa summer time. He changed out the coal furnace for gas too, but the smell of coal lingered in the house, and some of his things I brought back to California after he died and have here in New Mexico now still smell of that coal furnace all these years later.

Hot and sweaty with a crying, scrofula covered new-born, my mother was not happy those first few months after delivering me. My sister was a teenager in high school at the time, and she would wind up looking after me as often as or more often than my mother did. She was, at least in my view, very good at it, but I would later learn of her resentment. After all, I wasn't her child, and besides, it wasn't fair to make a young girl like her the surrogate mother for... well, me.

So they told me my first few weeks were kind of rough as all sorts of conflicting interests and emotions collided that hot and muggy summer in Iowa. Things would start to settle down some by the fall.

--To be continued


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Reminisce

One of the purposes for going to California last month was to clean out stuff we'd had in storage in Sacramento for years and years. We probably got half of the contents removed -- either to the dump or to Goodwill. We brought back a few boxes of keepsakes including several dozen (actually maybe 100) of my family photographs, many of which I thought had been lost years ago.

The last few days I've been going through them, trying to organize them, emailing back and forth with a cousin in California (that I didn't know I had until recently) to try to figure out who some of the people are in early family photos, and trying to remember what was going on in some of the pictures of me taken when I was a few weeks old until I was perhaps five or so.

At first, I didn't recognize or remember many of the pictures, though I had seen them before. As I get older, my memory is getting worse and worse. But also, I haven't seen these pictures in years, some of them I'd only ever briefly glanced at.

So let's get started.

Happy Couple - 1


I call this "The Happy Couple - 1". My mother and father are sitting on a loveseat in my father's house in Iowa shortly before I was born. My mother is not obviously pregnant. There is an orange cat on the coffee table. I used to know the cat's name but I've forgotten. Don't ask me how I knew the cat's name before I was born, but there you go.

My mother seems happy in this picture. My father seems... anxious? I'd guess so. My mother was his third wife. He and his first wife got an annulment after ten years of marriage. Not sure what the deal was -- I didn't even know he'd had three wives until recently -- but it wasn't long afterwards that he married "TED"-- Thelma in 1934. He was wildly in love with her. I have some of his love poems and letters and such that he sent to her. They're very sweet and touching and seem almost like the words of a teenager encountering his First Love. My father was 33 when he and TED were wed.

Well, she died in childbirth in the summer of 1935. I'd known  about the tragic circumstances of her death pretty much all my life, as there was a constantly repeated story, but what I didn't know until recently was exactly when it happened. It was August 12, 1935.

The picture above was taken in 1948, on a hot and muggy August night, just days before I was born. If my father was anxious, I can easily imagine why for my birthdate is nearly the same as the date of TED's death -- a dozen or so years apart.

Some things about the house. It had been in my father's family for many years, and it was already old when my grandfather acquired it around 1900. This room may have been one of the original two rooms of the house and I'm guessing it was originally built in the 1840s or 1850s. It was old, almost a pioneer house in the area.

Over the years, it had been added to in several different directions. Eventually it came to resemble a rather grand Victorian with one of those Gothic arched windows made famous by Grant Wood:


By the time I was born, that window had been partially covered and made rectangular on the outside, but inside on the second floor, it was a near twin to the one in "American Gothic".

While the house appeared to be rather grand on the outside it was actually very small, almost a miniature house. It had been cut into upstairs and downstairs apartments sometime in the 1920s, and over the years, various members of my father's rather large family had taken up temporary residence there. My father inherited the house when his father died (actually, he bought it from his father's estate), and when I was born, the upstairs apartment was occupied by my father's youngest sister Eleanor. She lived there until she died in 1960.

Speaking of windows, the triple window in the upper picture was something my father did for my mother. When she first saw the house, she thought it was dark and dreary. She was from California, and she wanted light and air. She asked my father to put in more windows which he did. The triple window here and another wide triple window in the front room brought more light and air into the house and had a modernizing effect. I understand there had been a wraparound front porch as well, and that was removed at the same time the windows were installed and asbestos siding was put on. My mother was terrified of fire and always referred to this house as a firetrap even with asbestos siding.

The door on the right goes to a small entry hall. On the wall to the right of it (not seen) is a door to the front room which at the time served as my sister's bedroom. Later, it would be turned into the living room, and the pictured room would revert to a dining room which it had sometimes been in the past.

Another view from a different angle:

Happy Couple - 2

From this angle it's possible to get an idea how small this place really is. The room is about 10 feet wide and 12 or 13 feet long. The door on the left is the door to the front room. In the rear is the door to the bedroom. On the left inside the bedroom is a door to the bathroom. In between the desk in the foreground and the chair where my father sits with the orange cat in his lap is a door to the kitchen -- which is nearly blocked by my father's chair-side table.

It was cramped and yet it looks comfortable enough.

My mother told me it wasn't. She hated that house. She hated living there. She hated Iowa.

What she particularly hated was the summer heat and humidity and the god-awful smell of the place. It made her sick.

There was a Purina corn-processing plant in town and that plant stank to high heaven as corn was processed into various products including animal feed. There was no escape from the smell. There was no escape from the heat, no escape from the humidity.

For someone who had lived much of her life in coastal California, it was miserable. Misery was not my mother's favorite state.

Nevertheless she looks happy enough in these pictures taken by my sister a few days before I was born.

-- To be continued



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Llorar y llorar

Images of migrant remains -- seized and discarded at the border.

Please click through the entire slide show.

http://www.tomkiefer.com/2016/7/14/reinforced-water-bottle

Yes, and we can do these kinds of displays for all our many gulags at home and abroad.

Don't say this is not who we are. This is not who some of us are, but it is what the nation has become.




Thursday, June 7, 2018

On Returning to Sacramento for the First Time in Almost Six Years

What an adventure.

Strange as could be, though.

Both Ms. Ché and I have deep roots in Sacramento -- she was born there, I became a resident when I  was 10 or 11.

After being away for so long, though, much was still familiar, some was not. And one thing we both said was "this is not 'home'". And it isn't. It's a very important place in our lives, but it's not "home."

Sitting outside  of Gunther's having ice cream on an extraordinarily beautiful day



we thought that if we did live there, we'd have compensations.

Gunther's is an iconic neighborhood ice cream place that's been in Curtis Park for decades and decades. It's always been popular, but it seems to have become a fashion destination for the whole city in recent times.

We lived a few blocks south in this house


Small by today's standards, it was considered more than adequate when it was built in 1940. Two bedrooms, one bath, a living room with fireplace, dining room, kitchen, laundry room and hall, that was it. There is a porch behind the overgrown shrubs in front, and a two car detached garage at the rear of the lot. We lived there for over twenty years, and truthfully it was a very warm and welcoming home for us at the time. When we checked it out this time, it hadn't changed much since we moved. It looks like there have been a few interior renovations (kitchen at least) and central air conditioning has been added, but that's about it.

Across the street, this place still commanded the block.


I'm sure it's not the biggest house in the neighborhood, but it's close to it. Dorothy lived there as a widow with her two standard poodles until she died in the mid '90s. There was a big sale of her things and then the house was sold to a doctor and his boyfriend (I think they got married as soon as same sex marriage was legalized in California.) It's a beautiful house, no doubt about it, and like most of the others in the neighborhood, it's been largely preserved intact through the years. Occasional redecoration and infrequent kitchen and bath renovation are about all that happens to most of these places.

Nearby, one of Ms. Ché's work colleagues lived here:


This house had quite a history.  One day in the late '90's the housekeeper found the owner shot dead in a pool of blood in front of the fireplace. A few things of value had been taken from the house. At first it was assumed that a burglar had broken into the house and killed the owner before absconding with whatever it was that was stolen. 

However, soon enough, suspicion fell on the 16 year old boy the owner had taken in some weeks prior. Exactly what was going on with the two has never been entirely clear, but the boy was found in possession of some of the man's things at his grandmother's house not far away, and shortly he confessed to the murder, saying he had killed the man because he was being molested by him. Whether it was true or not could not be determined, but if I recall correctly, the boy was not tried as an adult and I believe was released from juvenile custody when he was 21. 

This is where my sister lived from 1956 to (about) 1963.

It was built by her then-husband's grandparents in 1924 from plans they apparently got from House Beautiful magazine. I know of at least two other examples built from this house  plan, one in upstate New York (I believe in Scarsdale) and one in Connecticut (Greenwich?). 

Until about 1961, my sister's then-husband's widowed grandmother lived in the house with my sister and her then two children. Though the house is large, it was becoming cramped and crowded what with all the children and their things as well as three adults, two of whom needed special care. My sister's then-husband was legally blind and his grandmother was in deteriorating health. 

Eventually, Grannyma went to live with her daughter in the Bay Area. As it happened, she outlived her daughter and died in a care home. The house (and another one she owned at Lake Tahoe) was put up for sale, and as I recall the Sacramento house was purchased by a doctor whose fancy house a few blocks away had become somewhat notorious for his over the top French decorating scheme. 


The houses are somewhat similar, though I believe the one above was built in 1928 or 29 and is actually smaller than the one he purchased from Grannyma's estate.

The house where my sister and her then husband and children lived with Grannyma was in remarkably original condition when they lived there; everything was from the '20's except for the kitchen which had been modernized after WWII with a six burner electric range, a built in dishwasher and an enormous built in refrigerator -- which didn't work and was supplemented by a newer, normal sized fridge on the service porch. I thought of the house as Spanish revival -- due to its tile roof -- but it was actually Norman French revival, and when the doctor bought it, he went whole hog with a rustic French theme, painting much of the interior white including some of the heavy oak woodwork, and adding crystal chandeliers in practically every room. 

We went downtown while we were visiting Sacramento last week, and we walked around some of our old haunts. Surprisingly little had changed. Except for traffic -- which was horrendous. Well, it was horrendous everywhere we went in California. I can't believe it was this bad before we left, yet I could be misremembering, and I've been spoiled by the relative lack of traffic in New Mexico.

McCormick & Schmick's is now Claim Jumpers -- which is kind of sad as McCormick's was one of our favorites in Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle.  We tried Claim Jumpers. It was... adequate though it seemed to take forever for us to be served our main course, and by the time we got the plates, some of the food was tepid. 

The space where we had our theatre is now a (ahem) talent agency. On the other hand, the space also  hosts an art exhibit area  with large windows on the sidewalk. There was an angel-figure in the window that we found quite charming. 



Homeless wanderers were everywhere in Downtown Sacramento, many more than we remember when we lived and worked there. I asked a friend what if anything was being done about homelessness, and he said that the problem of homelessness was national, and until something is done about it nationally nothing can be done about it in Sacramento. I told him that was bullshit. But apparently, even some of Sacramento's most influential "progressives" believe it.

We only stayed two days and spent four days driving to and from Sacramento. Traffic on Highway 99 through the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley was sometimes terrifying. Drivers didn't think twice about going 90 miles an hour bumper to bumper, weaving in and out of slower traffic, and causing wrecks and near-wrecks all along the way. The Highway Patrol seemed only interested in stopping truckers and cleaning up after wrecks. 

The weather was surprisingly sunny and cool. The temperature never rose above about 75° in Sacramento, and it was barely above 90° in parts of the Mojave Desert. 

Unfortunately the car had an unanticipated problem on the return trip. The Check Engine light went on just after we crossed into New Mexico from Arizona. As soon as we could we stopped to try to figure out what was going on. Turns out the crank case was bone dry. No oil. We'd had the car serviced including oil change only a month or so before, and as far as we know there are no leaks, so the absence of oil in the crankcase was a puzzlement. I suspect the oil was never replaced or never fully replaced when the oil was changed in April.

I put oil in the car, and it seemed to be fine for the rest of the way home (about 160 miles). It's going back to the dealer where the service was performed to figure out what happened.

It was a decidedly quick and focused trip to start the process of clearing out our long-held storage unit. When we moved, we didn't have time to sort everything and get rid of things we didn't need, so we just packed the leftovers into a storage unit and said we'd deal with it later. It's been almost six years, and this is the first time we've been back. We loaded the car with things we had forgotten or thought were long gone: family photos, Ms Ché's mother's rolling pin, a few books and so forth. The rolling pin was especially important because Ms Ché was certain it had gone to Goodwill or the dump with other excess stuff we got rid of before we moved. She'd written a story about it and the memories she had of her mother making donuts when the thunder roared, and how important that rolling pin was to her memories of her mother. When she found it in the storage unit, she cried. It was almost overwhelming. So it was with a number of other items we brought back with us.

There is perhaps one small truckload of stuff remaining in storage, some pieces of furniture, boxes of photos and books, a mattress and springs and bed frame, a few other things, but we've reduced the accumulation by about half, and one more trip to Sacramento is being contemplated for October. And then? Who knows.

Ms. Ché leaves on Sunday for three weeks at Naropa in Boulder, CO, where she'll be studying with the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." I told her I hoped the surviving Beats, like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and such -- I think Ferlinghetti is still alive too -- would show up just because. And I've been re-reading the original scroll version of "On the Road" to get myself in the right frame of mind for her departure. It's been interesting, too, because Kerouac trod many of the same paths we have, including mad dashing up and down the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley back in the day. I think there must be a psychic link there.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Cherokee



A few nights back Ms Ché and I attended a one woman play in Santa Fe written and performed by Delanna Studi called "And So We Walked, an artist's journey along the Trail of Tears." It's an allegorical play connecting a Cherokee actress's personal journey with that of her ancestors who were force marched from their homeplaces in what's now Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in the 1830s to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

I suppose for those who know little or nothing about Cherokee history, it might have been revelatory. However, Ms Ché and I attended an intensive immersion course in Cherokee history years ago. It was led by (then) Principle Chief Chad Smith and Cherokee historian Julia Coates, and we've never forgotten it.

Readers may know that Ms Ché, though born and raised in California, is Cherokee, her mother a full-blood who moved to California from Oklahoma in 1941, and truthfully her mother never looked back. She and her sister left Oklahoma voluntarily -- perhaps even eagerly. They were not part of the forced urbanization of Indians then fashionable with in the US Government, but chose to set out on their own for their own reasons.

What happened to the Cherokee people in the 1830s -- along with the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles -- however, was something of a different order altogether, nothing less than ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, all so the Georgia crackers and their ilk could take the Indians' land and homes and farms and cattle without the fuss of Indian resistance. Just round up the savages, seize their property and send them westward, "Bye bye!" It worked, too, for there was little  or nothing the Indians could do once the President, Mr. Jackson, refused to honor the Supreme Court decision on the Indians' behalf.

He said, in justification for his refusal, that if he had enforced the ruling, it would have been worse for the Indians, for the crackers probably would have risen up and massacred them all. Given the spirit of the times, that's quite possibly true.

Our playwright/actress, Ms. Studi, was born and raised in Liberty, Oklahoma, but like so many before and since she was restless and she wanted something beyond the confines of the rather rigid -- and racist -- Oklahoma society in the "14 Counties" in Northeast Oklahoma designated the "Cherokee Nation."

Many people may not know that the Cherokee have no geographical reservation, nor do most of the other tribes in the former Indian Territory. The Osage are one of the only tribes in Oklahoma who have an autonomous reservation. Cherokees and most of the rest of the tribes in Oklahoma lost their communal/tribal lands and sovereignty over those lands during the period of allotment in the early 20th century. Allotment meant the extinction of tribal government and sovereignty over territory. For a time, the Cherokee Nation was functionally extinct as well, though some of its previous attributes and the institution of Chief were maintained.  The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was officially reconstituted only in 1975. There are two other Cherokee tribal associations, sometimes referred to as "nations," the Eastern Band in North Carolina, and the Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma.

The Eastern Band is composed of descendants of Cherokees who "didn't walk" during the Indian removals of the 1830s. Many hid out in the hills or escaped from groups being forced West. Some were actually allowed to stay in their ancestral territory as Anglos moved in. Despite the removals, there are still quite a few Indians in much of the former Cherokee territory in the Southeast.

In the play, the actress who grew up in Oklahoma with her full blood Cherokee father and her German/Irish mother seeks to reclaim her Cherokee people's heritage and their roots in their former territory. She will take a journey with her father to North Carolina and return to Oklahoma along the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears, filming and interviewing Indians she meets along the way.

She falls in love with an Indian, "Steve," who jilts her.

She returns to Oklahoma with a terrible sense of loss on the one hand and a box of hope on the other.

And it takes forever.

The play is about 45 minutes longer than it needs to be. Two and a half hours is way too long for a one person show, sorry. I was getting very antsy as the play would not wrap up. I think I was not the only one. In fact, I know I was not the only one.

Structurally, "And So We Walked" is three separate plays woven together -- the story of the actress and her heritage project, the story of the actress and "Steve," and the stories of her ancient ancestors that formed part of her dreams and served to both spur her on her quest and made it as difficult for her as possible.

Each of these stories could be and probably should be a stand-alone forming a kind of trilogy.

But as it is, the piece is not just too long but it's confused/confusing as well. While there are definite attempts to clarify elements, and the performance was mostly fine, some of it never does make sense or the sense it makes appears to belong somewhere else.

As allegory it may work better than history. The basic story is that of the actress trying to find herself through learning about and being in the places where her ancestors once lived. But her journey is an allegory for the journey of the Cherokee people removed from their ancestral homes to Oklahoma under the guns of the US Army and the cracker militias of the day. The history of what happened and why is... dense... to say the least, and it is filled with what amount to legal arguments rather than human interest stories. The people involved, apart from the contending Rosses and Ridges, have never been given their due.

Like the actress, Ms. Ché did not grow up hearing of Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears, even though it had happened to her mother's grandparents. They didn't talk about it. Over the years, of course, Ms. Ché and the actress had learned about it from books and movies, and in Ms Ché's case the Cherokee Nation history course, but the reality of it hardly resonated. The truth, yes, but not the reality.

The actress chose to re-trace Cherokee Removal from North Carolina, but Ms Ché has taken a somewhat different path. She's been to Nashville and its environs a number of times, for example, and has visited Andrew Jackson's plantation home "The Hermitage." The actress also made pilgrimage to The Hermitage -- and I wouldn't be surprised if she spit on Old Hickory's grave.

Ms Ché's reaction was quite different. She said she got a much better  -- and surprisingly more sympathetic -- picture of what Jackson was doing than the standard story of his perfidy toward the Indians. To her, it was much more complex than good v evil. Jackson faced a dilemma, partly of his own making, and his way out was to enable rather than resist the removal of the tribes to someplace he believed they would be safe.

It wasn't because he loved or hated the Indians so much. It had more to do with his frustration at white people's tendencies to get ornery, greedy, and wild.

Ultimately, most of the Indians were removed from the Southeast; and almost by a miracle they were able to re-establish themselves in their new homes in what's now Oklahoma where many of their descendants still are.

But many, many have gone elsewhere, Cherokees especially.

Ms. Ché says that she found a remarkable affinity to the land and landscape around Nashville -- not to the city itself -- and she sensed that that's probably where her mother's ancestors had lived before they were removed to Oklahoma. She never had a chance to ask her mother, though. And even if she did, her mother might not have known where her grandparents had lived before they moved (or were moved) to Indian Territory.

I think one misconception about Indians that white people ("Wypipo") have is that they "always" lived in a certain ancestral place, even the nomadic tribes of the Plains, and it was the whites who forced them somewhere else against their will. There is truth of course in this story, but the "always"-ness of whatever their ancestral home place is largely or partially fabricated. Indians moved around well before the advent of Wypipo on the North and South American continents. They weren't bound to a single home place forever and ever, amen. Tribes were distinct but not necessarily exclusive, and there was much interconnection and interaction between tribes.

The Cherokee are thought by scholars to have originated among the Iroquoian peoples of the Great Lakes and separated from them some three or four thousand years ago. Cherokee stories themselves suggest something more complicated. They suggest that Cherokee are a fusion tribe made up of travelers from the North (ie: the Iroquoian), but also from the Caribbean, and from South America. There may be other indigenous peoples who joined the Cherokee over time. They did not have a single home place, but chose a number of distinct -- and scattered -- locations around the Southeast, and they would move from them when they wanted or needed to.

Indians in general were not particularly stay-put peoples, and Cherokee were no exception. It is more a white-folk conceit that Indians "always" occupied a particular tribal territory that they were forcibly ejected from by whites. Not necessarily so at all.

In the case of the Indian Removal of the 1830s, yes, Cherokee were forced out of their homes, and many resented it. Some resisted. But in fact, Cherokees had been moving west since the 1810s at least, if not earlier, and they had established homes in Arkansas among other places long before the Removals. There were colonies of Cherokee in Texas in the 1820s, others were scattered in Northern Mexico, and so on. "Moving" was not necessarily a bad thing in Cherokee culture and life.

Whether the Cherokee had been living in the Southeastern area for "thousands of years" -- our actress said 12,000 -- is unknown. They may have been, but maybe not. There is some evidence of "proto-Cherokee" in the Appalachian region going back at least 3,000 years, but the evidence seems to be more ambiguous in the Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee triangle that is asserted to be the ancestral Cherokee territory. Maybe it is, maybe not.

That there are still Cherokee peoples there, however, is important, and those are the people our actress re-connected with on her journey.

As she says in the play, "My God, this place is full of Indians!" Indeed.

That's what Ms Ché noted about New Mexico on our first trip 35 years ago. Indians were everywhere.

And some of them are Cherokee.

Cherokee are everywhere.

The actress had to cut short her journey of discovery to do a play in New York. And so it goes. Cherokee are everywhere and they do whatever they can or choose to do. Some, yes, are in the Cherokees' ancestral places, but many are not.

One thing Ms. Ché has noted over the years is that Cherokee relationships are very complicated and among the full- and half-bloods, they're all pretty closely related.

Thus a half-blood like our actress is probably a cousin of some sort to Ms Ché, as she's found so many full and half-blood Cherokee ultimately are.

Ms Ché pretty much knows her roots. I'm still learning about mine. Our actress was on a journey to discover a deeper understanding of the people and places her ancestors came from in order for her to feel... connected?

It's a journey many of us take -- Indians included -- but many Americans don't care-- Indians included.

Should they?

I can't say. It's an individual matter I think. But what do I know? Not much!















Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Regarding the Massacres at the Gaza Fence

I can't say it any better than Andre Damon at WSWS:

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/05/16/pers-m16.html

The money quote:

After all, if Israel’s actions are justified, would not US forces deployed on the Mexican border be justified in opening fire on refugees walking toward US territory? Would the European border police not be justified in sinking boats of migrants fleeing to Europe?
The answer to both of these questions would obviously be yes. The universal defense of Israel’s actions makes clear that the imperialist powers have adopted the mass murder of unarmed civilians as a legitimate policy tool.

 No doubt about it...

Dharma

Next month, Ms Ché will head north to Boulder to spend three weeks at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa. Oh my. When she told me she was going, I nearly burst, it was so exciting.

She's wanted to go for a couple of years but hadn't yet been invited and was a bit reluctant anyway as Boulder is not necessarily kind to Indians or elder women, both of which she happens to be. But her buddy Doug went last year and came back a Bodhisattva, so what can you say? He's an Indian too, but not an elder woman. Ms Ché arranged for Doug to live in a shack up on the side of a hill in Lower Cañoncito outside of Santa Fé after he was thrown out of the tent he was living in on the arroyo down the Turquoise Trail. So now he's staying in this hand-built Eagle's Nest on Dr. Z's property where he can watch the sky and the clouds and the soaring, wheeling turkey buzzards, eagles, hawks and ravens and hear the coyotes and think there might be bobcats jumping on his roof just because there might be. There is a round cave opening high on the hill behind his shack and it's probably the bobcat's den, or at least it might be. He has a full buffalo hide on a stand in his shack for ceremony and a deck on which to sit and contemplate the Universe when the spirit moves him.

A poetry reading up there at his shack might happen sometime in the next year or so, though Dr. Z is nervous about it. One thing, it's hard to get up there. Lame as I am, though, I made it, one step at a time, careful, careful, and it's even harder to get down again, as the slope is steep and you're not entirely sure where you should or shouldn't step at any given moment. Especially in the dark.

But that's as may be. It hasn't happened yet and maybe it won't. We'll have to wait and see.

I gave Ms Ché a copy of "The Dharma Bums" to take with her to Naropa. I tried to find my copy, all dog-eared and dusty, to give to her as a graduation present, but I couldn't find it, so I got her a new one. That and the Truman Capote Reader. She's always admired TC since a version of him appeared as Dill in Harper Lee's "Bird Book" (as he called it.) On the other hand, Kerouac has scared her more than anything. Kerouac the pacifist who might have been part Indian himself.

I'm linking to a piece I wrote about "The Dharma Bums" after re-reading it four years ago. Time may fly, but... oh my.



The Dharma, "The Dharma Bums," Prefiguring the Rucksack Revolution, and How We Got Here -- Or Something

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ms. Ché Graduates From the Indian Art School in Santa Fé

Since long before we moved to New Mexico, Ms. Ché has been deeply involved in the literary scene. She was a member of a number of writers' groups in California, and for about ten years, she'd been coming to New Mexico for writers' conferences.

She's been a writer herself for as long as I've known her. We met 53 years ago this month in high school. She was a graduating senior, I was a junior who would do my senior year at a new high school built specifically to educate the white students separate from those of color. I've mentioned from time to time how segregated neighborhoods were in Sacramento in the early '60s, and this was an example of how officials sought to maintain segregation even though it was illegal by the time the new high school opened.

At any rate, the high school she graduated from -- where we met -- published a literary anthology the year she graduated (1965) that included a number of her haiku and one longer poem from me along with a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction and "think pieces." We were encouraged to write and at the time I had a habit of doing so in a journal.

Ms. Ché on the other hand had greater ambitions. As we got to know each other, we corresponded back and forth frequently as she entered college and I completed my senior year of high school. As I recall, she was bored in college. She hated taking so many classes that seemed like such a waste of time, but it's what you had to do, so she did. She saw herself eventually as a serious writer, writing stories, novels, poetry, essays, what have you. The only thing she didn't like about writing was journalism (which I found out later, she's very good at. Go figure.)

After we got together and became a couple some time later (two years or so later) she decided to try learning to write on a more professional basis through a correspondence course which taught her a lot, she said, but she really did not like and ultimately rejected the commercial aspects of the literary business. Her correspondent instructors (who seemed to be very good and were published writers themselves) wanted her to write for the Market, and they tried to help her shape her submitted works for the Market, saying she had such potential, they just needed to be tweaked this way or that. She said no, that wasn't the way she wanted to go with her work.

Over the years, she wrote a lot of... stuff: poetry, a long novel, many, many short stories, plays and so on, each in her unique style which she privately circulated among friends or had published in local anthologies, and occasionally had fiction or poems in magazines.

To say she's lived an adventurous life is putting it mildly. A lot of that is what she wrote about, and that is what her readers wanted more of. But she always wrote to satisfy herself.

In California, she felt stymied despite the fact that she was involved in many literary activities and forums and was being published from time to time. She was pretty well known among a circle of writers and there was a growing audience for her work. Her plays, especially, were very well received. But she didn't feel 1) she wrote as well as she wanted and needed to; 2) that she was really getting anywhere. Also she found the literary atmosphere to be stultifying. She wasn't getting anywhere because a writer couldn't where there was so much negativity and pure bullshit everywhere you turned.

She branched out by coming to New Mexico to the Hillerman Writer's Conference and then to its Word Harvest successor after we had purchased a house here. At these conferences, she was mixing and mingling with some of the West's prominent writers of mysteries and genre works, and she was also able to practice her craft among them. Every time she came back from one of these conferences she was exhilarated. Then she became depressed again as she saw how crabbed the whole literary scene around her in California was. It was night and day.

So when we moved here, she was itchy to start on a serious "grown up" writing path. She workshopped with good writers she respected and she stayed in touch with many of the writers she had met over the years at those conferences. It didn't take long before she became convinced she could "do this" -- write, seriously, in her own voice -- and she was given so much encouragement by so many other writers who wanted to see her succeed just as I did.

We'd been giving money for scholarships to the "Indian Art School" -- IAIA -- for a while, and she'd gotten to know some of the faculty, particularly Jon Davis, the head of the MFA creative writing program, and at the time, the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe. One thing led to another.

Long story short, she decided to enroll in the "Indian Art School" as a student. Initially, her idea was to go directly for the MFA, but she became convinced that it would be better for her to obtain a BFA first for the grounding it would give her, and so, for the last two and a half years, she's been studying and writing very hard with some instructors she respects and indeed loves, among a lot of other Native and non-Native students. And yesterday she graduated with her BFA in creative writing, accepted for the MFA program starting in July.

She's been pretty widely published during her time as a student, both short stories and poetry, but she wants to focus her MFA studies on poetry. "Why?" ask some. "There's no money in it." Well. So?

She laughs, and she will be going to the Naropa University for three weeks in June to study at the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." So there. She's really looking forward to it.

And as an Elder -- she's 70 -- she's been inspiring all kinds of women of age to follow their bliss and do... don't fret at lost opportunities, just do, including returning to someplace like IAIA or work with artists/writers you feel can help your native (or Native) talents to blossom.

Yesterday's graduation was quite an event. Her cousin came from Nevada and other friends from California and Texas sent cards or came through to wish her well. The day before, there was a swell party at friend's house in Santa Fe.

And at the graduation, Ms. Ché was honored as the Valedictorian for the Class of 2018. She wrote and delivered one of the most compelling and touching speeches of its kind I have ever heard.

She wore her mother's dress which she altered with tucks and ribbons to resemble traditional Cherokee garb, but which she had made very definitely her own. She wore a tiny Zuni-made quail pin on her mortar board because part of her name in Cherokee means "quail." She wore a carved shell necklace made by a Cherokee artist in Oklahoma because that's where her mother was from. She wore another shell necklace made by a California Native artist from abalone shell because she was born and raised in California. She wore moccasins hand made at San Ildefonso Pueblo north of Santa Fe because she now lives in New Mexico and studies among Pueblo peoples, and she wore a Pueblo sash in honor of those Pueblo students and faculty she's come to admire.

Her speech was mostly about her mother and the sacrifices she had made and the gifts she had given her children during her life time. (Readers of this blog may recall that Ms Ché's mother passed away in her sleep at our home in 2009). She wove a story of her mother and the life she had passed on to her daughter that seemed to touch everyone attending. Her speech was near the very end of the ceremonies, and people were tired, babies were fussing, and there might have been a few thoughts of "oh no, not another speechifier..." And then as she told her story, a hush fell over the crowd, the babies stopped fussing, and some in the audience were simply mesmerized. Awed I think is not too strong a word. More than a few wiped away tears running down their cheeks (including my own self.)

And as she came to her conclusion they started cheering and applauding enthusiastically, and as she stepped down, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, also a Cherokee, stood at the mic, took a beat, and simply said, "Wow."

Yep. That's right.

Wow.

Oh, yes, and Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Houses Again

This is the sort of-somewhat Mid Century Modern house in suburban Sacramento that I grew up in. Well, "grew up..." Maybe it's a "coming of age" story. Maybe not.

My mother bought the house in 1962 when I was 13 and I moved out in 1968 when I was 19. I moved back in 1973 (with Ms Ché) when my mother went to work in Stockton, and moved out again in 1975 when Ms Ché and I moved to San Francisco.

The house looked a lot like this when my mother bought it (for something like $17,500).


It looks like this now:



In between time, I painted the exterior avocado green. I planted the Japanese maple trees in the front yard. Most of the shrubbery, though, was there when we moved in. The people who bought the house from my mother in 1985 painted it white and it's been white ever since. They also made some slight landscaping adjustments and replaced the garage and entry doors. Other than that, it's pretty much the same as when I lived there. As far as I know, the address board I made in 9th grade shop class is still over the garage door.

The house had three bedrooms and two baths, built in electric range and oven in the kitchen, hardwood floors in the main rooms, a used brick fireplace in the living room as well as a wall of floor to ceiling windows with a sliding glass door to the backyard, but not much else. It was plain to the point of Spartan. There is just over 1250 square feet of living area.

The house was built in 1957 with a vaguely "Japanese" exterior, but there were dozens of other houses with the same floor plan in the neighborhood, and there were three exterior designs to choose from: contemporary, Japanese, or farmhouse. The interiors were all the same; the exteriors were actually more similar than not.

Every once in a while, one of these houses goes up for sale, generally listing between $270,000 and $300,000, and so far, none of the ones I've seen listed has undergone a gut renovation. In fact, most have had only normal repairs and replacement updates. Floors and appliances have been replaced in the kitchens, maybe a built in dishwasher has been added and the original sink replaced. Sometimes the kitchen cabinets and countertops have been replaced along with the appliances, but just as often, the original cabinetry remains. Bathrooms have had vanities installed and perhaps bigger mirrors and better lighting, Central air conditioning has probably been installed. The original aluminum windows have likely been changed out for vinyl. Roofs have been replaced. Decor has changed a bit from the 1950s. But otherwise the houses with this floor plan that I've seen listed were very similar to the one I grew up in.

This kitchen, for example, is almost exactly the same as the one in our house -- but for the newer appliances and the lighter stain or wash on the cabinets.



Even the countertop appears to be the same as in our house or very similar to it. Ours was this pattern Formica (Skylark):


And about that countertop, though installed in 1957, it featured something that's become ubiquitous on the home remodeling shows: a breakfast bar.



Though it doesn't show very well in this picture, the "breakfast bar" was about a 12" extension of the counter with an 8" overhang.

Though there are no barstools in the picture, we had two rattan and wrought iron ones (very popular back in the day) and from time to time we would sit at the counter having... ta da... breakfast. Note, there are no pendant lights over the counter-bar. There wouldn't have been in those days!

The cabinets were oak veneered plywood and had a sort of butternut finish. In this house, it looks like the finish was stripped and a pale yellow wash or bleach was applied. They're not painted. But they are the same cabinets. The hardware is hammered copper and is original. The tile pattern flooring appears to be vinyl and would have replaced stone pattern linoleum -- yes, real linoleum which was still widely available and very popular back then.

The problem we found with this linoleum was that the finish wore off rather quickly. We replaced the linoleum with vinyl asbestos tiles within a few years of moving in. Also a note for those who have pets and would like to have real linoleum floors today: think about it long and hard. Pet urine will destroy the linoleum surface in a twinkling. It cannot be restored. Word to the wise. Pet urine on hardwood floors can be even more destructive though repairs are possible.

The light fixtures don't have the original "space-the-final-frontier" globes, and just like us, the householder has replaced them with plain white spheres. I noted that some houses listed for sale had the original light globes, which I'm sure delighted Mid-Century fans and probably disgusted HGTV fans. The whole kitchen would throw them into a tizzy of horror and disgust. Sixty year old Formica?! Ewww! Must have granite! Marble! Quartz! What is that sink? Must have farmhouse apron sink! And that built in range and oven must date from the '70s! (Can you imagine what they'd think of the original appliances from the 1950s??) Who could stand to use them? They must be gross if they work at all. And electric???! Horrors! Rip it out and put in a Wolf or one of the other high end "dream" free-standing gas range. Those cabinets are soooooo dated. Rip them out too. Subway tile and open shelves are much better above the counter, and those lower cabinets are soooo ugly! How could any body live that way! Need recessed lighting, crown molding, and PENDANTS!!! over the breakfast bar! Stat!

Then the HGTV fan realizes the kitchen is really tiny, barely 10'x10' and there's no room for an island. How can you cook in it! Rip it out to the studs and incorporate the adjacent space (originally called a "family room" but it's only 10'x10' too) to make something at least potentially...something!

Here's a view of the kitchen and "family room" from another angle:



Yes, those false beams were in our house too. There's a built in dishwasher in the picture which would have been added later -  whenever the rest of the appliances would have been replaced. Our range and oven went out in the '70s.  We had a portable dishwasher. The picture makes the kitchen and "family room" look much larger than they are. No, I recall they were very cramped especially when we had parties.

Rip it all out right away! You have to! Can't live like this! [Per HGTV, This Old House, etc.]

The problem is there's no place to expand these rooms without taking space from others. Beyond the double window in the "family room" is a side yard that's barely 6' wide if that. Out the door on the right is the garage. Some homeowners expanded the "family room" into the garage space by six feet or so, but that's about as far as you could go without making the garage too small to accommodate autos. 

There's a laundry area in the garage on the kitchen side of the door in the picture. It was interesting. The electric water heater was on family room side of the door. On the kitchen side, there was just enough space for a washer and dryer, but nothing else. There was no vent for the dryer if you had one (but there was a 240v plug to plug one in on the assumption you'd get one.) The dryer location was on the door side of the space rather than the exterior wall, so a vent had to be installed by the washer, and a vent hose had to be run behind the washer. Once that was done, the dryer vented into an alcove by the front door. Not exactly best practice, I would think.

On the other side of the house was the living room. The picture of this living room is remarkably similar to our own:



The wall by the fireplace wasn't paneled in our house and the far wall in the dining area featured various wall papers over the years. It also had a high capacity room air conditioner punched through the wall high up. 

Sacramento is notorious for hot summers ("But it's a dry heat!" Feh.). Temperatures above 110° are not unusual. Some people got by in those days with swamp coolers, but when the temps were above about 104° they didn't do much of anything; likewise when humidity was above about 25% they ceased to have much effect on temps.  So for about half the summer, the swamp cooler would simply blow hot, wet air around... 

We got a room air conditioner (from Sears, I believe) for our previous (rental) house -- which we left there -- and got a much larger one for this house. A handyman installed it together with the appropriate 220v electric connection. 

Well, it cooled the living room, "family room" and kitchen reasonably well, but it could not cool the bedrooms. Eventually we got another window air conditioner for the master bedroom, but the other two bedrooms had to make do with fans. I remember being unable to sleep some summer nights because of the heat. Often, however, by early morning a sea breeze would come in from the Bay Area and cool outside temperatures down to tolerable levels. Of course  that could cause problems for the air conditioners. They would ice up if outside temps fell too low and would cease working. It could be a constant struggle to balance outside heat and inside cooling. Over time, most locals shifted to central air conditioning -- which was very expensive to install and operate in those days and I imagine still is -- but we never did. In fact, though I've lived in many different houses in lots of warm climates, I've never lived in one with central air conditioning. Hm. How about that? [It can get warm in the summertime where we are now in New Mexico, sometimes over 100°, but we make do with a couple of portable air conditioners and one window unit.]