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


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.

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.
Of course Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) died some years back, but in my mind, he lives forever.