family

August 26, 1977

August 26, 1977
Lazing at Lake Tahoe

 That summer, the Rowells rented a house at Lake Tahoe and CD and I spent a lazy week lounging by the lake. CD was eight and a half months old (those half-months seemed to matter back then).

CD & J on the beach

J enjoyed what – in retrospect – can only be considered conservative gambling. Before he played the first chip, he settled on an amount he was willing to lose and stuck to it, no matter what happened.

The following year in Tahoe again
The following year in Tahoe again

That wasn’t good enough for someone with my Midwestern roots. The concept of gambling was – and still is – an anathema. Spending real money for what will probably amount to “nothing” violates my core values. Watching J do it – with our money – created unbearable anxiety and made me intolerable.

CD & me on the beach in Tahoe

I hovered over his shoulder while he played, snatching every chip he won and stuffing it in my pockets on the theory that if he lost the rest, my stash would pull us closer to even. Not surprisingly, my oversight dampened the fun for him, (apparently, today such chip-snatching is against house rules).

Like father like son in Tahoe

My tolerance for games of chance – for any ambiguity, actually – is considerably lower than J’s, which explains why he’s a trial attorney – a profession in which no verdict is ever guaranteed – and I write fiction, where I control the ending.

 

August 24, 1967

August 24, 1967

 matt3

Once you see the cracks in the fantasy façade, it’s impossible to pretend they’re not there. At sixteen, I prided myself on being a cynic and eagerly traded wonder for the worldly superiority of seeing through everything.

Our family, circa 1967
Our family, circa 1967

The enchantment came back when I took my children to Disneyland. I suspect most parents feel the same way.

J and our kids at Disneyland - I'm evidently taking the picture.
J and our kids at Disneyland – I’m evidently taking the picture.

According to this entry, I liked the Matterhorn. The way I remember it, the first time I rode it with my father, I howled, “Daddy, make it stop!” My final ride on a roller coaster – Space Mountain, at the urging of my sister Joyce who assured me it was a metaphysical experience, not remotely terrifying – ended in hysterics. I staggered off, simultaneously laughing and crying, dimly aware of nearby teens asking, “What’s the matter with you, lady?”

My turn to be in the picture.
My turn to be in the picture.

Apparently, on thrill rides, I easily suspend disbelief.

animated-disney-image-0159

 

 

August 21, 1964

August 21, 1964

Craters of the Moon campground - lots of rocks to slice up knees
Craters of the Moon campground – lots of rocks to slice up knees

My family camped a lot – a lot – on our bi-annual drives from California to Iowa and back.  My sisters and I were jubilant on the rare occasions we stayed at a motel, especially when they had a swimming pool – at the time, an almost unimaginable luxury.

K looks unhappy in what appears to be a camping shot.
K looks unhappy in what appears to be a camping shot.

We had the ritual down. Daddy and Momie pitched the tent and organized the campsite. Janet, Joyce and I ran wild through the campsite, usually role-playing games like Lewis and Clark or Annie Oakley.

 My family in the early 60's.
My family in the early 60’s.

Of the myriad national parks we camped in, Craters of the Moon is most vivid in my memory which begs the question – does it take a disaster (okay, maybe not a disaster – but serious pain for my previously unscarred 13-year-old self) to make something memorable?

More mountain malaise for me
More mountain malaise for me

This was the only occasion on which we broke camp before we slipped into our sleeping bags and raced back in the direction from whence we came. Twenty-two dollars seemed like an enormous sum.  I can still remember the dusk light. I still have a scar on my left knee.

Lost Rivers Hospital - Arco, Idaho
Lost Rivers Hospital – Arco, Idaho

August 19, 1965

August 19, 1965

 twist and shout - THE BEATLES

Twist and Shout Songs

For a long time, my Canadian TWIST AND SHOUT LP was my favorite album – I still have it, vinyl of course. Reading this entry again, it’s telling that as quickly as I acquired this treasure, I feared its loss – “I just hope it doesn’t get broken or stolen on the way home.”

Obsessed with imminent loss from an early age.
Obsessed with imminent loss from an early age.

Surely, I’m not the only person for whom the joy of acquisition coexists with fear of forfeiture. Looking back, many – if not most – of my relationships traced a similar trajectory. No sooner did I fall for someone than I obsessed about our inevitable break-up. Who would lower the axe? When? Nothing lasts forever.

Anxious expression, defensive pose - K looks poised for disaster. Janet, in contrast, looks quite confident.
Anxious expression, defensive pose – K looks poised for disaster. Janet, in contrast, looks quite confident.

I maintain my sense of impending doom originated with the birth of my beloved sister Janet, who usurped my place as center of my parents’ universe. It proved that when I least expected it, the people I loved and trusted most, might – for no apparent reason – replace me with a newer model. (For further evidence of this theory, see photo galleries Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.)

 

August 16, 1964

August 16, 1964

With K cousins circa '64
With K cousins circa ’64

 This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.

With O side of family, circa '64
With O side of family, circa ’64

This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that).  Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,

Lake Okoboji

Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.

Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.

With Grandma O
With Grandma O

In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.

 

August 14,1983

August 14, 1983

CD, Nicky and I are all excited about the new baby sister in our house.
CD, Nicky and I are all excited about the new baby sister in our house.

My brilliant niece Carly wrote an essay in high school about how their family’s animal hierarchy suffered a seismic upheaval every time a new feline entered the household. When a new human being joins an existing family unit, the reverberations can be – and usually are – far more extreme.

Aunt Joyce and I looking on as others fuss about the new baby.
Aunt Joyce and I looking on as others fuss about the new baby.

In the case of S and CD, not so much, unless both of them have successfully hidden their trauma for years. In my mind, the seven-year gap in their ages was as responsible for the smooth transition as their respective temperaments. CD was more engaged with his peer group, less dependent on his parents, therefore less inclined to resent her intrusion.

The princess asleep on her royal pillow.
The princess asleep on her royal pillow.

However, just because sibling rivalry didn’t rear its ugly head doesn’t mean our home avoided an earthquake. I’d repressed all memory of 3 AM feedings and dirty diapers but total recall returned with a vengeance. We all rose and slept to the rhythm of a baby. Sometimes the sheer exhaustion was overwhelming.

CD does a closeup check as Grandma K. holds the baby.
CD does a closeup check as Grandma K. holds the baby.

What I wouldn’t give to live through those golden days again…

CD telling Grandpa K. All about his new sister.
CD telling Grandpa K. all about his new sister.

 

 

May 13, 1964

May 13, 1964

 

My family back during those darn times
My family back during those darn times

There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.

With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.
With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.

At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.
At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.

My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
3K Sisters

 

May 2, 2007

May 2, 2007

 

If I must be the villain of my life, might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.
If I must be the villain of my life, I might as well do it as a Blue Meanie.

 

By the time I wrote this entry in 2007, I knew I wanted to do something with my voluminous diary entries although I wasn’t sure what. I was well into the process of transcribing my handwritten entries into a computer journal program (currently, I use one simply called The Journal). I started with the first entries in 63 and progressed forward.   Since all my blogs would be in the 60s and 70s if I stuck with that program, I eventually allowed myself to skip around a little bit. I’m still not even a third of the way through all my longhand volumes and if I don’t transcribe them, nobody will due to my horrific handwriting and weird shorthand abbreviations (which perplex me sometimes) – not to mention a few days written entirely in a weird code that looks like cuneiform.

 

Cuneiform writing system

BLUE MEANIE 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my most ambitious, I transcribed 15 entries a day which may not sound like much but revisiting my own past is not always a walk in the park.  Sometimes, it’s emotionally grueling as well as confusing because there’s so much I’ve forgotten and/or repressed.  These diary entries force me to reconfigure my life story – the one I tell myself as well as others. If my diary and my memory disagree about what happened, it’s a safe bet the diary is correct.  Many times, I’m forced to face the fact I’m not as wonderful as I like to believe.  I made mistakes, I treated some people poorly.  Sometimes, I start missing people I lost touch with long ago through no one’s fault – it just happened.

 

BLUE MEANIE 3

 

Spending so much time re-examining the past leaves me with a visceral longing to revisit and recapture those times – particularly those when my children were young and my parents were still alive – but since time moves forward, never back, that desire is doomed.  The closest I can come is probably by transcribing them. And so, I forge on….

 

Some, but not all, of my diaries
Some, but not all, of my diaries

 

April 26, 1973

April 26, 1973

Emotionally defenseless

I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so  emotionally defenseless,  this woman got to me.

I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)

L took this photo of me - to me, I don't look like myself - there's a lot of strain in my smile.
L took this photo of me – to me, I don’t look like myself – there’s a lot of strain in my smile.

The counselor said  I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed  to take a meeting.

Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?
Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?

I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide.  (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life

April 18, 1975


April 18, 1975

John's nuclear family around this time - top row Jimmy, J, Richard, Chet; bottom row Florence, lucy, Mary Frances and Mary Ann
John’s nuclear family around this time – top row Matt, Jimmy, J, Richard, Chet; bottom row Florence, Lucy, Mary Frances and Mary Ann

The welcoming committee on my first visit to Fresno was bigger and more daunting than just his family, which was intimidating enough. In addition to all six of his brothers and sisters plus his brother’s fiancée Cindy and Aunt Mary half the neighborhood and assorted family friends assembled in the Rowell living room, all curious to see what kind of freak agreed to marry a guy she met a mere six weeks earlier. In retrospect, this was totally understandable – if I was one of them, I’d be dying of curiosity too.

Me and other spouses as well as future generation in casual family shot
Me and other spouses as well as future generation in casual family shot

They called him Johnny which was disconcerting because I never thought of him as a Johnny. His sister Lucy teased him about a receding hairline, which caused me to look twice – how had I missed a thing like that?? (For the record, he still has all of his hair and most of it hasn’t gone gray.)  Their collective astonishment that John was getting married gave me pause – why did they find it so incredible? (In their minds, he was still the chess-obsessed loner he’d been years earlier.)

Me and other Rowell spouses in formal family portrait.
Me and other Rowell spouses in formal family portrait.

As ego-gratifying as it was to watch his letters from old girlfriends dissolve to ash, I shouldn’t have encouraged him to do it – particularly given my own egregious failure to follow suit. I qualified my refusal by explaining that my old love letters were “research for my writing” – which is true – but the bigger truth is our different reactions reveal our characters. He loves to throw things out; I love to cling to them. Neither of us are likely to change.

Me with John's mother Florence around this time (I think)
Me with John’s mother Florence around this time (I think)
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