family

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)

April 12, 1976

 

April 12, 1976

I didn’t know it at the time but this was my last day of employment as a secretary and the start of a major transition.  Although it wasn’t officially confirmed I was pregnant, I strongly suspected I was and I was right. Since quitting my job meant relinquishing our health insurance, my timing was terrible.

Impending parenthood.
Impending parenthood.

In addition to impending parenthood, I faced an extremely uncertain future as a film and television writer – as illustrated by my conversation with my UCLA writing professor and mentor Bill Froug. Not only did I learn the unhappy story of another writing professor’s life, I realized it might take Froug – my champion – an unspecified “while” to read my outline. If the man who most believed in me wasn’t eager to read my latest, how could I hope to interest the powers-that-be in Hollywood?

The very busy Bill Froug.
The very busy Bill Froug.

At the time of this entry, I hadn’t earned a dime writing, John was in his second year of law school and our first baby was on the way. I should’ve been petrified but for some reason I wasn’t. To be sure, there were some hard times ahead – it would be four years before I’d see any success as a writer – but I believed we’d be all right – and we were.

One era ends and another begins.
One era ends and another begins.

March 15, 1965

March 15, 1965

While clearly not ecstatic, I don't look totally suicidal about my new sister
While clearly not ecstatic, I don’t look totally suicidal about my new sister

For all my snarkiness about how Janet’s birth destroyed my life, the truth is we are and always have been very close. I’m using photos of Janet and I enjoying each other in this blog to balance the hundreds of photos where I look like if I can’t kill her, I’ll kill myself. (Full disclosure – it’s far easier to find photos of me in abject despair beside a smiling Janet than photos where I’m happy. Just saying.) Janet previews all of my bitter tongue-in-cheek photo captions so she can rein me in if I go too far. I think (hope) she finds this whole sibling rivalry “you ruined my life” business amusing – aside from that unfortunate episode when I “accidentally” shoved her baby carriage down a flight of stairs.

Janet and I waving
Janet and I waving
A rare smile
A rare smile

Janet’s emergency run to the hospital to have her appendix removed via surgery (it sounded so exotic at 13) was the most thrilling and life-threatening event our family had faced but Janet was just getting started. She quickly cornered the market on medical crisis. Joyce and I still have our appendixes.  Joyce and I never broke our arm like Janet did. (She broke it skate-boarding.  Some might say she was ahead of her time. Others might say she was desperate for attention.)

Picking daisies is an excellent way to bond.
Picking daisies is an excellent way to bond.
The three Knutsen sisters
The three Knutsen sisters with Bootsie

Janet also suffered – and still does – from horrific highly dramatic migraine headaches. Unless you count mild acne or clinical depression – and I don’t because they’re boring head things – I  don’t think I had a single health issue during childhood or adolescence.

Cowgirls in the backyard
Cowgirls in the backyard
Story-telling time
Story-telling time

However, in the last 14 years I made up for lost time with three cornea transplants. Like me, Janet and Joyce inherited Fuchs disease (because it’s a genetic disease, duh) but so far their cases are mild.  I’d be stunned if either of them needs a cornea transplant. Of course, at this time last year if you’d told me I’d need two cornea transplants before the year ended, I would’ve called you crazy.

Not looking at the camera - again
Not looking at the camera – again
More recent times - but not that recent.
More recent times – but not that recent.

Janet & Kathy

Just to prove I’m not making this cornea transplant thing up, here’s a close-up of my right eye that clearly shows the 16 tiny stitches holding the dead person’s cornea in place.

16 tiny stitches

 

March 7, 1964

March 7, 1964

Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell
Top: Natalie Nilsen, Susan Tanaka, Donna Duncan, me, Loretta Dirks, Julie Farnham, Sandra Walker (Hegwood) Bottom: Debbie Neel, Kathy Niebuhr, Janet, Roseanne Provenzano, Susan Campbell

I think this is the only photo taken at this party but it’s such a classic assemblage of sixties hair and fashion I couldn’t resist. Note my own perennial bad hair day, slacks color-keyed to my sweater, hemmed at that oh-so-chic high-water mark to allow a peek of ankle above thick white socks and shoes.  Compare and contrast to my sister, who overthrew my reign as favored child when she chose to be born two years and two days after me. (See photo galleries When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss) and Kathy vs. the Alien Baby for the gory details.) Not only is she blessed with straight, easy to manage blonde hair that looks classy and somehow “right” no matter what decade you’re in, her fashion sense is noticeably less terrible than mine. And she takes a cuter picture.

Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.
Janet and Joyce both out-cute me here.

A bowling party wouldn’t be my first (or second, third, hundredth) choice today even though there’s a cool fifties style bowling alley (Montrose Bowl) less than a mile away that other people rent for fun parties. Our Moonlight Bowl party in ’64 was the last time I had fun bowling.

Moonlight Bowl 1964

At a subsequent bowling party – my last, given the humiliation – I scored a total of three points. I’ve repressed the rules of play but I’m guessing I threw nineteen gutter balls and for someone as competitive as me, that’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” time. When I’m so successfully challenged by a sport, I don’t climb back on the horse – I quit.

SPARE ME THE GRIEF

During the fifty-four years that followed this party, I lost touch with Donna Duncan and Susan Tanaka – if either of them chances upon this blog, please message me. I’d love to know what you’ve been doing for the past half a century.  Susan and I walked to school when the Lawrence Expressway was still Lawrence Station Road. Donna lived on the other side of Del Monte and we spent many a summer day playing endless games of Lie Detector or Monopoly.

Fighting a losing battle.
Fighting a losing battle.

You might’ve thought all those hours of board games would’ve taught me to be a good loser. You’d be wrong. Neither game required strength or coordination, making it highly unlikely I’d suffer nineteen consecutive losses.

 

March 2, 1980

 

Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me.
Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me

March 2, 1980 P

With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.

As the photos suggest (a very well-documented party, thanks to my sister Janet) this was a fun birthday party with two very familiar features – the phone call with my parents, in which they regale me once again with the details of my birth in a snowstorm. I’m ashamed to admit I got impatient with them although I tried not to show it – don’t they understand that I know this story by heart? How many times are we going to tell it? Of course, now that they’re gone, I’d give anything to stroll down those familiar paths of memory again.

JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
The beautiful Peggy
The beautiful Peggy

And – true confession – I’ve been known to torture my own three children with overly-long sagas about their birth – which I’m sure they’d prefer to live without.

Sharon Grish, CD - who recently turned 3 -Joyce and JoAnn Hill
Sharon Grish, CD – who recently turned 3 – Joyce and JoAnn Hill

CD at my party

My second obligatory birthday riff – no matter what birthday it happens to be – is how achingly sad I feel to be so old. The melancholy trauma of aging hit me for the first time when I turned ten. I was inconsolable at the realization that from that day forward, my age would never again be a single digit.

Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Me with Terry McDonnell
Me with Terry McDonnell

Although I should know better by now (live for today, darn it!) I’m always lamenting the loss of something trivial, especially compared to the blessings I’ve enjoyed in this life. If you’re into the enneagram, I’m a classic type 4 personality – obsessed by what’s missing, never satisfied with what I have – until I lose it, anyway.

Me talking to Peggy
Me talking to Peggy

 

February 27, 1969

February 27, 1969

 This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.

Reading acceptance letter from UCLA
Reading acceptance letter from UCLA

That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time!  A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.

Even a Mollusk would know
Even a Mollusk would know

It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody  you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her,  I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)

The letter that forged my destiny
The letter that forged my destiny

To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning  went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”

Saying goodbye to Santa Clara
Saying goodbye to Santa Clara

Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future.  And that’s what actually mattered.

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