preacher’s kid

February 5, 1967

February 5, 1967

 This day has always loomed large in memory – in many ways, it epitomizes my adolescence. First, I have to cop to outrageous thoughtlessness due to the self-centered cloud I lived in. This was a momentous day for my father – in fact, I’ll wager it meant more to him than it did to me.

My Dad, the Pastor of Hope Lutheran
My Dad, the Pastor of Hope Lutheran

 

My Father's dream come true
My Father’s dream come true
My Mother and Father dressed for the occasion
My Mother and Father dressed for the occasion

My indifference to its importance in his life shames me today. I was incapable of grasping a world beyond my transient teen-age hurt over a bad time at a dance or my elation at meeting a new boy.

Natalie and I goofing off
Natalie and I goofing off

Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble and this was no exception. (The fact it was a Catholic Youth Organization dance – and in 1968 Lutherans and Catholics weren’t all that ecumenical – didn’t help.) Natalie got grounded too. Maybe that added to the drama and thrill of it all. Since we paid the price, the experience had to be of value, right? When Natalie was alive, no matter where we were, we called each other on February 5th to remember and commiserate.

Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble.
Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble.

For me, the ramifications of that Sunday adventure lasted for years. I became obsessed with X (after he dropped me). At the time, I blamed my senior year clinical depression on my obsession with that failed romance but it was a scapegoat – the depression was inside me, just waiting for an excuse. And in some ways, the obsession served me well – it kept me aloof from other serious romantic entanglements that might’ve changed my life – maybe for better, maybe for worse. Like most events of my adolescence, it  doesn’t matter; I’m happy with the life I live now.

What plans lurked behind those bright eyed smiling faces?
What plans lurked behind those bright eyed smiling faces?
Hope Lutheran, forever in my mind, forever in my heart
Hope Lutheran, forever in my mind, forever in my heart

December 18, 1966

December 18, 1966

With sisters during construction of Hope Lutheran in 1966.
With sisters during construction of Hope Lutheran in 1966.

This is one of my most vivid memories. My father’s caustic criticism was the angriest thing he ever said to me – which says a lot, because I gave my parents plenty of reasons to be angry. They tended to be “disappointed” instead, which more effectively motivated me to change my behavior.

My father and I on my Confirmation Day.
My father and I on my Confirmation Day.

Most parents would respond to my obnoxious attitude somewhere between irritation and fury. I suspect very few would have the grace to apologize when he was in the right.  (At worst, he tried to manipulate me into being more generous. Hardly child abuse.)

Me with my dad and mom
Me with my dad and mom

Unfortunately, this was neither the first nor the last time I behaved like a selfish brat. I’m the one who should’ve apologized to him and my sisters. At most, it would’ve cost me a couple hours to do the right thing but I was fifteen, stubborn and intent on doing “my thing.”

My family
My family

I don’t remember if I said I was sorry but I think he knew I was (the tears were a give-away.)  My father taught me all I know about how to act with integrity in this world – simply by being himself. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t measure up to his example – I haven’t known many people who could – but growing up with him made me a better person than I could’ve been otherwise.

The Knutsens

All of my life, I’ve been lucky – blessed. My father and mother were the biggest blessings of all.

December 2, 1976

December 2, 1976

My mom
My mom

 It’s typical that my mother and father asked about me before dropping their terrible news. If the situation had been reversed – if I’d been mugged – they wouldn’t have gotten a word out edgewise before I recounted every last detail. This particular episode shocked me on so many levels. Even though I know better, it stuns me when bad things happen around churches. As a child, I believed they were sacrosanct, safe.  (That’s why I didn’t lock my first bike when I stopped by to visit my dad at his church office when I was 10. Of course it got stolen. I couldn’t believe it.)

My wonderful parents when they were young.
My wonderful parents when they were young.

It’s also typical of them that instead of crying about the injustice of it all, my father expressed gratitude it wasn’t worse. I couldn’t find much gratitude in my own heart. Forty years later, I’m grateful that this is one of few – if any – episodes of random violence to impact my family. Writing those words is a little scary – by calling attention to our good fortune, am I jinxing us? (That’s a silly, childish superstition. I hope.)

My parents, around 1976.
My parents, around 1976.

November 29, 1968

November 29, 1968

Royce Hall, UCLA
Royce Hall, UCLA

I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)

The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.
The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.

My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.

Life was paradise as an adored only child.
Life was paradise as an adored only child.

Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.

The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart
The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart

It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.

From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.
From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.

Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child.  You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.

 

November 12, 2013

November 12, 2013

I remember this dinner, which might be impressive if it was more than 4 years ago. It was one of the last relatively healthy celebrations of my mother’s birthday. There was no way to know it was one of the last although the fact it was an 88th birthday might’ve raised a red flag for some.

My mother's birthday in 2013
My mother’s birthday in 2013

Not me. The prospect of my parents not being here was too unbearable to consider. Would occasions like this be sweeter or more painful if we knew it was the last time?

Out for a meal with the family.Out for a meal with the family.
Out for a meal with the family.

In 2013, my mind was on more mundane matters than mortality. I noticed how differently my children act in restaurants compared to my sisters and I. My parents never suggested we couldn’t afford to eat out, but all three of us intuitively ordered the cheapest entree on the menu and requested water instead of an expensive soda. How did we all receive the same explicit message without words?

My sisters and me.
My sisters and me.

My children didn’t receive it. Two out of three never so much as glance at prices. Apparently, they feel worthy enough to order what they want to eat or drink. No crisis has ensued. On the contrary, my father smiled and picked up the tab for the whole group (usually numbering 16 to 20 depending on how many significant others accompany their grandchildren.)  He probably would’ve been equally accepting if my sisters and I ordered appetizers, drinks and other extras, but even today I’d call myself a cautous diner. Other people might call it cheap.

My kids and I - looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar's.
My kids and I – looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar’s.

It would’ve been fun to rehash these silly observations and memories with my parents, now that it’s long ago and far away and we’re all adults. I wish.

Another big family dinner.
Another big family dinner.

 

November 4, 1973

November 4, 1973

I know that girl

I realize how vain and conceited I sound and that’s fair enough. I spend too much time worrying about my looks, comparing myself (negatively) with other girls or models in magazines. If anorexia or bulimia had been a “thing”, I probably would’ve been first to sign up. In 1973 (and before), I bought every wacky diet book– Twiggy was the ideal, remember – and obsessed about my weight.  Who knows what I might’ve accomplished, if I’d turned my mind to something meaningful instead of making endless diet plans (“If I lose two pounds a week, on January 7th I’ll finally be skinny!”).

What the mirror reflects
What the mirror reflects

I suspect I suffer from body dysmorphia alhough I haven’t been formally diagnosed (because  I never told a therapist how much time I waste obsessing about weight. They’d think less of me.) Basically, that means no matter what I look like in the mirror, I see a fat person. Anorexic thinking without the starvation.

What I see in the mirror
What I see in the mirror

That glimpse – on November 4, 1973 – was the first and only time anything like this happened. I’ve never forgotten the sheer shock – the burst of euphoric self-confidence – I experienced. I might’ve been dangerous if I’d been able to hang onto it. Alas, I can’t remember what I looked like – only how I felt.

I remember how I felt
I remember how I felt

I wish we lived in a world where everybody felt like that all the time but maybe we’d turn into  narcissists. Our insecurities keep us humble. Still – enough is enough.

 

November 2, 1965

November 2, 1965

I don’t have much of a defense here. I thoughtlessly exaggerated my victimization – why? To garner sympathy? To make myself sound more interesting? What’s worse, I did it where I could be overheard and hurt my aunt’s feelings. Is this incident why I’ve never ranked as one of her favorite nieces or nephews? Suffice to say, it didn’t help.

Aunt June with all the cousins
Aunt June with all the cousins

In truth, I didn’t mind sharing a room with her that much although odds are that conflict would’ve ensued as I got into adolescence and rock and roll. In 1965, our challenge wasn’t a clash of temperaments but rather lack of space.  Since my father was a Lutheran pastor, my family lived in whatever “parsonage” the parish provided. In Santa Clara, it was a tract home in a subdivision called Lawrence Meadows (adjacent to Killarney Farms. Funny the weird details I remember.)

Lawrence Meadows
Lawrence Meadows

The house was new and fancier than the parsonage where we lived in Elgin Iowa but it wasn’t a McMansion – at most, 1500 square feet. When my father’s younger sister June moved in, there were six people under one roof. So there was a smidgen of truth about my dearth of bureau drawers – just not enough to justify whining about my aunt.

My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.
My family, my aunt June and my grandmother pose in front of the parsonage in Santa Clara.

I wasn’t above eavesdropping myself to catch a false friend talking behind my back. Eventually, I realized how self-destructive that impulse was. Why sneak around to hear something that will – at best – hurt my feelings and – at worst – destroy a friendship forever? Far better to assume the best of others – and try to behave so they can safely assume the best of me.

October 29, 1968

October 29, 1968Mr. Farrington thought he was doing something nice by calling attention to the fact I was writing a book (long-hand, in a spiral bound notebook, not exactly a professional effort). Ironically, his instincts were correct – I did crave attention,  I still do sometimes – I just didn’t want to work (perform) for it. As discussed in prior blogs (link), work in any capacity isn’t one of my strong suits.

"Kathy, tell us all about your novel."
“Kathy, tell us all about your novel.”

In this case, the problem was deeper and more complicated than sloth. I’m an introvert – a loner. In a group – be it therapy, a classroom or a party – I position myself on the fringes or in corners and feign disinterest in their social games. Secretly, I’m far from indifferent. In fact, I’m obsessed with other people’s opinions – of me. I want to impress them and I want something else I can’t admit. What I can’t ask for, I try to steal.

Pay attention to me! (1968)
Pay attention to me! (1968)

I’m talking about attention. I want people focused on how special I am. I want to fascinate with my quirks, my habits, my trivia. I want the cover of Time and Seventeen magazine. I  want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me. What am I prepared to do to make my dreams come true?

I want the cover of Time
I want the cover of Time
And the cover of Seventeen
And the cover of Seventeen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.
I want Johnny Carson to devote a week to mesmerizing me.

Nothing, actually, but let’s call it my “counter-intuitive” strategy. I try to hi-jack attention by falling mysteriously silent. Some concerned soul will ask what’s going on. The more secretive my answers, the more people want to know.

Don't Pay Attention to Me!
Don’t Pay Attention to Me!

To say the least, it’s far from foolproof. As often as not, people ignore the dull girl with nothing to say, in which case I fume in frustration and resent them for being shallow and stupid. For someone who claims to treasure solitude, I blubber like a baby if I’m not invited to the party where everyone else will be. I do not want to go, understand. But life loses all meaning if I’m not invited.

 

 

October 15, 1964

October 15, 1964

Dueling teachers

Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.

Sandy and I could make almost anything fun - or funny.
Sandy and I could make almost anything fun – or funny.

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.

My family circa 1964
My family circa 1964

At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.

This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character - the unpopular brainy girl.
This shot clarifies where I found inspiration for my fictional character – the unpopular brainy girl.

Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.

My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.
My dad giving sister Janet a horsy ride on what was probably a family night.

Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.

Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.
Unpopular nerd girl captured in family setting.

September 28, 1965

September 28, 1965

Usually, when I brought dilemmas like this to my parents, they strongly advised me to stick it out and argued against the change (read escape) that I wanted. For example, I was miserable in third grade. For the first time, I was not teacher’s pet, a situation I considered unbearable. If anything, the teacher (whose last name rhymed with cruel – seriously) actively disliked me. I wanted to transfer to another third grade class and tearfully pleaded my case to my parents.

With my sisters, circa 1965
With my sisters, circa 1965

Unmoved, they pointed out that in the course of my lifetime, I would encounter many people who – like Mrs. Cruel – not only didn’t favor me, actively detested me.  In most instances, transferring would not be a possibility. I might as well learn to cope with this unpleasant scenario now since I’d surely have to face it later. I managed to survive third grade, even though the situation never improved and it remains my least favorite year of elementary school.

In Elgin with my sisters (pre move to California)
In Elgin with my sisters (pre move to California)

This wasn’t the only time they failed to rescue me. Going back further still – to when we lived in Elgin, Iowa, and I was under five – a neighbor boy encroached on my toys. I raced inside to enlist my parents on my behalf. “Kathleen, you’re old enough to fight your own battles,” my father said.

I'm the tough little girl on the far right.
I’m the tough little girl on the far right.

I took him seriously and upended my plastic wading pool on top of the neighbor boy, trapping him until my parents intervened. I don’t think I’ve fought my own battles quite so effectively since then.

 


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