memory

February 19, 2012

February 19, 2012

There’s a bittersweet quality to seeing my oldest son do what I once did – albeit, in an entirely new way. Naturally, I’m proud of him (see my October 14, 2006 blog for details of his torturous – for his parents, anyway – journey from sophomore high school drop out to valedictorian in his film school major at UCLA. It was for real – we heard him give the speech. He thanked his father, who majored in poli sci at USC, instead of me, a fellow UCLA film school alumni. Go figure.) As happy and proud as I am, part of me longs to stand where he now stands. It’s less about envy than nostalgia.

CD preparing to walk for graduation.
CD preparing to walk for graduation.
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
The Melnitz lobby facing the blank theater
The Melnitz lobby facing the James Bridges  theater

These feelings became acute the night John and I attended the screening of his Project 1 equivalent film. Melnitz Hall looks the same, at least from the outside – and the Jakes Bridges theater where I screened my Project 1 film is oh so familiar – but look closer and everything has changed.  I don’t recognize a single name on the faculty roster. Different people occupy all of my old professor’s offices.

The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.

During another student’s gory film, I took a breather and went into the lobby. Sitting there, by myself, sent me reeling through decades long gone. Memories of hours spent between classes in that very spot – albeit on funkier couches – flooded me. I half expected a classmate from my past to stroll up and say hello but that didn’t happen. As an old Madonna song might put it,  Melnitz Hall used to be my playground. Now, although it holds a place in my life and my heart, it’s not my world and it won’t be again.

Conferring with Dean (I think)
Conferring with Dean (I think)

On the bright side, writing – my area of specialization – remains essentially the same, at least in terms of skill set, despite technological advances such as computers instead of an IBM Selectric, printers instead of carbon paper, script delivery by email attachment instead of by messenger. (What happened to the messenger industry? Are they out of business?) I got on board with word processing early and it hasn’t been hard to stay on top of the curve.

CDR Valedictorian

I was faced with another transition shortly after CD graduated, when I was offered an opportunity to teach screen writing at Columbia College Hollywood. I’ve always identified as a student – in part because I enjoy and take frequent writing workshops to stay current – and now I’m on the other side of the desk. So far, I enjoy it.  Spending hours mentoring millennials is as close as I’ll get to re-experiencing my heady undergraduate days (albeit vicariously, from a different POV). There’s a palpable rush of creative energy that comes when I cross the threshold of a campus like UCLA or Columbia. It’s not a time machine or the Fountain of Youth, but it’s close enough.

February 16, 1980

February 16, 1980

CD with Great Grandpa K
CD with Great Grandpa K

CD had recently turned three and (to the best of my recollection) he was Grandma and Grandpa K’s first great-grandchild (which makes sense since I was their first grandchild).  There’s something special about seeing four generations together under one roof – probably because, inevitably, it won’t last long.

CD with Great Grandma K
CD with Great Grandma K

At this point in time, my grandparents were far from senile – they never did fall prey to dementia or lose their wits – but they unmistakably slowed down. After dinner, they spent most evenings watching TV.  Grandpa favored what I considered “low-brow” shows like BJ & the Bear and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. I was still enough of a snob to be uncomfortably aware our family forebears seemed a tad un-intellectual (not anti-intellectual, just not very) compared to the parents of most of my friends, including J’s cosmopolitan parents. I wouldn’t pass such harsh judgment today, having learned in the intervening years that reading great books does not necessarily make you a great person.

CD absorbs a piano lesson.
CD absorbs a piano lesson.

My grandmother was a gifted pianist – she could play anything by ear and took requests. She knew every hymn in the book but her secular favorite was “Red Wing”. played at Lutheran services for years – and she passed her love and talent for music on to her children and grandchildren in varying degrees. I, for example, missed out on the talent part but inherited the love. By contrast, my cousin Wayne – by virtue of hours of daily practice even as an adult – became the most amazing pianist in the family, as natural and accomplished as my grandmother.

CD sneaks a glamce at camera as Great Grandma, Janet and Joyce pay attention to music.
CD sneaks a glamce at camera as Great Grandma, Janet and Joyce pay attention to music.

She was a petite Midwestern woman, determined to make herself smaller so she didn’t take up a disproportionate amount of space. If we had chicken for dinner, she insisted her favorite part was the neck. I’m certain I inherited my Fuchs disease from her but she never complained about it (although she constantly rinsed her eyes with boric acid – which, in another time and place, might’ve been a clue). She was a true Norwegian. She didn’t complain about anything. I could learn a lot from her.

My family with grandparents in their younger days.
My family with grandparents in their younger days.

 

 

February 13, 1969

Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.
Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.

February 13, 1969

In my senior year of high school, Mr. Cameron (my counselor) offered me the chance to be a counselor at the Redwood Glenn Science Camp for a week in lieu of attending high school. I didn’t think twice – sign me up! I’d enjoyed my weeks as a camper at Mt. Cross years earlier and I loved the movie Parent Trap, half of which took place at camp. What could possibly go wrong?

More sulking in the great outdoors.
More sulking in the great outdoors.

I forgot I was neither a nature girl or a science whiz, for starters. It poured all week long but despite monsoon conditions, we hiked all day every day and once at night. That was more than miserable enough,  even if the rain hadn’t roused armies of huge thick worms.

Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.
Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.

As if the worms weren’t enough, I had twelve angst-ridden 6th grade girls to shepherd. One leeched herself to me and never stopped talking. One was a bed-wetter, not a huge problem until the other girls found out and teased her to tears. She ambled along like a puppet loosely strung, everything about her limp, lifeless. Or was I projecting my lethargic depressed self onto her?

Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.
Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.

My duty as a counselor was to bundle them in and out of oversize rain gear, herd them on hikes, scrape uneaten or recently disgorged food off their plates, persuade them to shower so our tent didn’t get too ripe, and attempt to pay attention to them – something they all seemed sorely deprived of and were desperately needy for.

I did my best, but it was a bad fit. I regretted saying yes to this gig. Once again, I’d forgotten who I was – i.e., a curmudgeon who lacked rapport with children. I was too serious and impatient for my peers, forget little kids. And, in 1969, I was in the throes of clinical depression, so no matter how old my companion might be, the time spent with me was no one’s idea of a party.

Clearly, the life of the party!
Clearly, the life of the party!

All that said, I believe they all had a much better time than I did and no lasting harm accrued to anyone. Those little girls would be 59 or 60 years old today. I wonder how their lives unfolded?

 

Yolanda’s Room

Yolanda forever in our hearts
Yolanda forever in our hearts

“Grief doesn’t have a plot. It isn’t smooth. There is no beginning, and middle and end.”

  • Ann Hood

A year ago today, we lost Crescentia Yolanda Hernandez – known as Yolanda, Yoli or Nana, never her given name Crescentia which she hated. Technically, her death wasn’t unexpected – she suffered from a rare, unusually virulent cancer. Statistically, her odds were poor but Yolanda – who came to the US from El Salvador in her early twenties and earned her citizenship – was a fighter. She wanted to live so desperately she endured chemo, radiation, experimental treatments, anything for a little more time.

Yolanda touched all of our lives with her boundless capacity for love
Yolanda touched all of our lives with her boundless capacity for love

There were so many things she wanted to do. She voraciously collected, clipped or copied recipes to cook someday, unaware she was already almost out of time.  She longed to visit her family in El Salvador but postponed it until she completed her current course of chemo, when she was in better health.  She didn’t know – none of us did – it was already too late.

Young Yolanda, far left, with her two brothers and sisters
Young Yolanda, far left, with her two brothers and sisters

Not a day goes by that my family – who embraced Yolanda as a vital part of that family early in the 32 years she lived with us – doesn’t want to share something with her. She wouldn’t be happy the Clippers traded Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but she’d definitely want to know. I’d like to say things I should’ve  said more often and sooner. How she changed our lives for the better, how much we love her and how we’ll always miss her. There’s an empty space in our lives where Yolanda lived. Her bedroom is always, only, Yolanda’s room to us. As long as we live here, it will be Yolanda’s room.

Forever in our hearts
Forever in our hearts

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss… you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, (emphasis mine)

We offer this video as a constant reminder of the love and joy Yolanda brought to our lives.

https://youtu.be/g5YBloGLMDg

Yolanda, we will always love you.
Yolanda, we will always love you.

February 11, 1986

February 11, 1986

Vania Train Ride

Matt, John, Jim McCann, Me in Austria
Matt, John, Jim McCann, Me in Austria
Janet must have been taking all of the pictures in Austria
Janet must have been taking all of the pictures in Austria

Last year I wrote about one of the most magical days of my life, carnival in Venice on this same trip to Europe. Carnival in Munich was somewhat less spectacular. I was there with my sister Janet, her soon-to-be-husband Jim McCann, and brother-in-law extraordinaire Matt Rowell. I can’t recall why John didn’t go to Munich with us – he had a less than wonderful time back at the Sports Chalet in Austria where we stayed – a solitary dinner in a cabaret, surrounded by Germans laughing uproariously at jokes he did not understand.

Me (Jim McCann behind) freezing in Munich
Me (Jim McCann behind) freezing in Munich

There’s only so much eating and drinking one can stand, particularly when you’re the only one in the group who doesn’t drink alcohol. I really felt like shopping and Jani – with her razor-sharp sisterly instinct – said that proved that I was too consumer-oriented. Maybe she had a point; it bothered me shopping wasn’t an option. The fact that all the stores were closed – totally inaccessible – made the merchandise in their windows that much more attractive.

At the train station
At the train station

I didn’t carry my camera that day, but Janet was always ready to shoot.  Alongside the furious little boy hurling himself in the snow, there were scenes and still shots of startling beauty. Jim suggested Jani shoot a bicycle posed against the Munich city scene. We both subsequently enlarged the shot and it still hangs in my home. Simple but so evocative.

The Bike
The Bike

Trains– especially trains at night – exert their own magic. They suggest so many stories to tell.  Quite apart from their mood-inducing creative energy, the ease of public transportation in Europe – subways as well as trains – makes me long for the day it covers more ground in Los Angeles. In recent years, I discovered LA does have a Metro and the Red Line stops across the street from the Pantages Theater, my most frequent Hollywood destination. It’s so much easier than driving and parking in Hollywood, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Janet, Jim, Me, Matt, at Train Station in Munich
Janet, Jim, Me, Matt, at Train Station in Munich

 

February 9, 1971

February 9, 1971

San Fernando Earthquake

As frightening as that 6.5-6.7 earthquake was, I don’t think I really did take the possibility that I might die soon seriously. I was still a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. And – although I’d lived in California for fifteen years, fourteen of them in Santa Clara, this was my very first earthquake (at least the first that I can remember). Luke was on a high floor in the boy’s wing of Sproul. Hall; I was on the 6th floor of the girl’s wing. I’m not sure if this is technically true, but it seemed like the higher you were, the wilder the ride.

Sylmar Vetrans Hospital Prior to and the day of the 1971 earthquake.
Sylmar Vetrans Hospital Prior to and the day of the 1971 earthquake.
With my 1971 roommate, Miya Kamijo
With my 1971 roommate, Miya Kamijo

In a weird coincidence, that week my Swedish class was translating a fictional article about an earthquake in the US. Since the Sylmar, I’ve experienced two more reasonably big ones – the Whittier (1987, 5.9) and the Northridge (1994, 6.7). As I write this, I can’t help but notice it’s been a long time – almost 28 years!  – since the last big one hit LA – and, of course, we’ve been primed for “The Big One” as far back as I can remember. That said, personally I find earthquakes less threatening than other natural disasters California is spared – hurricane and tornados.

Trying to take the possibility that I might die soon seriously.
Trying to take in all the possibilities of what might happen next.

On a side note, that night there was a screening at Melnitz Hall – UCLA was great about inviting directors to talk about their latest movie before its release. That particular night, the guest director was Martin Ritt. In one of those 6-degrees-of-separation coincidences, I recently became FB friends with his daughter, Martina. LA can be a small, small world.

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

February 2, 1968

February 2 1968

We used carpet for the shattered windows
We used carpet for the shattered windows
I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.

I’m sure some forward-thinking people were anti-fur in 1968, but I was unaware of the movement and – in my self-centered state – I didn’t feel particularly guilty about cloaking myself in the fur of dead animals. I’m not sure if this is much of a defense, but the reason JoAnn and I were modeling furs in the first place was the Hills were raising chinchillas – very rodent-like little creatures – specifically for the fur trade. I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable modeling at all today (not that anybody’s asking) and I definitely wouldn’t wear any kind of fur. But this was fifty (gasp!) years ago and times were quite different then.

I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.
I saw them in their cages at the Hill house, stroked their soft fur, but never really put it together they had to die to fulfill their destiny as a piece of a fur cape.

The other thing that strikes me about this entry is the extreme contrast between this elegant (at least to my adolescent mind) SF furrier salon and a car in which sticks and carpeting served as a rear window. It sounds as if the ludicrous dichotomy escaped me entirely – I enjoyed the whole bizarre experience which I characterized as simply a

Wild Day

I lost touch with JoAnn years ago and I’m hoping if she or somebody who knows her happens across this, she’ll get back in touch.

I lost touch with JoAnn years ago
I lost touch with JoAnn years ago

JoAnn Hill

A year later we modeled the furs at the Hyatt in San Jose.  That is replayed in a blog I shared with you last February 8th (Modeling at the Hyatt).

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 14, 1964

 

December 14, 1964

Perhaps what Chamberlain Castle would have looked like
Perhaps what “Chamberlain Castle” would have looked like

I suspect the reason I didn’t have imaginary friends was my two sisters. (That said, the youngest – Joyce – had a a deep long-lasting friendship with an imaginary boy named Keith – and for all I know, Janet had one too but she never told me.)  Sandy was an only child with an oversized imagination so naturally she created a cast of companions.

With sisters instead of imaginary friends
With sisters instead of imaginary friends

The characters in my story took the place of imaginary friends. My favorite part was naming them. I was – and still am – obsessed with names. I used to go through the fashion section of the huge Sears catalog that arrived every year and name the models. Selecting the perfect moniker was a challenge in 1964 because all the names in the baby books – and all the kids I knew – got stuck with traditional names (Kathy being particularly popular in the early fifties – see link to blog).

Sandy and me on the beach in 1964
Sandy and me on the beach in 1964

The era of exotic names – Apple, Charisma, Karma, Carlisle, Kipling (many unisex) – was at least a decade in the future, maybe more. In 1964, the top five names for girls were Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen and Patricia. For boys, Michael, John, David, James and Robert.

My non-imaginary friend, Sandy
My non-imaginary friend, Sandy

The less said about the story described above, the better. At thirteen, I cornered the market on terrible hackneyed ideas. A surprising number survive, although recently I realized I might not need to save everything.  If “Chamberlain Castle” never escapes the slush pile (in this case, a file cabinet in the garage) the literary world will not suffer.

 


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