father

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.

 

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.

 

September 8, 1964

September 8, 1964_edited-1

$2.00 - My total net worth at the time.
$2.00 – My total net worth at the time.

 Funny how my perception of what constitutes a “problem” changed over the years. Today, for instance, it wouldn’t bother me a bit to be known as a brain – quite the contrary.

My geeky dud self around this time.
My geeky dud self around this time.

My mother telling me I’d be allowed to go to a Jr. High dance was a really big deal in a positive way.  I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype of a preacher forbidding an entire town of teens from dancing ala “Footloose.” As a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, I can unequivocally state my father never sought to impose his views on a community – or even a neighborhood. And, to the best of my knowledge, Lutherans have not been “forbidden” to dance in my lifetime.

With my nuclear family around this time.
With my nuclear family around this time.

That said, even in the sixties some stigma attached to dancing at least in the Midwest. I had a major temper tantrum one summer when I wasn’t allowed to go to a dance at Lake Okoboji with my cousins. More importantly – at least to me – because of this unwritten stigma about the clergy and dancing, I never got to go to a Father-Daughter Dance with my dad. He was uncomfortable with the idea.

With my handsome father.
With my handsome father.

As far as parents go, mine were the best and I have nothing to complain about. Whining about how I never got to dance with my dad is vain and silly, I know that. Still. I thought he was the handsomest man in the world and I would have loved to show him off and dance with him, just once.

My daughter with her father at her Father-Daughter high school dance.
My daughter with her father at her Father-Daughter high school dance.

September 3, 1978

September 3, 1978

 Board Games in Tahoe 1978

This is one of those vacations that passed without significant incident – no sight-seeing or hiking expeditions, just a few ordinary days in a beautiful environment away from the distractions of home. There was more “action” doing Tahoe with the Rowell’s, in part because there are more of them. John is the oldest of seven and all of them, plus his parents and his aunt Mary, were at Tahoe in 1977  – unlike John, at least for the first two days, who was not. He worked for a maniacal boss and couldn’t get away. When he did escape, he almost immediately got sick.

More board games in Tahoe 1978

The Rowell’s were more social – what I thought of as party people. No one would ever describe my family as “party people”.  I might as well be gauche and say it; they had more money. They dined out at swankier restaurants than Bob’s Big Boy a couple nights a week.  Unless it was Bob’s or we had a coupon, we rarely ate out more than once or twice a year. I’m not complaining; my palate was satisfied with a Big Boy. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by my in-laws more glamourous life-style.

Joyce and me striking a pose and Captain Janet probably winning at miniature golf.
Joyce and me striking a pose and Captain Janet probably winning at miniature golf.

Our relatively quiet brood of five – six including the soon to be Terrible Two CD – were less cosmopolitan. Our idea of a party took place every Sunday night, when my father finished his duties at church. Instead of dinner, we indulged in a weekly “popcorn party” – the popping part involved more ritual before microwaves simplified everything.

CD - 1978
CD – 1978

Casinos were not on our itinerary but we played every board game under the sun. By 1978, Jani and I no longer burst into tears and accused each other of cheating. There’s something to be said for learning how to lose. Was this an exciting vacation? Hardly. Memorable? Not that much. I’ve shared as much as I remember.

We 3
We 3

Still, looking back, this low-key time assumes a bittersweet beauty – magnified now that I’ve lost both my parents. What I wouldn’t give for a few more of those beautiful ordinary days with them!

August 29, 1966

August 29, 1966

Prophetic words. As history has it, that San Francisco concert was the very last performance all four Beatles gave in the USA. For years, I tormented my parents about the injustice of not letting me go – made even more egregious the following year when they did give permission for my sister Janet to go to a Monkees concert. The Monkees, of all bands! When I was not allowed to see the Beatles!

Monkees fan sister Janet with guitar in backyard.
Monkees fan sister Janet with guitar in backyard.

I know I wasn’t the only girl to sincerely believe she’d never love any boy as much as she loved Paul, John, George or Ringo. Some straight boys that I knew – mostly aspiring musicians – loved the Beatles as much as I did (although I suspect our fantasies about them differed).

Can you Imagine, $4.50 for a Beatles concert? The one I didn't get to attend!
Can you Imagine, $4.50 for a Beatles concert? The one I didn’t get to attend!

It’s obvious their music has stood the test of time. People born long after they broke up love them too. But I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t young – meaning, a teen-ager – when they burst upon the rock scene can fully comprehend the sheer magnitude of their effect. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was a revelation next to everything else played on popular AM radio. It still gives me chills when I really pay attention to it. In some mysterious way, it changed everything. 

Me slightly sulky with family in 1966
Me slightly sulky with family in 1966

A new Beatles single was an event. Everybody stopped and listened. Girls wanted to be their girlfriend, boys wanted to be them. They came from nowhere, they made it look easy. Maybe it’s not so surprising my parents underestimated their importance, took them for a passing fad instead of an artistic, cultural phenomenon unlikely to be equaled in my lifetime.

The Beatles at a press conference - August 1966
The Beatles at a press conference – August 1966

Go ahead, argue others are bigger. Make a case for Sinatra, Elvis, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, the Stones. I’m not suggesting they weren’t important, major influences on music. But for my money, none of them come close to the Beatles in terms of song-writing talent, ingenuity, the ability to re-invent themselves and inspire a generation to do the same.

Sandy Walker in John Lennon style Beatles cap with me
Sandy Walker in John Lennon style Beatles cap with me

Meeting Paul McCartney in person is #1 on my bucket list. As of now, it’s not looking likely. But if I found out he was at a local bookstore or restaurant, I’d be in my car in a flash if only just to gaze in wonder at my first true love.

As close as I'm likely to come to Mr. McCartney - Desert Trip, October 2016
As close as I’m likely to come to Mr. McCartney – Desert Trip, October 2016

May 11, 1965

May 11, 1965

The picture in the front of that diary - still hideous after all these years.
The picture in the front of that diary – still hideous after all these years.

 In 1965, I was foolishly over-optimistic about how easy it  would be to conquer my tendency to talk like it’s a race to the finish line (and the loser dies) whenever I speak to a group. The larger the group, the faster I gallop.

I call this facial expression "the Silent Scream".
I call this facial expression “the Silent Scream”.

Obviously, nerves – or more accurately fear – is the root of this malady. A doctor explained it’s due to a primal burst of adrenalin – speaking in public triggers a “fight or flight” response in my reptilian brain.

Given my father, a Lutheran pastor, delivered a sermon to a large seated congregation every Sunday, you’d think I might acquire this skill naturally – by osmosis.  I did not.

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

I made up for it in small groups – such as my nuclear family – where I felt comfortable. There, I morphed into “Chatty Cathy”, a nickname I loathed. It was all Janet could do to get a word in edgewise.

Word in edgewise

My father recorded us after dinner and doing family devotions. I belted out every verse of every hymn I knew by heart, barely pausing to catch my breath. In my monotone shriek, it had to be excruciating. My father tried to slow me down. “It’s Janet’s turn. Let Janet sing.”

She's too little!

(atonal shrieking)

Joy to the world

 

Let Earth recieve her KING

And on and on, all recorded for posterity. Clearly, I was desperate to entertain them lest they decide I’d become redundant now that Baby Janet was on the scene. Photographic evidence of my terrifying ordeal can be seen in my gallery, “Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby”.

 

 

 


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