oldest child

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.

 

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 25, 1993

November 25, 1993

John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.
John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.

In the early years of our marriage, John and I alternated holidays between my family and his – Thanksgiving in Fresno, Christmas in San Diego, reversed in the following year. Gradually we spent more holidays with my family because my parents and sisters all moved within five miles of my home.

Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell
Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell

I don’t recall when both of our mothers stopped volunteering to host Thanksgiving but they powered through longer than I could’ve. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house, largely because when the question arises – “where are we doing Thanksgiving this year?” – I’m hiding in the bathroom.

CD and cousin Jeff Rowell
CD and cousin Jeff Rowell

Fortunately, my failings as a cook and hostess are compensated by my sister Janet and her husband Jim McCann, who do Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas ninety percent of the time. They are an indefatigable team, toiling from dawn till dusk to present the perfect meal without complaint (not entirely without complaint – but within civilized limits.) My contribution? Diet Coke and sparkling water.

Sam, John, and Evie Rowell
Sam, John, and Evie Rowell

Their house is well-suited to entertaining, with its vast rolling dog-friendly lawn. Singles and stragglers are always welcome.  A good time is had by all.

Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell

Although I have a thousand photos of Thanksgiving at Jani’s, this blog is ostensibly about Thanksgiving in 1993, the first and last time I hosted the Rowell clan at our house.  I’m posting those photos today to prove it.

Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton
Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton

November 18, 1995

November 18, 1995

Brad Wigor
Brad Wigor

What’s not to love about travelling to research a writing project? For starters, producers must fly writers First Class – something my Midwestern roots won’t allow me to do for myself.  It’s superficial, but it made me feel important. Another benefit, for some – free alcohol.  All I know is, the diet Coke they serve in first class tastes the same as it does in economy.

Kathleen onboard

In the early days, I fantasized jetting to Paris for a true-life story but apparently very few Parisian lives are MOW material, (link to Movie of the Week). The stories I got hired to write unspooled in tiny Texas or Louisiana towns where the top hotel stood side by side with the local slaughterhouse.  This is not to knock small towns or southern states; I’m from rural Iowa myself (Graettinger and Estherville, anyone?)  However, as quaint and charming as Kickapoo, Kansas, might be, no one will ever mistake it for Paris.

With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport
With my cousins at the tiny Spencer Iowa Airport

I liked everyone I interviewed except the cold-blooded killer in the high-security Texas prison. Getting to know the people made the job fun. What made it hard was their desire for their stories to be told truthfully, like they happened in reality. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that regardless of how dramatic and compelling their tale might be, inevitably “a true story” dilutes to “inspired by a true story” or, worst case scenario, “inspired by a concept based on an idea related to a possibly true story.”

A real life business trip - Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.
A real life business trip – Brad Wigor was one of the producers on this movie.

This particular tale of young love in the bayou was not produced, which was disappointing but not surprising. In those days, maybe half the scripts a network developed got produced (which is still a significantly higher ratio than feature projects in development).  What did surprise me was my sympathies shifted from the love-struck kids to the Mom.  A tad troubling, since I built my career on angsty teens, not their uptight parents living lives of quiet desperation. Was it possible my struggle with my rebellious teen son was turning me into one of “them”?

Yeah, I think so. About time, too.

November 7, 1976

November 7, 1976

I was the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me when I gave birth to CD (a month after this shower, 16 months after J and I impulsively got married, in case anyone’s counting). Since I was an infant, I cannot testify to my mother’s state of mind or level of maturity but I strongly suspect she was more responsible and together than me at the same age.  Living through the Great Depression– as opposed to the Summer of Love– would tend to mature people quickly.

Pregnant with CD

John and I always planned to have children, just not in 1976.  He was in his second year of law school and before learning I was pregnant I quit my job at USC, leaving us no health insurance.  I doubt many people pay cash to give birth in hospitals today but it was possible then. These financial issues paled next to John and my psychological readiness to be parents.

8 months and counting

Our parents made it look easy; we thought we had it wired – even though we lived in a world without children (unless you count USC students as children). My friends from college were appalled when I told them I was having a baby – “Are you crazy? You’ll ruin your life.”

Let me help you

It did cost me the life I’d led until the birth of my son – because the world and my place in it shifted – but my life wasn’t “ruined.” That said, I’d be lying if I claimed things got easier – for a while, everything – including our marriage – suffered from an overload of change and stress. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No regrets.

Shower Games2

My children aren’t rushing into things like I did. My youngest is older than I was after my third child.  Statistically, you’d think my odds of grandchildren would be high, with three adult children, but my youngest sister Joyce will soon have two and I have none (Waaaa!). Not that I’d ever want to pressure my children or anything.

Shower Games3

Tick tick.

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 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.

October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

When my sisters and I bought tickets for the awesome Desert Trip last year, it never occurred to us we’d be too wiped out to cross the finish line – Sunday’s double bill of Roger Waters and the Who. I can’t recall who broached the subject of leaving early first – not me. I objected strenuously but my heart wasn’t in it. Desert days were sweltering and nights didn’t cool fast enough plus my feet hurt. As painful as it was to admit my lack of stamina – another way of saying, I’m getting old – there’s nothing like some first-class pampering at a spa to ease the agony.

The Players
The Players

For the record, we were disappointed with Dylan (who won the Nobel Peace Prize the following week) due to his disregard for the audience. No hello, goodbye, or introduction of his band – his face hidden under a hat, rarely visible even on the huge video screens. I’m a fan of his music, not so much his performance. The Stones, as expected, were spectacular.

The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip
The three of us K Girls at Desert Trip

The next night, Neil Young was great and what can I say about the love of my life, Paul McCartney?  Spectacular, as always. Realistically, a third rock concert the night after McCartney couldn’t help but be anti-climactic. There’s no one like Sir Paul.

Aglow with the excitement of the evening.
Aglow with the excitement of the evening.

Then there’s my embarrassing behavior in the tiff with my sisters You’d think somebody too old to handle three consecutive rock concerts would be mature enough not to act like a baby. Unfortunately, the most obnoxious sides of my personality surface with my sisters, who I love dearly.  I’m guessing echos of old behaviors from the childhood we shared seep into our present interactions and catapult us back to primitive childhood emotions.

Oh Gosh!_edited-1

Sour Lemon

Mom! Kathy is doing all the talking again!

It was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.
But, it was nice of Janet to take a picture of Joyce and me.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just a bitch.

Who, moi!
Who, moi!

 

 


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