Santa Clara

December 5, 1968

 

Deember 5, 1968

As I understand it, millennials – and, for that matter, gen-xers too – get to write their own ticket when it comes to senior pictures. Not only can they choose their own wardrobe, they can select the location(s) of their photo shoot – the better to accurately convey their personality.

Kathleen Knutsen Senior Picture

Back in the Dark Ages, things were different. All the graduating girls in my Wilcox yearbook flaunt the same black drape – it had been a tradition for decades. As a child in my grandfather’s house, I revered the four framed 8×10 senior portraits of my father and his siblings that adorned the wall. The implicit message was, your senior picture is for life – it will follow you to your grave.

My mother's high school graduation photo (I think)
My mother’s high school graduation photo (I think)

I wasn’t entirely wrong. Name a celebrity who hasn’t been mortified by the reappearance of his or her senior picture. Like the driver’s license photo that could double for a mug shot, a senior picture is forever.

My father
My father

I invite anyone reading this blog to post their own senior picture in the comments section. If you went to Wilcox, it’s in my yearbook, but rather than embarrass anyone, I call for volunteers. Any takers?

December 3, 1980

December 3, 1980

 These were heady, exciting days.  The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.

As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!
As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!

I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes?  The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.

My high school student disguise
My high school student disguise

Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.

Real life - if Ren Faire can be considered real life.
Real life – if Ren Faire can be considered real life.

 

November 13, 1964

November 13, 1964_edited-1

"Squirmin'" Herman
Squirman Herman

Girls lined up on one side of the hall. Boys barricaded the other. Girls hoped to be asked to dance. (Dancing alone, or with another girl, was not yet a thing.)  The only fate worse than passively waiting to be chosen by a 13-year-old boy with braces was to be that hapless boy, crossing the Sahara of the dance floor to mumble, “Do you wanna dance?” Which is, of course, a freaking joy ride compared to the torturous solo retreat to the boy’s bastion after the girl says she’s “not in the mood.”

Sporting the Bavarian look - with sisters and grandparents
Sporting the Bavarian look – with sisters and grandparents

The month before the mixer, I envisioned my night unfolding much like Maria in “West Side Story”, when Tony glimpsed her across a crowded dance floor. It never happened like that. Why not?  Let me count the ways. I was a seventh-grade giantess trapped in a life-long bad hair day. My mother dressed me like a goat-herding girl in the Austrian Alps and my father was a Lutheran pastor, as terrifying to Protestants as it was to Catholics, Jews and atheists. I wasn’t even a good dancer, due to lack of practice.

Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.
Janet and I wear matching home-made dresses.

What was right about my life in Jr. High? A mother who loved me enough to sew for me (the results improved). A father who brought me a Squirman Herman caterpillar when he returned from a trip. It was more than enough.

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

April 8, 1965

April 8, 1965

I tried to impress by playing oboe in the Jefferson Jr.High School Band. It's not impressive if you're terrible but the uniform was fun!
I tried to impress by playing oboe in the Jefferson Jr.High School Band. It’s not impressive if you’re terrible but the uniform was fun!

Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers at Jefferson Jr. High and I desperately wanted to impress him. He inspired me and challenged me in ways I remember to this day. I was lucky enough to have several remarkable teachers – among them, Jerry Farrington (Wilcox High School), Bill Froug (UCLA) and Shelly Lowenkopf (USC). I also had one terrible teacher whose last name rhymed with “cruel” (in third grade). In retrospect, what made her “cruel” was her total lack of regard for me. I was just another kid in her class which was unacceptable.

Gerald Farrington
Gerald Farrington
Bill Froug
Bill Froug
Shelly Lowenkopf
Shelly Lowenkopf

I worked hard – especially for teachers I admired – to be singled out as special. While it’s entirely possible they saw nothing noteworthy about me at all, they convinced me they thought I had something, which was more than enough to motivate an approval junkie like myself.

School picture of a girl desperate to be teacher's pet.
School picture of a girl desperate to be teacher’s pet.

Maybe that’s the trick to motivating most people. Who doesn’t want to feel special? Who isn’t willing to go the extra mile for somebody who sees something extraordinary in them? Nobody I know receives as much attention and validation as they need. It’s not polite to ask for it (and if you do, it ruins whatever you get) but I suspect most people thirst for appreciation. The trouble is, outside of academia, it’s easy to get out of the habit of offering it.  I’m going to make an effort to stop thinking about myself long enough to make a habit of giving it. It’s the least I can do, considering how much has been given to me.

April 2, 1970


April 2, 1970

I felt cornered - I felt trapped
I felt cornered – I felt trapped

When I was young and dumb, I did more than my share of dangerous things but this experience was the only time I feared for my life. In retrospect, maybe John was just a lonely guy who posed no threat but I’d never found myself powerless in the passenger seat with a stranger before.  Luckily, my threat about a “hand in my knife” did the trick. I still don’t know if I would’ve used it.

One of the scarier pictures of myself - I look ;like I might actually carry a knife (only when I got in cars with strange men)
One of the scarier pictures of myself – I look ;like I might actually carry a knife (only when I got in cars with strange men)

At nineteen, I thought I’d live forever. Sure, the newspapers were full of dreadful things happening to people my age but I didn’t know them personally and the possibility of death – or tragedy – touching me or my friends seemed remote.

Thanking my lucky stars

I no longer believe in my own immortality – quite the contrary. Having lost my parents as well as some close friends, I am well aware of the fragility of life and the brevity of our time on this planet.  While Doomsday doesn’t lurk around every corner, I no longer take it for granted that I and the people I love have all the time in the world.

Someday, inevitably, I will die - hopefully not at the hands of a monk on the Janss Steps at UCLA.
Someday, inevitably, I will die – hopefully not at the hands of a monk on the Janss Steps at UCLA.

This knowledge ought to motivate me not to waste another minute – to stop procrastinating and focus on what’s truly important but I’m a slow learner. While I no longer take foolish chances like I once did, I still waste time like I’ve got an unlimited supply – and that needs to change.

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

 

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.

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.

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