Sunday, July 5, 2009

More 1949-1950

At left, c. 1930, my father's second sister, Audine (b. 1908), with her husband Harold McLaren in Bishop, California. I met her in person only about 20 year later, on the occasion of my father's funeral.
Many of my high school friends are not only (like me) still alive but still my friends, though at a distance, since I now live in a place that once I knew only from Travel shorts at the movies and from the then-new Holiday Magazine. It is not like writing about the children of my early childhood, and hereafter I really shall write on topics, as they occur to me, not about one homeroom after the other, since homerooms no longer were the cohesive factor of school. When I think of something that might (or might not) be quite different now, I'll write it up.
For now, to get to May, 1950, apart from OHS.
Around the corner from the house on E. 25th Street was a neighborhood grocery, which also had newspapers and magazines and paperback books. No one knew yet what paperback books would become. Mostly they were just pulp fiction and collections of occasional interest, like "A Pocket Book of Boners", first published in 1945 with some illustrations by Dr. Seuss before he became really famous. It remained in print for at least a decade: 'By self-pollination a farmer can get a flock of long-haired sheep' or even 'An epistle is an apostle's wife' do not lose their charm. But at the grocery I found Thomas Craven's Greek Art, Paul J. Sachs' Great Drawings, and Herman J. Wechsler's Gods and Goddesses, all published by Pocket Books. One at a time, I acquired them, less than a dollar apiece. Though small, the pictures were photogravure. The text, especially Sachs, was very good, too. Thomas Craven did a workmanlike job on the Greeks. I don't remember where or exactly when I began to get other small books, perhaps at Holmes' Bookstore in downtown Oakland. My pocket money was always limited enough that I got them one at a time and digested each one, most of all, however, those first three. The selection of Gods and Goddesses wasn't the usual Betmann Archive stuff in our school books. The Great Drawings, of course, came mostly from the Fogg. Sachs became one of the most formative influences on my deepest, if unarticulated, ideas and ideals. Often, when I have to stop and wonder how an alumna of Longfellow and Elmhurst Junior High Schools got and never questioned the assumptions of an aesthetics and an American culture entirely different from what I might expect myself to have, the answer comes with a recollection of those little Pocket Books in my hands, the Pocket Books that guided me to my choice of museum shows until I got to university.
During this year and a half my brother, on his newspaper route, barreled down a cross street and was hit, and thrown from his bike, in the middle of 14th Avenue (I think). I remember seeing him still unconscious in Highland Hospital. He was the one that had been severely hyperactive and was severely dyslexic, the one who had broken his leg, the one who was always accident prone. Nature is not fair, and certainly not nice. Not many months later he became severely ill. The doctors at Permanente in Oakland, whose Plan the family had now joined in connection with Daddy's employment at Swans, also called in specialists from the UC Hospital in San Francisco (or was it Stanford?). They diagnosed glomerular nephritis, and Permanente proposed a two-way, simultaneous, live blood transfusion to save him, which was experimental except on animals; it required a close relative of the same blood type as his. Bear in mind that that was pretty much just A, B, AB, and O—whatever was currently understood during the Korean War, anyway. My mother's type did not match. My father's did. They signed the understanding of the experimental nature of the operation, the cross-transfusion. Within a week my father's jaundice was obvious, and he was weakening. I think it was ten days after it that he died. I remember the telephone call coming into the house. I remember holding my littler sister Linda, sobbing, to try to comfort her and having no idea how to comfort her or myself. Of course, the bottom had fallen out of our world, That's pretty much what I remember and all that I understood. The newspapers came, Time, or was it Newsweek, took pictures of our mother and of Brucie, borrowed and made copies for the papers of the picture taken of Daddy at the previous year's Swan's annual company picnic. The following year there was a trial for malpractice, and a settlement was made: no way would my mother, questioned, be conducive to winning, and, besides, both parents had signed the release.
My classmates sent me a lovely potted azalea. Lorna's classmates sent her notes and poems. We were out of school till after the funeral. And all the relatives came, even relatives that I only knew as return addresses on Christmas cards. But they, my Aunt Audine, who lived in Bishop, CA, for example, remembered my father as their little brother. And it was my first and only experience of a funeral. I couldn't hate funerals worse if my name were Jessica Mitford.
Brucie went to my grandparents for a few months. Some doctors said he never had had glomerular nephritis, and I, for one, shall never know. To a certain extent my mother bucked up to meet the challenge. Can you believe it? She trained for Stanley Home Products. I shall write a whole essay some day on doing Stanley parties with her. Something quite remarkable happened for me: a reporter for the Hearst papers came to cover our family; shortly thereafter I was invited to come spend the summer as an au pair, as we say now, to help in a large house and with four children, then ages 5 to 12. When they went to Russian River I went with them. As it happened, they were Catholic and a great education in upper middle class Irish Catholicism to a Presbyterian child like me, though they saw to it that I could attend Presbyterian services. On my afternoon off, I also could attend Kepplers book store down town. Palo Alto is a lovely town still.