|A Mirror into Ken's Past -- Pre-Alaska|
Skip straight to the Photos ...
Why is this titled "Pre-Alaska?" Well, when I moved to Alaska a LOT of things changed, and my memory of events gets stronger. In this first bit I am basically covering everything up to the point when I moved to Alaska. After that, more detail is available in my spotty memory ... it was easier to dump a ton of of stuff here. Okay, so 14 years or so of stuff compressed into this section may seem a bit silly, but honestly, I don't remember a lot up until that point. Some of the details given in this part of the biography are things my mother has filled in gaps for, or given me additional information, or just plain corrected my faulty memory ...
Feb. 2003 -- I noted in the Winter, 2003 part of this that there's a chef on The Cooking Channel (which I sometimes watch) who was preparing for a class reunion of some of his friends, and he noted (paraphrased) "When you are in school you tend to take your friends for granted, until you realize later that they're not there." This autobiography has been kind of fun so far in the area of long-lost friends, because I have heard from various friends from school (and from after school) who stumbled across this by accident. I hope the trend continues ... it's great to catch up with folk, hear from them, and in some cases they're correcting my faulty memory of events (or filling in gaps, presenting more detail ...). Throughout you will see blocks of text like this that show where I've gotten more information or heard from people. The idea of changing the color is Adrian's (thanks!) ...
Who am I?
My full name is Kenneth James Mayer. I was told that "James" is after my uncle. I don't respond to Kenneth very well, and I hate "Kenny" -- my great Aunt is the only person I didn't mind calling me that and she's no longer with us. My preference is simply "Ken", although I know when I was a teen I thought about changing my use name to "James", I never quite got to that point.
I was born in April, 1957 in Southern California (due to the potential for identity fraud, I'm avoiding more details than necessary, such as the city I was born in ... the exact date I was born, and so forth).
This is probably the most logical place to talk about my family, so I'll talk a bit. I am not real close to my family, some of those reasons will become clear as you read this. It's interesting to see how close some folk are to their families, and how distant others are. I definitely fall into the "distant" category.
The following is the way I remember things, and of course human memory does have it's faults. The discussions about my father are particularly negative because that's the kind of impact he had on me -- while I have tried to temper some of this, some of it is cathartic -- I need to get it out of my system. In an attempt to be fair you will note that I do have some good things to say about my father, he wasn't a villain or an evil man, and there were good things that I can remember. As I noted in the introduction, I also know for certain that every time I think of something bad that's happened in my past, I can think of someone who's had a similar but worse thing happen. I'm not asking for anyone's sympathy here. All in all, actually, I think I came out of it remarkably sane. I am saying some of this to get it off my chest, and some of it simply because it's the truth. I harbor no grudges at this point in my life (it would be silly, as my father is dead, and beyond any grudges I might bear ...).
It's possible (probable) that some of the details, particularly the early ones, are not 100% accurate -- memory is like that. If someone who knows better reads this and corrects me, I'll update it ...
If you'd rather skip the negative stuff about my father and all that, this will take you past all that to the stuff about my life starting after I was born: Skip The Family Stuff
If you'd like to just skip the stuff about my father (as opposed to the above which skips the whole discussion about my family), click here: Skip Stuff about my Father
My father was William Lee Mayer. I say "was", because he passed away a few years ago of a heart attack (December, 1998). My father was a man who I think did a lot of things because either society expected it or he thought that society expected it. Unfortunately doing those things meant that some of his personal "freedoms" were limited.
I am writing down what I can remember from things from my own memory and that my parents (and other relatives) told me over the years. The following is sort of dis-jointed -- as I thought of things, I typed them in (and some has been modified by things my mother has told me after I first posted this) ...
Dad's father (Carl Mayer) had a grocery or was a partner in a grocery, and was the primary support for the family. Dad worked there every day. About the only time he had off was to do some photography and school.
He picked up an interest in photography, and from some of the photos I remember him showing me from when he was in school, and the ones he took on our vacations, he was pretty good at it.
Dad discovered the Boy Scouts after he had graduated from High School, which was too late to make Eagle Scout (you have to be 18 years old or younger ...). He got involved in the Explorers and really enjoyed it. During his time in the Explorers I know he made a teepee out of old US Army mummy bag covers which we used for family trips. (It's a little weird to have a mostly native-american looking teepee that's khaki green with "U.S. Army" stencilled on it in several places, but oh well.)
Mom points out that the Boy Scouts wanted to have teepees for the Order of the Arrow events, and they sent dad the mummy bag covers and a pattern. Mom did the sewing with dad feeding the fabric into the machine. He painted the thunderbird on the door flap and the smoke vents at the top. This was around 1955 or 56.
Dad's mother (Edna) was heavy, and had some serious health issues because of her weight. She was a fry cook at various taverns. She would often be called out of the kitchen to sing around the piano with the men at the tavern. Apparently she had a "Kate Smith" singing style and voice.
Nov. 8, 2007 -- According to my cousin Robin (see below), my grandmother, while never credited or earning anything extra for it, she invented the "secret sauce" used by Big Boy (the restaurant chain) when she worked for them.
Dad graduated High School, and a week later his father died from a combination of a bad heart and kidney failure.
Dad took over helping raise the family, and working as a machinist (at another store -- the partner claimed that Carl owed him money and gave the family nothing from his share of the business). Dad ran his hand through a milling machine and had 153 stitches in his hand and arm.
Dad met mom in the hospital, where she was working as a nurse's aid. She had 1 and a half years or so of College, when she dropped out to marry him in February of 1953.
They went and did a lot of things that they enjoyed including horse-back riding.
In 1956 Mom got pregnant with me, and I was born in 1957. My two brothers followed. I seem to recall dad was disappointed that he didn't have a daughter, but they decided three tries was enough. From this point on, dad's life was not his own, and I honestly think he resented it.
Mom and dad got into Square Dancing after my brothers and I were born. I remember hearing that mom had made square dance clothes (fancy western-style stuff) out of the house for money. This ended when we moved to Oregon in 1964.
Dad had a sister, Dorothy. She married a man (Lee Bashaw), and was married to him for many years. Apparently he was difficult enough to get along with that we never visited. She apparently took advantage of their mother (Edna) several times, borrowing money and not repaying it. In addition, dad had an Aunt Dorothy (confused, yet? some of this is new to me!), who was his father's youngest sister. She was his favorite aunt. She had been married to her second husband for about 50 years when he passed away recently.
November 8, 2007 -- I received an email from my cousin Robin Claus, daughter of Dorothy and Lee ... with some corrections, among other things. Apparently the reason that my father didn't talk about the family much was not that Lee was a problem, but that my father and his sister (Dorothy) didn't get along well and argued a lot, Lee didn't like it and tried to keep them apart. (I'm not real surprised with what I know of my father's temper ...) Robin puts it this way (talking about her mother, my father, and their mother - my grandmother Edna): "What a maniac triangle those three were, they would feed off each other." The issues with my father were, from what Robin says, similar to what she got from her mother (dad's sister, so again no surprise ...).
My father was a bitter, angry man who took a lot of his anger out on his family. Over the years I think dad found himself feeling trapped and scared that his life wasn't in his control. It's the only way I can think of to explain how angry he was all the time. I have a lot of memories of him coming home from work in a really horrid mood and my brothers and I doing everything we could to avoid him. While part of me wants to say this was an every-day occurrance, I am sure it wasn't every day, but it was often enough to feel like it. (I am reminded of Bill Cosby's routines about when he was a kid, and his father coming home and the kids all scattering because that way he couldn't get all of them at one shot.) Dad had a LOT of arguments with mom over the years, and those always scared my brothers and I a lot. Of course the fact that we could hear most of what was being said didn't help, either.
This didn't make for a great family life. There were threats to move out during some of his arguments with mom, and I remember hearing him say that if my brothers and I didn't exist he would have left "a long time ago". I remember in Alaska there was a point where he actually packed a bunch of stuff into the "camping trailer" we had, and he actually left us for about a week (I think this was in 1973-74, but can't remember for sure). When he came back he never said a word about it.
He tried being scoutmaster for our troop when we moved to Anchorage, but couldn't do it. I think he wanted to do right by us, but I don't think he knew how. I'm not trying to make excuses.
Dad's temper quite often came out as violence to my brothers and I. He had some 1x2 boards, about 3 feet long that he sanded down, and kept in a closet. If he needed to punish us, he often spanked us with these boards. If they broke, there was usually another. There were times when he didn't bother with the boards, and used hands and feet in a state of pure rage. Probably these days this behavior would have gotten him thrown in jail for abuse, I don't know. It's hard to remember the good stuff through that.
Dad had my brothers and I living in fear of him, which you can probably imagine from the previous paragraph. (I would like to believe this was unintentional.) I cannot remember a time when I wasn't afraid of dad, except for a few rare instances when he was in a really happy mood. I suppose it's not considered nice to speak ill of the deceased, but the truth is the truth.
I know dad often did what he could to squash my ego. He called me "ugly" and "stupid" all the time. He may have been joking, but it didn't feel that way, and it stuck with me for years. To this day I still don't think of myself as particularly good looking, although I don't think I'm particularly ugly, either. I did figure out that I'm not stupid, although like most people, I have my moments (<G> -- that stands for "Grin" for those not familiar with internet etiquette). Mom, after reading this, has attempted to make me feel better by telling me I was never stupid or ugly, and I just want to reassure her and others, I'm over this -- really. I got over it a long time ago.
Mom told me after I moved away from home that dad was proud of me -- I never once heard that kind of encouragement from him. Having him tell me that would have probably made a HUGE difference over the years.
I remember one point in my last year at home that I had grown enough that I was taller than dad (he was bigger -- both physically, and in presence) -- he was yelling at me and got really annoyed that he had to look up to do so.
After I moved out dad swore I would get nothing from him. No help, no ... anything. I basically said (although never to him or mom) that I would not ACCEPT any help from him. At that point I basically emotionally divorced myself from my family. I am sure I could have handled this differently, but at the time it was the safest way for me to deal with my family and all of the emotional turmoil.
I saw dad twice after I went to College. Once was Christmas of 1989, when we had a big family Christmas in Oregon (family on my mother's side), and the second was when Carolyn and I got married in 1994. Both times were a bit uncomfortable, but he did try to be cordial.
In an attempt to be fair I want to note that I don't think my father was responsible for any of the negative things that happened in my life after I left home (I did those on my own!). This isn't meant to be a "Daddy Dearest" type thing -- dad had a negative impact on me in a lot of ways, but there were some positive things. I won't deny that I carried a lot of anger around inside me for many years, but I eventually just forgot it all -- somehow -- over time. It was easier to let that anger flow out of me and get rid of it (and please don't ask me how I did it -- I don't know!). What I'm trying to say here is that I did some really stupid things after I moved out, but I am not claiming my father was responsible for them, except perhaps in general ways (not teaching fiscal responsibility, that kind of thing).
I have to say that dad did impress me in a lot of ways. He was quite intelligent. While he never graduated from College I remember him studying Algebra and Calculus because he was working for a calculator company, and when programmable calculators were starting to come out (these were the desktop models) he was programming some fairly complex stuff in assembler or machine code for these things.
He was good with tools, something I never really picked up, or at least not to the extent that he did -- he loved to work in the shop and make things. When he and mom had a house built in Oregon, dad did the electrical wiring for it. He made some lamps, I remember, that were pretty spiffy. His job required he be good with small tools, as some of the old mechanical calculators were ones he worked on. This meant being able to find the missing spring, and hook it back up again, that kind of thing. This was tricky work. He typed with two fingers, but was the fastest person I ever saw at it.
Dad instilled in me (although one might question his means of doing so) a lot of feeling of being responsible for myself, pride in my work, and doing a job properly. He made me think about things before doing them, something I see even the most intelligent people I know fail to do. This includes thinking about the consequences of your actions -- trying to look ahead and see what might happen if you did it a different way, that kind of thing. His methods left something to be desired, however (example: if you did the dishes, and he found one dirty dish in the lot, you had to wash ALL the dishes, pans, silverware, glassware, etc. in the kitchen, even if they weren't dirty to start with -- a bit harsh). Mom tells me a lot of this was because he expected my brothers and I to be perfect little adults. Kids cannot do this -- they have to be kids, but dad didn't ever really understand that.
Despite, or maybe because of, his tendency toward violence dad always tried to instill in my brothers and I the concept that violence does not solve problems. Despite, or maybe because of, his own feelings about blacks and other non-white people, dad tried to make my brothers and I see people as people, and not the color of their skin. I believe he was successful with me on this point, can't say about my brothers. I am not going to say I don't see someone's skin color, but I try to not let it affect the way I deal with people (George Carlin had a good bit once -- I'm paraphrasing -- "Why hate someone because of their skin color, when you can get to know them and hate them for who they are?" -- this is really meant to be funny, honest!).
Between my father and the Boy Scouts, I learned to be a good teacher and to carry myself with pride (stand tall, shoulders back rather than hunched, etc.). Dad forced me to have a pretty good sense of balance (if I was bored and complained about it, he made me go stand on my head in the corner). I did learn some positive things from my father. Unfortunately all children pick up traits from their parents that maybe they aren't proud of, and I got some of those as well -- I've tried to deal with them as they appeared and I realized what was happening.
I didn't learn fiscal responsibility from my parents. Dad in particular was bad about spending money on "toys". I remember him spending thousands of dollars on camera equipment at a time when he didn't really have that kind of money to spend. I learned what fiscal responsibility I have learned on my own.
My father's taste in food was very mid-western American -- meat and potatoes. That was dad's favorite meal. He ate at McDonald's every work day when we were in Anchorage that I can remember since it was across the street from where the office was. He always had a Big Mac, Large Fries and a large coke. This never varied. When we went to restaurants, except in rare cases, we ate at places like Denny's or steak houses that served "American" food. I remember eating at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant and playing with chopsticks, but dad always used his fork. What am I getting at? Well, that there are reasons that some of my taste in food isn't as "exotic" as some of my friends. Mom gave in to dad's taste in food (I don't see that she had a choice), and we seldom had anything that was really different. While we didn't have a menu like you sometimes see in old black and white TV shows, where one night each week is "Meatloaf Night" and another is "Spaghetti Night", we also didn't have a HUGE variety. Mom did what she could with modified recipies for things so that when we did have meatloaf (for example) we had lots of variations. Mom also tried to include vegetables that dad might not like, in an attempt to get us to try new things, and to balance out our meals ... When dad went on business trips sometimes we got special things like chili or stew (both of which dad hated for some reason, and which mom loved). Over time I have gotten better about "food weirdness", but there are still things I don't like -- I have tried most of the things I don't like, but some, like eggplant just seem ... wrong <g>.
Dad worked for Monroe Calculators for many years. They were a division of Litton, Industries. I am sure Litton's around, I am not sure about Monroe. Monroe offered him jobs in Oregon (so we moved from California), and then in Alaska (so we moved there).
In 1977, the year I went to Fairbanks for College, Dad's company moved he and mom and David to Pocatello, Idaho. I think Tim was trying to figure out what he wanted at that point and was still in Anchorage. Shortly after the move the job started falling apart -- he was on commission for sales only, and it was very difficult to sell calculators and computers in Pocatello. Unfortunately he'd worked for one company for so long that he had a very difficult time finding work. He tried selling insurance, and other things. He got a job with Radio Shack, and got transferred with them to Salem and then to Roseburg Oregon. He and mom moved back to the Medford, Oregon in 1982. This was probably the place dad had been happiest (we spent maybe 7 years there before moving to Alaska). He and mom bought a house in 1983 in Medford, but then he suffered a back injury, and Radio Shack dismissed him in 1984. They lost the house then, and dad ended up working for the Boy Scout Council. There were some problems there as well, he got laid off after something like 10 years, because he didn't have a college education, despite having taught everyone in the office how to use the computer systems, and such. He had a few temporary jobs after that. The job he was working at when he died was for Harry and David (a big company in that part of the world), handling phone orders and customer problems. In 1992 they bought the house that mom is still in.
Mom notes that in his last few years he had mellowed out, and started to appreciate things she did. He had saved up money to go to a Scout Jamboree, and when she needed knee surgery he gave that money to her to help out. She also stated to me after reading this, without trying to apologize for his behavior, that he thought he was being a good father. He didn't have a good example when he was young as his father was just as bad or worse. He didn't know how to do better, and he realized as he was doing it that he was turning my brothers and I against him. Unfortunately, that didn't help at the time. Dad was not one to talk about his feelings, especially with the kids.
By the time Dad died, he had had some minor heart attacks, he was diabetic, he had blocked veins ("hardened arteries"), and so on. Then he had the big heart attack after three years of severe headaches. According to mom, she had to tell the hospital to let him go -- they had restarted his heart twice, and she had been told that even if he lived he would not recover well and have a good life.
When he died, I'm almost ashamed to say it, but my only reaction was "Oh." I wasn't hurt, I wasn't angry, and I wasn't sorry. I was sort of surprised at my reaction. I didn't attend the funeral because I really didn't feel I needed to. Carolyn (my wife) was a bit freaked by this, as her relationship with her family was (and is) very different.
As I noted earlier, I am really done with being angry and bitter. I realized somewhere along the line that this would get me nowhere. I don't know how I got past it, and my wife notes that each person has to deal with that in their own way, so even if I did know it probably wouldn't help anyone else. I am not even sure when I made whatever decision it was to move on -- all I know is that I have been over the anger and all that for a long time. All of the above was simply an attempt to put some things into words. I hope my brothers can eventually forgive and forget. It's not worth living under the shadow of all of that anger forever. Time to move on ...
My mother is Grace Sylvia Mayer. She was quite talented in arts and crafts. She learned leatherwork from her father, and when he stopped doing it, got his tools. She did the very complex and detailed American-Western style stuff, and I remember seeing a saddle and saddle bags that she made for dad that were incredibly detailed. I learned how to do leatherwork from her, but never was comfortable with that style. I still have tools (I eventually got some of the tools from her) but don't do much with it anymore.
Mom corrected me on this a little when I saw her in the fall of 2004 -- she didn't make the saddle, but did make the saddlebags. Just thought I'd get that in here ...
Mom did her best to be supportive of my brothers and I, and to buffer us from dad's anger. Unfortunately I don't think she knew how to defuse dad's anger well. (Looking back, I don't know if it was possible.) I recall a few times when she did try to stop him from beating one or all of us (my brothers and I) that he would stop short of actually hitting her, but I saw him threaten a few times.
There are times I think mom was pretty brave. She lived with dad right up until he died. I know she loved him, and perhaps she just couldn't envision life without him. From everything I have seen in emails from my mother since dad died, she seems to be more relaxed. Mom tells me that dad was her best friend, and that she still misses him (she's 69 now).
Mom worked as long as I can remember. She had a variety of jobs over the years. I can't remember them all. Lots of them involved sales (and she's doing that now for Sears up in Oregon). She always managed to find work no matter where we were, and I think she needed to. She was never able to have a career, because we kept moving to satisfy dad's career needs.
When we joined the church in Medford I think that mom really loved it. Dad was skeptical about the religious aspects, but he loved the social side of it.
Unfortunately I was never real close to mom. I am not sure why. I know she tried -- I don't know why it didn't work.
When I got divorced from Courtney mom wrote a lot, and always filled the letters with religious tracts. I basically was opening the envelopes over the trash and when the tracts all fell out, I then opened the letters. When I mentioned this to her, however, she wised up and stopped sending the tracts.
At the time I'm writing this she is living in the house she and dad were living in when he died (not sure if they were renting or buying), in the Medford Oregon area, and has the dogs (mom and dad discovered Siberian Huskies, and fell in love with them as a breed). I think there are three of them. Tim lives nearby.
Timothy Carl Mayer was born about a year and a half after me. I think that "Carl" is a name in tribute to the grandfather we never knew -- dad's father.
Tim and I don't really have much in common, so we hardly ever talk. This is nothing new, though. We were never very close. I think the closest we ever got was after we moved to Alaska, and then it was "us against the world" as we were getting used to a completely new place. That changed rapidly, and we drew apart again. We seemed to see the world completely differently in many ways, and I think we still do.
When I was tested for music aptitude in the fourth grade I took up the violin. The next year Tim tested high in music aptitude as well. He tried to take up the violin but he was always careless, and he broke the first two or three instruments that the school loaned him. He was switched to an instrument that wouldn't break as easily, the trumpet. He took to it like you wouldn't believe. I would come home from school and sometimes practice, sometimes not (we had private lessons, and were supposed to practice an hour a day). We couldn't get Tim to STOP playing his trumpet.
When we started going to church in Oregon Tim wasn't really all that excited about it. This probably had to do with being the younger brother of someone who was really into the youth activities. People expected Tim to be "just like his older brother", which he wasn't. This is one of those social things that really isn't fair to siblings, but it's "the way things are." I know he didn't appreciate being the second son. If I did well in school, teachers expected the next year that he would, too.
After we moved to Alaska the whole church/youth group thing took a weird reversal. I wasn't comfortable and Tim took to it like a duck to water. He revelled in it. I suppose the fact that I wasn't involved (or only slightly) may have helped. I found reasons NOT to go to Sunday School and church, he found reasons to do more.
Dad was always concerned with what I was doing when I lived at home. Tim did everything he could to get dad's attention (which sometimes seemed to be the only way for Tim to get dad's focus). Unfortunately this included getting himself in trouble -- but at least negative attention is attention, I guess. I remember one time dad was punishing Tim, and broke the skin really badly. Tim couldn't sit down without pain for days. But, a few weeks later he did something similar to what got him in trouble in the first place, and it all started over again.
Tim was always more mechanically inclined than either David or myself. I remember him taking a wind-up clock apart in his room. I don't recall if he ever got it working again, but I know he was always fascinated by things like that. In this respect at least, he is very much like dad.
Tim got mom and dad to put him, for his last year of High School, in the Anchorage Baptist Temple's private school (I think David was also enrolled at their school at the same time). He loved it. I went to his graduation with long hair, a beard ... it was sort of amusing to see folk trying to figure out who I was. He played a beautiful trumpet solo during part of the graduation exercises. I was really surprised at how good he'd gotten.
Tim lived at the Church for awhile (literally in an apartment there), I think he had a job as a caretaker or something.
I think the big falling out between Tim and I (if you want to call it that) was when I was in College. I started College late -- most people go to College right after High School, I went two years after. Tim went to "Tennessee Temple" for college the same year I started at the University in Fairbanks. I got a huge preachy letter from him about how I was a back-slidden Christian (and I suppose he was probably right by the definition used by the church). That was ALL that was in the letter. It started off preaching and it ended preaching. I wrote him a short letter and said effectively "If that's all you have to say to me, then don't bother." He didn't. Mom notes that Tim's mellowed out a lot now, and wouldn't think of preaching at me.
Eventually Tim moved back in with Mom and Dad for awhile. He's lived on his own some, was married for awhile ... and is back living on his own again, within a few miles of mom.
I know Tim's family life has been rough. I won't go into details as I wasn't around, but he had some problems with a woman he married who had a daughter. I am not sure if he's had much luck in the romance arena. Apparently he's been married twice (shows how much I have kept in touch with my family, eh?), and has been burned both times.
We haven't really spoken much since. The big family Christmas mentioned in the discussion about dad was the last time I saw him in person. We have exchanged a few emails, particularly around the time dad died.
David Scott Mayer was born a bit over two years after Tim. Being the youngest sibling is always hard. Being the youngest with a father like ours must've been torture.
Dad really seemed to ignore David. All his life I think David tried to earn dad's approval. He didn't do it well, but he tried. The reason he became a professional photographer was at least partially to impress dad, who was a very good amateur photographer.
David became a bit of a kleptomaniac at some point in there. I'm not quite sure what prompted it except perhaps again a desparate plea for dad's attention. He got into trouble. There are some problems in here that I won't get into, because they are sort of embarassing for David, and mom has requested I not mention them.
He tried to get a legal "divorce" from mom and dad after that. That didn't work and instead he and mom and dad had to go to counselling.
After they moved to Pocatello (Idaho) David got into even more trouble and was given a choice -- after graduating high school -- of going to jail to serve his sentence or joining the military. He chose the latter.
He went into the Army and became, oddly enough, an MP (Military Policeman). I am not sure of the timing but somewhere in here he met Cheryl Woolstenhulme (his first wife), and had two children, David Scott, Jr., and Rose Marie.
Again not sure of timing ... David and Cheryl broke up. I met Cheryl once when David was stationed in Anchorage -- I spent the night at their place at Fort Richardson. She was a nice woman, but I definitely think that the marriage was doomed from the start. I hope she's happier now. I know she had custody of the children which was probably better for them, because it took David a long time to settle down. Unfortunately David didn't support them very well, and apparently there are some bad feelings from the kids toward him. I am sorry to hear that.
I remember him bringing the kids from a visit to Aunt Dorothy in Southern California, to my apartment in Berkeley. It was a weird visit because I've never been great with kids, but they were very sweet. I remember getting big hugs in the morning when they left, and there were a couple of notes scrawled by them -- I won't embarass them by scanning them, although I do still have the notes.
David's had a lot of jobs. The last time I saw him was at Carolyn and my wedding. At the time he was trying to be a professional photographer. He was talking to our wedding photographer, and dad said something about how "I taught him everything he knows". I think that stung. (It's a good example of how dad treated us all our lives.)
David's living in the south of the US, with his wife Nancy (married since 1994), a child, and a menagerie of animals from the few emails I've gotten. Don't know much about them. I don't know how much he keeps in touch with Scott and Rose, either.
Scott (David's son -- he's using Scott, instead of David) and Rose Marie are in the Marines right now, and Rose is married. Scott is stationed in Hawaii, and Rose is stationed in San Diego currently.
I vaguely remember my father's mother (Edna) and step-father. She was very large, had diabetes. (I remember freaking out when she gave herself a shot of insulin in front of me. I inherited my father's fear of needles, so that was not fun!) Her husband Durrel Farley was a nice guy who worked for CalTrans or something, picking up the garbage/refuse on the freeways in the LA area. He gave us the weirdest presents. I got a windbreaker once that was in good condition that he'd picked up by the side of the road. I do not remember when she died.
Nov. 8, 2007 -- Having heard from Robin, my cousin, I thought I'd throw a little more detail in ... In addition to details mentioned earlier, let's see ... Durrel apparently worked for the state of California as a landscaper. He wasn't a garbage person, but didn't mind picking up things and of course while doing the landscape work would have cleaned things up in general. My father's sister Dorothy and her husband Lee, had a daughter, Robin. She's been married to Nick Claus since 1986. In addition, she has a brother, Mike and a sister Dana, again whom I've never met (or certainly don't recall meeting). Obviously they would be my cousins as well. Robin is the 'middle' sibling, with Dana being the oldest, and Mike being the youngest of the three. Dana is in Montana, but the last time Robin tried to reach her by phone it had been disconnected. Apparently the closeness that I have with my family is the same on that side of things as well. Pity, but sometimes it's just easier on the psyche, I guess. Anyway, Robin (and Nick) have children -- 3 daughters from what I can tell. I may have that wrong, but I think that's right. And some of them have children now. My how time flies ...
I don't remember much of anyone else in dad's side of the family except his grandmother, and again, just barely. I remember a birthday party for her that must have been a few years before she died. She had memory problems at the party, and there were TONS of people there I never saw again. At one point I remember her welcoming dad as he sat down on the sofa, and she knew exactly who he was. Later (not much later), she asked who he was. That's really about all I can recall of her. I remember a huge jar of ribbon candy on the living room table. I remember running around with other kids using the plastic limes and lemons from the juice that was used for drinks, turning them into water guns, and shooting each other. When she died she was about 99 1/2 years old. The party was held at Dad's Aunt's place (Aunt Dorothy) in May of 1970, and my great grandmother was 98 at the time.
Grandmother Baker -- Mom's mother was a really nice woman. While I can't remember her well, what I do remember was that she never sat still. She was always busy doing things. She was always sweet to my brothers and I, and tolerated my father. (And I do mean "tolerated" -- I think I can safely say that most of mom's family tolerated dad, but didn't really get along well with him.)
When she retired she moved to a place on the McKenzie River in Oregon -- beautiful area. She had at least one apple tree. We had some nice family Christmases there.
I remember that I thought her death was a real tragedy. She was in good health, and always active. She was visiting Jim and Judy, stopped the car on the incline of the driveway going up to the farm to pick some flowers, and forgot to put the parking break on. The car rolled backward and killed her. At least that's how I was told it happened.
Grandfather Baker -- I really don't remember him well. He divorced my grandmother years before I knew him. I do remember one thing -- smells always stick in the head -- he had an ulcer in his leg from World War II (took some shrapnel or something). The medicine he used to help with the ulcer smelled horrible. The big problem is that when he visited he always used my bed, and the medicine smell lingered for months after his visits. Oh well. He was a nice old man but I really don't remember much. I remember he liked to play with his dentures. I don't remember when or how he died.
Unfortunately, my mother's memories of her father are not as good as mine, I only knew him as an old man. She says that his temper was at least as bad as my father's, and that her brother and sister are still bitter about some of the treatment they got from him.
Jim Baker -- I don't remember this well but Uncle Jim had been married once before Judy, he had a step-son named Donny (son of his then wife). I don't remember Don REAL well, but I do remember I looked up to him a lot when I was young. I seem to remember meeting him when I was living in Oregon, and he was in his teens -- he was really nice to me and played games with me. There was a tragedy in there where he drove a car into a phone pole or something and was dead on impact, apparently there were drugs involved, and there may have been some other folk hurt or killed in the accident. Don was apparently 19 when he died.
Uncle Jim and his wife of MANY years Judy (the aunt I remember), have two daughters: Bethany and Jennifer. We're not real close, but Bethany (and her then boyfriend Chris) came and saw me in Berkeley once, we went out to a local jazz club as she really enjoys jazz, had dinner, nice weekend. I haven't seen her since. Both Bethany and Jennifer are living in northern Oregon. I seem to recall that Jim was a lineman for the phone company. I definitely remember his thick black (now white) hair and beard. I always wished my hair had been that thick. Jim and Judy still have their small pleasant farm that they've had for many years (as long as I can remember). I remember some nice Christmases there. (The year that Jim's Christmas tree was so big that he cut it off at the ceiling, and put the top of the tree in the room above it -- it messed me up as a kid. I kept running up and downstairs trying to figure that out.) My middle name -- James -- was given to me for Uncle Jim.
Bethany married a gentleman named Harold in August of 2002. I hope they are happy.
Priscilla Oxley -- Mom's sister and her husband Hollis. They have two children as well -- Lucinda and Rob. Lucinda went to college and became a civil engineer, is married and has at least one child (Ruth who has my exact birthday month and day) -- I seem to recall that they had another. Rob and I had a blast at the big Christmas party held in Oregon. When Hollis retired they moved up to the property that they have on the McKenzie River in Oregon, from San Jose. Beautiful place -- absolutely stunning. Lucinda is married and living in the South Bay area, but we're not really close.
A few years ago, totally by accident, I met up with Priscilla and Hollis at a Gem Show in Sacramento. We were visiting my wife's mom, and decided to go to the gem show, since I still do some messing around with jewelry. Off in the distance I saw a stand "Oxcart ..." and a bell went off in the back of my head that they were doing this stuff. Sure enough, there they were. We went to this particular gem show with my sister-in-law, and she and Hollis hit it off great because of his background (having worked for years for the USGS -- United States Geological Survey) and her background as a geologist. We've seen them since at a couple of gem shows, unfortunately timing for those is often such that we can't make it.
Aunt Grace -- was my mother's aunt and Grandmother Baker's sister, really my "great aunt". She preferred to be called "Auntie", or "Aunt Grace". My mother was named after her. She was an interesting woman. She was the concert mistress for the Lancaster (California) Symphony for years (for those who don't know what that means, that's the first chair, first violin position -- in a symphony, they are sort of "second in command" after the director). She taught violin and piano for years. She smoked like a chimney ... One of the memories that always sticks out, and part of the reason butter-rum lifesavers (the candy) are always associated with her in my mind, is that she always used them to cover the smell of the cigarettes. Didn't really work, and it was an odd mix of smells -- I can't smell a butter rum lifesaver without thinking of her.
She was always nice to me, partially I think because I played the violin. When I was in the seventh grade and she couldn't play the violin anymore (arthritis?), she gave me hers. This was an instrument that had such a beautiful sound to it, that I had a private instructor borrow it for a concert once, because it sounded better than hers.
I don't have a lot of memories of Aunt Grace. She lived in Lancaster so we only saw her for Christmas, if that. I only vaguely remember her passing away because my mother brought me some things that she had set aside for me (some records, and mom selected a print of a renaissance painting that she thought I'd appreciate, which both Carolyn and I do actually try to put up wherever we are living).
I'll talk about Carolyn's family (my wife) whom I get along great with, in another part of all this -- we haven't gotten there yet.
California -- 1957-1964
Even though I was born in another city, we actually lived in Glendale up until I was seven or so (1964). We moved to Oregon. My memories of Glendale are few.
I only sort of remember a house in Glendale with a front porch. I remember humming birds in the front yard, and a lot of green lawn.
The only memory I have of kindergarten was the day that John F. Kennedy was shot -- I remember this because while I had NO idea who he was, or why I should be sad, the teachers were crying which made us all cry.
Somewhere in all this my two brothers were born I don't remember much of them from the early years, odd, huh? But I don't remember much of these years at all.
I remember my first week of first or second grade because since mom and dad worked, I had to go by myself. I got nervous and hid under a bush at a house near the school and didn't go in. I ate my sack lunch when I got hungry, and just watched the school. I did that for a week before someone from the school found me and brought me to school (called my parents, the whole bit). I have no idea why I did that except I was afraid for some reason. I missed that week of school, but after I got brought in everything was mostly fine. There's a vague memory of some kid throwing a rock at me, hitting me in the forehead and having stitches, but I can't remember why that happened.
I seem to remember talk of skipping me a grade in school from second to third grade, but I know it didn't happen, and I don't remember a lot about it.
Oregon -- 1964 to 1971
I sort of remember moving to Oregon. Dad's company offered him a position in Southern Oregon as a regional manager. I think dad actually liked moving, at least it seemed so. I seem to recall that every two or three years we moved, even if it was just "across town". (I'm the opposite, I can't STAND moving -- I find it to be a royal pain.)
The move to Oregon was weird. We did a caravan. I was with my grandmother (dad's mom). She decided to take a side trip because she was hungry. Somehow we were ahead of the caravan, so she felt that we could get away with it -- while we were eating a meal at some restaurant the rest of the caravan drove past. We hurried and ran out the door and took off. Somehow I remember we got lost but eventually caught up with everyone. I remember reading some comic books during the move that I think my grandmother bought me to keep me quiet, too bad I don't still have them (Metal Men, which I thought was really cool, Flash, etc.)
We moved to Medford. Hindsight is a wonderful thing -- I really wish I had known more about the Shakespeare festival in Ashland (20 miles or so away) -- oh well. My parents weren't into theatre much, except for musicals (dad loved 'em), we didn't see any plays.
I was in elementary school when we moved. In 4th grade, the year I got glasses, we were tested for musical aptitude, and I scored high. I started playing violin. I am not sure if the instrument choice was mine or my parents. I was never a great violinist, but I wasn't too bad. I think my parents had hopes that I'd be a really good concert violinist some day. I am pretty sure a lot of this was natural talent, but I relied too much on that, and not enough on practice over the years or I probably would have been much better. For some of us, talent only goes so far. <grin>
I remember having a double-hernia when in elementary school. The only incident I can think of that might explain it was a day when some kid was picking on Tim, I went to his rescue, and got punched really hard in the stomach. I remember I nearly passed out. I remember the pain of the hernia awhile later, and vaguely remember some kid picking me up and the pain kicked in really badly. That was when the school nurse sent me home. I remember the hospital vaguely.
I remember also getting pink-eye in elementary school. That was weird. Putting a gel in both eyes, trying to find the sofa, almost sitting on Tim or David who were watching TV at the time.
I got picked on a lot in school. Between wearing glasses and carrying a violin to school, well, of course I was going to be picked on. Dad never taught me how to deal with bullies. I learned later in life to just ignore them, and that if you carried yourself well they tended to ignore you. Bullies generally pick on people they see as weaker than they are, so if you act like you're strong, they usually leave you alone. I figured that out by myself, and it took a long time. In elementary and junior high school, I hadn't figured it out, and became a real loner most of the time instead.
I remember we visited a friend of mom and dad's in California, and I nearly drowned in their pool. I must have been 8 or so. I was jumping up and down in the shallow end, and the pool went to the diving end rather sharply, and it was taking longer and longer to get to the surface. I had not learned to swim up until that point. Mom jumped in and pulled me out, and when we got back to Oregon my brothers and I were immediately enrolled at the YMCA for swimming lessons.
Mom gave me more detail on this -- these were folk who's children mom had been babysitting, they had three girls whose ages were right between my brothers and mine in a stair-step fashion. We went back to California to my great grandmother's birthday party (mentioned under the "Dad's Family" section above), and visited these folk as well. That was when I had the little swimming-pool incident. The good thing was that mom and dad then made my brothers and I learn to swim.
Somewhere in here while coming home from school I got sucked into a children's "after school" religious gathering by a local Southern Baptist church. I was fascinated, as I'd never really felt like I belonged anywhere, and they were good at making you feel you belonged. I went home after that and asked my mother why we didn't go to church. So, we started going to the same Baptist church that had sponsored this little after-school thing. I remember that I was pretty active in the youth organization.
I also got into the Cub Scouts. I don't recall if this was something I asked to do, or if mom and dad decided for me. I made it all the way through to Webelo (the highest rank you can get in the Cubs), and moved on to the Boy Scouts in a local troup. Tim (my brother) later joined. I think David was still in Cubs while we were in Oregon. I believe I made it to First Class (a rank in the Boy Scouts, about halfway to Eagle) before we moved to Alaska. I don't have any of my memorabilia from the Scouts anymore, so I cannot check the dates. Dad helped with the troop, but I don't think he was one of the scoutmasters.
Junior High School (two years -- 7th and 8th grades) was at McLaughlin Jr. High. The reason I remember that is I have yearbooks from those two years of school -- 1969-70 and 1970-71 school years.
The yearbooks bring back a few memories, but not many. I was an "ok" student. I was a loner. If I was in a class that let me learn "on my own" I zipped along and did great. Otherwise I was a so-so student (Bs, some As and some Cs). I never made it to the honor lists, although I am sure if I felt like it I could have. I think I was close one semester, but oh well.
I seem to remember that "Country Joe and the Fish" were a big thing at the time, and the song about Vietnam was a hit -- some kid was playing it in the library so loud that through the headset you could hear the lyric "And it's one, two, three what are we fighting for? I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam ...". The other one that was REAL popular was the Fish Cheer ("Give me an F!"). Not that I knew anything about the Vietnam war.
We (my whole family) generally didn't pay a lot of attention to real-world politics. That said, I don't think it's because my parents particularly tried to buffer us from it, but I don't think that either were that interested. If they were, they didn't show it, and we never talked about what was happening in the news. I've gotten better about that in the years since, and tend to watch at least part of the news in the evening, read (scan) the paper, etc.
There was an incident with one of the bullies, a short guy who was just nasty. He was always trying to pick a fight. One day after school we were on the corner after the bus dropped us off, we were going to actually have our fight, and mom drove up and took me home. I don't think she knew we were about to fight (we never came to blows) or not, and I never said anything about it to her. I think she was really just coming home from work, saw me there, and offered a ride. But I had been so scared of that fight that I never tried to do it again. Luckily I don't think I ever saw the kid again after that school year.
Our family vacations were often a bit of a trial. Dad loved to drive and see places. I think mom did, too. However, taking a family of five for two weeks like that can be hard on everyone. We took the teepee that mom and dad had built, camping gear, and a strict itinerary. We would drive from point A to point B, set up camp. Do touristy things, take down camp, load the car, and leave from point B to point C. Dad got a ton of photos (mostly on slides). Dad always got upset if we missed the day or time on the itinerary for these trips. Looking back on those vacations I can honestly say I am glad I don't do those anymore. I have some memories of some of the vacation spots. I remember visiting the Mormon Tabernacle (laughing at the first few chapters of the Mormon Bible, which hadn't been edited yet -- some of the more interesting stuff has been excised over the years -- too bad I didn't keep that copy), Dinosaur National Park, and Yosemite. I have a small stuffed bear we got at Yellowstone one year that has managed to survive all these years. I don't remember much else except lots of driving, lots of camping, lots of dad yelling.
When I was in seventh grade my great Aunt (my mother's Aunt Grace) gave me her violin. It was not a beautiful looking instrument, but it had incredible sound (one of my private instructors borrowed it for a concert she was performing in, because it sounded better than hers!). She couldn't play it anymore due to a bad case of arthritis. I won a couple of either Southern Oregon or Oregon State music competitions, but I don't have the certificates anymore (they were in the same box with the Boy Scout memorabilia I lost). One of them was a solo, the other a duet. I also broke one of the two bows that came with it fencing someone -- well, boys will be boys. I remember dad was really pissed off at me about that one. He tried to fix it, but the location of the break combined with the oils in the wood meant it just wasn't going to be fixed. I recently (a couple of years ago) gave the violin to my sister-in-law, Gail, because she was thinking about buying a violin. She is among other things, a musician, and sometimes plays with a band. She sometimes takes violin lessons as well, and really loves the instrument, as does her instructor.
In seventh or eighth grade I took a typing class, I think at dad's insistence -- I'm not sure. These were manual typewriters and you had to really work for it, but I got the touch-typing technique down pretty well. When I was working with computers in Alaska I remember using a typing tutor and timing myself at over 100 words per minute, with 90% and more accuracy. I think the speed's gone down over the years but I still type pretty quickly, sometimes to the dismay of friends who watch. I used this skill when writing papers for school, which I think helped my grades a bit. Dad had an electric typewriter he let me use when I needed it for these papers.
I think in the time we lived in Medford that we had three houses. At least I remember moving a couple of times in there. The last was one that mom and dad had built in a nice area. The design was pretty spiffy, with lots of closet space, and other storage space (something a lot of houses are lacking), a nice, but odd shaped, back yard. We were close to a pear orchard (but then in Medford, who isn't?), on a cul-de-sac. When they were building the house, I remember when dad was going out and watching them work during his lunch breaks and such, and one day he had some beer with the builders. When he came home from work it was one of the few times I didn't feel like I had to go hide somewhere to avoid him -- he was extremely mellow that day.
Dad did the electrical wiring once the carpenters had the walls at a point where that could be done. Tim was the "roof rat" -- running cables through the rafters, as he didn't seem to have a fear of heights like I did. It was a nice house. We moved into it, and then about a year later we moved to Alaska. I think mom was sick to leave the house that had been built for her.
Over the years we had various pets. We always had a dog, and we usually had cats. I remember the one dog, because we still had her when I moved out of the house in 1975, named "Snoopy". My brothers and I named her that because we didn't know she was a female dog. She was part beagle, and gawd knows what else, but she was a loving pet. I was sorry to hear when she died.
I recall the week that the Boy Scout troop did a fifty mile hike up the Rogue River. It was a heckuva week, but it was a lot of fun. The scoutmaster was a pretty nice guy. The first day I had packed my pack all wrong (all the heavy stuff on the bottom), and it was one of the long days of hiking. He helped me out by taking my pack himself at one point. I remember feeling like I was floating for about half an hour as the muscles got used to the weight difference. I remember it raining one night, and since we had a week's worth of (freeze-dried) food, and such, we weren't carrying tents, so we slept out under sheets of plastic. A lot of us forgot to close our packs up. That was fun (not!). I remember crossing a ravine (not real deep, but it looked it at the time) over the most clear creek I have ever seen. It was deep, and you could see all the way to the bottom. And the water tasted REALLY good. That was a really great week. Hard, but fun.
I remember one year in Oregon we went blackberry hunting and did it for several weekends, with mom making this really great blackberry jam (that we had for years after ...). Dad had made a berry scooper (a long stick with a box, that had coat-hanger wire 'teeth' to grab the berries). One of these trips was to an Elk (or Moose, or ...) club owned site, and in the middle of the parking lot was a HUGE (8' tall or more) blackberry bush that dad was using the scooper on. He stuck the scooper into the bush, and out jumped a stag over dad's head. I remember him being completely startled. I can't recall my reaction then, but thinking back it was kinda funny. I've always loved blackberries, despite a near over-dose that one year.
Ninth Grade saw me start school at the Middle High in Medford -- I can't remember the name. I was there for one semester. The Symphony was pretty good (the music departments in the schools in Oregon seemed to have been good in general), and I was having a blast in a full symphony. I was at the front of the second chair section and challenged my way to the back of the first chair section that semester. I remember that as a real accomplishment. I also remember taking a class on Science Fiction as literature, and a comparitive religion class. Algebra was an "at your own pace" class, and I and a couple of other students made it a real fun class -- at least for ourselves -- we were always ahead of the instructor, and had to wait for him to get the exams done so we could take them and move on. He actually encouraged that, which helped. For the most part I was a real loner in school. I really don't know why that was.
I had a couple of good friends from the church youth group -- Rick and Norman, but in school we had different interests, so I didn't see them much. When I moved to Alaska I tried to keep up correspondence with them both but that eventually faded out as we just went different ways and had less to talk about. I remember being really hurt at first, but it was my first real lesson in how people move on over time, and friendships change.
I started taking German in school. I decided I wanted to learn more about my own heritage (which is predominantly German), and this seemed like a way to start.
During all of this, at least partially because we were Southern Baptists ("rock and roll is the devil's tool"), I was really unaware of most of popular culture. There was a lot of music in my life, but the only music I really heard was at home, in Symphony, ocaissional snatches of the Beatles (or whatever) on someone else's radio at school, and of course religious songs from church and the youth group activities. I really wasn't aware of the pop/rock scene at all. The sixties happened to someone else. Medford was pretty isolated, and we were even more so. I don't know if it was all due to the church, or my parents, or a combination. Because my father loved musicals, I heard a lot of soundtracks at home. I learned to love "The Sound of Music", "Music Man", and many others. There were some I didn't hear until I left home, but that may have just been because dad didn't care for them, or had never seen the shows or something. I still love musicals as an artform, even when the plot is really pretty lame. I've never been in one, but I've enjoyed them, and when many of them have been made available on video I've purchased copies. Since I moved out and really started to discover the music of the 60's and 70's I have gotten to enjoy it ...
Dad got an offer he couldn't refuse. Monroe Calculators offered him a job as a state-wide manager for the state of Alaska. We had lived in the house that mom and dad had built for a year or a bit more.
We moved in the middle of Winter, and therefore, in the middle of the school year. It was weird -- leaving the few friends I had, having to try to get into a new school in the middle of the year. I remember studying some about Alaska before moving there, and really spending time researching the big earthquake of 1964.
A Few Photos
(These are thumbnails, click on them to see larger versions with text explaining them)
These photos are ones my mother sent me, some of them are original prints, and some were taken to Kinkos and copied there, so the quality isn't as good. I did the best I could with them, but I'm not very good at photo-touchup software ... I've put these into as close to a chronological order as I could ... of course, mom sent more photos than I am using, but I think she expected that.
Ken's Mom, Age 7
Bill and Grace
Grace Mayer, 1953
Priscilla Baker, 1955
Grace Mayer and baby Ken, 1957
Uncle Hollis, Aunt Pricilla
and baby Ken, 1957
Grandma Mayer and
baby Ken, 1957
Mom and Dad,
Some photos provided by cousin Robin (Claus):
James Leo Bashaw,
Robin's Father, 1983
Robin Claus' Family
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