Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thinking about BaMa

My Great-Grandmother Katie, has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m not sure why. Usually when people are on my mind so much or if I dream about them, I call them or email, but those no longer with me… just keep bugging me until I hear what they are trying to say.

I had a special bond with my Bama. Besides being named after her- I was told all my life I looked just like her. Now- today at 57, I look at my hands and see hers, age spots in the same places and in the mirror, the wrinkles on my face bring her face into view. She was tall and lean though, where I am short and not so lean. She was 5’9 and maybe 140 pounds, she had an athlete’s body.

Katherine Niemann was a tough German woman who came to this country in 1906 when she was seventeen; all by herse
lf. Her first job here was in an insane asylum in Sonoma, cleaning, I think. She met my Great Grandfather John there-- he was a young carpenter at the time.
She was intelligent and independent. She taught herself English on the boat coming over. I still have the book she used with her notes in German and then later in English. When my Great-Grandfather became a San Francisco Policeman, they moved to San Francisco where she taught swimming at Sutro Baths. Eventually, she opened her own bakery/store in the Geneva-Mission district. (The same area my mother's people lived). Her brother, Willie Niemann owned the Buena Vista Café, now famous for their Irish coffee.
She was brutally frank. Not unlike myself. She made no bones about letting someone know if she did not like them. Later in life, her sharp tongue kept her family away. She could read my mind too. She always knew what I was thinking. She had a way of telling me things that made sense to me.
She had two sons. Will, my grandfather who died when I was about 2 and Ben, my Uncle who I loved to death. Bama, was the one that told me- “The worst thing that can ever happen to parent is to have their child die first.” I never forgot her words or the teary eyes that spoke them- 10 years after her son had died.

Kate raised my father. One story is, my grandfather was a ner’do’well and his wife was not able to support a baby- so they gave the baby to my Great-Grandmother. Another is they paid them off to get the baby and that my Great-grandfather bullied the situation. Either of those or none of them could be true. In any case- my
grandfather was not a very responsible guy and I think he was an alcoholic too. Still- he was her favorite. Later my dad was her favorite. She called him a schmoozer. She knew he manipulated her- but she didn’t care.

When my Great-Grandfather left her for another woman, my father was about three years old and she was probably about 50. She lived in a big corner house on 46th Ave. In San Francisco and rented out rooms. She took care of herself.

She received something like 800.00 in her divorce. She eventually remarried, the kindest man in the world- Papa Carl. He bought her the house she always wanted- with lots of land to garden, have chickens, trees and a place to sit in the shade under the gra
pe vines.

When she was in her 70’s she was stricken with breast cancer. She had the breast removed and came home 4 days later to tend her farm. Papa Carl was already gone. She was alone. She asked me if I wanted to see her scar. I shook my head yes even though I was afraid to see it. She took off her shirt and showed me he gapeing hole that was once her chest and underarm. She was stitched from under her arm towards her back to the front middle of her stomach. They was no plastic surgery for 70 something women in those days. She sat down at her sewing machine and removed the pocket, which was always on the left side of all her shirts and moved it to the right. She stuffed that pocket everyday with a fresh handkerchief to fill the gap and make her look even.

Bama told me all about dreams. I believe she had prophetic dreams that would disturb her for days at a time. She had a tendency to believe in the odd and occult- things like rubbing a dead persons hand on a wart would make it disappear. Thankfully we never tried that one on my wart.

Her medicine cabinet was full of Bengay, Mercurochrome, and Colgate products. I can still smell her Bengay. She taught me to bake, cook some German food and sew. She taught me to garden- though I never was as good as she. I learned how beautiful a birds song is when I sat at the kitchen table eating my homemade jam on homemade bread listening to her German canaries make music. Sometimes I would just sit with Papa Carl and watch him play solitaire and listen to the birds.

She lived through two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. She raised two sons and one grandson. She buried one son and one husband. (no tears were shed when her ex-husband passed). She traveled from Stade, Germany to San Francisco, California all by herself. She slept through some of the 1906 earthquake until her brother ran up the hill and made her leave the flat. She thought it was a thunderstorm. She lived with German guilt most of her adult life because of Hitler. She could not watch a war movie. She was not religious but was spiritual. She slept with a baseball bat next to her bed. She saved rainwater to wash her hair and reused everything until it was no longer usable. She never left a light on and when I stayed with her she fashioned a button to a string fastened to a light switch on the lamp so when I drifted off to sleep the light would go off. She was around for horse drawn carriages and trips to the moon. She took her first airplane ride in her late 70’s. She never drove a car. She could give a cold look like no one else I have ever met- although my mother said my cold look was the same. She loved my father, my brother John and me. She was an independent woman forty years before the movement.

I like to think I am like her. The good stuff anyway.

So now, I am searching for what it is she is trying to tell me. Maybe she is just trying to say hello. But I think it’s more. Should I sew? Bake? Plant some potatoes? Should write her stories? I wish I could hear more clearly. Maybe she will tell me in a dream.

Friday, July 3, 2009

How Stupid Are We?

It’s really hard to not be upset with my fellow Americans right now. I think the majority may be morons.

There are people lined up collecting Michael Jackson memorabilia, and showing up at places his body will not be, kids who did not even know who he was, in tow… to mourn a guy that was completely fucked up. I don’t deny that he had musical talent- or that he even had altruistic tendencies. But, this was a guy who could not function in the world. Now that in itself does not make him a bad guy… but he had strange ideas about appropriate behavior with children- which he shared with the world… and apparently 75% of America was not listening. At the end of his life, he looked like Batman’s Joker and surrounded himself with nuts and sycophants. He was a very sick man and no one should be surprised by his death.

Meanwhile, I have a bunch of friends who are holding their breath waiting for word from their Marines in Afghanistan currently involved in Operation Strike of the Sword. Or worse- word from the Marine Corps officials that make those calls none of us ever want. They have to dig for news.

This morning I woke up to Michael Jackson news… at 6AM. There was not a word about the current state of affairs in Iraq or Afghanistan’s Operation Strike of the Sword. Not even a mention of the Marine killed in action, the British Lt.Col killed in action or the missing soldier. Not a word about the many wounded.

It’s easy to blame the news media… but frankly- they are in business to make money and those that aren’t in it for the money- have their political agendas and tailor the news to fit their goal. So I am going to blame the people that continue to listen to the speculation, adulation, and misplaced hero worship the news media is spouting.

How did Americans get so stupid? I’m guilty too. I do stupid stuff when I should read a book, I watch soaps, I waste time, I cyber argue with morons... but I never forget our military in harms way, or the people who have laid down their lives for our freedom or the freedom of others who don’t have the where-with-all to fight for themselves. Unfortunately- this news does not sell advertising.

Now I know- most of you that read my blog feel the same as me… so maybe this is preaching to the choir, but I had to get this off my chest… so I can get on with my day and appreciate the freedoms that some have died to ensure.