Happy birthday

My daughter Kate is fifty today.

She certainly has done a lot in those years.

A Swiss-American who also lived in Canada for a spell, she’s  traveled the world and built a successful business called Kate’s Magik in Tucson, Arizona, blending essential oils, while launching and maintaining a singing career.

But let’s start at the beginning.

In the fall of 1968, her mother Anita and I were living in Livermore, California, where I was a reporter on the Herald & News. 

I also reviewed movies playing at the local Vine theater. That’s where we were, as I pick up the story in this excerpt from my memoir:

On the night of December 4th, after an hour and a half of staring at Jane Fonda’s pointy tits in Barbarella, as the credits were rolling, Anita nudged me and said, “I think we better go to the hospital. My water broke about an hour ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“You have to review the movie, don’t you?”

We rushed home, grabbed the suitcase that had been packed for a week, called the doctor and, after midnight, hit the freeway. Since Anita had started her pregnancy with an obstetrician in San Francisco, that was where we were headed. I pointed my Mustang west, toward the Bay Bridge and Children’s Hospital in the city, about forty miles away.

Katherine Lisa Becker arrived at about 4 a.m. on December 5, 1968.  We would call her Kate. She was supposed to be Katharine, like Katharine Hepburn, but I couldn’t spell. 

Over the next year or two, we moved to my hometown of New York and to Anita’s hometown of Bern, Switzerland. It was just the beginning of Kate’s travels. And she seemed to take it all like a champ, a happy and exuberant kid.

Then, it was back to Gotham, where I landed a job with United Press International.

Since I worked a lot of night shifts at UPI in New York, I’d spend days with our daughter, taking her to the playground or nearby Flushing Meadows Park, site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. 

I took her to the U.S. Open tennis at Forest Hills, where my press pass gave us a place on the players’ patio. After she insisted on going to the bathroom on her own, she emerged holding hands with Evonne Goolagong.

“Does this child belong to you?” asked the teenage Aussie star.

“Yes,” I replied, “is everything okay?”

“Of course, we had a lovely chat.”

Goolagong at Forest Hills, 1972

Kate and I would often go to lunch at McDonald’s – we were addicted to the fries and managed to choke down the cheeseburgers – or just hang around the apartment. 

Kate was four when her parents split up. She and her mom moved to Bern in early 1973. The next couple of years, I spent vacations with my daughter in Europe.

Anita’s father, Hermann, let me borrow his second car, a Citroen Deux Chevaux, an ugly little beast that rattled and wheezed from Bern across the Alps, into Italy. We drove past the beautiful Lago Maggiore and on to Verona and Venice. 

Venice, autumn 1974

Kate was only six, but she never complained about our wanderings in the back streets of Venice, or my prolonged stop admiring Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin in an off-the-beaten-track Franciscan church. She seemed happy with the reward of chasing pigeons while I smoked and drank in the Piazza San Marco.

By the time we got to Florence, however, she was bored  – we said hi to David, raced through the Uffizi in about four minutes, hightailed it for the Mediterranean coast, and checked into the Grand Hotel in Viareggio …

Kate and I spent the night at the bar. The bartender took a shine to Kate – she was a charming child – and kept the Shirley Temples coming while her old man ventured from Campari and soda to scotch. We probably ate dinner as well.

In the morning, we walked on the beach but it was a cold October day and we didn’t get far. After more than a week on the road, the ugly little Deux Chevaux chugged back over the Alps to Switzerland.

Starting the next year, Kate flew unaccompanied to North America for visits. Then, when she was fourteen, she came to Canada to stay, in suburban Toronto, with Linda and me and baby Jodie.

We enrolled Kate in Clarkson High School. She was hard to place, since she had not had much of an education in Switzerland.

She spoke English with a cute Swiss-German accent. Spelling and grammar were not her strong suits. She studied my Oxford dictionary and filled the margins with notes.

I insisted she start in a class with students her own age – she’d be fifteen in December. I didn’t want her feeling alienated in school, as she had been in Bern. Kate would excel at drama and find an ally in her drama teacher.

We got Kate through high school and a bit of college before she was off on her own, her wanderlust in full bloom. She would marry for the first time, in May 1989, the ceremony in our backyard.

Over the years, as Kate moved on,  she’d come to Canada to visit with us, or meet up when we were on vacation.

Kate and her sisters on Sanibel Island, Florida, 1990s

And we’d go to visit with her, first when she lived in New York and later in Tucson, her home for the past sixteen years.

On an Arizona adventure

This week, Kate and her mom are in San Francisco, back to where her journey began.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

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