This is one of my favorite places to write. When I was eight years old I saw this watertank by my family’s property in Petaluma. My Uncle Bill brought it down to San Francisco and it was my bedroom when I was growing up. When I turned fifty my husband brought it, plank by plank, up to Marin and rebuilt it.
Interior of the water tank.
My family from my father’s side is descended from the Donner Party. (The subject of the book I’m writing now.) This is a gathering of the clan.
My grandfather and grandmother bought a twenty three acre piece of land in Petaluma and started a chicken farm. This is a picture of my grandfather, Max Kortum, (inside an improvised frame made from a hubcap).
My father Karl Kortum started the Maritime Museum in San Francisco and met my mother Jean when she came to volunteer. This is a picture of my parents on the day they boarded a train to Reno to get married.
And then there was me!
From Maritime Musuem archives: Jeanie Landles Kortum, 17 months, mailed her first letter yesterday. Jeanie, who is named after the 1425-ton clipper ship Jeanie Landles, didn't send her letter to Santa Claus as you might think. She mailed it to San Francisco to appeal for a contribution to be used in the restoration of the four-masted Pacific Queen. Several thousand similar letters also went into the mail, but Jeanie had the distinction of mailing the first because her daddy is director of the Maritime Museum, owner of the vessel that is destined to become a floating museum of California maritime history.
I became kind of a “hippy” in my late teens but it was more of a solitary Wind in the Willows lifestyle than anything having to do with other people. I fixed up this old bread truck and would take off with my dog (and a goldfish), sometimes for weeks at a time, exploring back country roads. My first article, “Truckin’ through Mendocino” was published about this experience in the SF Chronicle.
Going across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here I am in Greenland. I traveled to the village at the top of the world with my friend Therese. The experience became the subject of my first book, Ghost Vision.
Therese and myself.
And then I went to Kenya and lived with a hunter gatherer tribe. On a second trip to Africa, I witnessed a clitoridectomy (FGM), performed on a young girl---no anesthesia, a stick in her mouth to prevent her from crying out, a pile of maize put on her wound after the cutting.
I returned to San Francisco to write a book about this experience but had a very hard time with it. Though it was a book with a clitoridectomy at its center, I did not want it to be an angry book. Draft followed draft, one too sodden with poetry, another so mystical I didn’t even understand it. To combat the silence of writing and what was fast becoming a crippling writer’s block, I began to volunteer with children in the Tenderloin once a week.
And then I met Crystal! My first husband Dugald Stermer and I adopted her. The experience with Crystal and her mom Sandy galvanized me to start A Home Away from Homelessness in partnership with the National Park Service to help more children and moms.
This is a picture of the women in my family. We had gathered in Bolinas for a day to discuss the strength exhibited by our relative, Sarah Graves, who not only survived the Donner Party but led others to rescue.
I met my love Mike, an Irish immigrant, when he volunteered to help restore some of the homes we were making for homeless children.
We got married, adopted a little boy named Lenny, age seven, who had lived his whole life in foster homes. This is a picture of my family. (I also inherited three wonderful step-children, Tommy, Danny and Margaret!)
Mike is from a little spit of land in Southern Ireland named Sheepshead. We return there every summer.
My kids and me.
Some of our friends.
Crystal grew up and got married to Mike, a really good guy.
There was Dugald Junior (otherwise known as Chums)!
And now, this summer two more births! Chum's sister Nina….