Joan Randall carefully arranges the photographs on her kitchen table.
Some photos are black-and-white, some yellowed from age, a few in color. She talks about each of them, pointing out her family — noting her mother’s shoes.
The shoes, brown and tattered, have their own separate photo. Randall reaches out for it and examines it for what may be the thousandth time.
“These used to be here, but now they are on exhibit in Europe,” the Davis resident explains. “My mother’s shoes and the blanket she was wrapped in.”
It’s a surreal moment as she recalls the importance of the shoes, the blanket and the night that etched her mother, her grandparents and her aunt and uncle forever in the history books.
Randall’s grandparents, Anton and Louise Kink, along with her mother, Louise Gretchen, left Zurich, Switzerland, on her mother’s 4th birthday, April 8, 1912. They arrived at Southampton, England, and then on April 10 boarded the R.M.S. Titanic with third-class passenger tickets, along with Anton’s brother, Vincenz Kink, and sister, Maria Kink. They were headed to join Anton’s uncle in a small town outside Milwaukee.
Four days later, their world changed.
Late on April 14, Anton and Vincenz were in a cabin on the G-Deck toward the bow of the ship when they were awakened suddenly when the ship hit an iceberg, according to www.encyclopedia-titanica.org. Staying in separate quarters from the women, the two worked to find the rest of the family.
Once they were all together, the five of them began making their way back to the lifeboat deck. Somewhere along the way, Randall’s family was separated from Vincenz and Maria. They later learned the duo died that night as the Titanic sank.
The trio waited for lifeboat No. 2 on the forward port side of the ship. Young Louise stood there in her brown shoes with a blanket wrapped around her.
From all accounts, it was a hectic scene on the deck. The crew had been instructed to load women and children first, and many lifeboats were not filled to capacity as many men were left on deck.
Mother and daughter were placed in the lifeboat, while Anton was not allowed. At 1:45 a.m. April 15, lifeboat No. 2 began to be lowered into the Atlantic Ocean. Anton jumped into the boat to join his family.
“Mine is the only intact steerage family to survive — only because my grandfather had chutzpah,” Randall recalled, her voice trailing off. “He told the story of how my grandmother and mother were screaming as he was pushed back. As the lifeboat was being lowered, he broke through the line and jumped in … it was one of the last lifeboats.”
Randall will tell her family’s story and some of her own at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Davis Senior Center, 646 A St. To reserve a seat, call (530) 757-5696 or stop by the center’s front desk. A $2 donation is encouraged for this special program.
According to titanic-titanic.com, the first lifeboat to be lowered was No. 7 at 12:45 a.m. with 26 people aboard. At 2:20 a.m., the final two lifeboats, Collapsible A and B — both of which were stored above the officers’ quarters — were nearly swamped as people clung to them.
The Titanic, with 2,228 people aboard, struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14. At 1:45 a.m., the Kinks were safely aboard lifeboat No. 2. Slightly more than 30 minutes later, Titanic split in half and the bow sank at 2:18 a.m. The stern of the ship continued to float, but then slowly sank.
Nearly 2 1/2 hours later, at 4:10 a.m., the Kinks and the other 15 passengers in lifeboat No. 2 were rescued by the ship Carpathia from a field of debris and ice.
The family, among 705 survivors, finished their voyage on the Carpathia, which reached New York City’s Pier 54 on April 18. The Kinks continued on to Wisconsin. The events of that April were hidden away like the remains of the Titanic in a deep, quiet place.
Randall knew little of the tragedy from her mother and learned more from Titanic enthusiasts after Robert Ballard found the Titanic wreckage on the ocean floor on Sept. 1, 1985.
“On the anniversary, the local paper would do an interview and the shoes would come out and the blanket would come out, and all of it went over our heads,” said Randall, the youngest of four children born to Louise Gretchen in America.
“My mother had traumatic amnesia,” she added. “She doesn’t remember Switzerland, the boat, but she had nightmares. … My mom would talk about the story, but not what she remembered but what people told her about it.”
Randall, who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969 and then to Davis in ’72, accompanied her mother on various talks, including once to the Davis Senior Center.
“Mom would start each talk with, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything from that night on the Titanic, but’ … then she’d start talking.” Randall said with a smile. “When Ballard found that ship, our mother — our dear hard-working mother — became the Titanic queen. Everyone was interested in survivors. She became a diva.
“Before, she’d traveled maybe an hour from her house; suddenly, they flew her to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Ohio, for conventions, interviews and testimony. She was busy locally speaking to schools.
“My mom’s story is the story of somebody who finds themselves at an event,” Randall said. “She happened to be on that ship. Mother would just laugh and say, ‘They were making a big deal about me, but it’s OK.’ She charmed them.”
When they visited schools, they went armed with photos, a blanket and old shoes.
“We would ask them if they wanted to touch them,” Randall said, holding a pair of imaginary shoes. “If they’d like to touch something that touched the Titanic.”
Randall reluctantly took over the duties of keeper of all things Titanic when her mother died in 1992.
“When James Cameron’s movie came out (in 1997), suddenly I was the queen of Titanic,” Randall said. “I went back to the Senior Center. I put together a story. I went to Germany to meet the Kinks, my grandfather’s family.
“I made a promise to myself — out loud and people heard — to write a book by the centennial,” she laughed. “I’ve revved up. I need a spine for the book, and preparing for the (Senior Center) presentation (on Tuesday) helped.”
In addition to writing about the voyage, Randall is taking a Titanic memorial cruise. She leaves New York for Halifax, Nova Scotia, to visit the Titanic cemetery on April 10. From there, they will cruise to the sink site, arriving on the 100th anniversary.
Since sharing parts of her family’s history, Randall has noticed a change in people’s attitudes toward her. The one that stands out the most is a comment by a coworker.
“She said, ‘You are the daughter of a survivor; you will make it,’” said Randall, who also noted her traveling companion on the upcoming memorial cruise said she would be “good luck” because her mother survived.
“When I was little, I always knew something was different. I’ve discovered a lot about her and about me.”
— Reach Kim Orendor at email@example.com