To Raise a Mother’s Eyebrows

March 1935 • Watsonville, California (excerpt from a family memoir)

Clemens and Day families

Clemens and Day families

My oldest sister Carleen was born in Watsonville in 1935. Mom’s sister Verda and her family lived close by, and the two families spent every weekend together.  On Saturday nights they played cards or had dinner at the Chinese restaurant. Sunday afternoons there were picnics and summer parties. George, the boss in his house, was tightly wired. With the air of a 1920s gangster, he was legendary for his language, his style, and his hats. Verda was prim and proper but she had a sense of humor, which was how she and George were able to stay together. She didn’t swear like her husband; horse-puckey was the worst thing that passed her lips.

Verda and George

Verda and George

Verda Agnes Chatfield, my mother’s older sister, married George William Day in March of 1927. He was a non-Catholic who converted the day before their wedding only to get past Grandma Nellie and the priest. Nellie still wasn’t happy. George was ten years older than her daughter who was only eighteen, and he was a widower with two small sons (a two-year-old and an eight-year-old) and he had married Verda less than a year of his first wife dying from a botched abortion and he drove a brand new Jordan which cost a fortune—any one of those things enough to raise a mother’s eyebrows. He was also a bootlegger, but Nellie didn’t know about that. Actually, George was in business with his Uncle Louis, distributing slot machines and punchboards (stand-up lottery-type gambling games) to taverns and country stores, along with dispensing a little liquor on the side. Liquor was sold in mason jars and whenever a raid took place, the innkeeper bumped the jar of white lightening with his elbow, knocking it over, any evidence disappearing down the drain. Bootlegging was the country’s most profitable industry—and gambling was the real great American pastime.

George Day

George Day with his 1926 Jordan

George drove a 1926 Jordan, a beautiful touring car with a California top (a leather covered hardwood roof) and sliding plate glass windows, the hood ornament a block away from the steering wheel. (In 1926 a Jordan Playboy cost $1,845; in 1930 a Model T went for $300). George was a slight wiry man, high-strung and unpredictable. A one-time semi-professional bantamweight boxer, he never weighed much more than 120 pounds but could lift twice his weight. He was once a drinker but his stomach problems eventually kept him away from alcohol, and he smoked a pack of Lucky’s a day.

Verda insisted that George drive the family to church even though he refused to attend. Every Sunday he asked why there was no breakfast, and every Sunday Verda reminded him they were going to communion. And every Sunday, George, who never left the house before eating breakfast, offered the same rant on the Catholic belief of going to hell for eating before communion, and on the priest who served it: “That sonofabitch. He’s not only had breakfast, he’s had a couple of shots of wine before it!”

George fumed in the car under a shade tree while his wife and daughter attended Mass, and God help them if they were the last ones out of the church. With his history and his opinion of the Catholic Church, George was in jeopardy of getting into heaven. Besides, with his language, he really didn’t have much of a chance anyway.

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  1. Catherine: All I can say is Thank You!! They’ve both been gone for so long, that reading this brought them back to me for a little while. I love reading ALL your stories about our families.

  2. From Robin McGhie regarding the automobile George is standing in front of:
    Catherine, I do believe it is a 1926 Jordan. In 1925 Jordan introduced a pair of new models, the ‘Line Eight’ and the ‘Great Line Eight’. These had 8 cylinder engines, a desirable option considering this mans career choice. I have three pics that support my opinion. First your photo, then a 1925 Great Line Eight from a Concourse show: Note the length of the hood (same) and fender shape (same) & headlights (same). The top is soft (convertible) while I think yours has a removable hard top which if removed would look like the green one with top down. The door skins on yours have a framework moulded into the outer edges which can be seen if you expand your picture. The 1925s are smooth around the edges. This advancement added rigidity which shows up in the ’26 model seen here: What is also quite cool is both ’26s have slightly larger wheels than the green 1925 as can be seen in the front fender area by comparison. Also the green ’25 has two spare tires like yours, a common option on Jordan’s as well. What I can’t find is a photo with the removable hard top like yours. I hope this helps. Robin

  3. Susan Price says:

    Very interesting…. but he joined the family picnics and parties…? Did Verda also take his sons to church?

    • George was my father’s closest friend even though they were so different. He was involved in the family, just not with the church. This is from my notes: “When Louise, George’s first wife died, his oldest son Bob lived with Louise’s parents in Chico; Verda raised Junior, his younger son. Bob spent his summers with George and Verda from 5th grade through high school in Watsonville and Vallejo, but preferred living with his grandmother; he was an only child there and well-taken care of by her.” I imagine when the boys were with them they did go to church. Bob is still alive, I could ask him.

  4. Bootlegging must have paid well. With all of his bluster it sounds like Verda still ruled the roost.

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