Through Any Given Door

0.ii Dedication, Billet-Doux, Credits


To my siblings:
this memoir is for them

To Stephanie Moore:
who directed her students with grace, gratitude, and courage

And to Michael Naumer:
who warned, “sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you”

Stephanie Moore
1951 – 2006

Writing a book is not a solitary event, and this one would not have emerged without my friend and teacher, Stephanie Moore. Years ago she taught me to dance, then she taught me to write. Thanks to my Monday night writing class who gave me their attention and feedback a page and a half at a time. And thank you to my brother, sisters, and a few friends who generously read my drafts, helped me arrange and rearrange this book so it was not so confusing: editing my commentary, encouraging me, and nudging me to get to the point.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work for five years with Michael Naumer, a teacher like no other. I came away from that work with an ability to see myself, a honed perspective of life, and to not make the events in my family mean anything, that they were simply what happened. This memoir would have a different feel without his teachings:  

Michael Naumer
1942 – 2001

• Our baggage is the material we need to transform; we need our stuff, we just want to become objective about it so we can deal with it.
• Where you are the most wounded, you are the most accomplished.
• The mind is a dangerous neighborhood; don’t go in there alone.
• It is not about me. It may have something to do with me, but it’s not about me—or my value. Nor is it about you—or your value.
• Things are not happening to me, they are happening for me.
• It is better to ride the horse in the direction it is going.
• People are miraculous surprises.


A Billet-Doux to My Siblings

Written to my brother, his wife, and my sisters upon what I thought was the final draft of this memoir in 2004:
Dear Larry and Marian, Carleen, Betty, and Claudia,

Clemens siblings 1993: Carleen, Larry, Cathy Betty, Claudia 

My writing began with a short piece I penned called, “Queen Bee.” When I shared it with each of you, it gave us a connection we hadn’t had. I also read it to our cousin Marceline whom I’d met at a Chatfield reunion a few years back, where she told me stories about Mom, how warm, friendly, and funny Mother was. It startled me to hear anyone say anything good about Mom, to hear her spoken of in such a friendly fashion. Carleen and Betty, your anger with Mother had been so intractable and my own experience of her difficult, that I thought perhaps Marceline was mixing her up with one of Mom’s sisters.

Reconnecting with Marceline a year ago, I invited her and the five of you to my home. I wanted to know more about our mother. Thirty other relatives got wind of the get-together and showed up on my doorstep, arms loaded with food and soft drinks; it turned into a wonderful weeklong party.

Clemens siblings and Chatfield cousins, Sonoma 2003

Four generations—brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren—sat in a double circle in my living room. I asked everyone in turn to say how they were related to Mom, along with a memory or story of her. That night I wrote the tales told and read them aloud in the morning. Everyone thought my writings were funny, except you Larry—you weren’t so sure—but you had a different family life than we did. Those few tales triggered others, and then others, and when they’d all been written down, I had a book. Chronicled throughout are diaries, letters, and clippings stashed for years in your garages, attics, and closets. My own memories and assumptions are cluttered in between.

Relieved when I got your first responses to my draft, Carleen, Betty, Claudia, and Marian, you all said, “I laughed, then I cried, then I laughed some more.” I worried what you would say, Larry. Until you’d read my first draft, you’d only heard what I’d read to you on the phone. I often felt your pursed lips and folded arms over the line. The day I received your edited copy, I was afraid to unseal the manila envelope. I circled it for an hour, tapping it with my fingers each time I walked by the kitchen table, waiting for courage to open it. I didn’t want to risk our relationship; you’re the only brother I have.

I cried when your note said my writing impressed you, and that you hadn’t known what had happened to all of us after you’d left home. You also didn’t ask me to take anything out, except where I wrote that you had hunted for frogs, informing me that you had NEVER hunted for frogs. I also laughed when I saw you crossed out all the swear words. I thank you for your generosity in allowing me to print something so personal as your diary; it tied the story together. I love you, I love that you are my brother, and I appreciate your support in writing our stories.

Marian, you’ve been a huge buttress, reading drafts and running interference. You loved my writing and asked me if I was ever going to write fiction. My brother–your husband–responded with, “She is writing fiction.” What I love the most about you is your kindness and patience. You soften my edges, reminding me by your example of another way to be. I love you dearly.

Carleen, thank you for being our mother when Mom was unable, to not only take us in and provide food and shelter, but to give us love, laughter, attention, and family. Your home and heart were always open, and I might not be here today if not for you. Thank you. I’m grateful for the woman you are, and I love you with all my being.

Betty, thanks for putting up with me on the phone, sometimes two and three times a day, patiently listening, correcting, and making me take out what I made up. “Riddled with errors, as usual,” you’d quip. Your memory, knowledge, and stand for the truth make a difference. I’m also grateful you’re still speaking to me after I decided, against your request, to include some painful things that happened to you when you were young. I can only trust it was the right decision. I love you. Fiercely.

Claudia, your stories have been the best. You had the closest connection with Mom (actually, you were the only one with the fortitude to listen to her), so you have memories the rest of us lack. I laugh each time we talk, and feel your arm around me. I hope I’m not still “nothin’ but trouble” for you with what I’ve written. I love you (and your chocolate chip cookies).

What I thought would be a few vignettes has turned into this memoir, reaching back through our generations and growing into a body of work. I wrote it for you, and I wrote it for me. It gave me a place to say what I wanted to say, it brought me clarity and tenderness as I witnessed my childhood, and it brought me back to myself. It also united our family in more ways than just these pages. I’ve always said, “If it had been up to me, I’d have kept the family together.” Well, I’ve done that, and then some.

Catherine “Cathy” (Clemens) Sevenau,
Carl & Babe’s youngest child



Tintype Publishing
P.O. Box 1206, Sonoma, CA 95476
Deb Carlen, editor
Madeleine Wild, audio voice director
Dianna Jacobsen, website and cover design
In Her Image Photography, author photo
Cory Gilman, midnight advisor

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. James Chatfield says:

    As always Cathy, you are outstanding and enchanting. Thank you.

  2. Debbie Albertson says:

    You are the most talented and well loved person in our family (at least from my prospective) and you’ve enriched my life tremendously. I can’t imagine how I would have turned out without your guidance and nurturing. I have to say, at the end of the day, you are the love of my life.

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