Through Any Given Door

1.03 A Chicken and a Dog

Larry and Carleen, 1940

Mid 1940s • Sonora, California ~ Larry and Carleen went everywhere together. They were a year apart (he was born in 1934, she in ’35) with the same dark brown hair and brown eyes. When he was four Larry wore an eye patch, and in first grade, glasses. He had a lazy eye, the only thing ever lazy about that boy. He had his first job at nine as a janitor for the Office Price Administration. When he later had paper routes he was up at 5:00 a.m. to deliver the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner before school, then in the afternoon delivered a route for the Sonora Union Democrat.

Dad and Betty, 1940

Betty, the next sister, came along in December of 1939 while the family lived in Watsonville where Dad worked as an iceman. When they moved to Sonora, she soon discovered Wood’s Creek that ran alongside the house. Making a pond from the leaking well out front, she created a sanctuary for the pollywogs and tiny fish she toted up from the creek. She was forever bringing home stray or wounded animals and hiding them under the porch. Our house was high off the ground and she kept her feral kittens hidden from Mom, spending months trying to tame them. Her only real pet was Blackie, one of the chickens. It had limber legs (a disorder where a chicken’s legs cannot support its own weight) as a chick, and Betty begged Mom to let her keep it so the other chickens wouldn’t peck it to death. Mom finally said okay. She figured it was going to die soon anyway. It didn’t. Betty raised Blackie and kept her safe in her own little box, petting her soft brown feathers, training her, giving her water and grain several times a day from her hand. She loved Blackie.

Carleen, Dad, Larry, Betty, baby Claudia, March 1943

One day Betty woke up with a sore throat. Mom spent the afternoon cooking a big pot of chicken-rice soup for supper, the rich aroma wafting from her kitchen.

Dad, at the head of the table, said grace, “Bless us O Lord…” At the sign of the cross, no one made eye contact; Larry sat stock still while Carleen squirmed in her chair. As everyone silently lifted their first spoonful, Betty suspected something was up.

“Where’s Blackie?” she demanded.

Everybody froze. Mom and Dad carefully studied the rice in their bowls, soup spoons dangling halfway to their mouths, eyes lowered. Betty stiffened, shot a look at Mom, fell back from her chair and sprinted from the table, screaming “Nooo!”

The family bolted down their supper; they were hungry.

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Vallejo, abt 1942 ~ The only dog the family ever had was when they lived in Vallejo where my dad worked for Union Ice, but they didn’t have him for long. It was a little black-and-white eight-year-old mongrel, and eight-year-old Larry loved him. On a cloudy Sunday our parents took a drive out of town with Larry and Carleen cradling Betty in the back, Mom and Dad with the dog in the front; when they stopped, my parents quietly let the dog out. As they turned around to head back to town, Larry heard barking and swiveled his head, looking out the rear window.

“Hey, that looks like our dog. HEY!” he yelled, “that IS our dog.”

Dad shifted gears; he and Mom stared straight ahead. In silent unison they looked at the grey sky and reflected, “that was your dog.

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. DHoffman says:

    Ahhhh, Sonora… HOME. Those were different times indeed. I grew up behind Vicko’s in the house across from yours. And even though that was decades later the stories, the mentalities were the same. Funny, I almost forgot that we grew up on the same road. When I read about the porch high up off the ground I was flooded with memories of things I used to hide under there. And the ditch (Creek) in the backyard… I treasure your tales of where we came from. Thank you.

    • We moved out of that house before it was moved to Vicko’s Station. When I lived in it, it was behind the Sonora Inn, though I have few very few memories. I was four or five when we left. But that house certainly connects a lot of people who lived in or near it! Glad you like and are following the stories. Tis always good to have company!

  2. James Chatfield says:

    Your story makes me remember all the pets and animals I had as a kid. My dog Chubby and I played football in the empty lot next to us. Had a bunch of pigeons that I captured, found out one was an army carrier so I let him go. Thanks for the memories.

  3. Frank still can’t eat lamb because his parents slaughtered his pet lamb when he was a boy. Another farming family. Same thing happened to Ray with his pet calf. Communication skills weren’t too advanced back then! Scars from betrayal can last a lifetime.

  4. Janet Sasaki says:

    Hi Catherine, your two stories about pets reminded me of my black and white pet rat named “Ratsos”. Because my mother got tired of telling me to clean its cage, she traded it one day while I was at school to a door-to-door salesman. Ratsos was gone when I came home from school. I cried and cried, and wrote an song about him and sang it over and over again on my plastic ukelele. “Rastos: where are you……..”.

  5. These two stories brought back memories of our pet chicken Nellie who eventually was picked to death by the flock. Also Goldie a pregnant cocker spaniel mix dumped at our restaurant where someone thought she would find a new owner. She did. My dad was an animal lover and we took her home where she delivered 12 puppies. Oh the good old days…

    • I don’t even want to think what my parents would have done with 12 puppies. They were from farm and ranching families. Animals worked for their keep, were raised for food, or were drowned in a gunnysack in the creek.

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