Through Any Given Door

1.06 Chico and Grandma Chatfield

Betty, Sycamore Pool at Bidwell Park, Chico

1940s • Chico, California ~ Every summer Mom took the kids to visit her mother, Nellie Chatfield, who still lived in the two-story house on Boucher Street where my mother grew up. Chico was even hotter than Sonora during the summer, in the 100s every day. To cool off the family took daily picnics to Bidwell Park and swam in the icy Sycamore Pool where Betty dog-paddled in the shallow end in her favorite navy blue bathing suit with a pink palm tree. The pool was built in 1929, the Big Chico Creek flowing through the cement sides of the 700-foot long encasement. Grassy slopes lined the sides where picnics were laid out under towering white-barked sycamores and majestic valley oaks planted by General John Bidwell long before.

Claudia 1945, Sycamore Pool

As a youngster, Mom spent her summers fishing in Big Chico Creek, whiling away the long sweltering days on the rocks under the giant trees, her toes and lines dangling in the water. She used safety pins for hooks, no bait, just the opened pins. It didn’t matter if she caught anything; she simply liked fishing. My mother daydreamed about swimming in the Olympics as she free-styled the length of Sycamore pool. Instead, she married a man who was afraid of water and couldn’t swim a stroke.

Mom was an angler, hiking up to fishing holes with her kids, her wicker creel strapped over one arm, her rod and reel in the other. She baited her children’s hooks with worms for perch and blue gill. For trout she used pink salmon eggs, which Betty always tasted, wondering what people saw in them. Betty would eat anything.

sisters: Mamie Rosborough, Nellie Chatfield, Ada Whitaker 

Larry and my sisters loved going to Chico. Not only did the swimming and hiking entice them, Nellie possessed a wonderful collection of books piled in every room of her house. She had western genre books about Wyoming, Montana and Colorado, places where she and her family had lived. Books by Booth Tarkington, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and books by Owen Wister and McLeod Rainey. The Magnificent Andersons, The Virginian, West of the Pecos, and Riders of the Purple Sage were Grandma’s favorites. She and her two sisters exchanged books as Christmas gifts, signing the inside pages. Larry and Carleen spent hours in the parlor, poring over the dusty volumes of The World Encyclopedia Grandma bought from a door-to-door salesman, reading them from cover to cover; Pluto, the ninth planet, wasn’t even listed yet. Claudia devoured Grandma’s twenty years of yellow-covered National Geographic; she had never been anywhere and loved the pictures from everywhere. Australian pygmies and Maori tribes especially fascinated her, as did Mt. Everest and the snowcapped Himalayas. Betty read everything of Grandma’s. Twice.

Grandma Chatfield was a sucker for men who came door-to-door peddling their wares, from the The World Book to Fuller brushes and kitchen knives. She looked forward to the knocks on the door from charming salesmen who could sell anything, especially to my grandmother.

My siblings’ memories of her included her cooking her one-pot dishes on the wood stove in her ivy-wallpapered kitchen, or sitting on the screened porch in her sliderocker. Grandpa Chatfield was generally away working in the rice fields, so they have little recollection of him. He lived in the shed in the side yard on Boucher, as Grandma had banned him from the house because he’d gambled away the family ranch, a misdeed from their past which she never forgave. When he died in 1942, he was barely missed.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. You can sure write a story woman! Again, I have been transported back to a different time and place and made to feel as though I was part of it all. A voyeur on the sidelines perhaps but still in on the action. Nellie was a tough gal. I had never heard the part about grandpa being exiled to the shed before. OMG, she could hold a grudge. Nellie would have fit right in with my family.

    • “I am from a long line of sharp-tongued women. From list makers, rule makers and rule breakers, from umbrage and resentment. From complaining, carping and keeping score. From they don’t speak… we don’t speak…” Lineages

  2. Deborah Bennett says:

    Catherine, I am so enjoying reading the segments of Through Any Given Door as you send them. This evening it made me feel as though I was in a time back before I was born when people would eagerly anticipate the next upcoming excerpt of a novel or episode of a magazine serialization of an ongoing grand adventure.

    What an absolute delight to feel the excitement and anticipation of what might come next instead of the instant gratification and everything all at once of our modern times. I am thinking that our lives are supposed to have that excitement and eager anticipation of what will come next without needing to know right now what that next thing will be.

    • Deborah thank you. I wasn’t sure if offering the book as a serial would work, or if folks would have the patience or willingness to follow along. I so appreciate the feed back. Stay tuned!

  3. James Chatfield says:

    Cathy, you have quite a way of telling your stories. A person can almost vision himself being there. Back in the 30s and early 40s a lot of people lived the way you said your family grew up. Fishing, having pets, growing all things needed in the gardens. I have enjoyed all your stories and look forward to more.

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