Through Any Given Door

1.10 My Mother’s Father

Babe Chatfield 1919

Sep 30, 1915 Red Bluff Daily News, Los Molinos, California ~
LOS MOLINOS. — When a baby girl was born last night to Mrs. C.H. Chatfield of this place, the woman, unaided except by some of her small children, rose from her bed, washed and dressed the child and performed functions of physician or mid-wife. The husband is away from home working in the rice fields at Princeton. Before the child was born Mrs. Chatfield sent for a neighbor woman, who, however, did not arrive until after the child was born and cared for. Both mother and child are apparently doing well. This is the tenth child born in the family.

Note: My mother’s sisters (Nella May who was 11, and Verda, nearly 7), aided their mother in the birth of my mother, Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield.

Charles Henry Chatfield • 1870 – 1942 ~ Chico, California: When my grandfather wasn’t working the fields rice or renting out his team of horses for local grading, he spent his time in his garden with his Leghorns, his sleeping quarters the large backyard shed, his cot sharing space with kindling brought home from the Diamond Match Factory. He didn’t have to account for his gambling and drinking if he wasn’t around Nellie, but family lore has it that he’d been relegated to the shed from the get-go. The house was small for a family of twelve. The older boys, when they returned home from fighting in the war, bunked with their father as they too did not want to report their comings and goings to Nellie.

Grandpa Chatfield

My grandfather was small in stature, and trodden smaller as time went by. He had a mustache his whole life, shaving it off only once. The minute his children saw him without it they laughed themselves silly; he slunk into his garden and hid among the chard and tomatoes until it grew back.

Hardly anyone today remembers him. He drank, perhaps to forget, but probably to escape Nellie. He kept a supply of Bromo-Seltzer on hand to relieve his banging headaches and burning dyspepsia. The white crystals came in blue bottles. He made a fence line with the empties at the home on Boucher, partially burying them upside down in the dirt the length of the yard, leaving the glass bottoms poking above the ground, his cracked and calloused hands carefully constructing a three-inch high hedge of cobalt blue, adding a little color to his life.

Grandpa left Chico and lived in the small town of Bolinas for a few years and in 1930 built himself a house there. He returned to Chico the following year, then left again in 1937. The last years of his life he lived in Lomo Crossing, a place not much more than a levee and a train station, and then in a cabin near Forest Ranch, a small mining town between Chico and Butte Meadows that was little more than a post office and a bar.

My grandfather passed away in 1942, six years before I was born. During the funeral the only thing Grandma Nellie had to say was, “Serves the drunken old fool right.” Still unwilling to pardon him for gambling away the family holdings some thirty-five years before, she buried him in the non-Catholic section of the Chico cemetery, away from the family plots. No headstone, no small cross, not even an upside-down blue bottle marked his grave. It’s possible she simply couldn’t afford a stone—but, his children didn’t buy him one either. Grandpa Chatfield’s unmarked grave rests undisturbed at the corner of a large storage shed, a familiar place for him.

Family photo taken at Bidwell Park in Chico, July 26, 1942, the day of the funeral:

(back row, l to r): Grandma Nellie Chatfield, Charlie Chatfield, unkn older woman, Carl Clemens (dad), Ina Fouch, unkn man, Velma (Charlie’s wife) Chatfield, Ethel (Leo’s wife) Chatfield, Jim (Ina’s husband) Fouch, Vera (Chambers) Northrup (Jo’s sister), Ray Chambers (Jo’s brother), Jo Chambers (later married Roy) (front row l to r): Leo Chatfield, Betty Clemens (sister), Noreen Clemens (mom), Verda Day, Larry Clemens (brother), Howard Chatfield, Roy Chatfield, Nella Mae McElhiney

July 24, 1942, Chico Record, pg 3, col 5, Chico, California:
Charles Chatfield, Rancher Passes
Charles H. Chatfield, 61 (sic age 71), a rancher in this district for the past 25 years, died yesterday afternoon at a local hospital. He was a native of Florence, Colorado. Survivors include his widow, Nellie Chatfield of Chico, and the following sons and daughters: Leo of Camptonville, Howard F. and Roy E. of Chico, Gordon of Martinez. Arden of the U.S. Army. Mrs. Nellie McElhiney of Oakland. Mrs. Verda Day and Mrs. Norene Clemens of Vallejo and Mrs. Ina Fouch of Yuba City. Also surviving are Elmer Chatfield of Wyoming, a brother, and Mrs. Ella Small of Arizona, Mrs. Calla Josyln, Santa Monica, sisters. Twelve grandchildren also survive. Funeral services will be held Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Black and Johnson Funeral Home. with the Rev. Fr. Patrick Cronin officiating. Burial will follow in the Chico Cemetery.

Note: In July of 2003 my brother and I visited the Chico Cemetery and bought our grandfather a headstone. There was room on the plaque, so we added “Son of Isaac W. Chatfield” as a nice touch. We knew full well that adding “Beloved Husband of Nellie” would have our grandmother roll over in her grave.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Just curious why Charlie Chatfield, Nellie’s oldest son, is in the picture at the funeral but not listed as a surviving son in Charles’s obituary? P.S. My mother and I really enjoy reading through the family history and stories. Thank you for putting it together.

    • Hi Sarah, I never noticed that he wasn’t listed in the newspaper article, but you are correct, he is not! I’m assuming it was an oversight either on the newspaper or whoever wrote it. I never heard of a falling out with he and his dad. I doubt that Nellie wrote the obit, probably one of his daughters. Good eye! Let me know if you catch anything else. I’ve read and written these things so many times that I don’t even see the errors.

  2. Jim Chatfield says:

    Cathy, I wish I could tell my family history as well as you do I enjoy all your stories. You have a wonderful way with words.

  3. Edna M. Bowcutt says:

    Thank you, thank you for placing that headstone. No one should ever be forgotten. My mom and I pick different cemeteries in our County and find the oldest 1700 – 1800 graves we can find and place flowers on them for those who we know have not been visited in a very long time.

  4. I echo Linda’s sentiments. It’s interesting that he somehow endured through all that sadness and loneliness. I think it’s hard on men to be Libras. Thanks for getting grandpa a headstone!

    • One of our sisters was with us and she was against the idea. She became Grandma Nellie, sitting with crossed arms, a frozen countenance, furiously gnawing the inside of her right cheek as my brother and I made the purchase of a headstone. Her flinty position was, “If Nellie didn’t buy her husband a headstone, she must have had damn good reason—and I’m not about to start undoing any family traditions.” When Nellie died there were more than a few in the family she was not speaking to. When Betty died, it was the same. A daughter, a sister, and a brother-in-law were not to attend her funeral. Liz didn’t want anyone dancing on her grave. Perhaps if she hadn’t danced on Mother’s…

      • Sigh… old family patterns. I’m trying to break some but it can be challenging. I was angry and disappointed in my sister for voting for Trump but we’re managing to stay in fairly positive email communication. Don’t want to close my heart. Thanks Catherine for stirring up some old bones!

  5. Susan Lee Price-Jang says:

    But if it was so bad between Nellie and husband Charles, how did they manage to conceive 10 children?

    • Nellie was a strict Catholic. I don’t imagine she had sex for pleasure; she refused to consummate the marriage from the get go. It was her religious duty to procreate, which is why she had a baby every other year. At that time it was expected that a boy was offered to the church to become a priest, a girl to become a nun. However, she gave birth to a wild bunch and times were changing. What I don’t understand is how or why she married Charles as his family was not Catholic. I wonder if he briefly converted? I know their fathers fought in the same battles in the Civil War, so perhaps they knew one another and it was more of an arranged marriage.

  6. Janet Sasaki says:

    I love the part about the blue bottles!

  7. Fact is always much more fascinating than fiction. You can’t make this stuff up. Poor Grandpa Chatfield paid a heavy price for his gambling and drinking.

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