Through Any Given Door

1.34 A California Thistle

Mom, Dad, Larry, Carleen 1937, Rochester

Mom, Dad, Larry, Carleen
1937, 1st trip to Minnesota

A line from my brother’s diary on Mar 30, 1947: Aunt Elizabeth phoned to tell my parents that my Grandfather died this afternoon.

1947 • Minnesota ~ Dad’s first trip back to the family farm was for his mother’s funeral ten years earlier. He and Mom took the long train trip to the midwest, bringing Larry who was almost four and Carleen who was two years younger. Farm kids were seldom catered to, and this woman from California indulged her children, especially Carleen, giving her daughter anything she wanted while the Minnesota relatives watched and raised their mid-western eyebrows. My father been gone from home for fifteen years, and hadn’t spoken to his mother during that whole time; he was sure his she didn’t care about him. What he didn’t know is that she cried every day, hoping each time the phone rang that it was her son who’d run away to California without even saying good-bye.

Matt and Barbara Clemens, my father's parents

Matt and Barbara Clemens, my father’s parents

Our parents returned in June 1947 for his father’s funeral. Larry stayed with the Day family for three weeks, Carleen went to the Fouchs, and Betty and Claudia stayed with Uncle Charlie and Aunt Velma; this was the year before I was born. There wasn’t much to do on the farm and Mom, finally being free of her children, wanted to go, go go. Never wanting to sit still, she wanted to see the country, have some fun and kick up some dust. Instead she visited her in-laws’ farms, meeting the Clemens, Conway, and Nigon clans.

Discovering artichokes in the store one day, my mother excitedly bought a big bag full and cooked them for her husband’s family. They’d never heard of artichokes; Minnesotans ate red Jell-O and Rice Crispies bars, not fancy vegetables, much less thistles that were a lot of work for little sustenance, where you threw most of it to the hogs.

The family liked Mom. Well, the men and the kids liked Mom with her easy way and sense of humor. She had an air about her that made most of the women uneasy, nor was she serious about duty. The farm women took care of duty, busy raising corn while my mother was out making hay. They lived the better part of their busy days in aprons and house dresses, wore sensible Red Wings or work boots, used no nail polish or make-up. They had chores to do, men to feed, and kids to care for—from dawn until ten and often back again until dawn. They knew Mom was of a different flock. She dressed, sat, and spoke differently, wasn’t as proper and reserved as they were, not as buttoned up.

Clemens family, Rochester 1947

Clemens gathering, Rochester, Minnesota 1947
back: Joe Clemens, Bill and Agnes Hauser, Betty Rose, Pearl and Lawrence Clemens, Amelia and Pat Conway, Frank and Mary Wallerich, Elizabeth Clemens
front: Betty Clemens, Mary Lou Wallerich, Pat Conway, Jr., Babe and Carl Clemens (my parents), Joe Wallerich

This was taken in 1947 at the Terrace Room at the Oaks, a restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River. My mother is front and middle, wearing a low cut black dress, legs easily crossed at the knee—not the ankle—sandwiched between a handsome uniformed Pat Conway, his arm draped casually over her shoulder, and Dad, his hand discreetly tucked under hers. No, Babe was not a Minnesotan, and she was definitely not like the rest of the women in Dad’s family. Nor did she care to be.

to be continued …


Joseph Clemens, age 95

Uncle Joe Clemens

When I started writing about the family, I asked Uncle Joe, my father’s youngest brother, what he remembered of Mom.

He told me, “Well, she was nice enough.”

I asked what ‘nice enough’ meant.

“You know… nice enough.”

I said, “Nice enough… like what?”

“Well, she wasn’t bashful, quite the talker, and not afraid to tell people what she thought of them.” (My mother rarely had an unarticulated thought, and believed everyone was entitled to her opinion.)

I persisted, “That doesn’t mean ‘nice enough’ to me. What exactly do you mean?”

He paused a long second and said, “Well, I guess you could say she was like a Monica Lewinsky nice enough.”

“Oh,” I said. That was way more than I wanted to hear about my mother, so the conversation ended there.

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Susan Price-Jang says:

    Oh those midwesterners. Even at the age of 7 when we moved from Wisconsin to Southern California, I knew that we were in a different world. Soon after we arrived in Whitter, my classmates were invited to a dairy farm. Since I had lived on a Wisconsin dairy farm I was allowed to stay home that day with my mom. The next day I was amazed to hear my classmates talk about how gross it was to see that milk came from a cow!!! I decided that kids in California did not know anything.

  2. Jim Chatfield says:

    Well Cathy, you always have a good story and a wonderful way of telling it and making a person feel like you are telling it to them. Some areas of the country had different ways of looking at people and about life.

  3. Thank you for sharing these stories, Catherine. I enjoy every single one of them.

  4. Donna Byerrum says:

    Lalalalalala. We don’t need to hear these things.

  5. Thanks for taking me on another trip with your family. I so enjoy these peeks into your families inner most relationships. Another great read Catherine.

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