Through Any Given Door

1.43 1948 Small Town Gossip

Cathy 1948

1948 • Larry’s diary (age 14)
Aug 1 – 15  no entries in diary
Aug 16  Got a new sister at 12:10 a.m. Her name will probly be Kathern. Babe Ruth died.
Aug 17  no entry in diary
Aug 18  Went down to San Francisco, started out at 4:30 a.m. and got back at 8:30 p.m. Store packed for sale.
Aug 19 – Sep 17  no entries in diary
Sep 18  Mother Lode fair opened today, I exhibited my knotboard which I made at home last year of plywood.
Sep 19 – Dec 31  no entries in diary

1948 was not an easy year for the family, particularly for our mother…

It was difficult for Betty to bring girlfriends home; it was too hard to explain about Mom’s erratic behavior and temper, too upsetting to be around her when she was drinking. There were no longer birthday parties, no friendly sleepovers, no company of any kind. It was better not to play in the house with a mother anxious and high-strung, driven crazy by children and the constant noise from small mouths.

My mother had another breakdown and tried to end her life a second time. This time, she was pregnant with me. Once again she disappeared for a while, away at a hospital. Betty stayed with the Harringtons. Mrs. Harrington told Lorna to keep Betty with them as much as possible (my sister already spent most of her time there anyway), explaining to her daughter that Mrs. Clemens was unhappy about being pregnant and that it was all putting a great strain on our family. Mrs. Harrington wanted to take Mom to an abortionist but assumed an abortion for her was out of the question. She was not friends with Mom, knew Mom was Catholic, knew my father, and knew we lived in a close-minded small town. What she didn’t know was Mom had an abortion two years earlier followed by a nervous breakdown, and she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it again. No one knew about it except mom’s sister Verda, and Verda was shocked; it considerably cooled their warm relationship.

Velma Chatfield, Verda Day, Noreen Clemens (my mother) in Chico

Mrs. Harrington had great sympathy for my mother, had great sympathy for all women caught in the daily routine of raising children, the constant cooking and endless cleaning, having no dreams of their own. “It’s not that there is no end in sight that makes a woman go crazy, it’s that there is no relief in the middle,” she told the girls.

Betty and Lorna had each other through the end of seventh grade, until Lorna’s mom had to finally get away; she took her three daughters and moved to Reno, Nevada, leaving behind her home, her husband, and the stifling small town of Sonora.

Other than Leta LePape, Mom no longer had women friends. She and Leta sat on kitchen chairs out front, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey over ice. It made absolutely no difference to my mother what the neighbors thought. There were rumors about her having an affair with a visiting priest from whom she was seeking comfort. He wasn’t from Sonora and was the only person my mother confided in, the only one who took the time to comfort her. When the rumors about them surfaced, he was transferred to another county parish before the next Sunday’s Mass. Betty asked Dad if he thought there was a chance I was not his. Dad simply said, “I never think about things like that.” Of course that’s what my father would say; he didn’t think about things like that. Betty distorted his non-response into an admission of a possibility. My guess the priest rumor was speculation and small-town gossip.

Besides, I look like my father: long, stiff, and angular; my sisters look more like Mom: shorter, rounder, and softer. I think Betty told me that Dad might not be my father, that my real father might be a priest, just to stir the pot. And, if it is true that a priest fathered me, it may be as close to God as I’ll get. Anyhow, one summer I met a cousin of mine on the Clemens side of the family and I thought we looked quite a lot alike.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Susan Davidson Dalberg says:

    This is odd to say, but it’s comforting to know that more of us “war babies” were not wanted. So many, yet so few comfortable saying that out loud.

    Question? Sometimes I think you are adding editing comments into Larry’s diary writings. Is that exact? Anyhow, loved this one as well.

    • Many of the stories in the book float around my brother’s diary. When I began this process years ago, he typed them for me to read and gave me permission to use them. He lent me his actual diary about a year ago, so as I’m posting, I’m comparing each page to his notes. He’d left many lines out, most regarding simple everyday life that he didn’t think interesting. I added them back in, and in some recent sections that were redundant, I added italics to reflect that. Everything else is as he wrote it: spellings, punctuation, and phrasing. Much of it’s in pencil and hard to read, so I’m grateful he’d done most of the transcribing for me as I’d be blind by now.

  2. Now you’re definitely peeling back the layers of your families history. I’m so glad you are exposing your readers to the hard truths. I, too, have a mother who doesn’t want me. I can relate to you as well as get emotional. Opens scabs if you know what I mean. I’m glad you survived to be a positive energy in other people’s lives. Xoxo

  3. I never miss a posting, and was glad to learn more about your beginnings from this one.
    Thanks for keepin’ ’em comin’!

  4. I love the thought that possibly being the child of a Preist might be “as close to God” as you’ll get. Now that’s funny. And I don’t see you as ” long, stiff and angular”. Your quiet humor is just one of the many aspects I truly enjoy about your writings.

  5. Jim Chatfield says:

    Cathy, you’re still the best story teller. You make the reader feel he/she is right there as you roll out the story. Your life from birth had to be hard but you turned out as triumphant, successful, and beautiful, so you rose above all the hardships that life threw at you. I salute you. You are great.

    • Thanks Jim. Even though I had a mother that was not prepared to have me, I had other mothers in my life who were “good enough.” I’d not examined my family life until I penned this story, but fortunately I’d spent some time examining my “self” before I wrote it. Had I not, it would have been a different story. I wanted to know about my mother. In the process I met the rest of my family along with my self. It also gave me resolution with her. I more than got my money’s worth.

  6. You always are brave in revealing the truth. It allows the rest of us to breathe easier with our own family secrets.

  7. Judith Hunt says:

    Ah, the family secrets we all have. However, you have the guts to publish yours! You weave a fine tale which brings up the memories for us all. Keep up the fine work!

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