Through Any Given Door

1.50 Benedict Arnold and Eleanor Roosevelt

“Bettyyyy. Claudiaaa.” Mother’s nightly yell for supper bounced across the yard until it floated down to the soft shadows of the creek where the girls fooled away their afternoons with tadpoles, skimmers, and leaf-hoppers. Betty paid no attention to Mom whatsoever. Claudia, emptying her large Mason jar full of polliwogs back into the creek, was compelled to respond to the summons and ran home. She’d come bounding barefoot across the creaky wooden porch, wiping the damp dirt from her hands on her cotton jumper, the front screen door banging behind her.

Turning from her task of peeling potatoes at the sink, it was always the same routine: Mom asking Claudia “Where’s Betty?” and Claudia saying, “down at the creek,” and Mom saying, “well, go get her and tell her to get in here,” and Claudia scuttling back to notify Betty that Mom said to come home right now.

Betty, busy picking blackberries, screwed up her mouth, bit her lower lip, and balled up her right fist and punched Benedict Arnold on the arm for ratting on her. This confused Claudia. Why did she have to come when called, tell the truth when asked, not backtalk when told what to do. She often wondered, where was her free will?

This was about the time it dawned on Claudia that girls were inferior to boys. Boys were allowed to stay out later, girls had to be in before dark. Boys could be altar boys, girls weren’t allowed in the sacristy. Boys got to play baseball and football and basketball; dodge ball was the only sport girls had. Men were principals, women teachers. Men were doctors, women nurses. Men owned the law-firms and the stores and the banks and women were the clerks and the salesgirls and the hired help. It was a given that God was a man. There were no prominent women anywhere in history, not anyone who was really important that Claudia knew. Maybe Eleanor Roosevelt, but that was only because she’d been the wife of the President. Mrs. Roosevelt never held a paying job and she had a slew of kids to boot, which simply proved Claudia’s point. As it didn’t escape my sister that it was a man’s world and that men were in charge of everything it stood to reason that men must also be smarter. From early on these beliefs were firmly embedded in her, like cement pilings buried in bedrock. Doubt did not creep in until after she’d been married a couple of years.

Linda Graves

When she was about seven, Claudia and her friend Linda Graves, a chubby girl with a head of long dark curls which she wore in two thick braids, sat cross-legged on the living room rug. Claudia, squarely facing her sock-monkey propped up with its back against the maroon chesterfield, was patiently instructing it on the finer points of have and got and five apples minus three apples.

Linda informed Claudia, “When I grow up I want to be a mother and have two babies, a boy first and then a girl.”

My sister replied, “I’m going to be a teacher.”

Dad, walking by in the adjoining dining room, happened to overhear. “I wouldn’t waste the money putting a girl through college,” he injected into their conversation, catching Claudia’s eye, “You’ll just wind up getting married and having babies.”

Her face fell. Claudia hadn’t even considered that she’d grow up, get married, and have children. Even with his remark, she still didn’t consider it a possibility. But right then and there she gave up her idea of teaching and adjusted her goals to a less lofty height. She thought, “Then maybe I’ll be a secretary, or work in a bank.”

She buried way down deep in her soul her dream of growing up and being a teacher. But sixty years later, her dream was still there. I know, because she told me.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

Share this:


  1. Geoffrey Elliot says:

    Having only brothers (and being mostly oblivious to the world) I missed the whole “girls can only be…” conversation. And then, in college, I hung out with the women who had bypassed that limitation and were moving on in the world. So, your telling of Claudia’s story brought tears to my eyes; sorrow for her lost dreams. A moving story!

  2. Susan Price says:

    I was to go to college because educated mothers were better mothers. And, a woman needed to have a backup plan in case something happened to her husband. Becoming a teacher was a great back up plan. And for that you needed an education. So I was informed that I would live at home and attend Cal State Fullerton which I could drive to in the family station wagon. And I would also drive to my parttime job filing information at the local credit bureau after my classes. Several of us college student women filed at the credit bureau in the evenings. One day the boss took us students to lunch at a restaurant where there was an afternoon show of women walking around modeling lingerie.

    • Your parents were more enlightened than mine. At least they prepared you for the future and your ability t take care of yourself. Love the lingerie part. Your boss missed the enlightenment conversation.

  3. Susan Davidson Dalberg says:

    The common thought was if you went to college it was to be a teacher or a nurse. My sister wanted to go into the Air Force, like Daddy. You’d have thought she was asking to join to fight in Korea. Both parents were hysterical–although she had already enlisted in Civil Air Patrol and excelled. How thrilling what the girls can do now! Men still have the edge though.

  4. Jim Chatfield says:

    Yes, in the old days it was a boys world. Boys got their bikes first, got their car first, stayed up later, but then they also got in more trouble.

  5. Poor Claudia. Dad’s were much alike in that era. My dad wanted me to be a telephone operator. I wanted to become a teacher and did. My father also footed the bill until I married.

    • Thank goddess that changed in our lifetime. I wanted to go to art school but had to get a teaching credential instead (which turned out to be a good thing), with further instructions to marry a rich or potentially rich man. I got that part right, just wish they’d included “nice” and “kind”.

Speak Your Mind