Through Any Given Door

1.73 1951 • Popcorn Girl

1951 • My Sister Carleen ~ Carleen was high-spirited and hard-working. Her dance cards were filled, as were her weekends and summers. She cut a rug at the Harvest Dance and at the Valentine Ball she slow danced and jitterbugged with Bruce and Eddie; at the Winter Mist she box-stepped with Paul. She cheered at her high school basketball tournaments and football games. A drum majorette, decked out in a fur-trimmed velvet uniform and boots, she marched down Washington twirling her baton in the town parades. She was a member of the Junior American Red Cross, sang alto in the school choir, worked on the school paper, was a commissioner for school publications, and in the cast of “Brother Goose.” At sixteen she got her driver’s license and her first work permit, along with a job nights and weekends at the lower Sonora Theatre. Starting out as an usher, she worked her way up the ladder to popcorn girl behind the candy counter, making 65 cents an hour.

“Brother Goose” 1951 Carleen in center w/chin resting on hand

Dad’s Olds, Claudia, Betty, Cathy

Sometime in 1949, Dad bought a silver-grey two-door 1948 Oldsmobile. Cars were not made from 1941 to 1945 during World War II, so it was a big deal to get a new one. On a rare occasion, Dad loaded the older girls in the Olds for a buying trip to San Francisco. They were amazed at how many people there where in the big city, how different it was. The expeditions commonly ended with shrimp or crab cocktails at the bustling sidewalk chowder stands at Fisherman’s Wharf. After dinner they drove the winding two-and-a-half hours home, the car jammed with boxes of toys, souvenirs, and candy, the trunk crammed with cases of vinyl records.

Mom and Dad, 1951 (Plymouth)

In 1951, Mom and Dad bought a 1946 blue four-door Plymouth. When Carleen got her driver’s license, Dad let her take it to the plunge in Columbia. I was a water-baby practicing being fearless, jumping off backwards into the shallow end of the pool. I didn’t know how to swim, but I knew how to jump. How hard could it be? Carleen kept warning me to stop; she was sure I was going to get hurt. On my third try I missed clearing the cement edge and busted my chin open, turning the shallow end of the 40 x 100 foot pool red. Carleen sped me to the hospital, my jaw in a towel. I was three years old and got a stitch for each year; if I tilt my head back, you can still see the scar. I seldom practice being fearless any more.

Cathy, Easter

Carleen, Betty, Claudia, Cathy, Easter 1951

In the early afternoon on Easter Sunday, Carleen picked up her friend Cassie Jo, whose Mom worked in the drugstore across the street from Dad’s store. Carleen got her driver’s license on her 16th birthday, ten days before. I was standing on the backseat of the Plymouth coupe dressed in my Easter clothes, being driven to an egg hunt on the other side of Columbia where Bret Harte’s historical cabin was. They had a community egg hunt there every year.

“Mom is leaving again. Oh Cassie. What are we going to do?”

Carleen was close-mouthed about our family situation, and it was unusual for her to open up about it to anyone. In a town the size of Sonora, everybody already knew, but no one at our house talked about it. My brother and sisters generally found out what was going on through the grapevine, not at the dinner table. We weren’t allowed to talk at the dinner table.

Cassie Jo Joslin was one of Carleen’s best friends, but she had no idea what we were going to do, had no words of wisdom or advice, nothing to say. She quietly listened, heartsick at the weight on her friend’s shoulders.

As it turned out, Mom stayed. Dad was sick. The business was falling apart. Maybe she shouldn’t leave. Maybe things would change. Maybe she could make it work. She lasted a year.

to be continued…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Susan Davidson Dalberg says:

    My older sister had to be my “mother” as well. God bless them!!

  2. Susan Price-Jang says:

    I remember my aunt who had 5 kids had problems – she would get migraine headaches and would be unable to care for the kids. She also started to have depression. One year my mom (her sister) had to go back to Illinois to care for the kids while my aunt had electric shock therapy to relieve her depression. The irony is that my uncle, her husband, was a doctor. Again, just like your family, there things were not talked about. How difficult for you and your siblings. I too have a scar on the underside of my chin. It was from falling (but from where I do not remember). Sounds like your older sister had to take on the role of mother to you.

  3. Jim Chatfield says:

    Sounds like Carleen was a busy young lady.

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