Through Any Given Door

1.92 Tennis and Tonsils

July 1952 • Sonora, California  Even though she hated Mom, Betty was miserable without her. She didn’t want to go to school, complained that her throat hurt, and after the school year (grade seven) of too many absences, Dad decided she needed her tonsils removed. When school was out for the summer and July rolled around, it was time.

Carleen woke us up on Tuesday and told us to get dressed. Claudia was signed up for a novice tennis tournament sponsored by the recreation department that day and Carleen told her she wasn’t going to be able to play, we were going somewhere with Dad. She didn’t tell us where, even though she knew. When we drove up in front of the Columbia Way Hospital, Dad informed the three of us we were going in there to get our tonsils out. He decided that as Betty needed hers out, we might as well have ours out too.

Columbia Way Hospital

“Who’s first?” the nurse asked.

Betty and Claudia pointed to me. My not quite four-year-old body was packed up and carried howling down the short corridor, my sisters listening to my screams until I was too far away for them to hear me. My wailing was muffled, then silent from the metal cone with ether held over my face. Claudia was next. When we all came to, Dr. Boice told us to try and not cough or throw up because we could bleed to death, as if we had a choice about not throwing up! Of course we all threw up, and did so for days afterwards, so sick from the ether, certain we were going to die, wishing we would. It took me the longest to recover. It was the beginning of my many hospital stays, and the end of Claudia’s tennis career.

She stayed with the flute instead. Before he went away to college, Claudia and Larry were often wedged into our flowered overstuffed chair where he patiently taught her to read music. Claudia played the flute in the orchestra from third through seventh grade and sang alto in the chorus from the fifth grade on, both taught by Mr. Dario Cassina, quite a handsome teacher on whom every girl in the school had a crush.

Larry and Claudia, day of music awards

Claudia was the youngest in her elementary school class, next to the tallest, and the best scholar She received an award as the “Most Progressive Student” at the end of her fourth grade year. The day she won the award, a small book of the music masters, was the same day Larry graduated from high school and came home with a silver and goldplated trophy for “Outstanding Musician.” Being the youngest child in school, no matter what, Claudia was trumped by her older siblings. They’d already done it, had done it bigger, and probably done it better.

Claudia’s grades went down. She was pulling her hair out, suffered from nervous twitches, and was having vision trouble that glasses didn’t help. Our family was falling apart, and so was Claudia. She was barely past nine, going on ninety.

Note: In 1950, Dr. Ben R. Boice established a medical practice in Sonora, a town of about 2,500 inhabitants. He became a member of the staff at the Columbia Way Hospital, located at the north end of town two blocks from the high school. There were then two other hospitals in the town, the Sonora Hospital (formerly the Bromley Sanitarium where I was born) and the Tuolumne County Hospital.

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.


  1. I had my tonsils removed due to having too many sore throats & tonsils being so large in 1950-51 ish in Houston Tx. I don’t remember it being the ordeal you Clemens girls went thru. I remember the thing coming towards my face, dreaming briefly about Alice in Wonderland and being prodded awake. I wanted to continue the dream. I don’t remember throwing up at all. I did have ice cream for several meals after, per doctor. The traumatic family situation as you had to be a factor, plus no emotional pre preparation. Man that had to be scary.

  2. Barbara Jacobsen says

    I’m so sorry you had to endure that medieval tonsil torture! Your dad must’ve been desperately trying to do something for his family. Poor Claudia! And bless Larry for trying to help.

  3. It is awful to be so young and have no control of your life. Also hard at any age to lose control. My heart ❤️ to you

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