Through Any Given Door

1.99.1 Mom’s Letter to Nellie, Mar 1953

1953 • Letter from my mother to her mother in Chico, postmarked Sonora, Mar 9, 1953
Dear Mom,
I think you are entitled to the whole story. When I came home I did the best I could here, but it hasn’t worked. All the time I was here Carleen had just had everything her own way, all the money she wanted, so she didn’t like it so well when she no longer had $5 a day handed to her, but there was no open break until she took $10 from me. I had worked like a dog getting this house ready for her wedding, with only Betty’s help. I washed all the windows, curtains, sanded down the dining room set, varnished it, recovered the seats, washed all the woodwork, cleaned cupboards, cleaned and cleaned and cleaned until I was so tired I could drop. All the time she never lifted a hand to help me so Saturday I told them I was through, if she couldn’t or wouldn’t help me then I wasn’t going to do any more. She didn’t appreciate it a bit. We were all home, except Larry. I wish he had been here. Carleen answered me back and in these words, “I don’t see why you had to come back here any way, we were doing all right you G-D- bitch,” that’s exactly what she called me. I got up and went for her. I was going to slap her face, no one could talk to me like that, especially one of my own kids. Carl stepped in and kept me from her, we started struggling, me trying to get away from him all the time, finally he grabbed me by the shirt and he said, “By God, you asked for it,” and with that he hit me in the chin with his fist, knocked me clear across the room and out cold. Then when I was down he kicked me. He had sent the kids upstairs except for Carleen who was screaming, “Kill her, kill her,” but Claudia came back down just in time to see it all. Some how my finger got cut almost to the bone and there was blood all over me. The poor kid (Claudia) was screaming and scared to death. He got out a towel and threw it in my face. Claudia took it and started wiping the blood off of me. He left then and went over to the store and came back with some boxes and cord and told me to start packing my stuff and get out. My fist instinct was to go but by then Cathy, Claudia and Betty were hanging on to me begging me not to leave unless I took them so I said this time the shoe was on the other foot, it wouldn’t be me that would leave. I put the kids to bed and then called the doctor, he came down to his office and took a look at my jaw, he thought at first it was broken, but decided it wasn’t. I am going to see him again today. I have two great bruises on my leg, evidently where Carl kicked me, a bruise on my arm and a bump on the side of my head, besides the cut finger but you should see my chin. After I saw the doctor I called a lawyer and made an appointment to see him yesterday. We talked for about two hours. He will file papers for a divorce for me on the 16th and he advised me not to do anything until after the wedding and I agreed. He told me to come home and offer to go ahead this week and play the part of the mother of the bride so there would be no embarrassment for any of us for the sake of the public, which I did. They, Carleen and Carl, both told me they didn’t want me either at the wedding or reception.

I told Ross that would be what they would say but he said thats O.K. at least you did the right thing, you made the offer. Carleen is just a kid now but when she gets some sense in her 10 or 15 years from now she can’t hold it against me or say I never even attended her wedding.

He told me I was entitled to half of everything. I told him all I wanted was custody of the girls, reasonable support for them and the household furnishings. I’m going to leave it up to Judge Warren as to how much support. I don’t know what Carl will do, he always said if I divorced him he wouldn’t stay here. Well, he lets on how he cares so much for the kids, we’ll see if he does by his actions. Mom, when he hauled off to hit me, I saw his eyes, there was pure murder in them, he would like to have killed me and he didn’t pull his punch anyway, my jaw shows that.

This all happened Saturday night, and Sunday morning he went to church just as thou that made everything allright.

Ross said that he has had a great deal of experience with these fellows who are always hail fellows well met, put on a good front in public, attend church and a regular good Joe, but at home are dirty so and so’s, and he said they are just the kind I like to cut the ground from under.

Now Mom, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but I might need some outside testimony. If you want to write your opinion of Carl when you first knew him and what your opinion of him is now, and just why, it might be of help to me. What makes it hard is he puts on such a good front, no one will believe just how he is at home and I don’t want to have the kids testify against him. Ross said a letter from you giving an honest opinion would carry weight. Pray for me.



Grandma Nellie

This letter wasn’t the whole story, it was her story. Dad stepped in between Carleen and Mom to stop her from screaming at Carleen. Carleen hadn’t stolen money from Mom. Mom had stolen Carleen’s diary, read the whole thing, and was raking my sister over the coals, calling her a no-good slut because she’d gotten knocked up. He neither punched Mom nor kicked her when she was down, according to Carleen and Claudia. Betty wasn’t home, and I don’t remember.

My mother had read too many True Crime stories. She needed evidence for a divorce and she was busy gathering it—even if it was false—hoping to win Nellie over to her side. Of all the people in the world whose opinion mattered to my mother, there was only one. That’s why Mom was afraid to tell her staunchly Catholic mother the truth of the situation: she wanted a divorce, and she needed grounds to allow it.

to be continued…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Barbara Jacobsen says:

    Just shows how everyone sees their family crises totally differently, and no one can see the whole picture. It’s impossible. At least your family got it all out in the open. Mine buried it all under the oriental rugs where I’m still trying to find it. And of course what matters is what we learn from it, about ourselves.

  2. Ruth Finneman Christenson says:

    Catherine, My growing up and family experience has been so very different from yours.
    Ruth C.

  3. It’s so hard for children to go through fights of their parents. I feel sorry for all of you! But seems in spite of everything you all grew up and turned out so well. Was the attorney Ross Carkeet? Seems that would be the right time span.

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