Through Any Given Door

1.99.3 Summer Solstice, 1953 (1)

June 22, 1953 • Sonora (part 1) ~ It was a summer solstice evening. Betty, and two younger boys who were a year behind her in school, headed home down the hill at dusk after the Monday high school baseball game. The three of them paid no attention to the 1940s dirty sedan with the black undercoat and a missing headlamp. They weren’t afraid of the four guys who followed slowly alongside catcalling out the rolled down windows.

“Hey, where ya going?” the guys kept asking.

“Ignore them. They’re drunk.” Betty told her friends, “Just keep walking.”

The wind picked up as they neared the crest of Washington Street next to the red church. My sister wasn’t afraid of these guys—she wasn’t afraid of anything. She knew enough not to hike the hills during rattlesnake season or scale the fence with the bull on the other side or climb to the tops of fifty-foot pines, inch her way to the branch edges then ride down from bough to bough clear to the bottom like all the boys did. She was fearless, but wasn’t foolish. Even when the car boxed them in at the corner of Wyckoff and Washington it never occurred to her anything could happen, until three of the guys leaped out of the car while the driver kept the engine running. As one guy took a pipe wrench to her companions to get them out of the way, the other two grabbed Betty. One pushed her and the other dragged her kicking and screaming into the car. They forced her low on the front seat and tore down Washington.

“Slow down, Charlie!” Wiley, the youngest one, pleaded. “We’re going to have a wreck.”

“Being wanted for rape,” Charlie snapped, “is just as bad as being wanted for murder,” his eyes darting to the rear-view mirror as he floored the gas pedal.

One of Betty’s friends raced for help, the other sprinted the half-mile to our house, pounded on the front door, and woke up Dad. It was 8:45 p.m. It was the longest day of the year and still light out.

“Mr. Clemens! Mr. Clemens!”

My father threw open his upstairs bedroom window and stuck his head out while the frantic boy relayed what happened as he stood in the front yard. Claudia heard the commotion and listened through the front screen door.

“Hurry Mr. Clemens! Please hurry! Some guys grabbed Betty!”

The two-door sedan careened down Washington, past the fire station, past the library, past the courthouse, past the Uptown Theatre and Mundorfs and Elsbree’s, past the Orchid Shoppe, past Dad’s store, Baers, Kelly’s Central Garage, Sprouse Reitz, and J.C Penney. They turned right at the Sonora Inn onto Highway 49, sped past Green Street where we lived, past the fairgrounds, through Jimtown, and on up into the barren hills that a hundred years before had been hydraulically mined and stripped of every living thing by thousands of prospectors searching for gold.

Washington Street, Sonora 1955

It happened so quickly that Betty wasn’t afraid until they reached the slaughterhouse grounds a mile outside of Sonora and fully grasped what was to happen. Panicked, she started screaming. Ray, the oldest one, the really bad one, punched her in the face but that didn’t stop her. Nothing stopped her until he struck her in the mouth with the wrench, splitting her lips and loosening her teeth.

“Shut up,” he said calmly, “or I’ll hit you again.”

In that moment my sister’s life, and life in Sonora, changed. The town was a safe place for children in the early ’50s. Families knew each other, kids were under the watchful scrutiny of adults who warned them to get out of the pines, stay out of the hills, and get home before dark. There were robberies, arson, gunshot accidents, and even suicides, but not kidnappings of young girls off public streets just blocks from the center of town.

She knew this was not going to be a joyride. She knew for the first time in her thirteen years of being on this planet that she was in real danger, and for the first time, my fearless, bold, outspoken sister was quiet. At first her instincts told her that fighting back would cost her life, so she tried to make herself small and invisible, then she fought back with everything she had throughout the nightmare that followed.

to be continued…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Susan Dalberg says:

    Yikes!!

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