Through Any Given Door

1.99.5 Summer 1953, Minnesota

July 1953 • Pinecrest ~ At the end of July, Chuck and Carleen (who was nearly eight months pregnant) took us three girls to Pinecrest for the day in Dad’s new car. It was good to get away and have a picnic of potato salad and ham sandwiches, to hike and be in the sun. I have pictures from that day, of faces that look happy for the moment.

Claudia, Betty, Cathy, Carleen, at Pinecrest Jul 1953 with Dad’s new Chevrolet Bel Air

August 1953 • Minnesota ~ Wanting to get away from it all, Dad packed Betty, Claudia, and me in the back seat of a new four-door 1953 Chevy BelAir that he bought from Kelley’s Auto, and took us on a month long trip to the midwest to visit his family. Larry came home from college to help drive. We motored for 2,000 miles through California, Nevada, Idaho. In Wyoming we went to Yellowstone National Park and saw Old Faithful, a hole where hell bubbled up in a cauldron of boiling mud and roaring geyser. South Dakota was the most beautiful state on our trip; there we stopped and stood agog, gazing up at the gigantic carved heads at Mount Rushmore. We were in the car for so long that Claudia developed a jerky leg, bad enough that Dad considered taking her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where they had a whole building for patients with “restless-leg syndrome.” Her leg still twitches and jerks when she’s stressed or over-tired, and I still get sick in the back seat of a car.

Barbara, Bill, and Dick w/parents Agnes and Bill

After a week, we finally arrived at the Hausers. Aunt Agnes and her family lived on an acre of the old Clemens farm right outside Rochester. During our stay Betty confided in our cousin Barbara, who was the same age, about what happened in Sonora. My sister, who hadn’t had a period for a couple of months, was worried she was pregnant. Out of concern for Betty, Barbara went to her mom with the story, and of course Aunt Agnes went to Dad. When Agnes finished, Dad looked away from his sister and said flatly, “It never happened. Betty made it up.” Aunt Agnes believed him. What was even worse, what wounded Betty more deeply than what the boys had done to her, was that Dad said she was lying. 

We saw Sister Ann, who was teaching in Owatonna. We visited Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe (Claudia’s godfather), whose farm was northwest of Rochester. Aunt Betty was quite tall, and all Claudia remembers was a stark bedroom lined with a younger swarm of children dressed in the same nightshirts. Claudia’s biggest fear was that something would happen to Mom and Dad and she would have to live with them. We visited Uncle Lawrence at his farm, the Conway farm, and the Wallerich farm high above the Mississippi, which had terrible farmland but a gorgeous view. We took a motorboat trip on the Mississippi with our Wallerich cousins. Larry didn’t want to go, he thought it would be boring, but it turned out to be the most fun he had. 

Claudia, Dad, Betty, Larry, Cathy

We stayed with our Walsh cousins in Mason City, Iowa, where Aunt Elizabeth took us to the Iowa State Fair with the Walsh twins and where we won a baby duck and saw the Barnum and Bailey big tent Circus. Aunt Elizabeth, also visiting from California, was Claudia’s godmother. Betty was mad that Aunt Elizabeth wasn’t her godmother, especially since she was named for her. Betty’s only fond memory of the trip was eating molasses cookies which she adored, straight from the oven, a specialty of Dad’s two spinster aunts.

Cathy, Claudia, Larry, Betty, in Mason City, Iowa Aug 1953

Driving home straight through, we only stopped for gas, meals, and to bury the baby duck. When we got to the Grand Canyon, Betty refused to get out of the car; she had no interest in seeing one of the seven natural wonders of the world. She was reading her comic book. She read during most of the trip, slouched below the window beneath the passing landscape, her book held at eye-level. Claudia and I couldn’t even look at a book; we were carsick the whole trip, rising from the wells of the back seat just long enough to heave and read the Burma Shave signs dotting the eternal stretches of highway:

“This old world…
Wouldn’t be uptight…
If people simply…
Did what’s right….”
     Burma Shave

After dropping off Larry in San Jose, we drove home to Sonora.

Lorna Harrington, who was staying with her father in Sonora in late August and hadn’t seen her best friend in more than a year, held Betty’s hands when Betty told her what happened, told her how scared she was, and then told her what Dad had said about it afterwards. Lorna was furious; she told Betty that both their fathers were old, that they weren’t good with girls, that they said stupid things like “girls were women’s work” and that men didn’t get involved with women’s work.

They didn’t know it, but it would be the last time the two girls would see one another.

to be continued…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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