Through Any Given Door

1.99.9 Private Matters, 1953-1954

End of 1953 ~ Along with everything else, Dad’s store was having financial difficulties. Trying to keep his head above water he worked all day running it, then in the evenings worked at Ben Franklin up the street. Adding to his misfortune, the Pickering Lumber Mill, the largest industry and employer in Tuolumne County, closed down. Over the years Dad had extended credit to many who worked there, and he continued to do so as everyone hoped the mill would reopen. It didn’t, and they couldn’t repay him. No matter how hard he tried to make ends meet, he couldn’t.

City Hotel

With this final straw, my father surrendered to the opposing forces in his life. He declared bankruptcy, sold all his merchandise, dismantled the sound booths, emptied the windows, and closed his store. Sometime around September 1953, he had a breakdown and spent three days in the hospital. When he got out he moved to a single upstairs room in the old City Hotel across the street from his store, a stone and adobe brick establishment that at one time was Sonora’s only first-class hotel but was now a run-down rooming house. After he closed the store, he worked at Ben Franklin full time, then went to work for Curnow’s Home Appliances. He stayed in Sonora a few more months, just long enough to pay off his creditors, then moved to San Francisco to start a new life, this time as a small fish in a big sea.

Chuck, Debbie, Carleen, Dec 1, 1953, Clifton’s in L.A.

Betty, Dad, Larry, Chuck w/Debbie, in front, Cathy and Claudia, Dec 1953

We had one last Christmas together at Carleen and Chuck’s apartment in Sonora, having a turkey dinner, opening presents, and knowing we were all to be going our separate ways.

Betty, Claudia, Cathy, 1953 Christmas

The court allowed Betty, who was thirteen, and Claudia, who was eleven, to choose which parent they wanted to live with. Betty chose Dad but went to live with Carleen in Southern California. Claudia stayed with the Davises for a year. As I was only five, I was awarded to Mother.

My father never spoke about what happened during these years; no one in the family did. They wouldn’t. In the 1950s, these were considered private matters. What went on inside our four walls stayed inside our four walls, until those walls warped, bowed, and fractured from the heat, strain, and stress—the consequences when tightly closed doors and dark shuttered windows allow no pressure to escape.

End of Part 1

to be continued in Part II…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Susan Dalberg says:

    So sad that so many of us came from quiet, broken down families. Thanks for sharing this painful memory, Catherine. Sending you love.

  2. Janet Sasaki says:

    Makes me feel so sad, seeing how each side felt! I see a really broken down father, not being able to be in control. My father was always saying he was taking each day at a time. He was too gentle and simple of a man and just wished everyone would be happy and get along! All 4 of us loved him!

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