Through Any Given Door

3.07 Saving Grace

Carleen, June 1959

1959 • La Habra ~ Along the rear side fence I planted three huge sunflowers, a patch of blue lupines, and vines of sweet peas. I loved the sweet peas; they were Dad’s favorite flower. And that’s what Carleen called me, “Sweet Pea.” My sister was my sun and my saving grace, and along with my dad, I loved her more than anyone in my world.

She and I played gin rummy, Monopoly, and Clue. We did thousand-piece puzzles and paint-by-number pictures and tiled the top of the blonde coffee table. She taught me embroidery, how to iron on the patterned tissue transfers and how to work the hoop and the embroidery needle so my stitches weren’t too loose or too tight. Our white pillowcases became magically edged at the open end in flowers or princesses, the blossoms and flowing dresses billowing from corner to corner, until we ran out of pillowcases. We moved on to decorating the house with pictures from the Junk of the Month Club kits we made using Elmer’s glue and colored pea gravel sized rocks.

We watched Thriller and The Twilight Zone, laminated to one another on the new tweed covered couch, eating popcorn and me covering my eyes. Carleen loved those shows. They scared the wits out of me. We watched Rawhide and Maverick and Paladin. I ached to be cool and confident like Zorro, instead of being clumsy and confused, like me. They were my heroes, these cowboys who didn’t care what anyone thought, who rode into town, saved the falsely accused or the family farm, then finished their business and rode into the sunset. They were outsiders, separate from the townsfolk, not part of anything or anyone. Alone. They were brave and independent and strong. They didn’t need anyone.

We watched Carleen’s favorite, Roller Derby. The San Francisco Bombers with Joan Weston and Bobbie and Ann, hard chicks racing low and playing mean and dirty. I was fascinated and wanted to race my skates fast and low like they did, but I didn’t want to be like them; I knew they weren’t good girls. I also didn’t want to get hurt. I wasn’t that good on skates.

We watched Ozzie and Harriett and Leave it to Beaver and Lassie Come Home. Lassie completely undid me. I sobbed through them all, hiding my face behind a pillow sucking my fingers, desolate that my mother didn’t want or love me, convinced everyone else in the whole world had a mother who did.

“Get your fingers out of your mouth.” Every time Carleen turned around I was sucking them and she figured that at ten, it was high time for me to stop. She reminded me. She nagged me. She threatened me. She got orange medicine and coated my two fingers which was nastily bitter, and it didn’t stop me. The unconscious urge simply had me in its grip. She resorted to taping a white sock of Chuck’s over my hand, which ruined the whole experience, plus it was embarrassing going around with a sock at the end of my left arm. She threatened to make me wear it to school if I didn’t stop. It took a year to break me of the habit, which I simply replaced with nail-biting. Too young to take up smoking, I needed something to suppress my nagging anxiety.

to be continued…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.


  1. I really appreciate the honesty in these stories. It’s bittersweet to know other people have had similar experiences. Along with sucking my thumb, I also wet the bed. I was a sensitive child. I wasn’t allowed to watch shows like The Hulk or Starsky & Hutch. I would have nightmares. I hope your book brings comfort to many adults that had neglect and abuse growing up. Thank you.

    • I hope it brings comfort too. We all think we are the only one… I don’t recall that I was a bedwetter, though I do remember wetting it once when I was 12, sleeping in my step-sister’s bed with her. I was horrified, and think maybe I told her as I wanted to change the sheets.

  2. Jim Chatfield says

    In 1959 I was stationed at Hamilton AFB in Petaluma, Calif and my babysitter for my daughter Pamela was stationed with her husband up at Point Arena, Calif where I would visit her on weekends.

  3. Juliette andrews says

    And you survived

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