Through Any Given Door

3.41 Killing Time

1968 • Northern California ~ In April of 1968, Mom found herself, along with everything she owned in her car, on the doorstep of a niece. Surprised, her sister’s daughter not seen or heard from my mother in two decades. She sensed Mother had no place to go and graciously gave her a place to stay. She also sensed something was wrong but didn’t ask. Mom seemed in good spirits but not in good health, constantly smacking her lips, continually thirsty with little appetite. It seemed like my mother’s cup was only half full. She had no idea that Mom’s cup wasn’t half full; it was nearly drained dry. Mom was quiet, preoccupied, and stayed to herself, sleeping, reading, and walking, or watching the deer that ventured out of the northern California foothills into the backyard. My mother was in her own world, killing time.

Grandma Nellie at top, clockwise, Nella Mae, Babe (Mom), Ina, Verda, 1917

Mom asked about her sisters, “How’s Nella May? And Ina? Do you hear from Verda?” She wanted to see them. They had an Easter dinner and Nella May came. A lot had happened in the years since she and Mom had spoken. They caught up on their children and grandchildren. They talked about where they worked and what they did. They reminisced about their earlier years in Chico, about the Diamond Match Factory, and about their brothers, three of whom were now dead. They spoke of their parents, who were also long gone by this time. Mom talked about how Grandpa was disappointed in life, how Grandma was disappointed in Grandpa, how Grandma never respected him, how Grandpa was a gambler and a drunk. Nella May simply listened. She wouldn’t say anything disrespectful about their mother or father, and simply said, “Well, she could have been kinder to him.”

They talked about their health. Mom’s physical state of affairs was her favorite conversation opener and she always felt the need to give a complete report. Three of the sisters suffered from migraines, Nella May’s so bad they made her throw up. She had a melanoma on her left thumb that had split her nail so she had her thumb cut off to the first joint, but the cancer came back and she had to have her whole thumb amputated. Over time Mom had had a number of organs removed, so she sympathized.

My mother stayed a month. Though grateful for her niece’s hospitality, she couldn’t stay forever. Before returning to Southern California, Mom gave her a ceramic fawn, like the fawns in the hills and fields she saw near the house. Over the years, one delicate foot was broken, then lovingly mended. The small deer stands quietly on my cousin’s glass shelf, by itself, holding a place in her heart for my mother.

to be continued…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

Share this:


  1. Gordon Clemens says

    Great comment by Bruce Reid. I also know a LOT more about our family from your writing. There were things I did not even know about mom and our relatives, so thanks for the insights.

  2. Susie Price says

    By revealing your family, it causes us to stop and wonder about the hidden pain in our own family histories… Thank you for the opening to reflection and understanding.

    • Then my work is done, thank you. We often don’t know the difference we make, and making a difference was the point of writing this, though I didn’t know that when I started. It wasn’t a choice, but a compulsion, that carried me along, and once I was in the midst of it, I knew it wasn’t just about me, my mother, or the family. I’m grateful for the teachers and lessons I’ve had; I wouldn’t have attempted this without knowing and working with them. And I’d have continued my path of recreating relationship that ended up similar to my relationship with my mother, which then often turned out painfully. Now when I do it, I simply find it interesting. My original incident with her was that it didn’t matter if I was there or not. If I hadn’t repeated that over and over with others, I’d have never seen the linkage and connection that I was one of the stars in that movie, and if I wanted it to change, I’d best apply for a different role. Hence, I’ve spent my life overcompensating to matter, and that inherent drive is what’s ruled a good part of my life. Writing this book clarified much of that for me. When I get trapped back in that corner that I’m not cared about, I go wait a minute, is that true? It helps me get off it, that it’s just my old story, and that I’m gathering evidence to confirm it. It only happens around family, of course, as that’s the place where I’m wounded.

  3. Great 1917 photo. I feel I’m becoming part of the family. I know more about your relatives than mine.