Through Any Given Door

4.08 Cutty Sark and Carleen

Dad, Carleen, Chuck, Mom, 1953 wedding

Carleen Barbara Clemens
2nd of 5 children of Carl John Clemens and Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield
Born: Mar 13, 1935, Watsonville, California
Married: Mar 15, 1953 (at age 18), Charles Evans “Chuck” Albertson, Sonora, California
Three children

Carleen and Chuck ~ Chuck died in 1996, doing what he loved best, driving down the highway like a maniac. He cashed in his chips on the Orange Freeway on his way to work, his cigar butt clenched between his teeth, his morning mug filled with Cutty Sark and a shot of black coffee. He had a heart attack and hit the fast lane’s center divider. It was the only time he ever slowed down behind the wheel of a car.


Never meeting a Scotch he didn’t like or a horse that couldn’t lose, Chuck’s drinking and gambling habits cost them their comfortable home in Diamond Bar, lost in foreclosure. The kids were grown and out of the house, so Carleen and Chuck moved to a small rental in Walnut. As family traditions go, Carleen never forgave him for that and for hundreds of other hurts. When notified about Chuck’s death, my sister’s only comment was, “serves the goddamsonofabitch right,” echoing the resonant sympathies of Grandma Nellie Chatfield when Grandpa died.

Carleen refused to go to the morgue and identify his body. She told Wayne to do it. “He’s your cousin.”

Alpine Peasant Ware, ceramic tree

She had no memorial for her husband. Before the end of the month, my sister emptied out the rental in Walnut. She sold, gave away, or tossed everything of Chuck’s. She rented the largest dumpster she could find and filled it with nearly everything he’d hoarded over the years: boxes of engine parts, stacks of newspapers, and coffee cans of screws. She made $10,000 from a garage sale, selling his truck, tools, and pinball machine. She also sold all her furniture, her platters and pots and pans along with her kilns and hundreds of ceramic molds. She parted with her years of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, collectible whiskey decanters, her 45s, and her Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, and Smother’s Brothers albums (she used to make us leave the room when she played Redd Foxx.) She gave to family her childhood photo album and the rest of her family pictures, her set of good hand-painted dishes, her giant puzzles, and the coffee table we mosaic-tiled the first summer I lived with her.

Carleen, 1996

Packing her gray Ford Probe with her clothes, television, and Tupperware, she left California to live with Debbie in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Deb caught a plane to help her mom make the trip. Driving through Albuquerque, Carleen didn’t realize she was on a two-lane road. Deb looked up and screamed as they were headed towards a semi in the wrong lane. Both were throughly shaken. Carleen pulled off and turned the wheel over to Debbie.

That was one of the last times my sister drove a car. Little by little, she relinquished her freedoms, becoming frail and shaky. Laura and her family lived near Debbie, and Carleen rebounded when she stepped in to help take care of Laura’s youngest child, who was born three weeks after Chuck’s death; being needed brought her back into the world.

Carleen, my saving grace, is now in her eighties and has lived with Laura and her family in Iowa for the past twenty years. She spends her time reading, watching baseball, playing solitaire, and smoking Carlton Ultra Light Menthol 100s. Her cough is worrisome, but she’s content.

Cath, Carleen, Debbie, Randy, Laura, 2017 Iowa

Chuck and Cathy, 1980 Sonoma

PS: I turned ten the summer I arrived on Chuck and Carleen’s doorstep and lived with the family for the next nine years. I love them both, Carleen for being the mother Mom couldn’t, and Chuck for taking me in and including me as one of his. Carleen I’ve thanked many a time. Chuck, I thank you here.

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Our families are made up of so many fascinating (whether likeable or not) characters… a person could write a great novel about them!!!!

  2. Edna Mcneely Bowcutt says

    I am just smiling and teary at the same time. Thank you so much for taking us on your journey.

  3. Jim Chatfield says

    Those freeways are a bitch to drive. I had to drive from San Bernardino to Corona when working for AT&T back in the early 80s and yes quite a few people drove like hell on the freeway. You’re really beautiful in the picture of you and Chuck. You must have been a heartbreaker to a lot of young men.