Through Any Given Door

Post Memoir Sketches in full, sans photos

Ten final stories as to how our later lives shook out…

Clemens siblings: Carleen, Gordon (Larry), Catherine (Cathy), Liz (Betty), Claudia 1993

4.01 Unleashing the Flying Monkeys

Through Any Given Door ~ I imagine it’s no coincidence that my writing began when I was 53, the same age my mother was when she called it a day. Nor that it took me five years to write our chronicles, the same amount of time I lived with her when I was a kid. I have a suspicion she’s had a hand in the whole thing, directing from the ethers, enjoying having her story told. She would have LOVED all the attention. My father, on the other hand, would have cautioned me to keep much of what I wrote behind closed doors. He was a private man, of the generation that didn’t discuss affairs of the family, money, or sex.

Dredging up some of the stories was a cross between Groundhog Day and post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s amazing how long the shelf life is on the defining moments that smack us as kids. They’re like Wonder Bread: always fresh. I made it through my childhood, and then I lived through five years of writing about it, which was at times as anxiety producing as experiencing some of it the first time around. My right shoulder froze, then my left, my stomach wasn’t happy nor was my sister, and I had three computer crashes. In the last crash I lost my motherboard. Now what are the odds of that? I didn’t even know a computer had a motherboard.

I put the manuscript away for five years, picked it back up again, fiddled with it for a few more years, published two other books in between, and then decided to post the full family memoir as an online serial. I spent two years re-editing, adding photos, and uploading a chapter every three days. It’s now 17 years from when I started, and this book is done. I should get an award, if only for persistence! The last chapter posted on the 50th anniversary of my mother’s death, another instance of synchronicity, and yet shecontinues to show up in my life like a bad Hallmark card. I’m continually bowled over how I manage to recreate her in so many of my relationships. The bane of my existence and my greatest teacher, she is a gift that keeps on giving.

Journaling about my childhood and family was an act of love. Turning it into a book, an act of faith. Reworking it into a tale that was coherent, an act of perseverance. Publishing it was either an act of trust or an act of hubris. It’s not an autobiography. It’s snippets and sketches and vignettes, strung along a timeline well before I came along up until I’m the age of twenty, kneaded into tales from complicated and sometimes messy lives. It’s a story that transformed the holes created by chaos and heartache in our family into a sense of wholeness.

The experiences from my childhood shaped me; they gave me the work I needed to do to wake up, took me to the places where I had to stumble to find my gold. I’ve spent most of my adulthood overcompensating for my young wounds, which I suppose was my way of healing them. My ego makes sure I get seen and heard (though at times in inelegant ways), I know it matters that I’m here, and that I do make a difference. If I hadn’t been so tweaked in feeling invisible and not cared about by my mother, I imagine I wouldn’t be so driven.

A combination of choices, karma, and synchronicity delivered me to my doorstep today. I don’t have to know how I got here, though a lot of that got sorted out in the process of writing Through Any Given Door, I simply know this is where I am now. When I pay attention and stay on the path on which I’m pulled (a complete act of trust on my part as I have no sense of direction), I end up where I’m meant to be. Generally it takes me a while to get there, and I often don’t like what it looks like. Sometimes I’m anxious, other times fearless. At times I’m in a snit and then I’m over the moon. Life can also be hilarious, and then, there are times it just isn’t very damn funny.

So that’s pretty much how my life shakes out, and really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Well that, and the Hokey Pokey.


Family Lineage

Carl John Clemens (my father)
8th of 13 children of Mathew Sylvester Clemens and Barbara Nigon
Born: Sep 25, 1905, Rochester, Minnesota
Died: Sep 16, 1986 (age 80), Santa Rosa, California; prostate/bone cancer
Occupation: Farmer, construction laborer, iceman, record store owner, dime store manager
Married (1): Feb 4, 1933, Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield, Colusa, California
Divorced: Dec 1953, Sonora, California
Five children: Larry, Carleen, Betty,  Claudia, Cathy
Married (2): 1956, Irene Venita (Tregear) Whitehead (1886 – 1959)
Married (3): Sep 25, 1961, Marie Lenore (Macdonald) McCartney (1917 – 2011)

Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield (my mother)
10th of 10 children of Charles Henry Chatfield and Nellie Belle Chamberlin
Born: Sep 29, 1915, Los Molinos, California
Died: Nov 9, 1968 (age 53), Whittier, California; suicide
Occupation: Worked in family store, seamstress, cook/housekeeper for Catholic priests and private homes
Married (1): Feb 4, 1933, Carl John Clemens, Colusa, California
Divorced: Dec 1953, Sonora, California
Five children: Larry, Carleen, Betty, Claudia, Cathy
Married (2): Jul 31, 1955, Raymond D. “Ray” Haynie, Carson City, Nevada (1912 – 1964)
Divorced: 1956, living in San Jose, California

1. Gordon Lawrence “Larry” Clemens
Born: Jan 14, 1934, Chico, California
Married: Jun 16, 1956, Marian Louise McLellan, Upland, California
Two children
2. Carleen Barbara Clemens
Born: Mar 13, 1935, Watsonville, California
Married: Mar 15, 1953, Charles Evans “Chuck” Albertson, Sonora, California
Three children
3. Elizabeth Ann “Betty/Liz” Clemens
Born: Dec 3, 1939, Watsonville, California
Died: Oct 8, 2004 (age 64), Sacramento, California; lung cancer
Married: Feb 1, 1958, Anthony Leo “Tony” Duchi, Jr., Whittier, California
Four children
4. Claudia Clemens
Born: Mar 28, 1942, Vallejo, California
Died: Aug 21, 2011 (age 69), Escondido, California; lung cancer
Married: Sep 16, 1956, Bobby Milton McDaniel, Sparks, Nevada
Divorced: May 1973, California
Five children
5. Catherine Frances “Cathy’ Clemens
Born: Aug 16, 1948, Sonora, California
Married: Oct 7, 1967, Robert Kenneth “Bob” Sevenau, San Francisco, California
Divorced: 1973, Santa Rosa, California
Two children

Clemens siblings, Sonora, California, 1950
Carleen, Claudia, Cathy in middle, Betty, Larry

4.02 Letters From Claudia

Claudia Clemens
4th of 5 children of Carl John Clemens and Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield
Born: Mar 28, 1942, Vallejo, California
Died: Aug 21, 2011 (age 69), Escondido, California; lung cancer
Married: Sep 16, 1956 (at age 14), Bobby Milton McDaniel, Sparks, Nevada
Divorced: May 1973, California
Five children
My Sister Claudia ~ Excerpts from letters written from Claudia to Gordon and Marian:March 7, 1983
Dear Marian and Gordon,
Three guesses why I’m writing and the first two don’t count. I need to borrow some money. I had planned on using my income tax refund, but this tax man tells me I may have a long wait for that. He said I will get back every penny I paid in eventually. But I really can’t afford to wait.I’m sure you heard about all my belongings being sold. Well, I have a good lawyer, but he’s gone as far as he can go without money. He wants $1,000 to begin litigation. The people that own this Mini Storage place haven’t responded at all and the lawyer said that everyday that goes by makes it look worse for them and now he can add a bad faith suit against them.He also tells me it may take 2 1/2 years to settle this. In the mean time I asked him about finally going back to court and raising the child support I get. I’ve been receiving a whopping $70 per child. I sent to Mississippi and got copies, I hadn’t seen those papers in 10 years. Anyway, the way it’s phrased is I’m supposed to be getting $350 for the kids’ support, it doesn’t break it down per child. Anyway, my lawyer advised me to go see this other attorney for this. As the way it stands, Bob owes me over $15,000 in back child support if they uphold the terms. In any case I could have my support raised in three months and I desperately need to do this, but again I need money to pay the lawyer. I can pay you back when I get my tax refunds. Other than all that it’s been a crummy year.I’m working for a mfg. company (they make electronic thermometers for hospitals) making $500 a month less than I was at Webbs, and at that at Webb’s it had been 18 months since I had a raise. It has been a bear trying to stay afloat. I drive 60 miles a day in my 5 year-old four cylinder and wonder how long that poor thing can keep going. I don’t know what the lawyer for the child support will cost, but I would guess about another $1,000. Please let me know if you can help. I hate like hell to ask you but I’ve run out of options. I took out a loan on my car already after all my stuff was sold to replace some of our essentials that went real fast.Marian, I hope you’re feeling almost human again. I know how awful a hysterectomy can be and you have all my sympathy. Was sorry to miss you all at Randy’s reception.Our love to all,
Claudia and Kids.Note: Gordon sent Claudia $1,000 on March 10, 1983. She repaid him in August of 1985.


August 15, 1985
Dear Gordon and Marian,
Have been trying to get this check in the mail for a week. I’m always too pooped by the time I get home at night to write. I’m really relieved to be working again, but I’m sure out of the routine. It makes for a very long day. I get up at 5:30 and don’t get home until 6:30 at the earliest. I find myself eating about 9 o’clock. Hopefully I’ll get over being so tired soon!

I got my settlement last month. By the time the lawyer took his cut, I got 9 thousand some odd dollars, the total settlement came to over $18,000. I went to another meeting in San Diego last Friday to begin the second law suit. In this one I should recover the $9,000 paid out to lawyers plus punitive damages. They tell me this one will take another 2 ½ to 3 years before it comes up. In the meantime, to get it started I’ll have to spend some of my spare time getting information together for the lawyers for that. I’m learning the wheels of justice grind very slowly, but hopefully they will grind very fine.

I can’t begin to tell you how much this loan meant to me.
Love, Claudia
P.S. I’m enclosing pics I just got back. Was supposed to have them for Xmas. Just a little late.

October 28, 1985
Dear Gordon and Marian,
Received your letter and check today, can’t thank you enough. I really believe today is my lucky day. I went grocery shopping and bought 1 lottery ticket and won $100! Sent it off this afternoon so now I’ll get a chance at least to be in the drawings for the big money. I almost fell over as this was only about my 5thticket and hadn’t even won $2.00! Later I went and bought one more ticket and won $2.00. Turned that in and won $2.00 more so quit.

I did receive a letter from Dad and Marie and he sounded good. Guess you received a copy of their letter also. Oh yes, can you send me Cathy’s address? I found her phone number, but no street address. Take care and keep your fingers crossed for me on the California Lottery, after all someone’s got to win and I’ve beat the odds before. The Dr. told me when I had the twins, the way I got pregnant with them (a month apart), the odds were about 1 in 1,000,000 of that happening!
Love, Claudia

Note: “Superfetation is the formation of a fetus while another fetus is already present in the uterus. Essentially, it describes a situation where a woman becomes pregnant when she is already pregnant. It is believed that this is a very rare event and only a few cases have been reported and verified. Superfetation occurs when ova from two separate menstrual cycles are released, fertilized, and then implant in the uterus. Normally, once a woman is impregnated, physical and hormonal effects would make this impossible. Her hormones are the first barrier in a normal pregnancy. They act to halt the process of ovulation and prevent the release of another egg from her ovaries. The uterine lining also changes after one embryo has implanted, making further implantation difficult. Although two fetuses develop simultaneously in superfetation, they differ in maturity, having been conceived days or even weeks apart. Superfetation is observed in animal reproduction, but it is exceedingly rare in humans. Only a few cases are documented in medical literature. Superfetation is suspected only when the twins are of different sizes and at different stages of development. It is typically noticed during a routine checkup on the ultrasound. However, it can be hard to distinguish whether this is a true case of superfetation or due to other factors.” (quoted from an article on the internet)

October 11, 1986
Dear Gordon and Marian,
Just sitting here thinking of you so will write. I owe a letter to Aunt Elizabeth so will warm up by writing to you. HaHa!

I’ve been wanting to write a thank you for the talk you started at Dad and Marie’s. It was the first time I’d been with my sisters and didn’t get caught in the middle of a roast on our mother. I think it set them all back and made them think I’d always get very upset over these sessions, though I hoped it didn’t show.

Please keep in touch. Always love to hear from you.
Love, Claudia

June 12, 1987
Dear Gordon and Marian,
Just got home from a meeting so will start this. I went to after care last night and they gave me your letter. I got out of Oceanview the 28thof May. It is a great place and probably the best thing I could have done for myself. I was driving around yesterday (seems all I’ve done lately is drive here and there!) thinking and wondering why I couldn’t have done the same thing only by myself. But I couldn’t. I haven’t felt so well physically and mentally in years. I’ll never be able to thank them or pay them enough for giving my life back to me. Plus, all the really wonderful people I met there. They put you through the wringer intensely for 30 days and if you have any sense at all you put everything you can into it and the benefits are tremendous. I’ve seen miracles at the change in people after time there. I still have a long way to go, to pull myself out of my shyness and keeping everything inside me, but at least now I’ve been given some tools to work with and I stay aware of things that could start me off on a depression and head them off. Plus, I found a whole lot of people that think just like me or worse, so I don’t feel I’m out of step with the world anymore. I go once a week to after care for group therapy and then again on Friday for a meeting, plus other meetings I hit periodically all over the place, but the time I spend at Oceanview is the most supportive.

As for everyday living I’m easing myself back into the mainstream gradually. My first week out was rough but this week I’ve felt really good and am doing more. I’m trying to get the apt. in shape which is difficult as in a small one bedroom, I’ve enough space for my stuff but Kathy’s is kind of crammed in. I’ve sent out a couple of resumes and put in one application, but I’m not desperately pounding the pavement. The nothing jobs I’ve had the last few years don’t exactly inspire me to get myself into another one. Hopefully with a different attitude the next job will be a better place for me.

Liz called for me while I was in Oceanview and I never returned her call. I will call her but it will have to wait for a day when I feel mentally up to coping with her. In the past she’s always been able to undermine my stability without hardly trying. So, I want to make sure I’m really mentally able to deal with her first.

Well it’s late so I’d better close and get some sleep. Love to you both and give the girls my love.
Love, Claudia

August 29, 1987
Dear Gordon and Marian,
Can’t keep track of you guys. You turn up in the strangest places. I envy you your travels. I keep promising myself to make a better attempt at getting my birth certificate just in case. But I’ve never been able to get one, I’ve always had to settle for my baptismal certificate. I swear this year I’ll do it, or at least find out why I can’t get it.

Everything is going so well here, it’s scary. I started what was to be a temporary job for a month at a commercial baker on the 10thof Aug. I stood in for an old friend I used to work with while she went on vacation. She runs the customer service department. Anyway, after she came back, they told me they could use me in their shipping office while their shipping manager went on vacation. But then Friday the boss came in and offered me another job permanently as their “distribution specialist”. They had hired a man 6 weeks or so ago and he was on a 90-day trial basis and they said after seeing my work and considering my qualifications, they felt I could do the job better than him as he’s been struggling. They started me at $20,000 a year and considering they were paying him 25, they got quite a bargain. But considering that’s more than I’ve made in years, I think we both made out. I’m still pinching myself. I’ve worked a hell of a lot harder for a lot less money. I can’t believe it. Of course, my girlfriend is none to happy with me for accepting that salary. She said now they’ve got Dummy #1 (her) and Dummy #2 (me) doing their work for them and saving 10 grand a year as every man starting out in their offices all come in at 25 and she knows it. She’s been there 5 years and is only making a little more than me. But I’m happy as a clam, for me it’s doing a job I enjoy and which seems easy to me, as I’ve done so much with traffic and inventory control not to mention customer service.

I’m also staying real close to the aftercare at Oceanview and AA meetings. It is all very helpful which is an understatement. Both programs are mainly ways of gaining insights into one’s own personality and ways to force you (if one sticks with it) to overcoming fears and maintain a positive frame of mind. For instance, I’ve always been terribly afraid of people especially strangers in bunches. Forcing myself to speak out at meetings and group therapy was awful at first. I’d have rather taken a beating. I still don’t enjoy it, but I do it. In fact, I’ve volunteered to go to the hospital one day a week and run a meeting out there. For me that’s a major, giant step.

I’ve also taken up my meditation I learned last year when I went through a stress-reduction course and that is very helpful also.

Looks like everyone’s life is on the upswing at last. God willing it’ll stay like that. Well no more news, so I’ll close for now.
My love to all, Claudia

April 13, 2007
Dear Marian and Gordon,
All’s quiet here so will get a note off to you guys. Thanks so much for my birthday card. I’m now officially a senior citizen! Finally got all my Medicare up and running and getting caught up on tests and all my physical stuff taken care of. Even had a colon exam because I had an unexplained weight loss and found out I have what they called a mega-colon. The Dr. said its four times longer than normal. They told me the exam usually takes 15 minutes, mine was an hour and 10 minutes. My stomach is still not back to normal and it’s been 3 weeks.

Glad to hear you are responding well to your eye treatments. I know that must give you major fits. The only thing I have in my eyes are cataracts in both but looks like it’ll be years before I’ll need surgery.

Hope everything is well for you both health wise. I’m doing better all around than I have for some time. Other than my COPD (which I brought on myself by smoking) I’m in good shape.

Well no more news from here. Keep well.
Love, Claudia

Note: In these letters to Gordon and Marian, Claudia wrote often of her five children; for brevity and privacy, those references were omitted.


I didn’t see a lot of Claudia during our adult lives, but reconnected with her while gathering information for the memoir. A couple of friends noted she was seldom mentioned in it, and I realized I didn’t know much about her. We spent hours on the phone; she talked and I took notes. We also shared stories about our kids, work, health, and ex-husbands. We were both divorced within months of each other in 1973. She made it through 17 years and I only lasted five. She told me of her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and manic depression, and wondered if Mom also suffered from these problems. We agreed that was probably so; there just wasn’t a name for it in those days.

Claudia and Betty (Liz) seldom got along. Claudia avoided confrontation at all costs and Liz generally came out with guns blazing. On one of her manic days, Claudia drove from Escondido to Liz’s place in Fallbrook, thinking she could clear the air of all their past upsets. Sitting by the pool, Claudia talked non-stop for hours, dredging up every hurt and insult that she felt Liz inflicted on her since they were kids.

It didn’t go over well.

Liz sat in stony silence. She already had little affection for her younger sister, and now she really hated her. I gave Claudia kudos for finally speaking up, but perhaps she did go on a tad long. Liz thought Claudia was not only manic, she was crazy. Liz, who was one of the funniest people on earth, had absolutely no sense of humor when it came to relationships. You were in or you were out. She now considered Claudia a dead woman. I tried my best not to laugh when I heard both versions of the story. Claudia thought it went well. Betty, fuming and furious, reported it was an effing train wreck.

Claudia relinquished alcohol in 1987, but giving up smoking was impossible. For several months I sent her money for nicotine patches, but one time on the phone I heard her inhale. She admitted to buying cigarettes with what I was sending her, but only a few cartons. I quit sending her money. A couple of years later, in 2011 at the age of 69, my sister died of lung cancer.

4.03 Letter from Liz

My Sister Liz (Betty) ~ A letter from Liz (Betty) to Lorna Harrington, her childhood friend:
Dear Lorna,
It is so great to connect with you. We have lived (more or less) in Fallbrook since 1985. Before that we lived in San Clemente, before that in Vista, before that in Huntington Beach and before that in Whittier which is where we married and three of our four children were born.I am fairly close to my siblings, except for Claudia. We are also in good touch with the next generation, again except for Claudia’s children.Gordon and his wife Marian live in Carmel and have been there since 1961. They owned a campground in Big Sur for many years. Their girls are lovely, both married with children.Carleen did not have a very happy life. Her husband died about five years ago (very unlamented) and she moved to Iowa and lives with her youngest daughter and her husband and two granddaughters.Claudia (much like my mother) made a lifetime of bad choices. She lives in San Diego with her oldest daughter. She was married until she was thirty to Bob, divorced and never married again. Her children are also pretty messed up.Cathy was only married once, to Bob for about five years. She and I are very close. We talk many times each week. She has lived in Sonoma since 1973 and became a grandmother for the first time last month.My dad moved to Santa Rosa when he retired from working in San Francisco. He died in 1986. My stepmother, Marie (85), still lives in their house there. She has two daughters and her oldest daughter was married to the older brother of my sister Cathy’s husband. Cathy had a family reunion last summer at her house in Sonoma and my stepmother came. We had four generations there.Re: childhood. Carleen was pretty much our mother and all of us (except Gordon) lived with her at one time or another. She had Cathy both as a small child and from the age of nine on. When our parents divorced in 1953 (after being apart for several years) Claudia stayed in Sonora for a year with the Davis family, Cathy … (letter stops here)
continued on 5-20-2003
Boy, am I the great correspondent! I will try and pick up where I stopped on April 12.

Cathy, I hope by now, has sent you latest draft of her life story. She is very excited to get someone’s take who was on the outside of the family as we all have our own way of filtering our growing up life.

I’ll start to catch you up with myself. Tony and I have been married for 45 years (same as you) and we have had our ups and downs. We have been rich and we have been broke. We have been together and we have been apart (once for eleven months). Our relationship has always been volatile. I see him as very bossy and he sees me as very stubborn and resistant to his ever ongoing good advice which starts as soon as I open my eyes.

He has been really struggling with his leukemia. The doctor hopes that by September he will have him in remission for two or three years. I am disgustingly healthy with only a few age related things. Glaucoma, plantar fascitis and some arthritis in my hands. We have lived here in Fallbrook since 1985. Our house is pretty neat. It was built by a wealthy family from Beverly Hills as their “ranch” in 1929. Actually it was begun in 1929 but not completed til 1931 as they lost everything (almost) in the crash and moved here. It was built on a quarter section but only has a bit over 10 acres left. It is not a big house but it has plenty of privacy. The original family lived here for three generations til they had to sell as (the daughter of the original builder) could no longer pay the property taxes. That happened to many people before Prop. 13. First she had to pay estate taxes and the state would raise the taxes as they saw fit, even as often as each year. So in 1972, she sold to the second owners. We bought it from them in 1985. In 1989, on my 50thbirthday, the woman showed up at our door. She had moved from the house to a condo and had a lifetime accumulation of stuff, her parents’ and hers. She was quite eccentric and asked if we had seen or had any experiences with “the ghost”. I thought she meant the ghost was her husband as he committed suicide in 1968 by flying a rented plane into the mountain that the house faces. She said that was not so, that the ghost was her father who had died in the back bedroom in 1945. He had apparently been very active up to the time that we bought the house including all of her tenure there. She concluded that as he had given us no bad experiences, that he must approve of us. She had brought with her pictures of the house through the years with all the original furniture, much of which they had brought with them from their house in Beverly Hills. The upshot was she had most of the original furnishings which over a course of years I was able to buy some of it from her. This led to my first interest in antiques and in about 1995, Tony and I started going to auctions and I became an antique dealer.

That was one of my favorite incarnations. I stopped in 2000 as Tony and I had bought another boat that we planned to go to Europe in. But I need to back up a minute. In 1986 (Dec), we had a very big business reversal. We lost everything, but managed to hang on to our house. We had to start all over again and Tony was doing consulting for a company that he had once been a part owner of. He started to develop a new branch to the business (it had been a supplier of ordnance) and he developed an air bag for cars. Now the airbag had been invented but the company made fuses and an explosive device for the airbags. He knew we could not compete in the United States but that the Europeans would be coming on line with mandating airbags also. So we moved to Wales in 1993 and lived in a small (Roman) town, Usk. We could not find a house to rent so we lived in a businessmans hotel there, he more than I as I would fly home often. Then in January of 1994 we moved to Germany and we lived in a medium sized town in Swabia, Schwabish-Gmund. In August of that year, Tony was diagnosed with leukemia and he stopped working entirely as we did not know how long he might have to live and what his quality of life would be. So then we antiqued like mad for a couple of years.

We are walking (for exercise) around Dana Point Harbor. Three months ago Tony had a serious relapse and has been on chemo since then. If Tony gets well, he intends to go to Europe next summer.

I’ll leave you here for now as I have to go pick up my granddaughter from school. I am actually going to mail this or it wont get out for another month.

Love, Elizabeth Duchi (formerly in another incarnation, Betty)


To Lorna ~ A note from Liz’s son to Lorna:
January 25, 2018
Lorna, I wanted to let you know that in fact, yes, my mom did read, and was a big fan of, the Harry Potter books. I think that your comparison of her to Hermione Granger is an excellent one: intelligent, inquisitive – and loyal. I hope that your friendship with her was a source of strength during what must have been a difficult part of childhood, for both of you. My mom was shaped and molded by her experiences, both good and bad. We all are. However, she never used them as a crutch or an excuse. She knew and accepted that life was tough, and she was grateful for the opportunity she had to live it. Thank you, Tony

A note to me from Lorna ~
Nov 28, 2018
Cathy, I wish that I had pictures of Betty and myself when we were best friends in grammar school, but I don’t think that my family even owned a camera in those years. Betty always had a great deal of courage and determination, and always ready for any new social situation. I wasn’t, but the two of us generally avoided others and headed for the field across from my home in Sonora, or further to the outskirts of our small town that we explored thoroughly. I wasn’t surprised that when grown, Betty married someone who also was outgoing, and aggressively determined to “get on” in the world, which would compensate for the things she missed out on when we were young. And not at all surprised at all of Betty’s successes in later life.

Betty and I met up again in our mid-teens in Sonora during a summer when we were both visiting there, and managed to have an afternoon together. We also wrote to each other after Betty married Tony and after I got back from Japan where my husband studied during 1960-1961. That was when she sent me the photograph of herself holding her first baby, and she was smiling out at the world for a change. It was in 1963 that we moved to Australia and my husband didn’t pack my address book, and I lost track of Betty again. It wasn’t until 2003 according to the date on her letter that we had a chance to reconnect. Lorna

4.04 Elegy to My Father

Carl John Clemens (my father)
8th of 13 children of Mathew Sylvester Clemens and Barbara Nigon
Born: Sep 25, 1905, Rochester, Minnesota
Died: Sep 16, 1986 (age 80), Santa Rosa, California; prostate/bone cancer
Occupation: Farmer, construction laborer, iceman, record store owner, dime store manager
Married (1): Feb 4, 1933, Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield, Colusa, California
Divorced: Dec 1953, Sonora, California
Five children: Larry, Carleen, Betty,  Claudia, Cathy
Married (2): 1956, Irene Venita (Tregear) Whitehead (1886 – 1959)
Married (3): Sep 25, 1961, Marie Lenore (Macdonald) McCartney (1917 – 2011)

Born on a Minnesota farm, you milked cows, picked corn, and shocked wheat. You hated farming; that’s why you left Minnesota, that, and your mother always telling you what to do. She cried when you left home; you were only sixteen. You had nine siblings, all with the same Clemens nose; your sisters looked like you in a wig. As a boy, you slogged three miles to and from school in the snow—uphill—both ways.Mom was 17 and you were 27 (and a virgin) when you married. You were 43 when I, the youngest of your five children, was born. In Sonora you were a store owner and town councilman, a big fish in a small sea. Things changed. Never speaking of Mom after she left, you told me not to either. You lost your business, your family, and your pride, paid your debts and left town.You ate bottles of aspirin and rolls of Tums. When I was sick, you rubbed Vicks on my chest, gave me two Aspergum, and stroked my forehead. Sitting on the edge of my bed, you had tears in your eyes as you remembered the only time your mother comforted you was when you were sick. You taught me how to sew on a button, iron a shirt, and dust a banister. You let me put your donation envelope in the copper collection plate during Mass. You sang me German songs, found quarters behind my ears, and slapped your thigh at your own corny jokes. You gave me crisp two-dollar bills and a ballerina music box. We held hands when we went to Golden Gate Park, Fleishhacker Zoo, and Fisherman’s Wharf, my triple-time steps keeping up with your long stride. We took pictures with your Brownie; I have them still.You were tall and upright, with wire-rimmed glasses, blue eyes and gray hair, and smelled of Old Spice, Vitalis, and Listerine. You wore a three-piece suit, a tie, and your felt hat with two small red and black feathers in its brim. Your starched white shirt hid muscles you built from working in construction and delivering ice. Offering your arm, you walked on the curbside and tipped your hat. Always the first to stand and the last to sit, you also held chairs, doors, and umbrellas. You had no sense of direction, none, and missed the same turn-off three times. You tried to fix the living room door when it was sticking at the bottom. You sanded it, sanded it again, and sanded it some more. Then you sawed it. When done, it was an inch and a half too short at the top. You re-hung it anyway, and were embarrassed when anyone mentioned the gap.  You cooked double-thick lamb chops, canned green peas, and new potatoes, and you loved fresh crab, asparagus, and French bread. You read Look, Reader’s Digest, and the The Saturday Evening Post. Blood made you faint. Alcohol made you sick. Arrogance made you mad. The Ten Commandments, good judgment, and common sense directed your life.You ran a five-and-dime on Haight Street. After work, we drove home along Stow Lake, counting the rabbits and squirrels. When I got my learner’s permit you let me drive, even though I scared you. When I was fifteen, you locked me out of the house while I was out with the neighborhood boys. When you told me to pack my bags, that I was going back to Carleen’s, I cried. You let me stay. I worked with you every summer from the time I was twelve until I got married. You taught me to make change, stock shelves, and take inventory; to sweep the floor, run the register, and watch for shoplifters. You taught me honesty and you taught me loyalty. You also taught me the cost of security: in twenty-five years of running a dime store, you never made more than $500 a month. You hated the Summer of Love, throwing buckets of cold mop water on the “goddam dirty hippies” when they slept against your shiny red and gray storefront in the morning fog. You resented their freedom, sexuality and values, detested their music, drugs, and panhandling. When the Haight—along with the world—changed, you closed the store.On my wedding day you walked me down the aisle; you taught me to dance that day. You weren’t fond of my husband, but you loved our babies. You cradled, tickled, and kissed them. You fed Matt his first watermelon and Jon his first ice cream. We played cards and cribbage and you taught my sons to play too. They were easy to beat and fun to cheat and you laughed when they caught you.At the movies during the nude scene (it wasn’t even a nude scene; she was standing at the second story window and slowly lifted her sweater off over her head while the cowboys watched from below), you were so startled you covered your eyes and threw your popcorn and Coke all over the people in the row behind us, your false teeth flipping out into your lap.At your surprise seventy-fifth birthday party, you cried in the doorway of Sonoma’s Depot Hotel. For your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary you had your tiny 1852 gold piece made into a pendant for Marie; you asked me to give it to her, knowing you wouldn’t make it until then as cancer had spread to almost every part of your body. You could no longer walk, eat, or turn over by yourself. When the black-robed priest quietly appeared at your bedside to give you the last rites, you blurted, “Oh shit,” and ducked under the covers. Three days later, just before dawn, you took your last breath. They drove your body away in the back of an old brown station wagon. We got to say goodbye. You got to say you’re sorry. I got to say I love you.

I have your Kodak Brownie, pearl cufflinks, rosary beads, and your felt hat with the small red and black feathers. They all remind me of you, the best parts of you, and remind me of what I had.


Postscript: After Dad died and we were no longer in competition for the affections of the same man, my relationship with my stepmother transformed. We became friends. I listened to Marie about her struggles with a daughter; she listened to me about my struggles with a son. She lived a half hour away and I checked in on her regularly, helped her pay her bills (I could never get her checkbook to balance because she’d forget to enter checks in her register, which made me crazy), and included her on family get-togethers and holidays. In 2005 I sold their one-bedroom home in Santa Rosa for her when she moved to Seattle to live with her daughter. On April 11, 2011, at age 93, sweet Marie died from a massive stroke. She was good to me and a good grandmother to my sons. I wish I was more understanding of her when I was younger, and that she was kinder to some on our side of the family, but all that fell away as the years went by. She nagged my dad like a fishwife; he’d grab his butt pretending she was biting it as he scuttled away, but she loved him and he loved her. That’s all that matters.

4.05 My Sister Liz

Elizabeth Ann “Betty/Liz” Clemens
3rd of 5 children of Carl John Clemens and Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield
Born: Dec 3, 1939, Watsonville, California
Died: Oct 8, 2004 (age 64), Sacramento, California; lung cancer
Married: Feb 1, 1958 (at age 19), Anthony Leo “Tony” Duchi, Jr., Whittier, California
Four children

Yesterday I found out my sister is dying. I know, thousands of people die every day—but they’re not my sister. She’s had this constant wracking cough for three months and we finally got her to go to a doctor. The first one said it was allergies and sent her home with nasal spray. When the cough persisted, she got a second opinion: pneumonia and antibiotics, then a third diagnosis: tuberculosis, then a fourth: Valley Fever. Finally she saw her husband’s cancer specialist. The tests came in yesterday.

The picture of her right lung shows it filled with snowballs of thousands of tiny white threads, the biopsy confirming Adeno Sarcoma, cancer of the soft tissue. Last week our hope was that it hadn’t spread beyond her one lung. But it has: it’s in the lung’s outer lining and in the back of her ribs; it may be in her brain, the part of her body she most values. How ironic. My sister is smarter than anybody I know except maybe her husband. She and Tony argue and compete for who knows more—which date, who’s right, what’s fact—and there isn’t anything they don’t know something about. They collect trivia and knowledge like others collect tea sets and clocks. I told her no need to worry, even if half her brain cells disappeared, she’d still be smarter than the rest of us.

How does my sister feel about dying? During the day she’s matter-of-fact about it. As she walked up her long wide driveway lined with lemon trees and date palms to get her newspaper this morning, she passed her neighbor.

“How’s it going?”
“Aingh,” she replied, then added in afterthought, “I have lung cancer.”
“They have cures for that today,” he said.
“Not for what I have,” she tossed over her shoulder, scooping up her paper and turning back down her shaded path.

How do I feel about her dying? Sometimes, I too am matter-of-fact. I believe when we die, when we leave our body, our soul survives. I don’t know where it goes or what happens; maybe we come back and get to do this all over again. Other times, when I’m not so matter-of-fact, when I think about her death and try to imagine her not here, my heart rends. Liz doesn’t cry, so I cry for us both.

My sister believes that when we die, that’s it. She wants this huge headstone with two carved angels and three pictures of herself at different ages on it so people won’t forget her. I told her I didn’t think all that many will be lined up to visit it, especially if she didn’t start being a little nicer. My sister has a bite, which is partly what I love about her. She’s the only person I know who tells the truth about everything, to everyone, at anytime. Well, she thinks it’s the truth anyway and usually she’s right, but it does get some riled.

I’m one of the few who escapes Liz’s tongue, partly because I fold so easily around her. She loves me, so she’s tender with my feelings. It’s impossible not to love someone who loves you that much. I can’t imagine what it will be like without her. Who will call me every week just to talk? Who will I phone three times a day to help me with my family memoir writings, to tell me I made this part up, that I better not put that part in because it will hurt our brother’s feelings, then give me a lesson on homesteading or weirs or the Civil War? Who will I dial when I just want someone to agree with me, or I want to be heard, or I want someone to tell me the truth? Oh it’s not like I don’t have others like her in my life—but they’re not her. I’ll miss her wicked laugh, scathing wit, and opinionated righteous stubbornness. And I’ll miss her love for me. I’m trying not to make her dying about me, about what I won’t have, about my loss. I’m doing my best to stay out of that space; I know it doesn’t help her.

We don’t know how long she has—perhaps just months. But sometimes miracles happen, so I told her not to start giving her stuff away just yet. She’s planning a big going away celebration; she wants to be there when everyone comes to pay their last respects. Some won’t be invited: she hasn’t spoken to her oldest daughter in five years, can’t abide her brother-in-law, and isn’t talking to Claudia. They’ve all crossed her line and she refuses to forgive them. She demands that none of us tell them she’s dying. “I don’t want them applauding my demise, singing and cheering and dancing a jig on my grave.” (I keep my mouth shut about how she danced on Mom’s.) She doesn’t give a whit if things don’t get worked out with them before she goes. I’m trying to mind my own business about that one too. What she was most furious about was the likelihood of being unable to collect on her Social Security, and that Claudia and our stepmother Marie were going to outlive her; it was all so unfair.

I told her I’d help pick out her headstone; I don’t trust her not to get something too gaudy. But it’s her funeral—so if she wants to pick out the biggest, most elaborate marble headstone we can find—she can. Maybe we’ll get three angels and have the whole thing special ordered from Italy, like the stunning tile in her new kitchen. She’d like that. I’ll phone her about it tomorrow.

4.06 I Must Have Lied

Liz and Catherine ~ When I finished writing the first half of this book, I sent copies to my family and had a few friends read it. They all liked it enough that I wondered if I actually had a “book,” so I ran it by Andy at my bookstore and he referred me to a retired New York editor living in Marin.She said, “Your writing is good. You portray characters well, you are quite funny, you have a good story, but your book is a mess. Who is the protagonist, you or your mother? Who is your audience? Whose story are you telling? You have five books in here with way too much stuff and it’s confusing and rambling.”

I didn’t know how to respond to any of that. I’m a one-trick pony and I only intended to write one book, so I stuck everything in there. I also write like my mind works, which is often confusing and rambling. I took it home, eliminated all the genealogy and historical stories (I later put a condensed version back in), and tried to keep the storyline in my immediate family. Then I got the new version out. It passed the family test. I made sure Liz (Betty) was okay with the story I included about what happened to her in Sonora. She was. Until her husband read it. When he got to the part about her kidnapping and rape he threw it down and stomped out of the room. “I don’t want to read this crap.”

She phoned me. “Take that scene out of the book.”
“Doesn’t matter why. I want it out.”
“Liz, everyone’s already read it. Some of the book doesn’t make sense without it. It says a lot about Daddy, and about who you were and who you are today. It’s like you’re trying to hide a family secret that everyone already knows about. I don’t get it.”
“You promised me that if I changed my mind, you’d take it out. Take it out!”
“Give me one good reason.” I didn’t find out about her husband’s response until some time later, so I didn’t get that’s why she wanted it out.
“I don’t want my grandchildren to read it.”
“You’re grandkids are not going to read this. They’re kids. And when and if they do, they’ll be adults. Don’t you think they’ll have some compassion and a better understanding of the woman they love?”
“Take it out. You promised,” she snapped, digging in her heels.

I must have lied. I didn’t want to delete that part of the story, and, I didn’t want to betray my sister. It was a no-win. If I left it in she’d never speak to me again, which I wasn’t about to let happen. If I omitted it, there’d be a pertinent, important chunk missing, and thus giving the event even more energy. Either way left a bad taste in my mouth, not to mention my heart. I was looking for a healing here, not a rending.

We didn’t talk about it again. I hadn’t decided what I was going to do. I worked on other sections, editing, adding small stories, working on my writing. Then it reared its ugly head again.

Liz was diagnosed with lung cancer and she and Tony were at my house with some of her family. They were staying with me for a few days since I live an hour and a half from the clinic where she went for testing in Sacramento. It didn’t look good for her.

We were in my back yard eating snacks and drinking iced tea: Liz and Tony, two of their adult children, and Mary Tupa, an old family friend from Vista who now lived in Petaluma, sat circled around my white patio table. I went inside to answer the phone, and it was Anne, a friend in my writing class who’d spent time helping me edit and rework pieces of the book.

She got excited when she heard who was here. “I’m at my mom’s around the corner and I’d love to meet your sister. I’ve read about her so much I feel like I know her. Can I come by real quick?”

I came back and sat at the table. “That was Anne from my writing group and she’s stopping by for a minute to say hi.”
“Is that the goddam little bitch who told you not to take that part about me out of the book?” Liz snapped.
“Uh, yeah, that would be her.”

What had been a sunny afternoon turned quite dark. I had a feeling that Anne stopping by was going to be a mistake. Then my sister, sitting across from me, directs every bit of venom she has in her at me. Leaning in she points her finger in a threat and says in dead seriousness, “If you don’t take that story out of the book I’ll put a hex on you!”

You’ve had those moments where time condenses and moves one freeze-frame at a time r e a l l y  s l o w. This was one of those moments. I’d witnessed Liz in action around mother, seen her spit her anger at Claudia, her husband and kids, along with a long list of others, but I’d never, not once in my life, ever, had her direct it at me. Now it was my turn.

Everything and everyone stopped. I live in a quiet neighborhood and it got quieter. There was not a sound. No breeze, no birds chirping, no insects buzzing. I slowly looked at my watch and remember thinking: I know you are dying. I know you know a lot about everything. I also know you don’t know squat about voodoo, and by my clock you don’t have enough time to study up on it, so I’m probably pretty safe here.

Anne walked in and came though my back door before I had time to stop her. Liz went ballistic. My sister has a mouth that would put someone afflicted with a severe case of Tourette’s to shame. I levitated out of my chair to stand in front of Anne to protect her from the barrage. She is small enough that with me standing on the step below her she was completely hidden from view. I ushered her back into the house, apologized, and led her by the elbow to the front door. She understood, and didn’t take it personally.

Now I was pissed. I marched back outside. The party had broken up, everyone edging past me to get on safer ground. I stopped Liz before she could make it up the stairs.

“How dare you,” I seethed. “Just because you’re dying doesn’t give you the right to talk to another human being that way. Who do you think you are?”  Liz folded. She looked at me and pleaded, “Please, will you just take it out of the book?”

We both took a breath. I softly rested my hand on her forearm. “I can’t promise that. But here’s what I will promise. I’ll put the book away. I may never do anything with it. But if and when I do, I’ll make the decision then to leave it in or take it out. So rest easy that it’s not going anywhere for a long time. And listen, I love you, I want to honor your wish, and I also want to honor our family story.

So I put the book away, figuring I’d wait for a few people to die. This memoir had reunited my family, and now it was blowing it apart. Liz was mad at me. Tony was mad at me. Two of their kids were mad at me. Then my ex-husband got his nose into it and he started jabbing at me, as if I cared.

My son Matt later asked, “Are you going to write about the family as it is today?”
I asked, “Why?”
He said, “Because if you do, EVERYONE will be mad at you.”

4.07 Final Migration

My sister Liz knew everything about everything—and what she didn’t know—she made up. Her library was lined with books from architecture, antique lamps and art nouveau to tomes on history, the human body and Henry VIII. She also had every field-guide on flora, fauna, and all things feathered.

Liz was an avid bird-watcher and the aristocratic and ancient crane was her favorite. A “craniac,” she could tell you everything about their habits and habitats, their migration patterns, and their courting rituals. She even knew their mating calls. The birds inspired her, weaving their nests into her daily living. A life-size bronze statue stood sentry at her front door. A delicately feathered watercolor flew on her plaster walls. Cranes perched on her shelves, danced on her Japanese robe and winged across her glass lampshade.

Every fall, thousands of greater sandhills streak across the Pacific Flyway, migrating in families to feed and roost in the safety of the Central Valley wetlands near the Sacramento River. They are one of the world’s largest birds, the males standing at a stately five-feet tall with a seven-foot wingspan. They are long-legged, long-necked and bustle-bodied, sporting ash gray plumage, a black chiseled bill, sleek white cheeks, and a bald red crown. Their trumpet can be heard for miles. Between feeding and roosting, they dance this peculiar choreographed avian ballet: first one crane starts out slowly, then a second, the tempo picks up, and soon the whole flock is hopping and bowing—wing flourishing and stick tossing in wild rap-like abandon. My sister loved their elaborate floorshow, cackling her delight.

In February, Liz was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. In September, she had experimental surgery at the UC Davis Cancer Clinic in Sacramento. Two weeks later, she came to stay with me. Two weeks after that, pneumonia set in and I took her back to the hospital. Three days later, she died.

Just after she took her final breath in that cool early morning, her husband Tony stepped outside to call the family. Dialing his cell phone, there was an overhead cacophony of long drawn-out bugling and clanging so loud he was unable to converse. Looking up, his irritation turned to slack-jawed wonder. A feathered cortege of two-hundred greater sandhills passed directly over his wife’s top floor hospital room in single and V-line formation—first one string, then another behind the first, then another behind them, then another, and another, necks extended, legs and tails outstretched, the slow rhythmic beating of their wings vibrating the crisp October sky, incessantly declaring GAROOO-A-A, GAROOO-A-A.

As is their nature, the whole flock trumpets most raucously when concerned or alarmed. As was her nature, Liz was probably disturbing their flight pattern on her way out. Or maybe she was joining them on their migratory trek. Or perchance, the winged ones knew she was ready and arrived to escort their friend in style—blessing my sixty-four year old sister with an exquisite tribute and a final accompaniment.


Anthony Leo “Tony” Duchi, Jr.
1937 – 2009

Aug 30, 2009, North County Times:
Anthony Leo Duchi, Jr., 71, FALLBROOK – Anthony Leo Duchi, Jr., died at his home in Fallbrook on the morning of Thursday, August 20, 2009 after a long battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Tony was born on November 30, 1937 in an ambulance in the Callahan Tunnel in Boston, Mass. He was an entrepreneur who started and ran a number of successful businesses, including manufacturing of electronics, ham radios, defense products, and sporting goods. He was passionate about his many hobbies, which included boats and cruising, clocks, watches, antiques, cars, music, food, cooking and travel. Most important to him were his family and his many friends. He is survived by his four children and their families. He was predeceased by his wife of 46 years, Elizabeth Ann Duchi.

My brother-in-law—with one quiet final breath—passed on Aug 20, 2009, just before the antique clocks throughout his Fallbrook home chimed 8:00 a.m. He also knew a lot about many things and a little about everything. He was passionate about his cats, his clocks, his cars, and his boats. He loved travel, antiques, and cooking. He was a true Renaissance man. He was Italian, hot-tempered and easy going. He was brilliant and had some blind spots. He was sharp-witted and sharp-edged, flexible and obstinately stubborn, simple and complex. He was well read, well versed, and well… Tony.

4.08 Cutty Sark and Carleen

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.”

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.

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.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.

4.09 Lore, Libel and Lies

Larry, Marian, and Catherine (me), 2006 ~ My brother, his wife, and I just returned from our fifth road trip of gathering family history: searching through county records, newspaper archives, and historical museums hunting for birth and death records, local articles, pictures, deeds, wills and old maps—things you have to go to the actual places to find. We make Marian come as she has a sense of direction. On one trip to Minnesota when she left us for five days to visit her sister, Gordon and I changed hotels every day so we’d have our luggage as our chance of finding our hotel again was slim to none.

He works on our family genealogy, I’m writing a family memoir. I watch when they read the stories I pen. Marian laughs out loud or cries; she tells me she loves them. He looks like he’s reading last month’s weather report.

Gordon and Marian (they are in their early seventies, and I (a generation younger), along with whomever in the family we manage to entice to accompany us, pack what we need for two or three weeks and set out to snoop wherever anyone will let us. However, we have this uncanny knack for arriving at the county museum, local library, or city hall on the day they are not open, closed for remodeling, or as they are locking up for the night.In the past four years we have explored the Sacramento Valley, the gold country of Sonora, the cemeteries of Southern California, five western states, and our father’s family farm in Minnesota—visiting cousins and taking pictures of homesteads and headstones. Our latest road trip covered 5,000 miles on a 4,500-mile foray. We drove through Nevada, a small corner of Arizona, the Rockies of Colorado, the expanse of Wyoming and the flatlands of Montana. The extra 500 miles we spent heading off into the wild blue yonder. Gordon won’t look at a map so he makes Marian, but when she tells him which way to go he doesn’t believe her. I can’t read a map and get carsick if I take my eyes off the horizon so I stay out of it.

My brother always tries to convince me to eat at Subway. Forget it. I drag them to ethnic or organic restaurants. At dinner I order a water with no ice and a salad with no onions and a veggie burger with no mustard and could they please leave the dressing on the side and Gordon leans into me and snarks, “Can’t you just order something like it comes on the menu? You are like dining with Sally in When Harry Met Sally,” and I snicker, “that’s not the scene that comes to my mind in that movie…”

In Nevada, our Hoy cousins graciously put us up for a night (I want to live in their house—their linens cost more than my furniture, not to mention that Celine Dion lives in the neighborhood) and fix us a fabulous meal (another reason I could move in with them). My brother saunters in the living room and looms over me as I sit on the couch admiring quite a good copy of a Rembrandt. “How do you want your steak cooked?” I don’t eat meat but note the look on his face and have the common sense to say, “medium rare.” He says, “right answer.” And just between you and me—it was delicious! Our mutual ancestors were in the cattle business and for my cousin’s birthday his wife had given him a miniature HOY branding iron. The two-inch letters burned into the steaks were a nice touch, as was the homemade strawberry ice cream.

Marian always makes us two-dozen Tollhouse cookies. Every trip I eat my half and half of Gordon’s half. She eats almonds and prunes. Yakking away from too much sugar and chocolate, a hell or a damn falls out of my mouth and my brother tells me to quit my swearing. Again. I try really hard not to swear around him but I forget. Into the second week he says do you HAVE to swear ALL the time and I inform him that puke is not a swear word and that swearing MAYBE once a day is not ALL the time and that I’ll make him a deal: if he uses his turn-signal, I’ll quit swearing. My brother is unaware that turn signals are standard equipment on cars, and have been for years. He has this thing where he can’t decide if he’s turning left. The oncoming traffic also has no idea what he might be planning. He hesitates until they get close. Then he whips right out in front of them. I have this thing where I slide down my seat, throw my feet up to block the airbag, close my eyes, cross my heart and mutter, “Oh Sweet Jesus.”

He says, “I didn’t know you were religious.”
I say, “Only when you’re driving.”

Of course I won’t mention the day in downtown Denver when I turn right onto a one-way street in rush hour and have to back up their shiny new SUV into a stream of screeching, honking traffic. I’d also rather not talk about the next day when I turn left off a one-way street into the left lane and drive a whole block on what is not a one-way street, unable to figure out what the hell the guy coming at me thinks he is doing. Marian, who is trying to read a Denver map so big that it blocks half the steering wheel and hangs two feet out the passenger window glances up and casually suggests I might want to pull over a couple of lanes. Thankfully, Gordon isn’t in the car either time. He fails to see the humor in moments like these. Having played the sousaphone in high school and college, he’s in horn heaven at a four-day Tuba and Euphonium Conference (which is part of the reason we took this trip), hanging out with 500 tuba players, most of whom I notice have the same body shape as the brass instrument they play. But I must say, 500 tubas a-tubaing is a magnificent sound. The three evening concerts we attended were quite wonderful.

We drive through Bryce National Park where wind, water, and magic have cut the limestone into a landscape of bizarre shapes of mazes, slot canyons, and elegant spires of hoodoos. We are equally stunned by Zion National Park where the red and pink sandstone cliffs look like sandcastles built in desert canyons, their massive walls soaring to a vast blue sky. Rocky Mountain National Park also takes our breath away, and not just because of the altitude. We spend the afternoon at Custer’s last stand. Heart wrenching—not for Custer (that’s my opinion, not my brother’s)—but for what this country did to the Indians.

At the Denver History Library we are ecstatic with each new discovery, whooping and high-fiving, clapping one another on the back. The librarian continually pokes her head in the room with a sharp look. Gordon and I sit side-by-side—hunched over giant microfilm machines, rolling through reel after reel of old newspapers—me going half-blind from the bad print and queasy from the movement. I get clammy and stagger to the ladies room to throw up, then wander over to the local history section to look up information in books where the pages don’t move. Marian returns from being buried in the archives all morning, thrilled with the great find in hand and presents it to her husband. Gordon barely glances up, telling her he already has that record. She disappears for several hours and he finally notices she’s missing and asks where she is, and I say she’s at the courthouse looking up records for HER family—and filing for divorce. He hadn’t seen the look on her face.

Marian and I spend much time together in ladies restrooms laughing so hard we cry and slide to the floor while Gordon waits in the hall stiffly leaning on the opposite wall with tight lips and crossed arms. She gets a medal for spending hours poring over microfilm and old newspapers searching for snippets about Hoys, Chatfields and Chamberlins. You couldn’t pay me to spend that much time looking for information about someone else’s family, even if I was married to them. Maybe that’s why I’m not married.

After Colorado we don’t make it to Nebraska. Instead, we decide to head for Montana as my brother thinks Montana is on the way home. Marian rolls her eyes as she’s been married to him for fifty years. I’m somewhat suspicious as to the whereabouts of Montana, but think it a fine idea, as I too want to find the ranch our grandfather gambled away. After Montana, we head for Utah.

The only disappointment of our three weeks was after having driven for sixteen days in the car, the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City is closed on Sundays, the only day we had to spend there. Of course.

“WHAT? We’ve driven almost 4,000 miles to come to THIS library and you are closing in THREE HOURS and won’t be open TOMORROW? WAH! How can that BE?
“Tomorrow is Sunday,” the greeter says kindly. “The library is not open on Sundays.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“For religious reasons.”
“Religious reasons? What does that have to do with anything? You’re not Catholic!”

Marian and Gordon have wheeled away from me. Dejected, I try not to cry as I join them in the elevator. They pretend they don’t know me. But we still discover a fair amount in those three hours.

The next morning (since the damn library is closed) we set out for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which I’ve wanted to hear forever. During the hour-long rehearsal the usher standing five feet from me has to natter brightly, “watch your step, watch your step” through the WHOLE performance. Like the lights aren’t on? Like everyone is blind? Like 200 people haven’t already walked down 50 steps to get to her landing and not one has tripped and needed to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital? I was aggravated enough that she yapped through the entire concert, but when she pulled out a piece of cellophane wrapped candy—oh my God—the woman is lucky she’s still alive. I was close to caning her. But it didn’t get ugly until we left. The three of us actually make it back up all those stairs without falling. When we reach the lobby one of the white-haired ushers observes me foaming and twitching and has the temerity to ask me how the concert was. I latch onto his gray lapel and get so close our noses almost touch. “How was the concert? You want to know how was the concert? RUINED, that’s how the concert was! RUINED!” Out of the corner of my eye I see Marian and Gordon have peeled away, acting like they’ve never ever seen me before in their entire life. As I wind down my rant regarding cellophane wrappers and lack of usher training, I notice how wide this man’s eyes are. Taking a deep breath I slowly unpeel my fingers from his lapel and pat it gently back down and thank him for inquiring, murmuring, “I feel much better now, much better. Thank you.” My brother and sister-in-law have scattered like ants at a picnic.

We come home a day early, bleary and stiff from hours of driving, every empty space in their no longer new hybrid littered with crumbs and stuffed with stacks of information, wishing we’d had more of Marian’s cookies, happy. Was our trip a success? You betcha! Did we find everything we were looking for? No, but enough to satisfy us until the next journey. We found pictures we didn’t know existed, nearly a hundred newspaper articles that filled in a lot of blank holes, and a number of books others had written about the family. However, we also discovered the best family legends we had in the books we are putting together AREN’T EVEN TRUE!

Grandpa didn’t gamble away the ranch. They never owned a ranch. And if they had owned a ranch, it would not have been worth $150,000. Hell, in 1915, you could have bought the whole godforsaken state of Montana for $150,000. They were giving the land away to homesteaders—why would anyone pay for it?

And not only was James “J.S.” Hoy, my great-grandmother’s brother, not castrated for sleeping with a med student’s wife (turns out he had mumps as a baby), Henrietta Wilcox didn’t poison him either.

Truth—the downside of research. The most interesting legends turn out to be just that. Legends. I suppose that’s why I titled our history Lore, Libel and Lies—so I could leave them in.

4.10 Larry’s Later Life

Gordon Lawrence “Larry” Clemens
1st of 5 children of Carl John Clemens and Noreen Ellen “Babe” Chatfield
Born: Jan 14, 1934, Chico, California
Married: Jun 16, 1956 (at age 22), Marian Louise McLellan, Upland, California
Two children

Gordon (Larry) and Marian (by Marian Clemens) ~ In 1952 Gordon Lawrence Clemens was a music major at San Jose Sate College where I was studying to be an elementary teacher. On one of my first dates with him, I sat by myself in the San Jose Civic Auditorium listening to the strains of the San Jose Symphony being conducted by Sandor Salgo. On stage was Larry playing, his large brass tuba sounding out the low harmony notes. When they played “Der Meistersinger” by Wagner, Larry had the tuba solo, and I was impressed. It was a clear, pure tone with rapid perfect fingering. He was a music major for three years and then changed his major, graduating with a degree in philosophy. He continued his music throughout college and graduate school. Larry put himself through college and he lived in the placement office looking for jobs, often having as many as three part-time jobs at once.

When we met, Gordon was still Larry. After graduation from San Jose he received a graduate assistant position at Ohio University while he completed his Masters Degree to become a school counselor. It was when he moved to Ohio University that he made the decision to use his first name, Gordon. During this time, I was teaching second grade in Ventura. At the end of that year when we married, I married “Larry.” But when I moved to Ohio after the wedding, I made a speedy change to calling him “Gordon.”

We’ve had an unusual life, making happy changes along the way. In Long Beach, Gordon taught science and math for two years before becoming a counselor. I was teaching third grade. We bought our first home and had our first child. After six years Gordon accepted a counseling position in Pacific Grove which resulted in a new job, new town (Carmel), new home, and a new baby, our second daughter. Two years later we bought a campground and cabin business in Big Sur which was our focus of energy and excitement for twelve years, with Gordon fitting it into his school counseling schedule. (You’ve already read about his childhood years, and what a busy teen he was.) Some of our fondest memories are of those years by the Big Sur River in the redwoods, even though we experienced a Big Sur fire (1972) and two major floods. Our many family reunions there are still treasured and remembered. When we were ready to sell it, we bought two small motels in Carmel, now loving the tourism industry, and Gordon resigned from his school career. To keep busy we bought 20 properties to remodel and sell through the years. One home we remodeled was overlooking the bay and Carmel Beach. We moved to it for ten years and rented out our real home until we moved back to our lovely old 1926 stone house where we raised our children and where we are enjoying our twilight years. From 1996 to 2000 we spent five years working and living in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in the Sierras where our company and son-in-law managed the concessions in the National Park.

We became active in the AFS International Student exchange program and have taken leading roles in it. In 1958 Gordon was once again in the nearby college placement office looking for a summer job, when he saw a notice for a couple to chaperone a bus load of AFS students completing their year in the U.S. with a bus trip across country, staying in homes and communities before arriving in Washington D.C. and being greeted by President Eisenhower. That changed our lives as we soon became involved selecting students to go abroad, counseling international students in our home for a week or more when needed, planning orientations, interviewing host families, and all that goes with the program. In 1987 Gordon was honored with the Stephen Galatti Award for the outstanding AFS volunteer in the world, an international honor. The award was a three-week trip to Thailand where we were hosted by Thailand AFS, visiting schools, staying in homes, being honored, and seeing the country from north to south. Another year Gordon was selected as chairman of a ten-member delegation of AFS representatives to China, hosted by educators in China. I enjoyed being able to communicate and even gave a short speech in Chinese at our banquets. I studied Chinese for a year to enrich our experience. The following year we hosted ten Chinese educators in California. During the years we hosted four students in our home for the year, coming from Germany, Australia, Russia, and Turkey. Our own daughters went on the program as well, one to South Africa and the other to Austria. We have daughters and grandchildren around the world.

During the Bosnia War in the 1990s a local group formed to bring Bosnia high school students to the Monterey Peninsula as they no longer had schools. Because of our experience with AFS student exchange, they invited Gordon to guide in family selection, counseling, grant writing, and organizing the program. Seven students came and remained through those war years. At the conclusion of the war, in 1996 Gordon was invited to join a few other volunteers from throughout our country who had provided for Bosnian youth, on a trip to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, mostly in Sarajevo. It was sponsored by NGO, Non-Governmental Organization with the United Nations. They flew into the war-torn countries on a military plane, staying with families as hotels were bombed out

Gordon started doing genealogy when he was in his forties, before computers. We traveled all over to genealogy libraries, Oakland, Salt Lake City, and Denver, to Germany, Luxembourg, England, and Scotland, combing through records, searching graveyards for headstones, collecting stories and photos. He had boxes of files, newspaper clippings and documents. Thank goodness the computer soon came along. It became even more fun when his sister Cathy also became interested in genealogy as we took trips together from Minnesota and Colorado, to Montana and Utah, from Chico and Colusa to Sonora and Los Angeles. His sisters Betty and Carleen joined us for some. His most fun accomplishment for me was when he framed a picture that starts in the lower row with portraits of us and our parents. Directly above them, our grandparents, and above them almost all of our great grandparents. The top row photos are our great, greats. Those faces have become so familiar and those people are all a part of who we are. 

After Gordon retired, he joined local music groups, the Monterey Community Band that played at local civic events, the concert band at Monterey Peninsula College, and then he was invited to play in the Del Monte Brass Band from the Navy Post Graduate School when they needed a tuba player. The Navy band came and played in our backyard reception at our 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The day started off with a reunion at the Carmel Beach with three generations of our family. (This would be last time Gordon and his remaining three siblings would be together.)

Not long after that Gordon’s eyesight suddenly changed with age-related macular degeneration and within a week, he couldn’t see well enough to read the musical score. His medical treatment has been amazing and his eyesight has been stabilized, so he lives normally, reading slowly, driving, and enjoying life, but not enough for reading music. I think he is very glad that playing the tuba came back into his life in retirement. It brought him the joy that many of us experience when we hear music. But even more importantly, it gave him what you feel inside when you can make music.

I remember what it felt like when I finally had time to take art lessons and began oil painting. I enjoyed doing our beautiful local scenes and then ventured into some folk art. Next, I began writing memoir, and our children have been appreciative of that. My most satisfying piece was a series of stories about our twelve years we had our campground in Big Sur. In retirement I’m also active in my church and community projects, many to benefit homeless needs in the area.

Our two daughters have had successful careers and given us five amazing grandchildren, so being grandparents is one of our current joys. Traveling has always been important, and last time I counted we had explored 40 countries. Most of the trips when we were younger were chaperoning AFS student groups or traveling on our own, climbing every tower, using every mode of transportation, and enjoying new cultures.  As we’ve grown older, we’ve had some choice guided tours and riverboat trips. Now we have to say that in our mid 80s, just being at home and taking our local hikes in the woods and by the ocean are our favorite things.

We appreciate Catherine for bringing to life her story of growing up. Parts of it were really hard for us as family to read as we became aware of her sadness and difficult childhood which she told with both honesty and humor. It was quite different from Larry’s young years, as he was fourteen years older than Cathy and ready to leave home for college when she was only three. We thank you, Catherine, for being the special sister that you are to us. Congratulations on completing your book. We love you.

by Marian (McLellan) Clemens, November 2018


In gratitude for their support and assistance in these final ten stories:
Editor: Deb Carlen, Five Ideas
Photoshop magician and longtime friend: Gail E. Crosslin, Texas
Contributing letters and notes: Lorna Harrington
Contributing stories, letters, and pictures: Gordon and Marian Clemens
Typists of letters: Marian Clemens and Hanan
Website Design: Dianna Jacobsen

To my website/blog and Facebook family and friends: thanks for your encouragement and comments. It takes a reader to fulfill the contract of a writer, and I’m beholden to you for sitting at the opposite side of the page to engage in this process with me. You could have gone through any given door; thank you for coming through this one. Catherine

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.


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  1. susan Dalberg says

    I’m leaving that door open, dear one!! Much love and gratitude. Susan