If It’s Not One Thing… It’s Your Mother

Audio: click arrow to play ~ We think our life is someone else’s fault. As victims of circumstance, blown by fate and buffeted by winds, we need somebody to pin it on. Our father often takes the heat, but usually it’s our mother. We also blame the schools, the government, and the past. If it … [Read more...]

Gold Country, Sonora

1943: Sonora, Tuolumne County, California ~ Emerging into view from the crown of Highway 49 and a mile from end to end, the town of Sonora is tucked into the foothills and ravines of the Sierra Nevada—the gateway to California’s gold mining region. During World War II, most of the men not … [Read more...]

Dharma

“We’ve been brought here for a very short time, against our will, and we don’t know why.” I love that line. What is the point of our birth and life and death? Why are we here? What is our true purpose? These thoughts keep some of us up at night; others have never examined the questions. Some … [Read more...]

Bloodlines (original version)

This tale is a history, a fable, a prayer; of those gone before me, now gathered with care. Can’t start in the middle—too confusing, not clear, can’t start at the end—will be over I fear. So I’ll start from the first as far back as I can and nudge you along ’til you’ve met the whole clan. When … [Read more...]

Dick and Jane

Audio: click arrow to play ~  Dick and Jane • 1955, San Jose, California ~ Jefferson Elementary was like all grammar schools: the classrooms arranged with five rows of seven metal wood-topped desks; the playground as barren and flat as a prison yard; the morning and midday recesses echoing … [Read more...]

Dead People, Sparkle Fairies, and Hitler

“Oma, there’s dead people under those rocks, you know.” I glance over my shoulder to see what Satchel is talking about. My four-year-old grandson is commenting from his car seat about the small cemetery to our left on East Napa. “I know Satchel, that’s where they put our bodies when we … [Read more...]

Meltdown and Matching Red Noses

My grandson is three, and this is the second time I have him for an extended period at night. Brooke and Matt are in San Francisco, returning around 11:00. We spend the afternoon and evening at my house doing all the things we love to do together: cooking, eating, and reading the books I read to … [Read more...]

Murderers and Fortune Cookies

Thinking it would be fun, Satchel and I took a day trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 39, and made it there and back, though barely. Going, we missed the Larkspur Ferry by ten minutes, so waited for the next one. Finally boarding, we sat on the windy upper outside … [Read more...]

Civil War Journal of Finley Chamberlin

Finley McLaren Chamberlin was my great-grandfather, the father of Nellie (Chamberlin) Chatfield, my mother's mother. Finley Chamberlin’s Civil War journal is composed in several “chapters,” begun on February 27, 1863, while in service at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It provides a picturesque account … [Read more...]

A California Mid-Century Classic

On my last marker birthday (sixty-fifth) I muddled over penning my obituary, my epitaph, or a newspaper ad. My own obituary was too weird to write. My epitaph was a no-brainer... Since I’ve been in real estate forever, the ad copy was also easy: Celebrate a Contemporary Mid-Century … [Read more...]

A Defining Moment

Audio: A Defining Moment * December 1953, San Jose (click arrow to listen) I don’t remember how I got there or who dropped me off, perhaps Daddy waited in a car across the street, or maybe the family I’d been living with brought me. Who knows? It didn’t really matter; I was coming to live with … [Read more...]

A Billet-Doux to My Siblings, 2004

Audio: Billet-Doux (condensed version) click arrow to listen Dear Gordon (Larry) and Marian, Carleen, Liz (Betty), and Claudia, My writing began with “Queen Bee.” When I shared it with each of you, it gave us a connection we hadn’t had. I also read it to our cousin Marceline whom I’d met … [Read more...]

Positively Haight Street, 1968

Audio: Positively Haight Street (click arrow to listen) 1968 was the year Eldridge Cleaver published Soul on Ice. He and his wife Kathleen, who had the most immense head of hair I'd ever laid eyes on, banked at my teller window. It was the year of the Yippies, Black Panthers, and the SDS, … [Read more...]

Sweeney’s Penny Candy

On Haight and Belvedere, tightly wedged between my fathers’s dime store and Superba Market, was Sweeney’s. The Sweeneys were a sweet, white-haired old couple who lived in the flat above their penny candy shop. Actually, now that I think about it, Mr. Sweeney was on the crusty side, a big man, … [Read more...]

A Civil War Story

Isaac Willard Chatfield: 1836 - 1921 Ohio to California ~ 1836: Middlefield, Ohio Isaac Willard Chatfield was born in 1836, the first of four children of Levi Tomlinson Chatfield and Lovina Mastick. Isaac married the elegant Eliza Ann Harrington May 20, 1858, and over the next five decades he and … [Read more...]

A Confused Heart and a White Train

October 7, 1967 • San Francisco On a crisp October day, my father escorted me down the carpeted aisle of Holy Name of Jesus, our church in the Sunset. I looked like a fairy princess, dressed in the white wedding dress my stepsister wore when she married. It fit like a dream: white lace, cap … [Read more...]

Bee Sting and a Dead Roly-Poly

1955, San Jose, California ~ I read whatever was in front of me. I read all four sides of the milk carton and the Cheerios box and the C&H container. I read the editor’s notes and publication dates and fine print in the front of True Detective and Reader’s Digest and Cornet or whatever Mom … [Read more...]

A Chicken Named Blackie

1943 • Sonora, Tuolumne County, California ~ Our family lived at 104 Green Street, a white two-story house right in the center of town that rented for $35 a month, and where I would be born in five years. A wide porch ran on three sides. The back portion was enclosed … [Read more...]

Toss of the Cosmic Dice

Why bother? I mean really? They’re dead. Who cares about the past, and what difference does it make? But here’s the deal, sometimes we do something for its own sake, or sometimes simply because we want to. There was a five-year period from when I finished writing a family memoir until I published … [Read more...]

Awaiting a Grandson

I wrote this to my son Matt (who taught me about bandages, patience, and love) on his thirty-third birthday (1-14-2003) and who was awaiting the birth of his first child, a boy. That child, who is now nearly as tall as me—who can clean a fish, shoot a basket, and draw not only a cow … [Read more...]

In Search of Funny

At a recent talk, a woman asked me about humor, and how do you learn to be funny. I said I don’t think you can learn to be funny. Either you are, or you aren’t. I told her I thought humor is often closely related to pain, that it arises as a reaction to suffering—like a coping mechanism—that … [Read more...]

A Dream Story

Many of my dreams, the ones I remember, are of me trying to get somewhere, usually on some odd form of transportation, not knowing how to get there, and often with people following me who think I actually know where I'm going. In one I'm riding a horse, leading the way; in another I'm in an  English … [Read more...]

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Audio:  Smoke Gets in Your Eyes • 1959, La Habra, California Sequestered by the murky outline of the San Gabriel Mountains, Orange County had constant smog alerts, sometimes so bad they closed the schools. Everyone was told to stay indoors, the outside smothered in a pea soup of brown haze … [Read more...]

“Let’s Take a Trip Down Whittier Blvd!”

1961 - 1966 • La Habra High School Four years of high school blended together, being neither the low nor high point of my life. The second tallest girl my freshman year at La Habra High, I tripped up and down the long halls between classes praying to be invisible, hoping no one would look at me, … [Read more...]

Epilogue to Behind These Doors

Revelations and Reckonings My parents were like black and white, like oil and water, like sin and prayer. Daddy, not one to boil over, married a kettle of emotions. If he could have loosened his grip and if Mom hadn’t completely unraveled, my childhood might have been different. But it was what it … [Read more...]