Through Any Given Door

1.22 Letter from My Mother

From my mother (age 26) to my father's sister, Amelia Conway (age 39), living in Byron, Minnesota: Watsonville, Cal. Nov. 22, 1941. Dear Amelia & all:       The last letter I had from you was dated July 11, whether I have written since then I don’t know but I probably … [Read more...]

1.21 Where Babies Come From

1939 • Watsonville ~ Our house was right on her way home from the grammar school and Marceline (Uncle George and Aunt Verda’s daughter) loved to stop off and visit mom. Marceline held Babe in high esteem, elevating her to a kindred spirit and favorite aunt. She thought our mother a much better … [Read more...]

1.20 Sketches of Clemens Family

Their parents were not openly affectionate to the children, but they took it for granted that their parents loved them. It’s not that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t care; they had work to do: cows to milk, corn to husk, bread to bake, mouths to feed. As soon as the kids were old enough to feed a chicken … [Read more...]

1.19 The Clemens Farm (part 3)

The Clemens and Nigon families did well, all successful farmers of German heritage. Not one family lost their farm in the Great Depression, like so many farmers who had strapped their land with bank loans. They worked, paid cash for what they needed, then drank beer and danced... but not … [Read more...]

1.18 The Clemens Farm (part 2)

The Clemens children went to the county school just down the hill, and then to St. John’s Grade School in the former St. Mary’s Hall, a big, two-story brick building a mile away. The three oldest girls were so close in age that Grandma held Mary back a year so she and Elizabeth could start school … [Read more...]

1.17 The Clemens Farm (part 1)

My grandparents were known for attending funerals. Relatives, close friends, acquaintances, people they barely knew: it didn’t matter. Barbara and Mathew went to all of them. It was their social center. If anyone wanted to visit them and a nearby funeral was happening, they knew Grandpa and Grandma … [Read more...]

1.16 Minnesota Catholics and Cows

1920 • Minnesota ~ When the wheels needed to be changed or the axles greased, my father—not yet a man—lifted the more than 200-pound hay wagon with his back, raised it higher with his arms, and held it steady while his older brother Aloysius, or Louie as the family called him, slipped the new wheel … [Read more...]

1.15 Everything is a Gamble

Feb 4, 1933 • Colusa Sun-Herald, Colusa, California ~ At an early hour this morning Miss Noreen Chatfield became the bride of Carl Clemens of Rochester, Minn., at a ceremony performed in Our Lady of Lourdes Church immediately following 8 o’clock mass services. The members of the immediate families … [Read more...]

1.14 Golden Eagle Cafe

1932 • Colusa, California ~ Two years into the Great Depression, when there were no jobs and little money and Herbert Hoover was unable to keep his campaign promises of prosperity, 59-year-old Nellie moved to the bustling rice town of Colusa, the county capital built on a lazy river bend in the … [Read more...]

1.13 Sign of the Cross

More backstory • Chico, California ~ As she got older and her burning feet made it too far to walk, Roy drove his mother the mile and a half to 7:30 morning Mass. Cruising up in his black four-door Hudson Terraplane sedan, hopping from the car, offering her his arm and walking her up the … [Read more...]

1.12 Sketches of Chatfield Clan

My grandmother ruled the roost and her word was law. There was no question about it. As a result of her righteous positions, she was on the outs with most of her children throughout her life—and the higher she stood on her moral ground—the lower her family descended. Here are brief … [Read more...]

1.11 Boucher Street, Chico

In 1915 the Chatfields left Los Molinos and moved to the up-and-coming agricultural town of Chico, buying a fairly new two-story corner residence in the Chapmantown district, a working class neighborhood near the Diamond Match Factory. In those days most people rented; few owned their own homes. … [Read more...]

1.10 My Mother’s Father

Sep 30, 1915 • Red Bluff Daily News, Los Molinos, California  ~  WOMAN ALL ALONE GIVES BIRTH, CHILD TAKES CARE OF IT. LOS MOLINOS. —When a baby girl was born last night to Mrs. C.H. Chatfield of this place, the woman, unaided except by some of her small children, rose … [Read more...]

1.09 Canada, Cuba, or Bust

A letter from my grandmother, Nellie (Chamberlin) Chatfield (age 30) to her younger sister Mamie Chamberlin (age 16). At the writing, Nellie had five children: Charlie Jr., Leo, Howard, Roy, and 6 month old Nella May. Two years after Roy was born, Nellie Mary "Nella May" Chatfield came … [Read more...]

1.08 Crazy Quilt

1895 - 1915 • Nellie ~ My grandmother started her crazy quilt in 1895, the same year she started her family. Twenty years later, with the birth of my mother, Noreen Ellen "Babe" Chatfield, she completed them both. During Nellie’s first period of confinement (it was improper for … [Read more...]

1.07 Backstory: My Maternal Grandparents

Dec 26, 1894 • Fruita, Colorado ~  In a ceremony in her parents' home, my grandmother, twenty-one year old Nellie Chamberlin, married Charles Henry Chatfield, a ranching man of twenty-four. Nellie was a no-nonsense Catholic girl and exceedingly religious, but she also had a mind of her … [Read more...]

1.06 Chico and Grandma Chatfield

1940s • Chico, California ~ Every summer Mom took the kids to visit her mother, Nellie Chatfield, who still lived in the two-story house on Boucher Street where my mother grew up. Chico was even hotter than Sonora during the summer, in the 100s every day. To cool off the family took daily … [Read more...]

1.05 Summer Camping

1945 • Pinecrest, California ~ Every summer the family spent a couple of weeks camping in Pinecrest, pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars at night, boating, swimming, and fishing for perch and bluegill all day. Dad came up on weekends. The kids were free as wild finches from dawn until … [Read more...]

1.04 Lucky Strike Girl

1945 • Sonora ~ At five, Betty opened her first business. She admired the ads featuring Lucky Strike girls wearing long gloves, short skirts, high heels, and satin pillbox caps, and particularly applauded the ingenuity of the lacquered trays they carried like a personal shelf supported by … [Read more...]

1.03 A Chicken and a Dog

Mid 1940s • Sonora, California ~ Larry and Carleen went everywhere together. They were a year apart (he was born in 1934, she in '35) with the same dark brown hair and brown eyes. When he was four Larry wore an eye patch, and in first grade, glasses. He had a lazy eye, the only thing ever lazy … [Read more...]

1.02 104 Green Street

1943 • Sonora, California ~ My father first took a job as manager of the Sprouse-Reitz on Washington Street. Mom came in and helped out. She was ten years younger than Dad. Her hair was jet black like her mother’s and grandmother’s, and she wore red lipstick and a wide smile. He was … [Read more...]

1.01 Part I, Faded Snapshots, Sonora

1943 • Sonora, California ~ Emerging 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. In the mid 1800s it was a whirlwind of change, a booming and often … [Read more...]

0.iii Prologue

Audio: Prologue (click arrow to listen)   My brother Larry was under the illusion that our mother was a good mother, but he had a different childhood than the rest of us. My sisters were convinced otherwise: Carleen complained Mom was thoughtless and self-centered, Betty resented her … [Read more...]

0.ii Dedication, Billet-Doux, Credits

 Dedicated To my siblings: this memoir is for them. To Stephanie Moore: who directed her students with grace, gratitude, and courage. And to Michael Naumer: who warned, "sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you." Writing a book is not a … [Read more...]

0.i Poem, Lineage, Table of Contents

  Teller of Tales This tale is a history, a fable, a prayer of those gone before me, now gathered with care. The diaries and pictures and letters enclosed deciphered my kin and what they supposed. Those who are living, their stories intact, Those gone before us, who knows what was … [Read more...]