Chapter 7: Mid 1940s, Chico — Every summer Mom took the kids to visit her mother, Nellie Chatfield, who still lived in the two-story house on Boucher 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 picnics to Bidwell Park and swam in the icy Sycamore Pool where Betty dog-paddled in her favorite navy-blue bathing suit with the pink palm tree. The pool was built in 1929, the Big Chico Creek flowing through the cement sides of the 700-foot long encasement.
Betty at Bidwell pool, 1945
Grassy slopes lined the pool where picnics were laid out under towering white-barked sycamores and majestic valley oaks planted long before by General John Bidwell. My mother daydreamed about swimming in the Olympics as she free-styled the length of the pool. Instead, she married a man who was afraid of water and couldn’t swim a stroke. As a youngster, Mom spent her summers fishing in Big Chico Creek, whiling away the days on the rocks under the giant trees, her toes and line dangling in the water. She used open safety pins for hooks. It didn’t matter if she caught anything; she simply liked fishing.
Mom was an angler, hiking to fishing holes with her kids; her wicker creel strapped over one arm, her rod and reel in the other. She baited her children’s hooks with worms for perch and bluegill. For trout, she used pink salmon eggs which Betty always tasted and wondered what people saw in them. Betty would eat anything. My siblings loved going to Chico. Not only did the swimming and hiking entice them, but Grandma Nellie also possessed a collection of books piled in every room. She had western genre about Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado, places where she and her family had lived. Books by Booth Tarkington, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and others by Owen Wister and McLeod Rainey. The Magnificent Andersons, The Virginian, West of the Pecos, and Riders of the Purple Sage were her favorites.
She and her two sisters exchanged books as Christmas gifts, signing the inside pages. Larry and Carleen spent hours in the parlor, poring over the dusty volumes of The World Encyclopedia—bought from a door-to-door salesman—reading them from cover to cover; Pluto, the ninth planet, wasn’t even listed yet. Claudia devoured Grandma’s 20 years of yellow-covered National Geographic. She’d never been anywhere and loved the pictures from everywhere. Australian pygmies and Maori tribes especially fascinated her, as did Mt. Everest and the snowcapped Himalayas. Betty read every book there. Twice.
Grandma Chatfield was a sucker for the men who came door-to-door peddling wares. She looked forward to knocks on the door from charming salesmen who could sell anything—from The World Book to kitchen knives and Fuller brushes—especially to my grandmother.
The kids’ memories of Grandma included her one-pot dishes on the wood stove in her ivy-wallpapered kitchen or her sitting on the screened porch in her slide rocker. As Grandpa Chatfield was off working in the rice fields, they have little recollection of him. He lived in the shed in the side yard as Grandma had banned him from the house for gambling away their Montana ranch, a misdeed from their past which she never forgave. When he died in 1942, he was barely missed.
To be continued…