Chapter 9: Backstory, my maternal grandparents
— Diary of Charley Chatfield (age 17), the oldest child of Charles and Nellie
Feb 24 Warm and clear, chopped wood. Got a new baby sister. (Ina)
May 23 Warm and clear. Went to Forsyth in an automobile. May 25 Warm and clear. Packed some stuff.
May 27 Hot. Went to Hysham. Got my money.
May 28 Warm and clear. Left Sanders for Los Molinos, California
May 29 Warm and clear. Still traveling. It took 20 hours to cross Montana and to cross Idaho 1½ hrs.
May 30 Warm and clear. Still on the train. We were traveling 23 hrs. in Washington.
May 31 Warm and clear, Went through Oregon and into California on train.
Jun 1 Hot and clear. Got to Los Molinos at 11 a.m. Stayed at Los Molinos Inn. Grandpa was here to meet us.
Jun 2 Pretty hot but clear. Put up a tent under a oak tree.
Jun 3 Warm in morning but cooler in evening. Went to the Los Molinos dam caught a big salmon.
Jun 4 Warm and clear. Got a job on a gasoline bailer. Papa came on train.
1913 – 1915. Los Molinos, California. Charles followed, arriving in Los Molinos seven days behind his wife and nine children, hat in hand, hoping for forgiveness. California was not the land of flowers as Nellie had anticipated, but the weather was better. The family settled in Los Molinos where life was spare and my grandmother made do. Charles rice-farmed. Nellie raised the children. He puttered and tinkered and gardened. She scrubbed floors and cooked stews and mended shirts. He fed his chickens. She kneaded her bread, adjusting her baking habits to the climate and the train schedule. Every afternoon she waited for the whistle and clanking train cars to pass. Lifting her long skirt to hike the slight incline up to the tracks, she bent down and carefully balanced her cloth-covered tins of dough on the hot iron rails; it was the only way she could get her breads and cinnamon buns to rise.
At the end of each week, Charles, a rancher and farmer who ran a crew of horses and men, brought home very little of what he’d made, his head hanging, his feet dragging—broke and drunk—so foolish you could smell his shame. On occasion, he tried to buy his way back into Nellie’s good graces. One time he extended a peace offering to his wife, a gift wrapped in cloth. He wanted her to take it, to pardon him. She thought it was his earnings from his week’s worth of work. It wasn’t. It was an elegant tortoiseshell comb for her long dark hair that she only let down at night.
“You fool!” she snapped. “We need food, not frivolity,” and hurled his offering at his chest. “What you wasted on this could have gone to feed us for the week!” She was so angry he could taste her bile.
Nellie may have taken her wayward husband back but she refused to forgive him. She also refused to share her bed, although she must have at least once as their tenth child—my mother—was born two years later. They named her Noreen Ellen, but everyone called her Babe.
To be continued…
Catherine Sevenau is a writer, humorist, and storyteller living in Sonoma, California. The stories in this series are excerpts from her book, Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir, available as a series at Sevenau.com. A longtime Realtor and Owner/Broker at CENTURY 21 Wine Country. [email protected]