Chapter 11: My grandfather
Sep 30, 1915 • Red Bluff Daily News, Los Molinos, California: WOMAN ALL ALONE GIVES BIRTH, CHILD TAKES CARE OF IT
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 from her bed, washed and dressed the child and performed functions of physician or mid-wife. The husband is away from home working in the rice fields at Princeton. Before the child was born Mrs. Chatfield sent for a neighbor woman, who, however, did not arrive until after the child was born and cared for. Both mother and child are apparently doing well. This is the tenth child born in the family.
Charles Henry Chatfield • 1870–1942 ~ Chico, California: When my grandfather wasn’t working the fields rice or renting out his team of horses for local grading, he spent his time in his garden with his Leghorns, his sleeping quarters the large backyard shed, his cot sharing space with kindling brought home from the Diamond Match Factory. He didn’t have to account for his gambling and drinking if he wasn’t around Nellie, but family lore has it that he’d been relegated to the shed from the get-go. The house was small for a family of twelve. The older boys, when they returned home from fighting in the war, bunked with their father, as they too did not want to report their comings and goings to Nellie.
Charles Chatfield, Southern Pacific graders at Gerber
My grandfather was small in stature and trodden smaller as time went by. He had a mustache his whole life, shaving it off only once. The minute his children saw him without it they laughed themselves silly; he slunk into his garden and hid among the chard and tomatoes until it grew back.
Hardly anyone today remembers him. He drank, perhaps to forget, but probably to escape Nellie. He kept a supply of Bromo-Seltzer on hand to relieve his banging headaches and burning dyspepsia. The white crystals came in blue bottles. He made a fence line with the empties, partially burying them upside down in the dirt the length of the yard, leaving the glass bottoms poking above the ground, his cracked and calloused hands carefully constructing a three-inch high hedge of cobalt blue, adding a little color to his life.
Grandpa left Chico and lived in the small town of Bolinas for a few years and in 1930 built himself a house there. He returned to Chico the following year, then left again in 1937. In the last years of his life he lived in Lomo Crossing, a place not much more than a levee and a train station, and then in a cabin near Forest Ranch, a small mining town between Chico and Butte Meadows that was little more than a post office and a bar.
My grandfather passed away in 1942, six years before I was born. During the funeral, the only thing Grandma Nellie had to say was, “Serves the drunken old fool right.” Still unwilling to pardon him for gambling away the family holdings some thirty-five years before, she buried him in the non-Catholic section of the Chico cemetery, away from the family plots. No headstone, no small cross, not even an upside-down blue bottle marked his grave. It’s possible she simply couldn’t afford a stone—but, his children didn’t buy him one either. Grandpa Chatfield’s unmarked grave rests undisturbed at the corner of a large storage shed, a familiar place for him.
To be continued…