Chapter 26: 1946 • Sonora ~ Squatting on the front stoop in the low afternoon sun, Betty, all of six, and Claudia just four, sat wondering what kind of trouble they could get into, when their plans were cut short. An eerie howling, like a trapped animal with its foot caught in a snare, floated through the front screen door from the top of the staircase above them.
“What is that?” they whispered, giggling and poking each other.
“Owoooooooooooo! Owoooooooooooo!” imitating wolves howling at the moon. “Who is that crazy person?” Betty wondered aloud to Claudia.
Carleen, who was twelve, heard them. “Shut up, she hissed through the screen door. “It isn’t funny, it’s Mom.”
Something happened to Mom, something snapped. This was the first time my mother tried to end her life. They took her away for a while until she could get better, but she never did, not really.
Other than Mondays, Mom seldom got out of bed until the kids left for school. Betty had her hair braided on Monday and wore the same dress for a week; by Friday she itched on every square inch of her body. The rest of the week Mom slept in, waited for the older kids to be gone, then got up and fixed herself a steak, lit a cigarette and vanished into the shallow depths of her westerns and True Crime Magazine.
Although no longer compelled to clean the house or take care of her children, she still managed to cook occasionally, making meals in her Dutch oven, one-pot meals like her mother cooked.
She used to bake chicken on summer Sundays and roast beef for winter Sundays. She used to make scratch cakes with Bakers chocolate frosting. The family missed the smell of her homemade biscuits and fresh apple pies, her rolled sugar cookies made from leftover strips of dough, sprinkled with pats of butter and spilled cinnamon. She once loved to sew—the hum of her Singer now silent—making the girls’ clothes. and embroidering the top hems of white sheets, pillowcases, and tea towels like her mother taught her, like she taught Carleen, like Carleen would teach me one day.
During the week my father worked long days running the store. Every morning he went to the bakery before school to pick up glazed and sugar donuts for breakfast for the kids. On Sundays, after taking them to Mass, he made ice cream, rock candy, or fudge; fudge was his specialty. He buttered the pan, stirred in the black walnuts that Mom and the kids had picked and shelled at Grandma’s, and poured the chocolate mixture in a square tin. The kids impatiently hopped from foot to foot, waiting for the fudge to set. To make rock candy he boiled sugar and water into a strong solution, dipped in the strings (one end of the string was tied to the middle of a yellow pencil), then placed the pencils on the rims of tall drinking glasses with the dipped strings hanging on the inside until the solution hardened. After repeating this process several times, clusters of clear crystals formed, looking like confused icicles. The kids liked the fudge better.
To be continued…
Catherine Sevenau is a writer, humorist, and storyteller living in Sonoma, California. The stories in this series are excerpts from, Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir, available at Sevenau.com. Catherine is an author of three books, several volumes of family genealogy, and a longtime Broker/Realtor at CENTURY 21 Epic Wine Country. [email protected]