Through Any Given Door ~ Catherine Sevenau

Catherine Sevenau 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. The full memoir is available as a web series at A longtime Realtor and Owner/Broker at CENTURY 21 Wine Country, she can be reached at [email protected]


Mother’s idea of housework was to sweep a room with a glance

Posted on February 16, 2022 by Catherine Sevenau

Chapter 27: 1946 • Sonora ~ My father believed that life was hard work. He believed you had to earn everything you got, and that to get anything done right you had to do it yourself. He believed that you always finished what you started, and that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well, and doing it right the first time. All these beliefs served him. 

They also served my mother; as she had no such beliefs, he picked up her slack. On Saturdays he did the heavy cleaning: mopping floors, changing sheets, wiping sticky doorknobs, scrubbing eight grimy handprints of four kids off the walls. By this time, my mother’s idea of housework was to sweep a room with a glance.

Mom decided life would be easier if Claudia, the youngest at the time and the only one still at home, went to school. Dressed in her netted hat to set off her pinned-up hair, a pastel polka-dotted shoulder-padded two-piece outfit, pearls, silk stockings and white open-toed wedge heels, she trundled Claudia up steep Barretta Street, across the school’s double flight of concrete stairs, through the six white pillars, and into Mr. Bird’s office at Sonora Elementary. The domed three-story school, built at the top of Barretta in 1909, went from kindergarten through eighth grade, each grade consisting of one class.

Mr. Theodore Bird, the new principal, looked through his spectacles and shook his head. “Your daughter is too young to start school,” he informed Mom from across his desk. Mothers were often in his office trying to enroll their babies.

Mom pulled out a book and had Claudia read aloud to Mr. Bird. When Claudia finished, Mom rebutted, “She can read, and the law says if she can read, she can go to school.”

My sister knew her ABCs and 1,2,3s, plus she minded her Ps and Qs and her don’ts and do’s. Mr. Bird unwillingly conceded and escorted my four-and-a-half-year-old sister through his office door, past the dreaded detention bench where the troublemakers and truants sat nervously awaiting the principal’s paddle, and down the flight of stairs to Mrs. Dawson’s kindergarten class in the basement. Claudia was enrolled that morning. She was excited; she wanted to go to school. Everybody she knew went to school. 

Mrs. Dawson was also her second-grade teacher and taught my sister cursive. Handwriting was difficult for Claudia; she was always dissatisfied with how it looked. It never measured up to what was on the board.

To be continued…


Catherine Sevenau is a writer, humorist, and storyteller. The stories in this series are excerpts from her book, Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir, available at 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]


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