Rude Awakenings ~ Catherine Sevenau

Catherine Sevenau Catherine Sevenau is a writer and storyteller who is out to capture your skittery mind. She's penned three books, compiled numerous collections of family genealogy, and has been a regular columnist in the SUN since 2016. She can be reached at [email protected].


Where was her free will?

Posted on May 20, 2023 by Catherine Sevenau

Chapter 54: 1949 • “Bettyyyy. Claudiaaa.” Mother’s nightly yell for supper bounced across the yard until it floated down to the soft shadows of the creek where the girls fooled away their afternoons catching tadpoles. Betty paid no attention to Mom. Claudia, emptying her Mason jar of polliwogs back into the water, was compelled to respond to the summons and ran home. She bounded barefoot across the wooden porch, wiping the damp dirt from her hands on her cotton jumper, the front screen door banging behind her.

Turning from her task of peeling potatoes, it was always the same routine: Mom asking Claudia “Where’s Betty?” and Claudia saying, “down at the creek,” and Mom saying, “well, go get her and tell her to get in here,” and Claudia scuttling back to notify Betty that Mom said to come home right now.

Betty, busy picking blackberries, screwed up her mouth, bit her lower lip, balled up her fist, and punched Benedict Arnold on the arm for ratting on her. This confused Claudia. Why did she have to come when called, tell the truth when asked, not backtalk when told what to do. She often wondered, where was her free will?

This was about the time it dawned on her that girls were inferior to boys. Boys were allowed to stay out later, girls had to be in before dark. Boys could be altar boys, girls weren’t allowed in the sacristy. Boys got to play baseball, football, and basketball; dodge ball was the only sport girls had. Men were principals, women teachers. Men were doctors, women nurses. Men ran the law-firms, stores, and banks and women were clerks, salesgirls, and hired help. It was a given that God was a man. As it didn’t escape my sister that it was a man’s world, it stood to reason that men must also be smarter. From early on these beliefs were embedded in her, like cement pilings buried in bedrock. Doubt didn’t creep in until after she’d been married a couple of years.

When she was seven, Claudia and her friend Linda Graves, a chubby girl with a head of long dark curls that she wore in two thick braids, sat cross-legged on the living room rug. Claudia, squarely facing her sock-monkey propped up with its back against the chesterfield, was patiently instructing it on the finer points of have and got and five apples minus three apples.

Linda informed Claudia, “When I grow up I want to be a mother and have two babies, a boy first and then a girl.”

Claudia replied, “I’m going to be a teacher.”

Dad, walking by, happened to overhear. “I wouldn’t waste money putting a girl through college,” he injected into their conversation, catching Claudia’s eye, “You’ll just wind up getting married and having babies.”

Her face fell. She hadn’t even considered that she’d grow up, get married, and have children. Even with his remark, she still didn’t consider it a possibility. But right then and there she gave up her idea of teaching and adjusted her goals to a less lofty height. She thought, “Then maybe I’ll be a secretary, or work in a bank.”

She buried deep in her soul her dream of growing up and being a teacher. But sixty years later, her dream was still there. I know, because she told me.

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 Broker/Realtor at CENTURY 21 Wine Country, she can be reached at [email protected]


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