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Syndic Literary Journal

Ancestor Stories

Compiled and Written by Catherine Sevenau

Headstones, Hearsay, and a Little History:

A smattering of Chatfield family stories, by Catherine Sevenau

Narration by Kristine Doll   ~  Massachusetts 

A Chatfield cousin off the Clark Samuel line:

Jul 14, 1889: Knoxville Daily Journal, Knoxville, Tennessee (pg 6):

The Singular Mania of Two Maidens in Colorado.
Denver (Col) Special to the N.Y. World
Two girls of Emma, Colorado, having fallen in love with each other, have eloped. One is Miss Clara Dietrich, the postmistress and general storekeeper at Emma, and the other, Miss Ora Chatfield, both nieces of I.W. Chatfield, a well known Colorado politician. A month or more ago Ora Chatfield was suffering so from nervous prostration that the matter was investigated, and it was ascertained that she was madly in love with Miss Dietrich, with whom she was living. The two were torn apart, and a warrant was procured in Aspen for the arrest of the elder girl, with an intention to have an investigation made as to her sanity.
Many interesting love letters have passed between the pair. They are supposed to be in Denver, but have not yet been found. Miss Dietrich is a blonde, 24 years of age, tall, with a good figure and commanding presence. Miss Chatfield is but about 15 years of age, rather slender, and of delicate physique. She is, however, a remarkably handsome girl, and would attract attention anywhere. She appears to reciprocate the affection of her older companion, and her letters to the latter are usually signed “Hubby” and filled with a most maudlin kind of sentimentality.
These young ladies are relatives of the Miss Chatfield who left her home one night and is supposed to have lost her life in the Roaring Fork, and for whom detectives made such a long and diligent search two or three years ago.

NoteThe last paragraph is referring to Ida Chatfield, half-sister of Ora, whose body was found in the Roaring Fork River four miles below Aspen, Pitkin County, Colorado in August of 1886.


My mother’s sister, Nella May Chatfield:

In April 1926, Nella May married Edward McElhiney. McElhiney wasn’t Catholic, so no mass was said at their wedding ceremony, a fact her mother never let her daughter forget. Nella May was also pregnant, getting a head start on collecting black marks in her mother’s book. 

Ed worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Truckee and from April through November he and his new wife lived in a side-railed boxcar. As it was too cold to cook outside, Nella May tried to prepare a chicken dinner in their makeshift living quarters. Smoking them out, her husband laughed at her. The romance of living in a boxcar in the middle of winter is one thing to endure—but being laughed at is another. Eight months pregnant, Nella May— though on the quiet side and tiny—was not a woman to be laughed at. She left Edward and moved back home to her mother’s house where she gave birth to her firstborn, naming him after her brother Roy and St. Joseph: Roy Joseph McElhiney. They called him Buster. Shortly after, word came to Chico that McElhiney was killed in a train coupling accident.

In 1930, Nella May moved to the Bay Area, borrowing money from her brother Roy and giving him her wedding ring, a round-cut, single-carat diamond between two inlaid rubies, outlined by a ring of deep-blue sapphires and smaller diamonds, as collateral. Moving to Oakland, she married a second time to Louis Lee Mote, a man eight years her junior and a diamond driller. It wasn’t until she was married to Mote that word came to her about McElhiney. Turns out he hadn’t been killed in a train accident. It was a case of mistaken identity; her first husband was still alive. Oops.

My mother’s brother, Arden Chatfield:

1933: Arden was the wanderer in the family, a vagabond of sorts. He traveled the country by hitchhiking and railway, seeing every state except Oklahoma through his dark glasses. Even on the road he was immaculately dressed, favoring light-colored slacks and shirts, his shoes always shined. The story has it that he wore two shirts, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of socks so he could travel empty-handed.

He habitually disappeared for a few days, occasionally for a few weeks, often for a few months, and sometimes for a couple of years. One early Sunday afternoon he got up in the middle of a conversation with his mother, walked out the front door, and no one saw him again for three years. When he returned, he walked back in, sat back down, and finished his sentence as if he’d never left. Years before he’d been hit on the head with a fifty-pound block of ice while working at the ice company. It must have affected him.

Arden broke the rules—and sometimes he broke the law. He was once hauled into court in front of a local judge who had lost all patience with him. “You, sir,” the judge shouted, “are a bum,” implying Arden was someone too lazy to work and wasted his life wandering. “I, sir,” Arden replied with dignity, “am not a bum. I, am a hobo.” My mother’s brother had deliberately chosen a wandering life.

My mother’s niece, Marceline Day:

1939: Watsonville, California ~ The Clemens’ house was right on her way home from the grammar school and Marceline (Uncle George and Aunt Verda’s daughter) loved to stop off and visit Babe. Marceline held Babe in high esteem, elevating her to a kindred spirit and favorite aunt. She thought our mother a much better mother than hers: Mom wasn’t as proper and strict as Verda, didn’t fuss about what the house looked like, didn’t care if her kids ran wild, didn’t give a whit about going to mass. She also talked to her niece about anything that she wanted to talk about.

Eleven-year-old Marceline was there so often she seemed to be part of the furniture. One warm afternoon she quickly tripped up the porch stairs just as Babe woke up from her daily nap on the chesterfield. She hadn’t been feeling well, and when Marceline asked why, she confided to her young niece that she would soon be having a third child.

Marceline was crazy about babies and wanted her parents to have another one, too. She loved taking care of Carleen (Marceline was six years older to the day) and wanted more than anything to have a little sister of her own. It had been on her prayer list forever. She’d asked her parents, but they’d emphatically said no, they couldn’t. Left to her own devices, and thinking hard, she worried that perhaps they didn’t know how (disregarding the glaring fact that she already had two older half-brothers and one younger brother, not to mention herself).

She had all kinds of questions for her Aunt Babe: “How did you get Larry and Carleen? How does the baby get in the tummy? How does it get out?” So my mother—being Mother—took a drag off her cigarette and told her.

At dinner that night, Marceline, beside herself with excitement and thinking they could use this information, explained the process pretty well to her parents­. Levitating from his chair, George exploded, both fists slamming the table. “Cheesus H. Christ! Who in the goddamsonuvabitchinhell told you WHERE BABIES COME FROM?”

“Aunt Babe,” said Marceline, her blue eyes brimming with tears.
“Now George,” soothed Verda, trying to calm him down. “Babe was only …”
George glared at Verda, “Your goddam sister …”

In high dudgeon, he grabbed Marceline and Verda by their arms and marched over to Carl and Babe’s, bounded up the porch, pounded on the screened door, stormed in, and bawled his sister-in-law out royally for taking it upon herself to inform their daughter about life’s private details.

Jabbing his finger with fury towards Babe, he ranted, “You had no goddam business talking to Marceline about this, especially at her age! That’s our job, goddammit! What in the hell were you thinking, and why for chrissakes do you think you had the right to do such a goddamn foolish thing?”

The women in my family don’t mince words, which is unfortunate as it would make them so much easier to eat later. Babe simply looked at him, shrugged, and said, “Well, she asked me.”

That December my sister Betty, the third child in our family, was born. And possibly as a result of young Marceline’s coaching, Marceline’s own much-wanted sister Judi was born almost exactly a year later.

My mother’s brother, Roy Chatfield:

1956 Chico, CA  Roy was like a piece of white paper. When people came around he blended into the wall or disappeared into the woodwork. Most of the women thought him a mama’s boy; spoiled, selfish, and bratty. The men’s notion of him wasn’t any better; behind his back they referred to him as tight (he was a great saver of money) and called him a dandy. He was childlike and childish, particularly with his nieces and nephews. He’d pinch or push them when Grandma wasn’t looking, and say snide things to them when her back was turned.

Grandma protected Roy and enjoyed his company. Teasing her, he’d tip her back in her slide rocker and she’d get a kick out of it and say, “Oh Roy, now cut it out.” When they were the last two living in the house, the only other chair in the green-painted, wainscoted, ivy wallpapered kitchen was his. He had nervous “fits” and Grandma slid a piece of wood under his tongue until it was over so he wouldn’t swallow it. Other times when he was out partying or off with friends and could tell when one was coming on, he’d lock himself in the closet until the spell was over.

Roy was shy around everyone except Jo Chambers. They skated, skied, and had snow fights and on Saturday nights they drove to Paradise to dance with their friends. They did the Charleston to the Big Bands, along with the shag and swing. They were the best of buddies, more like brother and sister than a “couple.” As a friend of the family, Jo was always around. Gracious and seemingly years ahead of her time, everyone wondered what she saw in Roy. He proposed to her when he was 18 and she 19, and they were engaged for 38 years. As promised, they waited for their respective mothers to die, then married on Aug 1, 1956, in Reno, Nevada.




Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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