These are stories that I heard from my parents, from my grandparents and greatgrandparents, and stories of things that happened to me while I was growing up and when I thought I was already grown up.
Some of them are funny.
DON'T SNOOP AROUND BEFORE CHRISTMAS TIME
THE NIGHT OUR PARENTS ABANDONED US
AUNT DEE, THE EARTH MOTHER, AND TRIPS TO LOGAN
THE DAY I SLASHED MY ARM
PINOCHLE AND PIANO LESSONS
THE DAY MY FATHER ALMOST DROWNED ME
WE HELP WITH THE POTATO HARVEST
I BAKE A CAKE
I LEARN TO CROCHET
DON'T SNOOP AROUND BEFORE CHRISTMAS TIMEOne Christmas when my father Howard was a boy, he wanted ice skates for Christmas very badly. He was so anxious to know whether he was going to get ice skates that just before Christmas he dug into his mother's clothes closet, where he knew she kept the presents, to see if there were any ice skates there. Sure enough, there was a beautiful pair of skates hidden in his mother's closet. He was so pleased and confident that he was going to get skates for Christmas! When Christmas came, however, there were no skates for Howard! He couldn't understand where the skates had gone that he had seen in his mother's clothes closet. When he finally got up the courage to ask his mother why he didn't get his skates, he found out that it had been discovered that he had been snooping in his mother's closet, and that children who snoop among the things in their parents' closets are probably not going to get the things that they may find.
A JOKERMy grandfather, Edwin Albert Walton (E. A. Walton), was a lover of practical jokes. For several years, he and his young wife, Laura Paull, shared living quarters with another young couple, his cousin George Phillips and his wife Olive. One day when George came home, he saw Albert lying across the walk, apparently unconscious or dead. He didn't dare disturb the body, so he went into the house and told Albert's wife Laura that Albert seemed to be lying in the front yard unconscious. Laura, of course, screamed and ran into the yard to see what was the matter with her husband. She found him walking cheerfully toward the house, and when asked about George's report that he had been lying unconscious across the front walk, he of course suggested that there was something wrong with George.
ANOTHER JOKERGeorge Paull, the only brother of my grandmother Laura Dean Paull, was also a great practical joker. As the youngest of a family of children consisting entirely of girls, he must have felt greatly out of place. He took great delight in expressing his disdain of the girls who were his sisters by finding all sorts of ways to tease them. Since Laura was the youngest of the girls, she was the easiest to tease. He called her "Laura lozenger-head Lobby", which, of course, made her furious. To tease her even more, he would take all of her dolls and put loops of rope around their necks and string them up to the clothesline. When Laura saw all of her dolls hanging by their necks from the clothesline in the back yard, and then heard George hollering in mockery "Laurie, Laurie, Lozenger-head Laurie!", she was fit to be tied, of course. But that was the way George was.
George Paull became one of the tragedies of the family. He was the only boy in a large family of girls, and therefore was greatly spoiled. He was nevertheless a very charming man, but he married a girl who was not completely accepted by the family. He made his living by operating a movie theater in Preston, Idaho, and was fairly successful, but one day a tragic accident occurred: his wife was backing the car out of the garage and George got caught under the wheels of the automobile. His legs were so badly crushed that they had to be amputated. He never recovered, either emotionally or physically, from that tragic accident. Laura, and probably some of the other sisters as well, who had been always accustomed to considering George as the most perfect human being ever to have been born (since he was their only brother, and had always been treated as a very special person) was devastated at the tragic accident that had robbed George of his legs, and even hinted at the possibility that Lettie (his wife) had purposely run over him (the sisters were, of course, never able to explain why a woman would want to purposely cripple her husband). Nonetheless, George lost his legs, and although he tried valiantly to manage without them, scooting around on a little wheeled platform, he did not long survive the limbs that had preceded him.
THE NIGHT OUR PARENTS ABANDONED USOne summer when we still lived in the little gray house on University Street, when I was about four or five years old and Jane Ann was maybe three, we had been particularly trying for Mother. I don't know what we had done, but when we really got bad and refused to mind and refused to help, Mother would sometimes reach the end of her patience and tell us that if we kept on treating her so mean, she would run away.
On this very hot night I woke up in the night, and I got up. The lights were still on, but Mommy and Daddy were gone. The house was very tiny, so it didn't take long to make sure they weren't there. I woke Jane Ann up, and told her that they had left us. We cried and cried and wished that we had been good, because then we would still have a mother and a father. We looked in their closet and saw that they hadn't taken all their clothes, and we hoped that they would come back to get the rest of them so that we could promise them that we would always be good if they would stay with us.
Just after we had made this brave resolve and were beginning to wonder how life would be without them, they came back! They assured us that they hadn't run away. They had spent all evening canning fruit, and when they had finished they had decided to take a short walk to cool off. Since the children were both sound asleep, they thought they would be safe.
We were very happy that our parents hadn't run away at all, and that we didn't have to promise to be good forever and ever.
AUNT DEE, THE EARTH MOTHER, AND TRIPS TO LOGANMy parents were never able to afford much in the way of vacations in expensive places. Our vacations consisted of a week or two visiting relatives. Fortunately, the relatives that we usually visited were the Johnsons in Logan, Utah, the family of my mother's aunt, whom everybody called "Aunt Dee." I don't know why she was called that, because her real name was Lillie. Nothing compared to the thrill of getting into the car and starting on the road to Logan. The stretch from Blackfoot to Pocatello was familiar enough, but leaving Pocatello was quite another matter. Just outside of town was a railroad siding where two old railroad locomotives stood, and it was always very exiting to hear again how our own great grandfather Paull had driven one of them. (They are no longer there.) Just a few miles further on, we were always waiting to reach the point where Mother would tell us that we were passing "Moving Mountain", where there was such continual sliding of rock and dirt from the side of the hill onto the road, that it seemed the mountain was actually moving. (Of course, we never actually saw the mountain move, but just knowing that it did was excitement enough.)
After that, the trip to Logan was usually quite boring, until we had passed Franklin, the last town in Idaho before the Utah border, and, historically, the first town to be settled in Idaho. (Brigham Young had sent settlers up north to found a town at the northernmost border of Utah, but they miscalculated, and instead of settling at the northernmost point in Utah, they established a settlement at the southernmost point in Idaho, thus becoming the first permanent town in Idaho.)
After Franklin, we knew that it was only a few miles to Logan. The only town to pass was Smithfield, with the pea factory, which usually stank, and then we were in the Cache Valley. All eyes were glued then to the landscape ahead, because it was a great achievement to be the first one to catch sight of the Logan Temple. The Temple in Logan was, and is, the most notable landmark of the town, a double-spired cathedral situated on a commanding hill above the city, visible for dozens of miles in all directions. Coming over the edge of the hill from Smithfield, the Logan Temple stood out, miles away, telling us that we were almost to Aunt Dee's.
Aunt Dee, the older sister of my maternal grandmother, was not a woman of many words. I never remember that she ever showed any particular affection toward me, and yet I never doubted that she loved me. Aunt Dee's house always smelled of different smells from those I was used to, and to this day I would not be able to identify what the sources of those smells might be. I only know that once in a while, now, I catch a whiff of one of the smells that characterized Aunt Dee's house, and I am taken back there, and I mourn the passing of those days. They were warm smells, comforting smells, smells of good food, pickling and smoking, and home-grown garden vegetables.
Aunt Dee was the mistress of her house, but she rarely set foot outside of it. I don't know why. Her sons did her shopping, and the friends that she wanted to see came to her. And her friends were many and varied. Little Billie, who stood three feet tall, and who was the first midget that I ever saw, came by regularly until he died, a victim of his deformity. Ruth, who was a warm, boisterous woman, with a very cleft palate and hair lip (whom Aunt Dee's son Hilman delighted in imitating, when Ruth wasn't there). Aunt Grace, whose English accent was so thick that one could think that she had just arrived in this country, and who really wasn't an aunt of ours at all, but just a family acquaintance of Aunt Dee's (and who could recite poetry all night long if one were willing to listen to her). And the fellow who was a friend of Uncle Chris (Aunt Dee's husband) who used to come over once a month for haircuts - he would cut Uncle Chris' hair, and then Uncle Chris would cut his hair, each of them sitting on a straightbacked chair out on the back porch, where Aunt Dee also kept her preserves -the homemade ketchup and the rootbeer. Hilman and Paul, her two sons, had also slept on the back porch as teenagers, since it was healthy to sleep where it was cold.
How can a person as gruff as Aunt Dee be so lovable? She was a large, overweight woman, so large that she had difficulty moving about, having to support herself on counters and the backs of chairs as she walked through her house, handing herself from one piece of furniture to the next. When she was working in her kitchen she was constantly whistling some little tune. By any objective standard she had an ugly face, with some of her teeth missing and the others crooked (she had not followed the fad of those days, which was to have all your teeth pulled when about 40 years old and replace them with a beautiful set made by the dentist), and yet her ugliness, instead of repelling, seemed to reassure one that behind this face was no dishonesty. With her own three children she could be very blunt (it was in Aunt Dee's house that I first heard many of the words that I later found were swear words). Her oldest son, Paul, was a particularly difficult person, and when he would drop in to visit his mother, she would often have occasion to exclaim, "SHIT, PAUL!", which was the first time I ever heard that word.
I don't know how Aunt Dee tolerated us. We always brought lots of our toys, and I always had her living-room floor covered with things I had built out of my blocks. Jane Ann always wanted to play with Vervene's old doll house, an ugly old gray thing with no furniture or dolls. We also played with a Mexican basket full of marbles. This also always occupied the entire living room.
Jane Ann and I often slept in the dining room on a contraption which was sort of a sofa during the day but which could be converted into a double bed, and it was always fun to help make the magical conversion and then climb into bed and listen to the grown-ups talk.
Aunt Dee's house held many lovely delights which one could find nowhere else. She always had (in summer, which was the only time we ever were there) a large garden in the back yard, with a large stand of corn. To this day I can never eat corn on the cob without remembering the corn that we used to eat from Aunt Dee's garden. She also maintained a fairly large chicken coop at the foot of the garden, and that was always a terror for me, since I was sometimes asked to go out and feed the chickens or even to gather the eggs, and the fright and horror that I felt at the idea of entering into that chicken coop remains with me to this day.
But to have the corn on the cob and the freshly-killed fryer served up on Aunt Dee's huge round dining room table, that made up for any of the discomfort of having to go out into her back yard, whether to pick the corn or to feed the chickens who were about to be slaughtered.
Not only the corn and the chicken, but many other foods bring back memories of Aunt Dee's kitchen. Since her husband Uncle Chris operated a filling station in Logan, he also had access to soft drinks, and one of the delights of Aunt Dee's refrigerator was that it always contained a plentiful supply of soft drinks, especially Seven-Up and Pepsi-Cola. At home we never had such delightful things to drink, and I will always associate those drinks with Aunt Dee's house. I must admit that I was not very bright - because Seven-Up came in a green bottle, I thought that the drink itself was green, and it was not until many years late that I finally realized that only the bottle is green - the drink itself is clear.
Aunt Dee's kitchen was dominated by the range, a monstrous coal-burning stove that she had mastered and subdued into doing her bidding. Even toast was done to perfection in that range - Aunt Dee never owned a new-fangled toaster. The other half of the kitchen was taken up with a huge oval table, which served as board for breakfast and lunch. And what marvelous breakfasts and lunches were had there, without any obvious effort from Aunt Dee. It was at that table that I first tasted an omelette, and that it occurred to me that bacon was an everyday kind of breakfast food. And in the corner was always that marvelous old refrigerator, with the huge coil on top, in which the Seven-Up was kept.
One summer when we went to Logan, I got sick. It was not just an ordinary kind of sick--it turned out that I had the measles, and the house was quarantined by the health department. I was moved into Aunt Dee's bed, a huge brass bedstead with deep, soft bedclothes. I had to stay there, and I was not allowed out of the room for two weeks. (I don't know where Aunt Dee slept during that time). When I was taken into the dining room or the living room, all the shades had to be drawn, because of the danger to the patient's eyes, and I remember that it was not really a pleasure. As I was recuperating, I spent many hours playing in the bed. Aunt Dee had a set of brass bells in the shape of fine ladies with full skirts, which formed the domes of the bells, and these bells I was allowed to take into bed with me and play with. These human brass figures became the players in the many dramas that my sick childish mind invented, and with the pillows and the bedclothes I made houses and walks and hillsides for these brass ladies to promenade along. I also received a lovely wooden Pinocchio doll, with jointed limbs. Pinocchio was a film which had recently been produced and was very popular.
On one trip to Logan, Jane Ann and I were fighting in the back seat, as usual. My mother and my grandmother could not do anything to stop us from bickering and nagging at each other. Just north of Preston we began a fight over a Snicker candy bar, and in the scuffle Jane Ann fell against the door handle, the door opened, and Jane Ann fell out of the car. It was a horrible scene. Mother slammed on the brakes, Nana screamed, and we all jumped out of the car and ran back down the highway to find Jane Ann, who was bawling and bleeding by the side of the road. My grandmother was beside herself. It was immediately decided that we would drive the few more miles into Preston, where George and Lettie's son was newly established in the practice of medicine, and get medical assistance.
We arrived at Lettie's house, and fortunately found her at home. Lettie was making a meager living at the time giving piano lessons, and she had had a cancellation by one of her students. We brought Jane Ann into the house, sobbing and bawling even more, with all the fussing over that the two women were doing over her, and Lettie called her son. The poor doctor hurried over, and pronounced Jane Ann likely to live quite a lot longer, and he got a bottle of iodine out of his kit and swabbed her scratches, and refused to charge my mother a cent for the treatment.
We continued on to Logan, with my grandmother reminding me the whole of the way that I really must have been very sorry to have seen my sister suffering so, and possibly being killed, and shouldn't I be nicer to her? I realized that it would have ruined the trip (as a matter of fact, it HAD ruined the trip) if she had been really hurt, but it seemed to me that the ruination of one trip would have been a small price to pay if I just didn't have to put up with her any longer.
I was not a very nice brother.
The first real experience Jane Ann and I had with babies and little children was when Hilman and Lorraine had their first child Julie Ann. We thought she was lots of fun. During one of our visits to Logan, when she was about three years old, we were even allowed to take her downtown for a walk, to the Bluebird Cafe, which was an elegant soda fountain with marble tables and dark wood paneling. They also made wonderful chocolate bon-bons. The most wonderful thing one could order was called a Teddy Bear Sundae: chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top, in a chilled metal dish. Jane Ann and I took Julie Ann to the Bluebird and sat up on the soda fountain stools (we didn't think they would allow children to sit at a table without adults present). We were doing fine, enjoying our ice cream, until we realized that Julie was wetting her pants. It was running all over, wetting the stool and dripping onto the floor underneath. We were not prepared to deal with this problem. We very cowardly left without saying a word. We never again asked to take Julie Ann to the Bluebird.
THE DAY I SLASHED MY ARMOne day Jane Ann and I were playing out in back and we got into the old tool shed where Dad kept the garden tools. All kinds of things were there--the sleds that we played with when the ice was on the streets in the winter, the huge scythe that he would have used to mow tall stands of weeds if ever we had tall stands of weeds, various rusty old items of farm equipment which came from nowhere and which could serve no useful function in town, an old Imperial German spiked helmet, which came from no one knew where, and which I wish I had today, and, most mysterious of all, a bottle of red ink.
It was the bottle of red ink that fascinated Jane Ann and me most of all, for what reason, I don't know. Perhaps it was because we had no idea what red ink was good for--we were familiar enough with blue ink and black ink, but red ink was completely new to us. At that moment we began to hatch a plan. It was summer, and our clothes were scanty enough anyway. The red ink was precisely the color of blood.
We looked around the corner of the garage, and Dad was chatting with someone who had pulled up in a car to the curb. It was a devilish scheme. Without even talking about it, I opened the bottle of red ink and poured it down my arm. It dribbled and ran in a most gory way, and then Jane Ann and I ran screaming to Dad. " Daddy, Daddy, Richard has cut himself!" As we got to my father, the red gore was dripping hideously from the top of my arm to my wrist, and I was moaning and groaning as though I were about to die. Poor Dad took one look at my arm and almost fainted. Since he was an embalmer and knew a good deal about the human circulatory system, his first reaction was to try to stop the bleeding. He grabbed my arm at the armpit and squeezed me very hard. To conceal his nervousness he kept saying, "Keep calm! Keep calm! Keep calm!", all the while trembling and shaking with nervousness. Jane Ann and I were unfortunately not able to keep up the charade much longer, and we soon started to giggle when we saw how successfully we had discombobulated Dad. When Dad realized that we were laughing, when we really should have been crying or screaming, he naturally became suspicious. It was such a good joke, and he had fallen for it so well, that we told him that the "blood" was really just the contents of a bottle of red ink that we had found in the tool shed. Dad did not think it was such a funny joke. He might have thought it funnier if he had not had the audience of the man who had stopped in the car to chat with him.
PINOCHLE AND PIANO LESSONSAfter I had taken piano lessons for several years, my mother thought I should have a better teacher than the piano teachers in Blackfoot. She arranged for me to take lessons from one of the top piano teachers in Pocatello, a woman named Evelyn who lived on Johnson Street about eight blocks from Grandpa and Grandma Walton's house. For about a year I rode to Pocatello every Saturday in a car pool of other Blackfoot kids taking from Evelyn. It used up the whole day, of course, since we all had to hang around Pocatello until everybody had had a lesson. I was luckier than the other kids, because I could spend the time at Grandpa and Grandma's. At that time my grandmother Nana was also living there. It was the only home she had since my grandfather had died.
The house was an old red brick duplex which I guess had been built about 1900. Nothing had been done to modernize the house, and it was still very old-fashioned. The most modern item of furniture was a Philco radio console, on which Grandpa faithfully listened to Walter Winchell, whom he referred to as "Wee Willy Winky." Grandpa loved to show off various things he owned, such as a pocket watch which was "just like the watch that President Taylor was wearing when the Prophet was shot." He had a comic statue of a cowboy, which he said was "our Senator from Idaho," referring to Senator Glen Taylor, whose brief career in the United States Senate was characterized by his strumming cowboy songs on the Capitol steps. Grandpa also showed off a cushion which he kept on the seat of his rocking chair which was embroidered with "the coat of arms of the King of England." He chuckled at the idea that the royal coat of arms was keeping his bum warm. The most impressive and incongruous indication of culture was a large ornately framed photograph of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. It had been left by the Catholic family from whom they had bought the house years before, and it never seemed to occur to this devout Mormon family that it would have been more appropriate to have the Salt Lake Temple on their walls. But Grandpa always pointed it out with pride, saying, "And that's Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome, where the Pope lives!" I had grown too old to fall for his favorite entertainment, which was to make a sound with his mouth that he thought sounded like a cat, and then to call "Here, kitty, kitty," while pretending to look for a cat behind all the furniture and getting his child audience to help. Another of Grandpa's prized possessions was his automobile, a beautiful navy blue sedan (a Packard?) which was kept in a shed in back. Neither Grandpa nor Grandma nor Nana knew how to drive, but Grandpa felt he should own a car. Occasionally Uncle Jim or Uncle Joe would come and take the folks for a drive. Probably in the fifteen years Grandpa owned the car it wasn't driven over a thousand miles.
Nana would fix me lunch every Saturday, which was often pork sausage because she thought I liked pork sausage. (I did, but not every Saturday!) Then we would visit with Grandpa and Grandma or play card games. Grandma liked to have someone read the newspaper to her, since she had never learned to read. As a little girl, instead of going to school, she had had to work in a pin factory. She was always amazed that we little children had been able to learn to read. Sometimes she would let me watch her remove her chinwhiskers. She had a wax-like substance that she would melt on the stove and then apply it all over her chin. When it cooled and hardened, she ripped it off, pulling out all the whiskers. I admired her courage, but she just laughed.
Grandpa had no teeth. He had had them all pulled years ago, and had a nice set of false teeth made, but he never found them comfortable, so he never wore them. He would break his food up into tiny pieces and sort of squeeze it with his bare gums, and seemed to get along just fine that way.
Grandpa loved to play cards with me, and he taught me to play cribbage and two-handed pinochle. Cards were the primary form of entertainment in the household. When Nana was living there, every evening was spent playing three-handed pinochle.
I stopped having music lessons for a couple of years because I had really stopped making progress. Evelyn was a demanding and somewhat eccentric teacher. She wore large bangle earrings. She was not very friendly or encouraging. I didn't like the music she wanted me to learn. She made me a better pianist, but I hated it, so Mother let me quit. But after a while Mother tempted me to start lessons again by suggesting that I take "just a few" lessons from a friend of hers in Pocatello named Gaylord Sanford. Gaylord was huge mountain of a man who made his living playing the piano in cocktail lounges and giving a few lessons. He could teach me to play popular music by ear, Mother said. So I started with Gaylord.
Gaylord Sanford lived with his wife in a little frame house at the very end of Center Street, up a steep hill, just a few blocks from Grandpa and Grandma's. He would sometimes be a few minutes late for my lesson and come in wheezing from the strenuous climb up the hill carrying a little paper bag, which I finally deduced was his renewal of his liquor supply. But he was a marvelous and talented man, and within a few weeks had me playing pretty acceptably by ear, in what I learned many years later was called "stride piano."
My lessons from Gaylord were on weekdays. I left school in time to catch the 3:45 train to Pocatello, and then walk up Center Street for my lesson. I then went over to Grandpa and Grandma's, where Nana would fix me some supper, and then I had to wait for the Greyhound bus to take me home. Those were the evenings, depending on the bus schedule, when all of us would play four-handed pinochle. Sometimes I would purposely take a later bus, just so we could have a longer game.
They kept score by using poker chips as counters. For Christmas one year Nana gave Grandpa a beautiful round wooden rack of poker chips to keep score with at pinochle. It was three times as many chips as he needed, and the rack was decorated with hunting a fishing motifs, even though Grandpa had never been interested in such things. It was never used to play poker. Just to keep score at Pinochle, and to provide us little kids with something else to play with when we came to visit. (I now have Grandpa's set of poker chips.)
Grandpa and Grandma often got confused about half-way through a game about which direction the chips were passing, so you had to watch them. They also watched each other and occasionally even accused each other of cheating. Grandpa couldn't shuffle a deck of cards properly, so he would mix them by tossing them all face down on the table and muddling them around. He also had a peculiar style of bidding. Sometimes, even before he had finished picking up his cards, he would announce "Four hundred!"
Even though the score was kept with the chips, Nana always took the precaution of writing on a pad the amount of the bid for each hand and the amount of the meld, so that there could be no argument later about whether the bidder had "made it" or not.
Grandma Walton died suddenly in 1947, and Grandpa died in 1949. Nana kept house for him the last two years. After that, the house was sold, and everything was dispersed among Grandpa's surviving children. I don't know who got the singing cowboy or the pocket watch or the big photograph of St. Peters. I think all that Nana got was the set of poker chips, because she had given them to him originally. And now I have them, and that's all that's left of the many evenings of pinochle, except that now, whenever I play pinochle, I'm always tempted to open the bidding at "Four hundred!"
THE DAY MY FATHER ALMOST DROWNED MEDad used to be an avid fisherman. He tried to get me interested as well, but it never seemed much fun to me. The line always seemed to tangle, the worms would not hold still, the hooks were sharp, and Dad always seemed to want to go someplace far away, so that you had to get up in the middle of the night.
One time when I was about ten years old, my dad took me fishing to the American Falls reservoir (I think that's where it was). Our neighbor Wayne Booth had built a kayak, which was painted bright blue, and Dad thought we could row out onto the reservoir and catch some fish. I don't remember whether we caught any fish or not. I think I was having more fun rowing the kayak, which is rowed facing forward with a double-ended oar, unlike an ordinary row-boat, which I never liked because you couldn't see where you were going. But mid-afternoon the wind came up a little. We were maybe a hundred feet from shore, when the wind caught my hat and blew it into the water just a few feet away. Dad said, "Don't worry, I'll get it!" and reached out for the hat.
Now, a kayak is a very delicately balanced thing, and Dad's reaching for the hat was just enough to upset the balance and tip us over. I didn't know how to swim yet, and thought I was a goner. Dad did, too, I think, because he was grabbing for me frantically until we realized that the water was only about four feet deep.
Mother was not too pleased when we got home, soaking wet, and I think she thought Dad was doctoring the story a little so that it wouldn't sound like he had really almost drowned me.
SUMMER GAMESSummer was always a wonderful time. The city swimming pool always opened the Monday after school was out, and Jane Ann and I were always allowed to use the one dollar refund of our school book deposit fee to buy a summer's season ticket at the swimming pool. The pool was across town, just past the football field, not far from the city park and the fairgrounds. It was not much more than a huge cement-lined hole in the ground, 100 feet by 25 feet, surrounded on three sides by rows of wooden changing cubicles and shower rooms, and on the fourth side by a chain- link fence. There was a diving board and a "high-dive" tower. The water was heated by an old furnace, but the filtering system was so inefficient that the pool had to be completely drained once a week and replaced with fresh water. This took an entire day, so the pool was always closed on Thursdays. On Friday the water was cleanest, but so cold that nobody wanted to go swimming. Saturday it had warmed up a little, and Sunday was ideal. Since Sunday was the Sabbath Day, however, we never went swimming on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were great days. By Wednesday the water was really very pleasantly warm, but by then it had also gotten pretty murky.
Mornings were reserved for swimming lessons, and Jane Ann and I took the whole Red Cross series, over a number of summers. The pool opened for the afternoon, closed for supper time, and then opened again for three hours in the evening. We always spent three or four days a week at the pool, usually with a bunch of friends. We matured at the pool, from being confined to the shallow end, until we had satisfied the life guard Lona Mae (who was also our swimming instructor) that we could swim well enough to be allowed in the deep end with the big kids. The true test of maturity was being brave enough to jump off the high-dive, and then - crowning glory! - to dive off of it. Other marks of maturity were being able to jump in without holding your nose, being able to keep your eyes open while swimming under water. Lots of kids used a rubber nose clip while swimming, which wasn't quite as bad as using goggles. Unfortunately, the doctor insisted that I wear ear plugs. You also were looked down upon if you couldn't roll your swim suit up in your towel to form a neat roll.
Our neighborhood had a lot of kids, and we spent all summer playing. We considered an entire two or three blocks to be our private playground, disregarding property lines and ignoring any possibility that anybody would object to a dozen kids racing through their yard playing hide-and-seek or war. We organized huge games, often with ten or fifteen kids playing at once. Tag, ball, Jolly Jolly Butcher Boy, or games with no name. A block away from our house was the American Legion Home, a large house sitting diagonally on a corner lot, used as a meeting hall. One of our friends, Patty Reay, lived in the upstairs apartment since her dad was the caretaker. Two old cannon from World War I sat on concrete pedestals on the front lawn, and over the years we children gradually did to those cannon what the Kaiser's troops had never been able to accomplish. The house itself, at least the exterior, also became our playground, since it was constructed of large rough-hewn rock, which were irregular enough in size and shape to be a challenge to young mountain-climbers. We all became adept at climbing up the face of the walls to a perch on a window sill.
Those beautiful summer evenings were wonderful, and as it gradually grew darker and the light began to fade, the quality of the sounds changed somehow, too, so that the echo of the voices of happy children matched the colors of the evening sky, and the only sadness any one of us ever experienced on those evenings was when it got so dark we could hardly see one another and we heard the distant sing-song call of a parent: "Donnnnny, time to come iii-in!" But even that was just a temporary sadness, because we knew that we could play again the next day and the next evening after supper, and every day after that, and it never occurred to us that it would ever end.
NANAThe person I loved most in all the world, without question, was my grandmother Laura Paull Walton, whom we always called "Nana." Everybody else loved her, too, because she was, in a quiet way, the most loving, giving, self-effacing person I have ever known. She had suffered a lot, and continued to suffer with various health problems, but she never complained. She had no money, but what she had she was generous with.
She was the youngest of six children, all of which were girls except for the one boy, George. Their father Charles North Paull was a railroad engineer. He and his young wife (and his parents) had come to Utah about 1871 after joining the Mormons.
The girls' jobs including doing their father's shirts. Father insisted on having a clean white shirt each day for work, even though his job was not a "white shirt" kind of job.
The third-oldest sister, Gertrude, married Arthur Porter in 1900 and had a baby girl. When Gertrude died in 1906, Mr. Porter brought the baby girl, also named Gertrude, back to the Paull's, saying that he could not raise her. It fell to Lillie and Laura, the two daughters still living at home, and Grandma Paull, to raise "little Gertrude." Arthur Porter became the only man whom Nana expressed any hate for, because after little Gertrude had come to love the Paulls as her own family and had forgotten her father, who had never kept in touch, one day Porter suddenly showed up at the Paull home and insisted on taking Gertrude with him. Little Gertrude was heartbroken and frightened, but there was nothing the Paulls could do to prevent the father from claiming his child. Nana never forgave Porter for his cruelty.
Laura married Edwin Albert Walton in 1910. He had been attending Brigham Young College in Logan. She had waited for him while he completed a mission for the Mormon church in England. They moved to Pocatello, where he had grown up. They lived for a while with his cousin George Phillips and his wife Olive. Both couples discovered that they could not have children, so both couples decided to adopt a baby. They contacted a home for unwed mothers on 25th street in Ogden, and soon were notified that there was a baby girl for the Phillips. Laura and Olive took the train to Ogden and got the baby, which George and Olive named Dorothy. About six months later, the Waltons' baby was ready, and Laura and Olive again went to Ogden. Laura and Albert named their baby girl Delmar Lucille, and Laura decided that she would never allow Delmar to know that she had been adopted. She was unable to keep the secret from Delmar, of course, but Delmar never let on to her mother that she knew, and Nana died in the belief that she had succeeded. I suppose that Laura thought that Delmar would not love her mother as much, but she never ran that risk, because Delmar loved her parents dearly.
Laura always called Delmar "Babe." When they walked downtown to shop, and then stopped in Nixon's Drug Store for a Coke or a nut-fudge sundae (a Coke was 5 cents, the sundae was a quarter), there would always be a gentle argument, because Nana always insisted, "Now, you let me pay for this, Babe!"
Nana had a wise saying for every occasion. If we cried over something, she would remind us, "There's worse things than that happen at sea!" When we got frustrated at always making mistakes, her comment was "Always never right - Charles Baker," apparently from a comment made years before by an acquaintance of that name who never seemed to get anything right. If we dribbled something we were eating down our front, it was "Bib for Mother!"
Nana was a loyal admirer of President Roosevelt and his New Deal, which had "helped the poor," of which she apparently considered herself a member. Dad tended to be a Republican. Politics was never discussed much in our family, but one time Dad and Nana got going at it, and it was starting to get heated when Nana ended the argument by asking, "Why don't you like Roosevelt? What did he ever do to you?" Dad didn't have an answer, and I think they never discussed politics again.
Nana was always overweight, and had many health troubles, some of them probably minor, but all bothered her. The most serious one was varicose veins in her legs. Mother tried to convince her to have them repaired surgically, but she refused. Her only relief for her legs was to wear heavy elastic stockings. Nana had so many remedies and pills for her various ailments that one Christmas Mom and Dad gave her a little black satchel, just like a doctor's bag, to keep all her bottles and pill boxes in.
Nana never cut her hair, and when it was loose it hung far down her back. Every night she brushed it "a hundred strokes," and then it would have to be braided and the braid coiled on the back of her head and held there with a dozen hairpins.
Nana loved little porcelain figurines, and she accumulated a large collection. She had a large glass cabinet to display them, and Jane Ann and I loved to sit and look at them. She also did crochet and tatting, and made many items that were just put away to be used as gifts sometime.
She kept in touch with her sisters by mail, and had a supply of penny postcards (they actually did cost one penny), and pretty much every day or two would fill one up with whatever news there was, writing in a purple "indelible pencil," and send it off to Lillie or sometimes Lottie.
Nana loved Christmas as much as we children did. She would save her money carefully so that she could spend it on presents, especially for us kids, and then wrap each one in white tissue paper. If we didn't wake up early enough on Christmas morning, she would get us up. On Christmas Eve, with the presents piled under the tree, the suspense and excitement was usually too much. Nana helped us talk Dad into allowing us to choose one present to open on Christmas Eve. We had of course tried to guess what the presents were. This was not difficult to do, because we used only white tissue paper for wrapping. One year I had bought Jane Ann a little box of toy plastic dishes. The box was pretty and said "Tea-time Dishes." Jane Ann had bought me a game of tiddly- winks. Each of us succeeded in pressing the tissue paper close enough to the box inside that we were able to find out what the gift was without unwrapping it. Nana scolded us for having spoiled the suspense and the surprise, but we didn't mind. It was more fun to know. Ever since, the comment "Tiddly-winks and tea-time dishes" has always brought back that Christmas and the excitement of presents.
She never talked much about religion or the church. I think she really never forgave God for taking Albert from her. She would go to church occasionally, but she would never join in the singing, I think as her subtle way of letting God know she had a bone to pick with Him, and wasn't going to sing His praises until she had had a chance to settle it with Him face to face.
Although her legs caused her problems, she often walked downtown, whether in Blackfoot, Pocatello or Logan. She never learned to drive a car. I think she and Albert never owned a car. She also refused to sit in the front seat of a car, even if she was the only passenger. She was not a good passenger, I think. If Dad was driving, it was always, "Howard! Watch out!" or "Howard, don't drive so fast!"
Nana faithfully read the newspaper, but the terrible war news was no more awful to her than the stories of individual tragedies. She could become depressed for a whole day over something she had read in the paper: "I just can't get over the thought of that poor child that was burned to death in Kansas City!"
She lived a quiet, unexciting and, apart from Albert's early death, an uneventful life. The only important people in her life were her family; she had very few friends. The only activities she undertook, the only real interests she had, revolved around her family. Probably very few people outside of her immediate family even remember her now. But she could not have been more loved or admired or worshipped, and even today, over thirty years after her death, scarcely a day goes by that I do not think of her and miss her.
The following section contains memories about Nana from my younger brother Michael, who has given me permission to include them here. They are interesting because they are from a later period, after I no longer lived at home.
My Memories of Nana, My Grandmother, Laura Dean Paull
By Michael Packham, April, 2009
“Get off him right now or I’ll come over there with my crutch!” Those were the words of salvation. Dean knew she meant it, so he’d give me one last punch and knee me in the ribs as he got off and went back to his room. Nana, my grandmother, had bad legs and would sit in her big rocker most of the day, but she kept her eye and ear on everything that was going on in the house.
She was 60 when I was born, but her husband had been dead ten years already. She lived with us in Blackfoot during the school year and in Logan with her older sister in the summer. Even when I was little, though, I can only remember a few times that she would leave the house, not even for church. We’d come home from town or church activities and give her a report, but she rarely joined us. She would come down in the morning from her bedroom upstairs, get situated in her rocker, and there she would be until after the evening TV shows when she’d make the journey back up to her bedroom.
She did get involved in the cooking. I suppose my mother’s being a good cook was because of Nana’s training. Nana’s ancestors were English, and were service people in the homes of the landed gentry. We were raised on Yorkshire pudding for every Sunday’s roast beef dinner, and Nana was always in charge of shaping the rolls. “I think the dough’s ready, Mother,” my mom would call. Nana would crutch her way to the kitchen and sit on her stool at the table. I was fascinated by the process—she’d pinch off a ball of dough, stretch it out in her hands to a long oblong, dip both sides of one end of the stretched dough in a small pan of melted butter, grease the top of the previously shaped roll in the pan with the flopping dough, grease the next spot on the pan, then put the oblong there, folding the ungreased end over to make the roll. It would only take her a few minutes to fill the pan with perfectly shaped rolls, all buttered and ready to raise.
Having Nana always in her place had its benefits. She was always an eager checkers opponent, and if there were more than one of us it was Chinese checkers. I could count on her to help me with my weekly spelling list, and to listen to me read reports or practice speeches. She wasn’t a musician, but she’d be quick to correct, “Fix that note,” as I’d practice the piano.
Old-world superstitions and sayings were passed on. I had to throw spilled salt over my left shoulder, Mother couldn’t mend anything on Sunday without the threat of having to pick it out with her nose in the hereafter, and if my ear itched, someone was talking about me. “A stitch in time saves nine,” would get the sock darned sooner. When I frowned or was pouting she’d warn me, “Your face is going to freeze that way.” And when Dean, my older brother, would be wringing my neck in a fight, she’d shriek, “Stop that, you’ll give him a big neck!” I would be told, “Don’t be a stick in the mud,” when I was hesitant to participate in something, and, “You’re softer than shit,” when I did something dumb. “Hell’s bells” she’d mumble at the first signs of trouble.
When her eyes were still good enough, she would do hairpin lace, a kind of crocheting that’s done around a large, hairpin-shaped metal form. She’d sew the lace on the edge of pillowcases and then crochet an additional edging around that.
Nana had long hair—brown when I was little and grey as I grew older. That wasn’t any fault of mine, though. At least I hope not. When she’d get up in the morning, she’d brush it, sitting at her dressing table with a big oval mirror to look in. Then she’d braid it in a long braid and use big hairpins to pin it on top of her head in a kind of bun. She always wore a house dress, a kind of wrap-around long shirt that came to her mid calf and tied at the waist. She had pressure hose that came up above her knee, and brown leather slipper-shoes.
Her bedroom was at the top of the stairs and Dean and I both had to go through her room to get to our own bedrooms. She had a four-poster bed out of a dark wood that matched her dressing table. The posts were carved at the top to look like small pineapples. On the far side of the bed was a large display cabinet with horizontal glass doors on each shelf that lifted up and slid in if you wanted to open it. It was filled with all kinds of little knick-knacks and treasures, china cups, souvenirs, and porcelain dolls with lacey dresses.
She had a card table where she wrote a 2-cent postcard everyday to her sister in Logan. It was my job each day to take it out to the mailbox on the corner before the mailman came. She had a pitcher and glass on the table too. Every night I filled it with fresh water for her. She’d drink out of the glass, Dean got to drink from the side of the pitcher with the handle in his right hand, and I held the pitcher in my right hand too, but let it come around and rest on my wrist so I was drinking from the other side.
Nana called my mother “Babe.” My mother was her only child, adopted as a baby from a home for un-wed mothers in Ogden. Nana was 27 and “Bah,” my Grandpa, was 28. Even though they were not well-to-do, they must have doted on their little Delmar. I have pictures of her in fancy dance costumes, and she played the clarinet and piano, accompanying soloists and playing for church. Nana must have been proud to see her valedictorian of her graduating class at Pocatello High School. Nana never did admit to my mother that she was adopted, always saying, “You’re my little girl.”
When I was in junior high, Nana had a stroke. They moved her downstairs to a hospital bed in my sister’s room. I remember my dad doing most of the nursing, turning her and bathing her to make sure she didn’t get bedsores. That’s always been a good example to me of how to make it through those life-tests that come our way. Not only did he welcome his mother-in-law into his home for all those years, but he cared for her as he would his own mother. When she died, my mother had the solitaire diamond from Nana’s wedding ring put in a new, masculine band for my dad to wear on his right hand, which he did for the rest of his life.
I can’t help but be grateful for Nana’s love of my mother. Many of the joys I find in my own life can be traced back to the opportunities and advantages that Nana provided for Mother’s education and development. And surely I owe my life to her many times over for rescuing me with her crutch from certain death at the hand of my bully-brother.
WE HELP WITH THE POTATO HARVESTBlackfoot is a farming community and depends on agriculture. The main crops are potatoes and sugar beets. Both require a lot of labor at certain times of the year, and in October the schools close for two or three weeks for "Harvest Vacation" so that the kids can help out in the fields. The older kids work at thinning beets. The younger kids usually pick potatoes. If a kid worked hard he could earn quite a bit of money.
Most of the kids who lived in town weren't interested in working in the fields, and just had the time off. That's what I usually did. But one year, when I was about ten, Dad arranged for us to get a job picking potatoes, for 12 cents a bag.
Potato picking is hard work. When the pickers arrive, the potato digging machine has already gone through the field and dug up the potatoes and left them lying in rows. If you're lucky, the vines have already been pulled off and taken away. Burlap bags have been tossed every so often along the rows, and the pickers choose their rows, armed only with a large, bushel-sized wire basket. Two baskets filled with potatoes will be dumped into a bag and left standing in the row for the truck to pick up later. Most pickers work in pairs, each putting a basket full of spuds into the sack, and then splitting their earnings.
The farm where we were going to work was about eight miles north of town, on the Rose road. There were maybe six or eight of us kids, including Jane Ann and me, a about a dozen Mexican laborers, who could work like lightning. I didn't want to have a partner, especially Jane Ann. That was stupid, of course, because then I had to haul every other basket of spuds to where I had already filled a sack half full.
It was miserable work. I wasn't fond of (or used to) hard physical labor. I hated having to bend over, but it wasn't any better trying to kneel and crawl or to sit and scoot. The sun was hot, and the only thing that kept me going was the possibility of earning some money. I was constantly calculating how much I had earned already, how fast I was earning it (not fast enough), and how much longer I would have to work to reach a certain amount. At first my goal was two dollars, which would mean having to pick 17 sacks or 34 baskets of potatoes. That would earn me $2.04. Pretty soon I decided that I would be content to earn just a dollar, but that would be hard to do, because 8 sacks would only get me 96 cents, and to get a dollar I would have to pick another entire sack (no credit for half a sack!), but that would mean more work, and I would then have an extra eight cents that I didn't really want. To show that I wasn't lazy, I picked the extra sack, and by that time it was about lunch time anyway, and I told Jane Ann I was quitting. She decided to quit, too. Three or four other kids followed our example, and we asked the farmer for our money. He gave it to us, and we set out for town.
It was a wonderful afternoon, now that we didn't have to work. We walked along, joked, played silly games, raced, tossed rocks into the ditches, and felt free as the birds. We saw a dead rattlesnake, which suitably thrilled us. The farmer came along in his truck, and said he was going into town and would give us a lift, but I think we were too proud (or too ashamed) to accept his offer. We walked all afternoon along Rose Road, and got to Blackfoot around five or six o'clock, just in time for supper.
I'm sure we slept well that night, because we were very tired. But it was not from picking potatoes. We never picked potatoes again.
I BAKE A CAKEWhen Jane Ann and I got a little older (I was maybe 12 or 13), Mom and Dad no longer insisted that we go with them when they were going out of town for a day or two. They probably did not want to have to put up with the bickering of two kids that age confined in the back seat of a car, and knew that we really wouldn't hurt each other if we were left home alone.
One July the folks had to be out of town for a few days for a funeral director's convention or something, and Jane Ann and I were on our own. It happened that Jane Ann's birthday, July 19, would come before the folks got back, so I decided that I would bake her a birthday cake.
The fact that I had never baked a cake before didn't bother me. I had watched Mother do it many times. This was before we had an electric mixer (I bought Mom her first mixer later, a Sunbeam Mixmaster, with money I earned working at Nixon Drug Store, but that was not until several years later). I wasn't sure I could do all that beating with a wooden spoon in the special cake mixing bowl she had (a big blue bowl with a handle, which I wish I had today, every time I have to pour cake batter into a pan). And I wasn't sure I even knew how to crack an egg. So I went through Mother's recipe box, looking for any cake recipe that had no beating and no eggs. I finally found one that Mother had saved from World War II, when eggs were sometimes scarce, and it looked easy enough. I mixed it up and baked it, and it didn't look too bad. It was kind of small, but it was really a solid, serious cake.
Jane Ann was very pleased, and I was very pleased. She even said, "Richard, this is very good."
When Mom and Dad got back, I showed them the cake. I think Mom was quite surprised.
About a week later Mom threw it out. I was a little bit hurt, but I understood. It was an awful cake. It's the thought that counts.
I LEARN TO CROCHETWhen I was about ten or eleven years old my parents made the decision to begin the remodel of the old house we lived in on Shilling Avenue and turn it into a mortuary. The first floor would be the mortuary, and the five bedrooms upstairs would be converted into an apartment for our family. We vacated the second floor and the workmen began tearing out walls and installing plumbing and cabinets in the room that would be the kitchen. And then I came down with scarlet fever.
In those days that disease meant quarantine. I was to be quarantined to the downstairs front room, and only my mother was allowed to come into the room. A sign was posted on the front door, signed by Dr. Patrie, the county physician, notifying everyone of the quarantine. Fortunately the workmen could enter the house and go upstairs to work without having to pass through the room where I was.
My parents immediately sent my sister Jane Ann to Pocatello. Mother called to talk to Nana, but Nana was not at home at the moment, so Mother had to explain to Grandpa Walton that someone had to meet the afternoon train and get Jane Ann off. Mother was frantic that Grandpa wouldn't pass the message on. But he was reliable: he walked down to the depot and got her and took her home. Jane Ann lived for the next month with Nana and the Waltons, being treated with candy and games and getting to do just about whatever she wanted. Much better than having to go to school!
Meanwhile, Mother was faced with the problem of keeping me entertained and quiet at the same time. I spent much of the day listening to the radio soap operas, and I got to know "Helen Trent" and "Our Gal Sunday" well ("Can a girl from a small mining town in Colorado find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?" - I never found out the answer to that question, even though it was asked at the beginning of every episode). And afternoons I could listen to the adventures of "Hop Harrigan" and "Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy!"
But the radio programs were not enough. So mother taught me to crochet. It would keep my hands busy. I really never finished anything, but it kept me occupied. She gave me an easy pattern, a crocheted bedroom slipper. I crochted the sole out of an old skein of light blue yarn, but did not feel like tackling the upper part. So I unravelled the sole, and crocheted it all over again. I don't know how many times I re-crocheted that sole.
I really don't remember feeling sick, but I'm sure that I was. All the skin peeled off my feet, and I was very weak. The constant pounding and sawing upstairs was annoying. One day after the workmen had left, Dad wanted me to see the progress upstairs. I was so weak that I couldn't walk, so he carried me, and I admired the new kitchen. After a month Mother flagged down Dr. Patrie as he was walking home (his house was two blocks up the street from us) and asked him if the quarantine could be lifted. He came in and made me stand up out of bed. I almost fainted. But he said, Fine, I'll lift the quarantine.
Years later, I still crochet occasionally.
Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte, wo ist er nun?
Der Vogel, dessen Lied ich lauschte, wo ist er nun?
Wo ist die Rose, die die Freundin am Herzen trug,
Und jener Kuß, der mich berauschte, wo ist er nun?
Und jener Mensch, der ich gewesen, und den ich längst
Mit einem andern Ich vertauschte, wo ist er nun?
- August Graf von PlatenThe river that once roared beside me, where is it now?
The bird whose song stirred love inside me, where is it now?
Where is the rose that graced my sweetheart's breast?
That kiss, whose passion gratified me, where is it now?
And that young man that I once was, and that I long ago
Exchanged for quite a different Me, where is he now?
- translated by Richard Packham
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