200 West, Salt Lake City, 1943-1949
This picture of the Nineteenth Ward chapel in Salt Lake City, Utah represents several things. It was the chapel where I was blessed and given a name as a baby. It was where I first learned stories from bible and songs such as 'Give Said the Little Stream', and it was one of the early chapels built to serve the people who settled Utah; my ancestors, the Mormon pioneers. We lived just around the corner on 200 West in a small white Victorian era house.
I was born in LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah in January, 1943. About a week later I was taken home to join my family; mother Margaret, father, David, and nearly three year old brother, Michael. In the many years since my birth I have lived in 20 or more different homes and apartments. Each home framed a part of my existence. For that reason I have decided to write my biography in terms of homes and houses.
I was born a year after WWII began for the United States. My father had been classified 4-F because he had a deviated septum. He had worked on a fox farm after coming north from Panguitch,near Bryce Canyon National Park in Garfield County, Utah. My only brother, David Michael, was born on February 2, 1940 while Dad still worked on the fox farm. My father found a job at the Utah Oil Refinery in north Salt Lake and my parents purchased the small white house where we would live until I was 6 years old.
We didn't own a car until I was nearly six years old, unless you count the nonfunctional sedan that took up space in the basement garage when the house was purchased. Small grocery stores on the corners provided most of our food in those years until a larger Safeway store was built on Beck Street (300 West) a couple of blocks away. We lived just around the corner from the church we attended and only a few blocks from Salt Lake's city center.
On the north side of our house lived an elderly couple, the Hoods. On the south, in a stone pillared bungalow, were the Cotters whose children were in their teens when I was small. My parents' longtime friends, Len and Arvilla Carr lived across the street. There were many children living on our block and we usually had a dog, Boston Bull terriars being preferred by my mother. I remember playing games like 'Bombs Over Tokyo' in the sandbox behind our house, experiencing a red 'quarantine' sign being posted on our door because of measles, and house calls from the doctor when we were sick or broke a limb.
When I was three years old my brother was ill and I was banned to the back yard while the doctor visited. I climbed on the large tricycle and rode in circles. A wide crack caught the front wheel and the tricycle tumbled to its side. I stood up and cried out with pain in my arm. The doctor said it was a 'green' break, not really a fracture but a bend. I wore a cast to straighten it.
My uncles and male cousins, most of whom were in some branch of the military, frequently stopped by for the night on their way through town. For a brief time my father's parents came to stay. The house was small, but somehow room was always made for visitors, even if it meant that someone had to sleep on the floor. My mother remodeled the house, eliminating the large dining room and turning into a sunny kitchen and using the former kitchen space for a small bedroom.
In time our little family grew. A brother, Arthur Welling, was born on May 28, 1944 when I was about 18 months old. He lived for less than a day. On December 31, 1945 my sister Roxie Jane was born. I had been sent to stay with my Aunt Emma during the several weeks that was then common for a new mother's hospital stay and I was quite reluctant to leave Aunt Emma's arms when she finally brought me home. Then I saw the new baby in the bassinet in the front room. I was awed by the tiny, soft child in a way I still recall. Eighteen months later my brother and I were sent to Richfield to stay with my aunt Jean when my mother gave birth to my youngest sister, Mary Kathryn, called Katie from the time she was tiny. It was at Aunt Jean's house that I first heard country music on the radio, listening to the strains of "On Top of Old Smoky".
A hundred memories of those first years come to mind as I turn back to consider. I still bear the scar of a cut on my forehead from trying to walk along a porch railing over a rock garden. Most of my memories were sunny, but one of the most profound came one dark night when I looked up and saw the stars, bright pin pricks against the black void of space. I felt I might fall upwards into the night sky. It must have been when I was three years old because I was quite near-sighted by the time I was 6 and could no longer distinguish individual stars.
Sometimes movies were shown at a ward house on Beck Street after they had finished their theater run. It was there that I watched the film "Bambi". I was horrified by the scene of fire and the death of Bambi's mother. Adults usually consider this film quite charming, but the loss of the mother, the fire, and other scenes made it my first, and nearly last, horror film.
Not long afterward a rabbit hutch in the adjoining neighbor's back yard caught on fire. I saw the conflagration from the back window of my parents' bedroom and I was terrified. My mother says she heard me moaning in terror and had to pry my hands away from the window sill where I clung transfixed at the sight of a world in flames. In her biography she says I ran all the way to my grandmother's house in fear.
One Christmas season my mother decked a two foot tree with whipped soap bubbles and decorated it with tinsel and blue glass balls. We 'helped' with the decoration of the tree, excited to know we were taking it to my grandmother Taylor's apartment as a Christmas surprise. We walked down to Beck Street and caught the bus to her house across from the tabernacle on West Temple. My grandmother was surprised. She tried to act pleased, but I seem to remember her glancing around with a frown as she tried to find a place to put the tree in her tiny apartment which consisted of a sitting room furnished with a narrow day bed, a large cabinet radio and her desk and chair. A tiny kitchen in a lean-to arrangement cut off most of the natural light.
My grandmother Eliza Roxie Welling Taylor played a significant role in my life. She was a beautiful woman even when she was old, always well groomed in spite of real poverty. She had been a young widow with only her sister-wife Rhoda and the charity of her brothers to help her when her husband died. She had been a school librarian, a cook at the original Primary Children's Hospital on North Temple, a mortuary aid, and a seamstress for a fine furniture store as she supported herself and her children through the years. In her early sixties by the time that I was born, she still worked every day. One day she lost her purse which contained her meager pay. It was returned to her with this explanation. "I was tempted to keep the money I found in your purse, but when I saw that you had set aside your tithing on what was a very small amount of pay, I felt ashamed to keep it."
Grandmother and her sister, Rhoda, spent much of their lives together. Their mothers were sisters married to Job Welling, a handcart pioneer. The two young women both married an apostle of the LDS church, John W. Taylor, the son of the third President of the Church. It was a time when the Church had officially disavowed polygamy and both women were sent to Mexico where their husband provided them with mansions in Colonia Juarez. The Mexican revolution ended their stay. By the time Roxie was 36 and had four children, her husband had died, leaving almost nothing to support five of his six wives. The first, May, had independent means and legally inherited whatever was left of the little he had when he died of stomach cancer 'in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes'. He had been excommunicated for continuing the practice of polygamy and his business had failed.
I can remember visiting the home which had been divided into apartments where my grandmother Taylor and her sister Rhoda lived. Rhoda had a large room that had been the front parlor. It contained a kitchen area, her dining table and a few pieces of living room furniture and a day bed near the bow window in the front. It always seemed warm and sunny when I visited, much like Rhoda's positive personality. When she began to have cataracts, she joined the Blind Society and received recorded books in large flat boxes every week. My grandmother thought it was a fearful lapse of pride to receive the books. "People will think that you are going blind."
"I am," Aunt Rhoda cheerfully replied. She was a comfortable woman, plump and always willing to find a treat for us when we stopped by. My grandmother's attitude was more austere. She only reluctantly admitted that she was losing her sight as years went by and eventually submitted to the surgery to remove her own cataracts.
Both women visited the Temple frequently, taking advantage of living right across the street from the great granite structure. We visited them fairly often since we lived less than half a mile away, particularly after we finally got a car when I was five years old.
Once we got a car, a 1949 Ford, our Sundays often included a drive north to Davis County and Farmington for a visit with my mother's oldest sister, Emma Moon. For most of my childhood Aunt Emma lived in the basement of a house yet to be constructed. She made room for her own family of three sons and one daughter, as well as others who had need. She was hospitable and was one of the adults, like Aunt Rhoda and my father, who actually talked to me. Her husband, Smith Moon, owned orchards on the Farmington bench. In summers we would swing on a tire mounted high in a tree out by the rock cellar where canned peaches and other produce were stored. When I was three I nearly severed the fingers of my left hand while helping fetch bottles during canning season. We would bring the bottles from the cellar and place them onto a pile of straw in the drive way near the entrance of Aunt Emma's house. I was too short to reach the pile of straw, so I dropped the bottle. When I heard a crash, I knelt and put my hands down to see what had happened. When a large section of broken bottle bit through my hand I realized too late that the bottle had broken on the ledge instead of into the pile of straw. I was rushed to the doctor's office where I remember seeing the hand as the doctor tried to sew it up. It looked like I had a handful of canned pork and beans with tomato sauce.
At vacation time, we usually drove to southern Utah and Panguitch, near Bryce Canyon, where my father's parents lived. My father told us vivid stories about his childhood and youth on the summer ranch in Red Canyon. We learned of horses crazed by loco weed and hunting cougars for the bounty on their hides. Dad had a way of telling stories that was both humorous and scary.
My father's parents were in their eighties and lived on the ground floor of the brick home in Panguitch where they had reared their family. We would stay in the upstairs rooms where their children had slept, now in little use. Grandmother had been infected with elephantiasis as a teen age student at Brigham Young Academy. Old age had diminished her keen intellect and she was appalled at the pretty matching sundresses my mothers had made for her three little girls. "Go put something on over your slips," Grandmother Heywood insisted.
We sometimes varied the routine of visiting Panguitch when my father had a few days off. We droved up to Yellowstone where my mother painted and we stayed in a cabin while bears raided the trash bins and raised a ruckus. While my mother painted and my father fished, my brother Mike fell in a creek and took refuge in the car. My mother was frantic looking for him. She had seen him fall into the creek, but not crawl out. She was certain he was drowned until someone checked the car.
We sometimes used the grassy "parking" in the middle of the street as a playground. There were families with children all around the block, but the family with children who lived closest, just a house away on the north, seemed quite wicked. The mother of the family had been married in her teens to a truck driver for P. I. E. While he was away she spent most of the day in bed (according to the gossip I overheard) and sent her children around the neighborhood collecting bottles for exchange at the corner store for her beer and cigarettes. Their usual meal seemed to consist of white bread with condensed milk on top sprinkled with a layer of sugar.
The older boys, the oldest my brother's age, conducted anatomy lessons in the dank, dark space under their cinder-block porch. Their little sister, a few months younger than me, was unkempt and smelled bad. She had not really been toilet trained and didn't wear diapers. It was pre-Dr. Spock and most babies were trained almost as soon as they could walk.
One day she took my one year old sister Jane for a walk down the street as far as the "Old Folks Home" two blocks away. We were forbidden to go over to their house after that. One morning one of the boys wouldn't wake up. His mother said she didn't know that he was sick. He had died of pneumonia during the night.
I was prone to day dream. One day when I tried to cross 5th North I ran into the side of a car stopped at the stop sign. Before I was old enough to go to school, my mother sometimes tied a rope around my waist and fastened it to a stake in the front yard when she needed to be in the house. Considering that I had a talent for getting into trouble, I can understand her caution.
I felt a great sense of injustice when I felt falsely accused. One Christmas when I was nearly four years old I received a lovely doll which I took down the street to display to a friend. On the way back home I tripped and fell, dropping the doll into a mud puddle. I went home crying, but the tears grew bitter when my mother accused me of deliberately tossing the doll into the mud because I didn't like it. One Halloween there was a fairly large neighborhood costume parade. I wore a tulle fairy costume Mother had sewn for a dance recital and my little sister Jane was wearing a black velvet bag decorated as a cat face with eyes and mouth cut into it. She began to cry and tried to take it off. I felt the proprieties of participating in a costume parade demanded that she keep it on, and I shoved it back onto her head and tried to adjust the holes so she could breath. She only cried harder. A policeman yelled at me, accusing me of trying to smother her.
My mother used dish detergent instead of shampoo to wash my white blond hair. It started getting dull and the ends were splitting. My mother's friend, Arvilla Carr, convinced my mother that the best thing to do was start over with a healthy head of hair. They cropped my hair to an inch or less all over my head and coated it with vaseline. Fortunately, I wasn't in school at the time, but the experience convinced me that sometimes my mother listened more to her friends than to her own common sense.
On the other hand, when I was in kindergarten an old man separated out several little girls during recess and took us to the bushes near the edge of the playground. He convinced us all to pull down our panties because he said he was a doctor and wanted to see if we were becoming women. That night I mentioned the incident to my mother while we were doing dishes. To her credit, she handled it with calm. She calmly said that I should not go with anyone or let them see my private parts unless my mother was there and could make sure nothing bad happened.
The first school I attended was Washington School, a large red brick building just across 5th North from us on 200 West. A picture of my kindergarten class shows me inches taller than the other children. We made crafts from milk cartons and learned songs around a piano in the roomy kindergarten room in the basement of the school. Another kindergarten class, forerunner of the post-war boom in children that would soon flood schools across America, met in a separate building at the rear of the school. We joined them to make packets of soap, toothbrushes, wash-cloths and other hygiene needs for refugees in Europe. It was a time when adult would urge us to finish our dinners because "children in Europe are starving." The prompting made no sense to me. If children in Europe were starving, why didn't we take our excess food and send it over there.
I began first grade year at Washington School. We learned nutrition with the example of some rats. One had been well nourished with a varied diet and whole grains. The other on a diet of white bread was evidently sick,. A movie of a Chinese man collapsing on the street from beriberi due to polished rice emphasized the lesson of the rats. I began to read and school was exciting.
Although my mother had worked as a teacher and traveled widely after she graduated from college, she had agreed to become a mother and housewife when she married. However, she had become accustomed to having money of her own and now and then she took temporary or part-time jobs to earn some extra funds. She worked as a substitute teacher, particularly teaching art at West High, and as a nurse's aide at St Marks Hospital on Beck Street about a mile from our home. One winter night she was on her way home from the hospital. Deer had been coming into the city, driven by a heavy snowfall in the mountains. My mother thought she saw a mountain lion, but the lurking shape in the shadow turned and ran instead of attacking her.
When she worked, we were tended by a variety of baby-sitters. One of them came to the house. Her hair was always fastened in tiny coils with pins bristling, ready to be brushed out later when she wanted to appear attractive. She brought treats for her niece and nephew whom she invited to eat lunch with us, but gave us only what our mother had left. The best daytime babysitters were the ones who tended us at their homes. There were two of them. One treated us as if we were her children, showing no particular favoritism. The other treated us even better, as if we were guests.
My favorite baby-sitter was a twelve-year-old girl from up the street who tended us when my parents walked down to Beck street for ice-cream or went out to eat or watch the movies with their friends. She would take us into the bathroom, close the door, press imaginary buttons and then announce our arrival at different floors. We would follow her out of the 'elevator' and she would describe the various goods on sale. Imagination did the rest. We would join the game and describe what we 'saw'. She had some of her drawings published on the children's page of the newspaper. They were very good, and I was impressed that someone I knew personally had been so honored, but I was critical even then. I noticed that the noses on the people she drew were two dots with semi-circles on the sides, disturbingly snout-like. I believe I called the problem to her attention.
My mother enrolled me in a dance class held on the upper level of a corner store that was across both 5th North and 2nd West from us. Although my mother was willing to sew a fluffy costume of pink tulle for our dance recital, she kept me in dark brown ankle shoes that were generally scuffed from play. Somehow she had the idea that the shoes were needed to give support to my ankles. Our teachers drove a group of their students north to a ward house in Davis County where we performed our recital. One of the teachers inadvertently gave me license to intervene in the performance of a younger group of children when she mentioned that some of them might forget the routine of their dance. I watched their performance avidly, and seeing a mis-step, I blundered on-stage, my dingy, clunky ankle boots and fluffy pink costume contrasting sharply with the brightly colored flower costumes and dainty ballet slippers of the younger children. They greeted my efforts to 'help' them with scowls and muttered insults. The teacher quickly grabbed my arm and removed me from the stage, accompanied by chuckles from the audience.
Before a later performance we practiced to be oriental dancers. We held our thumbs up under our chins and fluttered them coyly. On the evening of the performance we were dressed in kimonos, our eyes up-tilted with eyebrow pencil and our cheeks and lips made rosy with lipstick. Large tissue paper flowers were placed above our ears and we were given fans. I thought the fan was beautiful, but when the other girls took them in their hands and started fluttering them under their chins, I followed what I thought I had been taught in dancing class. I held the fan down by my side and fluttered my thumb under my chin. The dance proceeded and afterward someone took a picture. There I stand, my thumb up, my fan down, amid all the other maidens with their fans beneath their chins.
In my first five years my life was generally a fine life. I had a loving mother and father. They evidently loved each other even though they argued frequently, once going to the extreme of tossing first raw eggs, then crockery. My father treated me like a princess, listening to me as if my thoughts were important to him. There were caring relatives on both sides of the family, a home for shelter, and more than enough to eat.
When I was nearly six I contracted strep throat. The doctor advised a tonsillectomy which he performed in our home. The result was endless, awful ear-aches. My mother warmed sand bags in the oven and packed them around my head. I felt the pain lessen from the warmth. I couldn't bear the pain of swallowing, until I finally was given chocolate ice cream. It was heaven to swallow the icy cream that dimmed the edges of my pain. I seemed to recover, but the strep infection had settled in my kidneys and renal system. The nerves associated with my bladder and urethra were damaged and I struggled with incontinence, resulting in humiliating accidents. There were various treatments, including a stay in the hospital where barium was injected into my bloodstream so the doctors could see what damage had been done. For a month or so I was restricted from eating protein-rich foods and my plate was filled with vegetables cooked to a olive shade while the family enjoyed their usual meat and gravy. I became gaunt and mother purchased an elixir that promised to help children put on weight. I doubt it worked or that I really needed it. Soon I was eating what the rest of the family ate, plain good food with meat when the others had it. I have never been threatened with under-nutrition since that time, in fact, I have been larger than fashion decreed for most of my life.
My mother had been looking for another place to live. Although she had done some extensive remodeling of the inside of our home, turning the parlor into a kitchen and the rear kitchen area into a bedroom, the possibilities for expansion were limited. I sometimes suspect that she had a bit of gypsy in her soul. Home hunting seemed to be one of her favorite hobbies through the years. Even in old age she was on the lookout for an alternative to the comfortable, invalid-friendly home where she lived with my father. In her search in 1950 she found a place she could expand. The tiny house on a fruit farm in Bountiful, Utah had started as a double car garage and then expanded with a lean-to shed along one side. We left our home on 2nd West and moved into even more crowded quarters.