Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 1967-1968
It was late April of 1967 when we arrived in Virginia again. We lived in temporary housing while we looked for a home to buy. We had been pleased to sell our house on Iris Street in Oxnard for significantly more than we had paid for it ($13,000 going up to over $16,000) but we were shocked by the price of homes in Northern Virginia. We had lived in a four bedroom house with one and a half baths on a lovely landscaped lot. Similar homes in Northern Virginia were going for twice as much. We were under a lot of tension shopping for a home and living in a couple of rooms. One day I found that I had tunnel vision and my right hand was numb. I quickly researched the symptoms and learned that they were associated with strokes. I called a doctor and soon afterward was sent to a hospital to undergo tests. After a day or so of various tests I was told that I had a suppressed migraine. As soon as I was informed of the fact, the migraine came un-supressed and I was in fierce pain. Since I was about four months pregnant and the Thalidomide tragedy was in the news I had no way to find relief. We decided to go to a celebration on the national mall and I had to lay down on the lawn in the midst of the crowd because the pain was so severe. Fortunately the headache only lasted for a few days as I developed ways to avoid the onset.
We decided to purchase a small brick house on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington near Bon Air Park. There were two bedrooms and a tiny bathroom upstairs, a living room and dining room and pocket sized kitchen on the first floor and a basement that was split into a 'recreation room' and a workroom. I painted life sized animals such as an elephant and a giraffe with its neck extending up the stairs to make the basement room seem more welcoming as a playroom, but children always seem to prefer playing near their mother and the 'playroom' was seldom used. The previous owners had added a small den on the back. The price was $20,000 for much less space than we had enjoyed on Iris Street. Meg and David played well together. When they played on the swing set in the back yard Meg would jump from the swing when it was near the top of its arc and David would jump when the arc was closest to the ground. The driveway to the house was steep and the road in front of the house was sloped toward the stream that ran through the park. One day I had just driven home and parked the car at the top of the driveway. I got out and walked around to get Meg out of the back on one side, then started around to the other side to get David. The car started rolling backward down the steep drive toward the busy street below. I screamed and prayed with the same breath. The car turned sharply at the bottom of the driveway instead of coasting into the traffic. The back wheel lodged against the curb and the car came to a stop. I have always felt an angel took charge. David was laughing when I got into the car and drove it back to the top of the driveway, making certain this time to set the parking brake.
Richard embarked on putting an addition next to the den at the back of the kitchen and we created a patio by making hexagonal tiles of concrete with a white gravel surface to surround the large oak tree near the back entrance. I was busy with several different projects and watching over my children. Pregnancy, as usual, made me sleepy in the mornings. I would try to take a nap while the children played together. Meg and David were sometimes quite inventive in their play. They tried to shampoo our gold wool rug with toothpaste, leaving a slightly brighter square when I washed out the floride toothpaste. Another morning silence warned me that I should get up and check on them. They had taken a large container of dry oatmeal and distributed it with almost uncanny evenness all over the lower level of the house and most of the way up the stairs. One morning I went looking for David who had disappeared for several minutes. I found him in his bedroom, sleeping in an overheated and exhausted state. He was wearing almost all his clothing, several sets of pants, shirts, socks, all topped of with his Sunday suit.
David had a blue quilt with brown puppies printed on it. He would hold one corner in his hand and chew on it. Eventually the chosen corner deteriorated until it was in tatters. I would cut off the ragged cloth and hem around it. He would choose another corner and the same thing would happen until all the corners of what I had come to call his 'cookie' quilt had been rounded and sewn. One day I smelled burning sulfur and found Meg in the closet with a burning match only inches away from the hems of her dresses. We used matches to light our gas stove and I usually kept them out of reach. When I asked Meg why she was lighting matches in the closet she innocently replied that she didn't want me to catch her. Surely there are angels assigned to look after little children!
I was sitting in my bedroom one evening when a small flashing light began to go around the darkened room. I thought at first that something was wrong with my eyes or my perceptions. I finally realized that it was a firefly, the first I had ever seen. It was a relief to find an explanation for the phenomenon. I had become acquainted with the family who had sold us the house. We visited with each other now and then. They were a couple in their early thirties with a little girl about two years old and had moved to a larger house about a mile away. One day she called and said she wanted to talk to me. I visited her house and while the children played together she told me she was afraid. Strange things had been happening in the house and she decided that there was a ghost. Her research revealed that a Civil War battle had been fought in the area and she thought it might be a soldier who had been killed. On the other hand, her father-in-law had died a year or so before his only grandchild was born. Furniture had moved and shaken, the dog would bark frantically at an empty chair in one corner of the living room, and her little girl would walk over to the same chair and carry on a conversation, answering questions that no one else could hear. Although my friend had no religion and had previously been agnostic, she had purchased a bible in an effort to dispel the problem. She knew I was religious and she wanted my advice. I knew that empty gestures like putting out sacred books would have no effect, but I decided to look around the house. When I went upstairs and into the bedroom that had been abandoned and emptied of furniture because of thumping and moving of beds and dressers when the room was furnished, I felt a strong sense of presence of someone unseen.
I decided that the grandfather had lingered to visit his family and enjoy his grandchild. With that assumption, I addressed him. "You are disturbing the peace of this house and causing fear. Please follow those who are there to guide you." I felt it was the right thing to say and the sense of anxiety and fear dimmed and it seemed more peaceful. I went back to the living room and told my friend that I thought thing would improve.
Several weeks later she called me to apologize. "I'm sorry I bothered you last month. I must have been anxious from the move. I realize that there are no such things as ghosts. We are using the upstairs bedroom again and everything is fine." She had easily dismissed the strange events once they were no longer bothering her.
Arlington ward was meeting temporarily in a junior high school building while the church house was renovated. I had not held a temple recommend for some time, feeling that Richard and I had to go to the temple as a couple. He was less and less interested in paying tithing and otherwise staying worthy for a recommend, and as usual he blamed it all on me. One Saturday night I had a dream that was long and complicated and in which I was standing trial for my life. Someone came to the courtroom as a surprise witness from Burley, Idaho and gave evidence that proved my innocence. Another situation in the dream represented a test that both Richard and I were taking. I got a score of around 80% but he got a score well over 100%, a seeming impossibility until he revealed that he had given himself points for writing his name and age on the paper. I woke with the distinct feeling that I would receive a message from Burley, Idaho. The next time we went to Sacrament Meeting the Bishop introduced a speaker with the words that he had grown up in Burley, Idaho. I sat up and listened with more than ordinary attention.
The subject of his talk was the need for personal responsibility in spiritual matters. He referred to the need for both husband and wife to find their own light instead of leaning on the other. I felt I had been given a personal message. I could interview for a temple recommend even if my husband didn't do so. I made an appointment with the bishop, followed up, as usual with a visit to a member of the stake presidency. In that interview I was asked when my husband would be coming in for his recommend. I replied that he would come when he was ready. It was a true feeling of having my life saved by the man from Idaho.
One day I was standing in my kitchen cooking and looking out of the window at the bright summer day. I heard the voices of my children as they played happily on their swing set. I was filled with gratitude for all my blessings. I bowed my head. "I have everything I need in a material way, but I need more wisdom," I prayed. You often get answers to prayers that give you what you have asked for in rather painful ways.
My pregnancy proceeded without incident other than my discovery of fireflies. Our home teachers were an earnest young couple with two lovely children. Both of them were converts who had come from impoverished backgrounds. They had joined the Church and met each other when each had engaged in self-improvement so impressive as to be a little frightening. She had many signs of poor nutrition from her childhood, but now they chose their diet, their health practices and other aspects of their life together with care and intelligence. They visited us a month or so before I gave birth and told us that they practiced 'natural childbirth'. I was resistant to what they were saying. I later realized that my first birthing experience had been a near analog of coached birth. In my fear of swearing I had used several techniques to manage my labor. Only the final minutes when ether was forced on me were different from the progress of a 'natural' childbirth.
I had a number of premature contractions that seemed quite likely to result in a birth and I spent one long evening at the hospital in a labor ward along with another woman who demonstrated what my home teachers had been trying to tell me. She told me that she had given birth several years before to a child who had probably died as a result of the errors of her obstetrician. She had resolved that in the future she would not give another the control of her body and child that usual hospital birth practices required. She had studied various methods of natural childbirth and was even then practicing the control she had learned. She stopped talking and I heard a popping sound. She rang the bell and calmly informed the nurse that her baby had just been born. I was really impressed, but it seemed too late for me to imitate her since my child's due date was only days away.
I went to the hospital not long afterward and submitted myself to an epidural anesthesia for the birth of my third child. The attending nurses and doctors told me I would have to wait for my obstetrician to reach the hospital before I gave birth and they slowed my labor for nearly an hour until he could be there to earn his full fee for catching my daughter Katie.
Katie was a lovely little girl, chubby and placid. I particularly noticed that she never choked or spit up. When I read scriptures to the other children in the evening she would rest quietly, seeming almost to listen. One Monday morning in November when she was nearly three months old I finished nursing Katie and put her in her crib before leaving my husband sleeping in the bed near the crib and waking my two older children.
I had been involved with decoration plans for a ward dinner for which I had made a number of giant crepe paper sun-flowers and I was in charge of assigning casseroles and other food for our table. It was a lovely autumn day. I decided it would be nice to teach a simple 'family home evening' lesson, even though it was morning and we were ready to eat breakfast. I heard Katie start to cry, but then the crying stopped and I assumed that Richard had gotten up and comforted the infant. A few minutes later he joined us at the breakfast table as I gave a lesson and talked about how our family could be together forever, even if death separated us. When we finished the meal with a song and a prayer, Richard got up from the table and went upstairs. A moment later he screamed my name.
I immediately knew that something awful had caused the pain and anguish in that cry. He came down the stairs and met me on the way up. Our baby's tiny, still body was cradled in his hands. I tried to give her artificial respiration while he called the hospital. I think he drove us over to the hospital, or
maybe an ambulance came. In any case I ended up finding a corner where I could pray. I was still wearing my cerise colored robe and curlers. I imagine the hospital personnel thought I was acting odd when I knelt down in front of a wheel chair and began to pray. I had not yet been told for certain that Katie was dead, but she had never breathed again while I was holding her. I asked my Heavenly Father for strength to take care of my children and not be swamped by grief. I needed the support of the Holy Spirit. I finally learned that my baby had been pronounced dead and we returned home. I picked up the phone and began to call the people who were helping with the dinner. "I'm sorry I can't be there, but today my baby died," I said.
I'm sure that some of them were appalled that I would even think about apologizing for slacking my duties at such a time. I called my mother and she decided to fly to Virginia.
Katie's empty crib was quickly taken down at my request. I stood in the bedroom alone and felt her spirit, then saw it, not with my eyes but with another sense that showed me her image as a lovely young woman with long dark hair in a white gown. I said goodbye to her and released her to the work she had to do. I felt a return of the sentiment. In later years she has sometimes made her presence known on sacred occasions.
At first I thought I wanted a closed casket, but then I realized that Meg and David needed to see their little sister and realize that she was truly gone. Someone said we couldn't have a funeral for her at the church since she was not yet three months old when she died. Instead, we held a grave-side service in the National Memorial Gardens where she was buried in a special section reserved for infants. I had brought a lovely little blue nylon dress and shiny shoes to the mortuary and I gave them a white quilt with tiny multicolored pastel flowers to wrap around her. Reason said she had no need for the warmth of the quilt, but emotion dictated a need to wrap her in warmth against the chill of November. Two of my friends provided instrumental music for the brief service in the cemetery. One played the flute, the other, the violin. In later years the song they played could always fill me with poignant emotion. It was a bitter day with a hint of icy rain in the air and the service was very short. I went home and entered into a period of exquisite pain. My milk would not retreat and my little children climbed onto my lap to get and offer comfort, jabbing me again and again with their sharp littl elbows in breasts that were already sore and swollen.
Richard tried to get the doctor to give me something that would cause the milk to stop being made, but there was nothing he could give us except some pain pills that didn't seem to work very well. In spite of my physical pain I felt as if I were dwelling in a globe of shining light. Richard tried to blame me for Katie's death, but I told him that it wasn't something we could argue over. The full truth could only be known when all of us were dead and had the opportunity to see the actual truth of all that had happened in our lives. Sometimes in his rages when Katie cried and woke him he had threatened to throw her out the window and I believe he was suffering from guilt and eager to blame the cause of death on someone else.
I couldn't look to him for support in tending to the sorrowing children. My mother made a pastel drawing of Meg. It was lovely, showing her pale with big sad eyes. After Mother went home I caught Meg staring at the picture and assuming the same sad expression. I took the picture down and put it away. For several weeks the spiritual support that I had prayed for remained with me, then it faded as I failed to take steps to sustain it. A mocking bird that nested in a tree near our house had learned my baby's cry and I would hear it, turn toward the sound, then stop as grief hit me again.
I kept busy helping Richard finish the addition and producing a variety of crafts for the Christmas bazaar sponsored by the Relief Society. I made linoleum print Christmas cards, plastic dipped tissue flowers, and brandy snifter Santas. I agreed to help with the Relief Society nursery of the other ward that met in our building. One of the mothers had a little girl almost exactly Katie's age. Except for blue eyes and a paler complexion, she was very like my baby. She even wore a little stretch suit that was very like one that I often put on my tiny girl. Seeing the baby was a painful pleasure as she grew and reached new plateaus of growth. My son David had been speaking quite well. At less than two years old he could name several of the presidents of the Church. He would say with hardly any baby lisp "Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Snow White". After Katie died he began to speak just like the baby daughter of a friend of mine. I laughed and said I wanted him to speak like himself. He stopped talking like the other child, but invented a special way of talking baby talk that was all his own, although he still continued to speak fluently when he wasn't trying to get something.
For Christmas that year we purchased a fire truck pedal car for David. It took some assembly on Christmas Eve and we were up late getting things ready as the children slept. At one point our voices woke them and they started down the stairs. I hurried to the bottom of the stairs and warned them that Santa was still in the house. Richard rang the bell on the fire truck to convince them and they scurried back to bed.
About three months after Katie died I found that I was pregnant once again. I determined that this time I would take advantage of everything I could learn about what I call 'educated childbirth'. As usual when a topic caught my interest, I sought out a number of books in the library and learned about a number of different approaches. I learned of the Russian favored LaMaze method, the British Dr. Bradley method, and a relaxation method that had been developed by a physiologist and his dancer wife. They had certain points in common and it was then that I could see that my first childbirth had used various techniques espoused by several of the methods. I never attended a childbirth preparation class in the following years and my husband did not stay by my side for a birth until six or seven years had passed, but all my subsequent children were born without the use of narcotics.
Not long after I learned that I was pregnant I had a dream in which I was tending three babies. One of them was a little girl, clearly part Chinese, part Caucasian. The other two were little boys, one Chinese, the other with curly red hair. I learned a little later that both my sister-in-law and my sister were pregnant. The babies were born within a month of each other, and they sorted out exactly as I had dreamed. When I had the dream my sister had not married.
Meg was nearing the age to begin kindergarten and I was scared for her. I recalled Miss Bitters and Mrs. Twining and the misery they had brought me. On the other hand there had been many teachers who had blessed my life. I visited the local elementary school and made plans to enroll Meg at the end of summer.
Meanwhile my husband decided that his career needed a boost. He decided to go back to Utah and get his Phd. in engineering at the BYU. I had a strange dream one night. It seemed that we were somewhere in Utah with snow-covered peaks on the horizon in a great wall like Mount Timpanogos that looms over Utah Valley. We were running a farm. The dream had that aura I had come to associate with 'true' dreams of portent, but it seemed so ridiculous that I wondered about the hidden meaning. I was almost eight months pregnant when the final preparations for our move began. My second cousin lived in nearby Alexandria. Leila had a lovely home where I sometimes met to help her with Relief Society projects. She offered to store some of our furniture while we spent a year or so in Utah while Richard worked on his degree.
Although I had been studying 'natural' childbirth, I was still convinced I wanted the services of a doctor and a hospital when I gave birth and I was wary of the long drive to Utah in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Richard pointed out that we had two cars, a Volkswagen bus and a Thunderbird, and needed a driver for each of them. He finally gave in to my insistence on flying to Utah with the children. He arranged for a BYU student to drive the Thunderbird to Utah and he reluctantly drove me to the airport, angry at what he considered my abandonment of him when he needed me to help him pack our household goods and carry them to the car. He railed at me as we drove to the Dulles terminal and I asked in vain for one last hug or kiss.
I had often read to Meg and David. Some of their favorites were a series of small books by Maurice Sendak and a tale called "Fortunately, Unfortunately." While we flew David entertained several passengers by repeating the poems in the Sendak books and giving a fine rendition of "Fortunately, Unfortunately." At not quite four years old, he was a merry little charmer. I had apologized for his eagerness to perform the poems while standing in the aisle of the aircraft, but everyone assured me that he had been very entertaining and they asked him for a repeat performance. He was finally exhausted by his performance and fell asleep for the rest of the trip. I stayed in Salt Lake with my parents while I waited for Richard to complete the move.