Charlotte Remembers Mamma

Written in October 2000

Always the earliest of my memories is the big appendix thing when I was three. When they finally brought me home I remember Mamma changing my dressing. There was a drain in me, and it smelled bad. She would lay me on the living room floor in the sun coming from the big west window, remove the bandage and let me lay there for several minutes. She believed in the cleansing and healing power of the sun.

When I was 5 Mamma went to work in a local grocery store. Was it Clark’s. It was a real treat when she would bring home old green grapes from the produce department. Better than candy. Mamma was very busy coming and going a lot. I remember once getting the idea that I could play soft ball.  She spent a few minutes pitching to me in the back yard. I suspect that she had played a lot with her siblings etc. when she was young.

Mom was the YWMIA president for a while and she would take me with her to the Dell. I loved it because of all the attention I got from the kids. I remember one night as we crawled into our bed roll Mamma’s feet felt something in the bed and all hell broke loose. Blankets, me and Mamma went flying. I don’t remember if it was a dead mouse or a snake that some of the young men had put in the bed. No one slept very much that night.

Speaking of Mother’s extreme fear of snakes: One time Ira put four or five baby water snakes in my pinafore pocket and told me to go into the house and show Mamma. He made it sound like she would be very interested. She was washing dishes, I moved in close, asked her to look and then carefully removed my hand so she could see. Wow! She side-hopped, grabbed a broom and started yelling, Iraaa! In my mind I can still plainly see her cursing and swinging the broom after Ira as he escaped through the orchard, nearly doubled over in laughter as he ran. I was stunned as I had no idea what the fuss was about.

Mamma believed in prompt straight-forward action in all matters, but especially in matters of health. I was a sickly child and often the recipient of, “prompt action”. Mamma taught me that doctors are very busy and important people, a step above the rest of us and they must have our utmost respect and full obedience. There were rules for doctor visits. No fussing, fighting, screaming, or crying. Disobedience to these rules would surely bring a punishment from Mamma more severe than anything the good Doctor would do. So convinced was I that I became the model patient, to my recollection that is.

Mother also used home remedies. I had tonsillitis or strep throat all the time. The sure cure was one of Mom’s swabs. To make sure she would get all the corners she would wrap her finger in cotton and soak it with a ixture of tannic acid and glycerin. She took her time and did a thorough job. It did relieve the sore throat. I had so many of those swabs that to this day I have no gag reflex. My dentist is impressed. Other sure-fire cures included, enema, Vicks rub and inhale, salt gargle, and the ever-popular onion-mustard plaster. And let’ s not forget paregoric. Also because I was a bit high strung and prone to bouts of hysteria, I got carefully metered doses of asafetida gum cut with good old Jim Beam Whisky. These stopped when I was ten or eleven. It smelled a little like yeast but tasted a lot like dandelion juice. I don’t know if it was effective. I’m still a half-bubble off plum.

Mother loved to ride a good horse. She rode like a fish swims. It looked like a very easy effortless thing when she did it. My fondest memory of horseback was the little trip she, Ileen and I took to the Grand Canyon. We stayed in a small cabin near the North Rim and rented horses for a day. In talking to the man renting the horses we found out he had known Dad when he worked at the Canyon. He volunteered to go with us and show us more of the country. It s fun. We got to see another whole side of Mom then. She out rode us both.

Mamma had a very strong faith and a truly personal relationship with God. She understood the power of prayer and used it. I can’t remember her ever missing night prayers or the blessing on the food. She may have, but it would have only been due to circumstances beyond her control. I’m absolutely, positive, certain that she prayed this child back from the edge of Hell more than once. I now find myself following her example, but I’ve yet to begin to match her faith.

After Daddy died, Mom and I became more like roommates than mother and daughter. I was allowed to voice my opinions more freely. I was loaded with opinions. Like most teenagers I had simple solutions for every thing. We discussed, debated and discussed. She really always won, but she let it be a draw sometimes. And sometimes she even liked my ideas.

Mom was honest to a fault, and she required nothing less of everyone else, especially her children. I think coming home drunk would have caused less repercussion than the telling of lie, stealing or cheating. I wouldn’t have dared test that theory though. Her honesty and fare play won her the respect of all she came in contact with. Not everyone liked her, but they did respect her.

Mother always cheered for the underdog. She took special interest in the less fortunate. I remember her helping a young man learn his lines for a ward play that she directed. He couldn’t read well, but he had one of the leading parts. Without embarrassing him she had him come to the house after school and she worked with him until they were both satisfied with his performance. The play was a success and the young man’s self esteem was much improved. She also had a friend for life. He would have done anything she asked after that.

Mom had many health problems but she didn’t complain very much. She always put on a brave front. I remember the misery she went through with the monthly hemorrhaging before she finally had the hysterectomy. At the same time this was going on, she was working full time and was the president of the employee’ s union at the State Training School. The big issue at the time was equal pay for women. She stirred things up so much that they eventually made her a supervisor. As a supervisor she couldn’t belong to the union. Anyway I wonder. After the hysterectomy she had a terrible time with hormone imbalance. Hormone therapy then was not what it is today. She had to take frequent shots of estrogen. Finding the right dose was purely trial and error. We all lived on the roller coaster. That’s when Hilga taught me how to give shots. There were no disposable needles, so we had to boil both the needles and syringes. The needles weren’t always real sharp. Mom didn’t criticize or complain. Before we got the hormone thing leveled, she would have times when she would go kind of crazy. She cried a lot. Anything and everything would upset her. She said that she felt like her insides were Jell-O. A couple of times she was taken to the hospital and sedated for two or three days. She took tranquilizers for a while. She had a few favorite jokes about tranquilizers and liked to make fun of the situation when an opportunity presented itself. Other health problems included appendectomy and double mastectomy. For a while she kept a suitcase packed, because she never knew when she might have to go to the hospital again. Then there was the auto accident in 1974. Fractured pelvis that left one leg inches shorter than the other but she refused to walk with a limp. I don’t know how she compensated but she did. Her hypertension was diagnosed when she was fifty and she followed her doctors orders to a tee. I remember her making salt free bread. Most things she ate without salt were okay, but the bread was yuk.

Mom’s keen sense of humor carried her through a lot. She always managed to find the humor in every situation. That is how she coped with working with the mentally challenged, “kids” as she called them, for twenty years. The tales she would bring home from work were always fun to listen to. In addition to being funny they were also educational. She pointed out that although these “kids” were retarded in some ways they were super smart in others. One girl was a slight of hand artist. She could almost steal the teeth from your mouth without you knowing where they went. Another girl was an escape artist. She could get out of any restraint that they could legally put her in. Then there was the spastic who had no use of her arms so she learned to knit with her feet. There was another who had no control over her head and limbs, she couldn’t talk to be understood but she sang like a nightingale.

Mamma had the ability to love and respect these “kids”. She always treated them fairly, and they knew it and tried eventually to be good for “Judd.” She told me though that she never let her guard down around them and that there were many she would never turn her back on. Some were harder to win over than others. She was a very strong disciplinarian, she never made a promise she didn’t keep.

Mother loved to entertain. Every year they would have a Halloween Party at the Training School for the “kids”. Mom always dressed up. Her goal was to fool the residents. Her costumes were wonderful works of art. If I hadn’t known it was her in there she could have fooled me. Her witch costume was the best with putty nose, full makeup, sunken eyes and no teeth (her dentures were in her pocket). I went with her to the party but stayed out for as long as it took for someone to recognize her. It took twenty or thirty minutes for the employees to recognize her but the most severely retarded kid there knew her instantly. She laughed about that for years.

She loved to give readings and worked very hard to perfect them. My personal favorite was “The Specialist”. Once I went with her to a Relief Society Social up American Fork Canyon. She had prepared a short reading that was not really in good taste in mixed company. She had wrongly assumed that there would only be sisters attending. When she got up to perform, there was our very bald Bishop in the audience. She swallowed hard, apologized in advance and gave the reading. Watching the Bishop was almost better than the reading. The funnier the reading became the redder the Bishop became, he soon looked like a glowing red light bulb. The reading was entitled “The Passing of the Pot”.

When I was a first year Beehive, about twelve, she embarrassed me. Kids that age are easily embarrassed. It was road show night. There were little skits between shows performed in front of the curtains to allow the next show to set up. The curtains were shut and we were waiting when I hear this shrill voice at the back of the room yelling “Mom, Look, Mom” repeated over and over as my mother dressed like a little girl thundered up the isle to the stage. Once on the stage she whirled around and grinned a big toothless grin and exclaimed, “Look Mom, no cavities!” Once again the teeth were in her pocket. Every one else thought it was funny, I wanted to die.

Mom’s ability to act and pretend must have served her well through childhood and even after. On more than one occasion she advised me, “If the situation is less than perfect just act like, or pretend, that it is perfect; then you will feel better and things will work out.” At the time I rejected the idea but the older I get the clearer I see the wisdom in that advice.

I think that I covet Mamma’s ability to get people to do what she wanted them to do by letting them think it was their own idea. How did she do that anyway?


The Specialist

You’ve heard a lot of pratin’ and pattelin’ about this bein’ the age of specialization. I’m a carpenter by trade. And at one time I could build a house, barn, church, or chicken coop. But I see the need for a specialist in my line, so I stuck to her. I got her; she’s mine. Gentlemen, you are face to face with the champion PRIVY BUILDER OF UTAH COUNTY.

Luke Harkin was my first customer, He heerd about me specializing’ and decided to take a chance. I built for him just the average eight-family three-holer. With that job my reputation was made, and since then I have devoted all my time and thought to that special line. Of course, when business is slack, I do a little paper hanging on the side. But my heart is just in privy building. And when I finish a job I ain’t through, I give all my customers six months PRIVY service for nothin’. I explained this to Luke, and one day he called me up and sez: “Lem, I wish you’d come out here, I’m havin’ PRIVY troubles.

So I gits in my car and drives out to Luke’s place, and hid behind the Baldwins, where I could get a good view of the situation. It was right in the middle of hayin’ time and them hired hands were goin’ in there and stayin’ anywhere from forty minutes to an hour. Think of that.  I sez, “Luke, you sure have got PRIVY troubles.”  So I take out my tools and goes in to examine the structure. First I looked at the catalogues hanging there, thinking it might be that; but it wasn’t even from a rekonized house. Then I looked at the seats proper, and I see what the trouble was. I’d made them holes too durn comfortable. So I get’s out my saw and cuts ‘em square with hard edges. Then I go back and take up my position as before–me here, the Baldwins here, and the PRIVY there–and watched them hired hands goin’ in and out for two hours; and not one of them was stayin’ for more than four minuets. “Luke,” I says, “I’ve solved her.” Now that’s what comes of bein’ a specialist.

‘Twarn’t long after I built that twin job for the school house, and then after that the biggest plant up to date–an eight-holer. Elmer Ridgeway was down and looked her over. And he came to me one day and sez, “Lem, I see that eight-holer job you did down there on the corner, and it sure is a dandy, and figgerin’ as how I’m goin’ to build on the old Robison property, I thought I’d ask you to kind of estimate on a job for me!”  “You’ve come to the right man Elmer,” I sez, “I’ll be out to see you as soon as I get the roof on the two-seater I’m puttin’ up for the Sheriff.”

Couple of days later I drives out to Elmer’s place, gettin’ there about dinner time, so not wishing to disturb them, I just sneaks around to the side door and yells, “Hay, Elmer, here I am; where do you want that PRIVY put?”  Elmer comes out and we got to talkin’ about a good location. He was for puttin’ her along side a jagged path runnin’ along side a big apple tree. “I wouldn’t do it, Elmer,” I said, “and I’ll tell you why. There bein’ near a tree is bad. There ain’t no sound in nature so disconcertin’ as the sound of apples droppin’ on the roof. Then another thing, there’s a crooked path running by that tree, and the soil there ain’t adapted to absorbin’ moisture. During a rainy season she’s likely to be slippery. Take your grandpappy–goin’ out there is about all the recreation he gets. He’ll go out some rainy night with his nitires flappin’ around his legs, and like as not when you come out in the mornin’ you’ll find him prone in the mud, or maybe skidded off one of the curves and wound up in the corn crib.” I sez, “put her in a straight line with the house, and if it’s all the same to you, have her go past the wood pile, and I’ll tell you why.

Take a woman, fer instance–out she goes. On the way back she’ll gather five sticks of wood, and the average woman will make four or five trips a day. There’s twenty sticks of wood, in the wood box, without any trouble. On the other hand, take a timid woman, if she sees any men folks around she’s too bashful to go in, so she goes to the wood-pile picks up some wood, and goes back to the house and watches her chance. The average timid woman–especially a new-hired girl, may be seen to go back before she goes in, regardless. On a good day you’ll have your wood box filled by noon, and right there is a savin’ of time.

“Now about the diggin’ of her. You can’t be too careful about that,” I sez, “Dig her deep and dig her wide. It’s a might sight better to have a little privy over a big hole than to have a big privy over a little hole. Another thing, when you dig her deep you’ve got ‘er dug; and you ain’t got that disconcertin thought stealin’ over you that sooner or later you’ll have to dig again.

“Now when it comes to construction,” I sez, “I can give you joists, or beams. Joists makes a good job.  Beams cost a little bit more, but they’re worth it. Beams, you might say, will last forever.” Course, I could give you joists, but take your Aunt Emma, she ain’t gettin’ a mite lighter, some day she might be out there when the joists gives way and there she’d be–catched. And another thing, you got to figure on Elmer,” is that Odd Fellows Picnic in the fall. Them boys is goin’ to get in fours and sixes, singin’ and drinkin’, and the like, and I want to tell you there’s nothing breaks up an Odd Fellows picnic quicker than a diggin’ party. Beams I sez, every time and rest secure.

Now about her roof,” I sez. “I can give you a lean-to type or a pitch roof. Pitch roofs cost a little more, but some of our best people has lean-to’s. If it was for myself, I’d have a lean-to, and I’ll tell you why.  A lean-to has two less corners for the wasps to build their nests in; and on a hot August afternoon there ain’t nothing so disconcertin’ as a lot of wasps buzzin’ around while you’re sittin’ there doin’ a little readin’, figgerin’ or thinkin’. Another thing, I sez, “a lean-to gives you a higher door. Take that son of yours, shootin’ up like a weed; don’t any of them seem to be turnin’ under. If he was tryin’ to get under a pitch roof door, he’d crack his head every time. Take a leanto, Elmer; they ain’t stylish but the’er practical.

Now about her furnishins. I can give you a nail or a hook for the catalog, and besides, a box for cobs.  You take your pa, for instance; he’s of the old school and naturally he’s prefer the box; so put ‘em both in Elmer. Won’t cost you a bit more for the box and keeps peace in the family.

As for the latch fer her, I can give you a spool and a string, or a hook and eye. The cost of the spool and string is practically nothin’, but they ain’t positive in action. If some body comes out and starts rattlin’ the door either the spool or the string is apt to give way, and there you are. BUT WITH A HOOK AND EYE SHE’S YOURS, you might say for the whole afternoon, if you’er so minded.

Now, I sez, what ‘bout windows; some want ‘um, some don’t they ain’t so popular as they use to be. If it was up to me Elmer, I’d say no windows; and I’ll tell you why.” Take, for instance, somebody comin’ out may be they’re in a hurry and maybe they have waited too long. If the door don’t open right away and you won’ answer them, nine times out of ten they’ll go around and look through the window, and you don’t get the privacy you aught to.

“Now about ventilators or the designs I cut in the door. I can give you stars, diamonds, or crescents–there ain’t much choice–all gives good service. A lot of people like stars, because they throw a ragged shadow. Others like crescents. I do put twin hearts, now and then, for young marrieds, and then bunches of grapes for the newly rich. Them last two designs come under the head of novelties, and I don’t very often suggest them because it takes time and runs money.

Now I sez, “how do you want that door to swing? Openin’ in or swingin’ out?” He said he didn’t know. So I sez, “It should open in. This is the way it works out: place yourself in there. The door openin’ in say about forty-five degrees. This lets the sun beat in on you now, if you hear anybody comin’, you can give it a quick shove with your foot and there you are. But if she swings out, where are you? You can’t run the risk of havin’ her open for air or sun. Because if anyone comes, you can’t get up off that set, reach way around and grab er without gettin’ caught.

Now I sez, “about the paintin’ of her. What color do you want her?” He sez “red.” “Elmer I sez,” I can paint er red, and red makes a beautiful job; or I can paint her a bright green or any one of a dozen colors. They’re all mighty pretty; but they ain’t practical to use a solid color, and I’ll tell you why.  She’s too darn hard to see at night. You need contrast.  Now if I was you, I’d paint her a bright red with white trim–just like your barn. Then she’ll match up nice in the day time and you can spot ‘er easy at night when you ain’t got much time to go scoutin’ around.

There’s a lot of fine points to puttin’ up a first class PRIVY that the average man don’t think about.  It’s no job for an amachoor, take my word for it. There’s a whole lot more to it than you can see by just lookin’ at it. Take a squint at your neighbor’s. Why one of the worst tradigeys around here in years was because old man Clark’s boys thought they knew something about this kind of work, they didn’t.  Here’s what happened. They didn’t anchor theirs, and they painted it solid red–two bad mistakes.  Halloween night came along, darker than pitch; old man Clark was in there. Some of those devlish neighbor boys was out for no good, and they upset ‘er with old man in it. Of course the old man got to callin’ and his boys heard the noise. One of ‘em sez, “What’s the racket? Somebody must be at the chickens.” So they took the lantern and started out to the chicken shed. They didn’t find anything wrong there, so they started back to the house. Then they heard the dog barkin’ and one of the boys sez, “sounds like the barkin’ is over round by the PRIVY.”  It being painted red they couldn’t see she was upset, so they started over there.  In the mean time the old man had gotten so confused that he started to crawl out through the hole, yellin’ for help all the time. The boys reckonized his voice and came a runnin’ but just as they got there, he lost his holt and fell. After that they just called–didn’t go near him. So you see what a tragidy that was; and they tell me he has been practically ostercised from society ever since.

Well, time passed and I finally got Elmer’s job done; and gentlemen, every body sez that next to my eight-holer, it’s the finest piece of construction work in the country.

As I think of my work I’m proud. I heave a sigh of satisfaction, my eyes fill up, and I sez to myself, “THAT’S A MIGHTY, MIGHTY PRETTY PRIVY.”


The Passing of the Pot

As far back in childhood as memory may go
One household vessel greets me that wasn’t meant to show.
Beneath the bed was anchored, where only few could see
But served the entire family with equal privacy.

Some called the critter “Peggy” and some the “thunder mug,”
And others called it “Badges” a few called it “Jug.”
To bring it in on evening was bad enough no doubt
But heaven help the person ghat had to take it out.

Our big one was enormous and would accommodate
A watermelon party comprised of six or eight.
When nights were dark and rainy it was a useful urn,
On icy winter mornings the cold rim seemed to burn.

At times when things were rushing and business extra good
Each took his turn a waiting or did the best he could.
Sometimes when in a hurry to our disgust and shame
We fumbled in the darkness and slightly missed our aim.

The special one for company was decorated well,
But just the same it rendered that old familiar smell.
Today in modernism they believe me not
And only in my vision do I see the family POT.



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