Memories from the Neighborhood
I did not want to experience my old East Millcreek neighborhood from memory so my wife Janeen and I drove to our old neighborhoods. Growing up LDS, we thought of the “neighborhood” as the LDS Wards we lived in. Although Janeen and I did not know each other then, we grew up less than two miles from each other, but since we were in different wards, we were in different neighborhoods. I delivered news papers for several years and my route coincided with the boundaries of my ward. I had to go to every house on my paper route once a month to collect the monthly subscription fee, so I knew almost all he families.
Large old farmhouses dating back a hundred years anchored newer and smaller homes built when the many of the old farms gave way to the post WWII building boom of the late1940’s and 1950’s. Janeen’s family moved into her home in 1951 and my family moved into mine in 1952. The homes were new, the children were young, income tax was 5%, and the parents were aspiring to the middle class when women were meant to stay home as homemakers raising their children and completing the housework wearing dresses, lipstick, elegantly coiffured hair, and smiles always on their faces.
At that time, a few of the old farms remained, but they were soon replaced by either duplexes or more small homes. Now, as we drove through the neighborhood, we saw that some of those small homes have been replaced by much larger homes built in place of two or three of the smaller post WWII homes. These large homes next to the smaller homes shaped an unmistakable contrast between the 800 – 1000 square foot homes built for the aspiring middle class in during the post WWII boom and the much larger 5000 – 6000 square homes built for today’s aspiring upper middle class who want new large homes, but want to stay close to downtown and are willing to buy two or three smaller homes to tear down, just for property in a respectable, east side neighborhood.
We stopped and parked across the street from the house I grew up in. Two of my friends lived in neighboring homes that backed up to the south side of my home on 33rd South, but their homes had been replaced by an office building. My home was still there and appeared to be in excellent condition.
I got out of the car and boldly walked down the driveway to see if my old swing was still there. Although the landscaping in the large back yard had been redone and our cherry tree cut down, my old swing was still there. It was large swing that was made from 3 pipes; two 12 foot long 6 inch vertical pipes connected at the top by a 4” horizontal pipe. My sister LuRae and I enjoyed that swing before we moved to our new home and my dad wanted to take it with us when we moved. For stability, the pipes were cemented in the ground somewhere between 4” and 6” deep. He dug up the swing and chained it to the back of a borrowed truck and dragged it, with the cement still attached at the bottoms of the posts, along Highland Drive to 33rd South and then East on 33rd South to 26th East. I recall that roads in those days were not smooth asphalt as they are today, but more like gravel and dirt so I guess he got away with it. My mother said she could hear him dragging the swing while he came up 33rd South. I remembered climbing up those poles and learning to pump while swinging and then bailing out at the highest point to land not he soft grass beneath.
I was six years old when we moved into that home and my grandfather did most of the finished carpentry. He showed me how to install a door knob and I proudly installed all the interior door knobs in our new home. The exterior knobs were a little more complicated and installing them exceeded my technical capabilities. Our family spent that summer getting our new home in order. I rode on the pallet my father dragged to smooth out the dirt prior to planting lawn. I also remember trying to help, while not getting in the way, while my parents painted and hung wallpaper. I remember my mother transplanting some flowers she called “forget me nots” from our old home to our new home as a way of staying connected somehow.
Our first winter in that home, I remember my father, wearing a new green and white plaid flannel shirt my mother made him while he built me a snowman in our front yard. A couple of days later he was not feeling too well and thought he was coming down with something. After a few days he felt even worse, he saw a doctor and they put him in the hospital. It turned out he had polio. 1952 was the worst year for polio when 58,000 cases were reported and 3,145 people died from polio that year. That was just three years before the Salk vaccine came out and since then polio became rare.
The next few months were difficult for us. My mother spent as much time as she could at the hospital, and my father’s prognosis was bleak. I remember her telling us that my father would likely be paralyzed, but he would be able to drive a car if it had automatic transmission, which was a very new concept in cars then. My grandmother, Muzz, lived with us and took care of LuRae and I while my mother was at the hospital.
One interesting thing happened just before Christmas. Mom, LuRae and I were driving up 33rd South between 11th and 12th East when we saw some stuffed animals in the road. We stopped and found that a box of 12 must have fallen off a truck and were in pretty good shape, except for the one we ran over. LuRae and I each kept one and we gave the rest out for presents. That was nice, since Mom had no time left for shopping.
It was a particularly bad winter and my mother drove through snow most of the time to and from the county hospital on 21st South and State where the county offices are now.
Children were not allowed in hospitals then and the only time LuRae and I were able to see our father in his iron lung was on Valentine’s Day the next February. LuRae and I never saw him again. Our father died on the 23rd of that month. LuRae, Muzz and I were sitting eating breakfast when Mom and Bishop Tame, (he had been our Bishop in the Grant ward when my father was his councilor) came through the kitchen door. From the look on my mother’s face, Muzz new that my father had passed away. There was a lot of crying and I figured I should be crying, so I tried to cry a little too. Being only seven years old, I did not feel the full impact of losing a father, but it came to me gradually over the next years and decades. The real tears did not come for a long time and I they still come from time to time.
Dick and Beverly Jolley lived across the street from us. Beverly was a beautiful woman who taught piano. I took lessons from her for a year. Dick Jolley got me a job with the florist next to his men’s clothing store when I returned home from my mission. Not long after that, he just disappeared. From his office, it appeared as if he had been kidnapped, but there was no ransom demands, and no body was ever found. It left Beverly in a real mess. She had no income, a lot of debt, and since his death was not confirmed, she could not collect on his life insurance. It was probably a decade later, when a young man who, as a child, had know Dick and was on a mission in Southern California when he recognized Dick while attending an LDS ward. Dick was busted! It turned out, that he had left his business, his wife, his three children, and just ran off with another woman from Bountiful and they started a new life together.
After reminiscing about my home, we began to drive through the neighborhood. Our ward was blessed with beautiful young women my age or just a year or two younger and I pointed out their homes as we drove by them. I associated somewhat with these girls in church functions, but I was too shy to date them. A couple of memorable moments stand out. I was on a church picnic in Millcreek Canyon and went for a walk alone with Susan Gallagher. As we were walking, I put my arm around her and felt the transition from her small waist to her hips. It ignited hormones in my body that I would never forget and I would never be the same. I walked her home that night and wanted to kiss her badly, but I did not have the nerve. That missed opportunity is one of my many regrets. At another ward function a bunch of girls and boys were in a car. There were more of us that there were seats and Mary Billiter had to sit on a lap. Instead of sitting on one boy’s lap, she laid across several boys including me. Her bare legs were on my lap and I had no place to put my hands but on those beautiful bare legs. It was wonderful. I was able to feel her legs in a totally acceptable and innocent way and they were some of the best legs ever. That was an experience similar to, but more intense, than the walk with Susan Gallagher.
Those “awakening” feelings were enhanced at school football and basketball games where the cheerleaders would stand with their backs to those of us in the stands and perform their cheers. I grew a particular fondness for the back or women’s knees. In particular, Illana Johnson who did her “Hey Yama Yama” cheer. She had some moves in that cheer that were incredibly sexy. I still think of back of the knees as the sexiest part of a woman’s legs. My entire sexual awakening thing seemed to progress one body part at a time.
We drove by Ronny Cottrell’s house who had been a year older than me. It seemed like the boys my age in the ward were of two distinct types: nerds or juvenile delinquents – nothing in between. In the LDS Church, when a boy is 12-13 years old he is a Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood which means he can pass the sacrament in Sunday School and Sacrament meeting. The president of our Deacons quorum was Ronny Cottrell. He was of questionable character because his mother worked and his parents were not active in the church. He was not a nerd, but just the opposite – the leather jacket type. We all liked Ronnie, he was a leader, and the year he was president of our Deacons quorum, the quorum received a trophy for having 100% attendance at sacrament meeting for the entire year. Sometimes, during sacrament meeting, after we passed the sacrament, some of the Deacons would go out in the parking lot and find those cars that had keys in them or were the kind of GM cars where a key was optional and they would drive the cars around the parking lot. I never did that, I only watched once, but Ronnie got into helping himself to cars a bit too much. When Ronnie was 14 he was caught stealing one too many cars and was sent a to reform school in Ogden. He and some other boys escaped and were found, a short time later, by police officers. While being driven back, one of the boys in the back seat grabbed the drivers head, the car swerved into the oncoming traffic, and all were killed in a head-on collision.
I had seen several people in coffins including my father, but when I saw one of my friends lying in a coffin in a sport coat, it had a affect in me, as if to know that what we did was not just fun and games anymore, but our actions could have serious consequences. Ronny was only 14 years old, but I heard that he did not die a virgin.
We drove by Janeen Brady’s house. She and her husband both taught piano lessons, but Janeen was the most talented. Janeen composed musical numbers and wrote plays that the members of the ward would perform. I was one of her favorite performers and played the lead role in several musicals she wrote. I sang solos, acted, danced, and I had a great time doing it. I even remember the words to a song when wrote that I sang as a solo in a play that she also worte. “I want to marry Mary, she’s the only girl I’ll ever love. I want to Marry Mary, she’s the one that fits me like a glove. And if I live to be a hundred and ten, I know I’ll never find a girl who makes me tumble and then, she leaves the other’s far behind, she’s always on my mind. I want to Marry Mary….” (or something like that) She later formed her own music company called Brite Music which is the company that tore down the two houses to the south of mine and built that office building.
These are just a few of the stories that came to mind as my wife Janeen and I drove through our neighborhood. There are many more stories in my neighborhood and just as many in hers, but she will need to tell those stories herself. Also, each of the storied I have referred to, have much more to them and those memories keep coming out of the past, opening up new worlds that have been all but forgotten. Would I like to go back to those days? Sure I would. Would things be different? Only if I knew what I know now, otherwise, probably not.