October 2, 2015
My mother and father loved to sing. He began singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a teenager and continued singing with the choir as long as he lived in Salt Lake City. He sang solos and in quartets while he was on his mission and in the army. My mother also joined the choir, and they continued singing in the choir together until my father quit the choir when he was asked to serve in the Bishopric at 27 years old. He continued singing for the church as a soloist on a weekly Sunday evening radio program, and he was in demand for operas and musical production. He and my mother often sang duets at church services, weddings, funerals, and other occasions. He was on the staff of Larkin Mortuary as a vocalist for funerals. Funerals were usually held at lunchtime, and there was a place behind the organ in the Larkin chapel where he could sit unobserved and eat his lunch during the service when he was not singing. I was able to attend an opera, Don Giovani, in which my father had a leading role. His character was killed in a duel and when it happened, I yelled out loud, “They killed my daddy!” I did not get to go to any more operas. I thought it was unfair because after I blew a referee’s whistle in Stake Conference, I still had to attend Stake Conference.
In addition to operas and bishopric meetings, he played basketball, so he was not home very often. When he was home, though, he gave me a lot of attention. He was tall, 6 feet 4 inches, and I remember him sitting with one ankle resting on his other knee and I would crawl up through the hole made by his long leg. We would play catch in the cornfield behind our house, and at night, he would lie next to me in bed and tell me bedtime stories he made up as he went.
Professionally, my father managed an appliance/TV/hifi store owned by Ken Rogerson, a friend of his from the Tabernacle Choir. We had one of the first television sets among my parents’ friends, and people would come to our home just to watch the new television set. Initially programs were only aired one station in evenings and on Saturdays, on Channel 4 at first. Then a second channel, 5 was added. I remember watching Queen Elizabeth when she became Queen in February of 1952 on that small 17-inch screen, but I especially loved Saturday morning cartoons. Eventually daytime programs were aired, and I can remember those really boring soap operas. Another benefit of Rogerson’s was the records. Our TV was housed in a mahogany cabinet with a hifi, radio, and record player. Long Playing records were a new thing and my father brought home several. My favorite was one with a story called “Land of the Lost” about a couple of kids who fell off a boat and were led by a fish called Red Lantern on an underwater tour of the place at the bottom of the sea where everything lost on earth found its way. Red Lantern said that if it were not for lost pins and needles going there, people would be sitting on pins and needles instead. That may have been the beginning of my love of puns. The flip side of the record was a story about a circus bear called Bongo who had issues with his love life.
In 1950, my father was offered the position of Managing Director of the Intermountain Electrical Association, a professional association for appliance dealers. It was a prestigious position with a private office and secretary in an adjoining office in a downtown Salt Lake office building. He frequently had to travel to other cities in Utah and surrounding states, so we saw even less of him.
The family spent a lot of time with him in 1951, the summer before my 6th birthday, when we drove to New Orleans where he attended a convention. He decided to take three weeks and drive with the family to and from the convention. He thought it would be a great opportunity for the family to travel throughout the Midwest and South and see a large part of our country. “The family” included both his mother Beatrice who we called Nana, and Mom’s mother Isabelle Morrow, who we called Muzz. The six of us, Mom, Dad, my sister LuRae, Muzz, Nana and I, spent three weeks going to New Orleans and back in our ’47 4-door Chevy. I sat on a suitcase in the front seat between my mother and father. LuRae sat in the back seat between the two grandmothers. We traveled south through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and on to New Orleans. I remember seeing a lot of desert, Indian dwellings, barns, silos, and windmills. We made a big deal out of entering a new state, and we usually stopped and took pictures of us standing by the signs that indicated we were entering another state.
There were no Interstate Freeways then and most roads were just 2-lane highways. Traveling took more time than on today’s freeways since cars had to slow down for each city. Cities were usually about 20 miles apart since that was about the distance people traveled in a day when the cities were established, before automobiles.
With three fussy women, we went through a tedious process to find an acceptable motel every evening. We would first look for a AAA rating and then we would stop and ask for a key to look at the rooms. They would check out the beds for the proper firmness and cleanliness, look behind the furniture for mouse droppings, and check out the bathrooms for cleanliness. Usually we would check out 2-3 motels before one was acceptable.
Our meals were interesting, too. We looked for clean and decent cafes, but not too expensive. I remember one restaurant in Texas where we ordered chicken, but the adults knew what chicken bones looked like and those were NOT chicken bones. They figured they were some kind of raccoon or something.
We did not have car stereos then or even radio stations most of the time. We sang songs and played games to pass the time. My father would impress us by telling us when the traffic lights were going to change by looking at the yellow light in the other direction. We just thought he was psychic or something.
One night in Louisiana, we had to settle on a motel that was not AAA rated. We just had no other choice. The motel employees brought in a roll-a-way bed for me, and in the morning, I was covered in bed bug bites. That was the consequence of a non-AAA rated motel. My dad would often say to me at night, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I wondered how I could have kept the bed bugs from biting me that night. While my father was busy at the convention, the rest of us toured New Orleans. I was particularly impressed with sea shells stored in huge piles that were to be used instead of gravel on the streets.
On the way home, we went up North through Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois to visit church history sites. We saw the Liberty Jail where Joseph Smith was confined, the Carthage Jail where Joseph Smith was killed, the Kirkland Temple, Nauvoo, and Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County, Missouri where the LDS Church teaches Adam and Eve lived after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.
With this new job and their two children, my parents could afford a much-needed larger home. In May of 1952, we moved to a new home in East Millcreek. In addition to the travel, he and my mother were busy decorating and finishing their new home. Actually, we were all working on the new home—Father, Mother, Muzz, my sister LuRae, my grandfather George, and even me. My grandfather taught me to install doorknobs, and I installed all the knobs in the house. I began helping my grandfather with carpentry work when he remodeled our old house on Highland Drive several years earlier.
That summer we worked on the yard planting grass, flowers, and shrubs. My father made a platform out of wood to drag across the dirt to smooth out the ground for the grass. The idea was to weight it down with rocks, but I had fun being the rocks. I enjoyed riding on it while my father dragged it.
We had a large swing at our Highland Drive house that was made from 3 pipes. Two 6-inch vertical pipes connected at the top by a 3-inch horizontal pipe. For stability, the pipes were cemented in the ground somewhere between 4 and 6 feet deep. My sister LuRae and I enjoyed that swing and my dad wanted to take it with us, so he dug it up and chained it to the back of a borrowed truck and dragged it, with the cement still attached to 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 up 33rd South. He installed the swing in the backyard of our new home where it still is today.
We were living a dream. My parents were in love and living in harmony with their strong religious ideals with two healthy children and a brand new home in a prime area. He had an executive position and they were in high demand for their musical talents, but dreams don’t last. (To be continued)