Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton
Chapter 6
Armistice
(1918)

25 In 1917 the Hurricane and LaVerkin towns bought water rights from Toquerville and both towns began to look something like Northern France. With picks and shovels men dug trenches down every street. But these were not grim trenches like the ones in France. These were happy ones where kids could race, whooping and laughing and hollering, after the workers had gone home for the day. What fun we had, until it was discovered what a lot of dirt we were knocking down for the men to shovel out again, then we were forbidden to play in the trenches anymore.

In the trenches wooden pipes with wire coiled around them were buried, and by January 1918 water flowed through them. We had a tap under the cherry tree close to the kitchen door. Up to this time we drank "cistern" water. Papa owned a cistern in with Uncle Lew and Uncle Marion. It was built just below the canal. It had boards over the top to keep kids and critters from falling in, but every little while it had to be cleaned to get rid of polliwogs, snakes, snails and moss. Cistern water was piped to the corral and the cow's trough was slick and green.

With the new water system, our drinking water was no longer murky, but crystal clear, and the taste took some getting used to. People called it "Toquer-Bloat."

In January the entire school moved into a new school building. In our new class room we sang, "Good morning to you, good morning to you. We're all in our places with bright smiling faces. Oh, this is the way to start a new day." Then before our opening prayer, Miss Moody said, "Today we must give special thanks for this lovely new class room."

The new building was steam heated with silver painted radiators that knocked and banged and sometimes steamed at the valves. On an inside wall in each room was an "air hole" next to the floor, big enough for a kid to crawl into. Oozing plasters hardened between the laths in the air holes, made a beckoning ladder where adventurous boys often vanished.

The bell in the belfry rang exactly thirty minutes before marching time and could be heard clear across town. In the school yard, each grade had an assigned spot to line up in double rows. When the piano started playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever", the littlest grade marched first. We marched, one line at a time, swiveling for a right angle turn, marching up the steps four abreast, stepping on the bottom step with the right foot. The Principal clapped his hands calling, "Left, right, left, right," and we never broke rank until we were in our seats. The names of those who got out of step were jotted down and they marched in the awkward squad after school.

In the spring, the locust trees that lined the sidewalk in front of the schoolhouse hung sweet with clusters of white waxen blossoms. At recess time we greedily munched the flowers. Green groceries in the store did not exist. The locust blossom satisfied a craving, as did watercress.

The pear trees in our front yard were a cloud of blossoms and bees. I loved to sit on the front porch holding our baby brother on my lap. His curls were honey colored, he had a round laughing face and his eyes were blue. I'd pat out the soft folds of his white dress so people passing by would look 26 over the picket fence and say, "My, what a pretty baby!"

On May Day everyone went a Maying. Happy picnickers gathered with their teams and wagons at Berry Springs, where high swings hung from the cottonwood trees by the pond. Caterpillars, with furry backs rippling, crawled merrily on the limbs, dropping their fat little bodies among the picnickers. Shivering, blue-legged little girls in ringlets and pink, blue, yellow and green mosquito netting dresses braided the colored streamers on the May Pole. May Day was often chilly, but always wonderful.

Now that Hurricane had electricity, we no longer heard the loud popping of the gasoline engine which "ran the dynamo and created the juice" for the operation of the picture show on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Charlie Petty built the new Star Theater, which opened in May 1918.

I was wild about picture shows. Since we seldom had nickels, if I wanted to see a movie, I earned the ticket. I passed handbills whenever Charlie Petty would let me. All of the shows were good, no matter how bad they were. There were the good guys and the bad guys. If the bad guys didn't repent they were punished. Right prevailed. The girls were pretty and the men handsome. Love triumphed. Endings were happy. Never was the audience left with that oh-no-it-can't-end-that-way feeling. Pictures were black and white and silent. When the words were flashed on the screen, grownups could be heard all over the hall reading to the little ones. A melodeon, a cross between a player piano and an organ, rolled out background music during the wild stampedes or gun fights. A woman treaded the pedals as the roll of music played.

In the summer time I took for granted the hard work that Mama and my older sisters did. Mama dug ditches and put in the gardens, doing what Papa would have done if he could have, and Annie and Kate milked the cows. Perched on their three-legged stools, one on each side of the cow, they milked together. Annie scythed the green lucern, raking it in a pile, then plunging the pitch fork into the heavy load, she'd swing it over her shoulders, looking like a moving haystack as she went to the corral. We each had our tasks to do, but play was more fun to me than work.

Playing with Iantha and Vinona was so much fun. Iantha was clever at making rag dolls. Our rag doll families were cute and we had a technique where we could make them without needle or thread, and even without scissors if necessary. We did need scissors for the silk scraps Iantha furnished from Aunt Mary's dressmaking. Aunt Mary Campbell did custom sewing.

It was no sin in my sight to make rag dolls first, then do my dishes afterwards. Neither Kate nor Annie saw it that way. Kate shouted so persistently for me to come downstairs one day that I shouted in exasperation, "You're just old maids. You ought to be married and have kids of your own to boss. When I'm as old as you are, I'll be married." Kate was just thirteen. All the rest of the summer she reminded me that I'd better get busy on my trousseau.

Dirty dishes and bossy sisters can never squelch childhood happiness. My cousins were fun to be with. Eating bread and milk and little green onions up on the canal bank with them was the best kind of picnic.

One day our curiosity about cigarettes spurred Iantha and I into action. Sitting on our woodpile, we rolled up fine cedar bark in catalog paper, sticking it together with spit. Holding a roll in my lips I struck a match and sucked in my breath. The flame went through the bark and the smoke up the 27 back of my throat behind my nostrils and eyes. Choking and coughing, I struggled for breath. Tears streamed down my cheeks. When I could breathe, I looked at Iantha, and she was choking and coughing and tears streamed down her face, too. Our curiosity was satisfied.

One day, while Will Sanders from LaVerkin visited with Papa in our yard, he took a plug of tobacco from his pocket and bit off a cud. His eyes crinkled with pleasure and he made a sucking sound through his teeth like he was slurping watermelon juice. Expertly he spat in the dust, then chewed some more. Watching his face I thought how wonderfully good chewing tobacco must be. Papa kept a box of "horseshoe" plug tobacco in the granary for sick cattle. When no one was looking, I took the box from the shelf. The tobacco was fresh and moist and biting off a hunk was easy. What a shock! My mouth burned and I spit and spit. I had been deceived!

Street lights added a new dimension to our lives. On summer evenings, after the supper dishes were done, we played barefooted in the squishy dust that was fluffy as talcum in the wagon rutted road. We never played further away than our own corner street light, within the range of Papa's voice when he called us in for family prayer. How good it was to pause in our play and run across the front porch, pressing our faces against the screen door to see Mama and Papa. They were always there. Sometimes Mama chorded on the organ and Papa sang "The Bowery", "Rosy Nell" or "Sweet Birds, Oh Say That My Lover is True."

One evening as Iantha and I played together, a girl from across town came along. "Will you kids walk home with me?" she asked.

"l can't," I answered, "it's too late. It would be dark before we got back home."

"That's why I want you to go with me. It will be dark before I get home and I'm scared."

"Ah, come on," Iantha said, "let's take her home."

"I can't," I protested.

"If both of you go, then you won't have to come back alone," the girl pleaded.

"Nope, I can't," I insisted.

"All right, don't you do it then," she retorted, "but I'll tell you one thing. If you don't, the devil will get you."

"He won't really, will he?" I asked.

"He will really," she affirmed. The girl was two years older than me, so she should know.

Even the mention of the devil's name scared me. I had the urge to run in the house quick but the girl was saying, "The devil will really get you and you won't ever see your Mama again."

That did it. I said. "We'd better hurry and take her home."

Holding hands, the three of us ran. Dusk turned into thick black velvet as we scooted through the tunnel of trees up her lane.

As we got to her gate and said, "Goodnight," she pulled us to her. "Because you had to be coaxed and didn't come with me when I first asked you, the devil is going to get you anyway," she said. "He won't get you until 28 the first night you sleep away from home. Not unless you tell somebody that I told you this. If you tattle, he'll get you that night." With that expression of gratitude for our protection, she ran into her house, and we sped terrified through the darkness to home.

As I slipped quietly into the welcome light of the living room, Papa said, "This is a fine time to be coming home," then went on jouncing Willie on his knee and singing, "A chicken went to bed but it was no use, roll Jordan roll."

Grandma was reading the Deseret News and shaking her head and saying, "Tsk, tsk, tsk, what a shame." Mildred was playing with the paper dolls we had cut out of the Montgomery and Sears catalogs, and asked me to play with her. She played with the ones that didn't have any feet, and with the black and white ones and let me play with the slick, colored ones. Things seemed all right as long as the family was around and the lights were on, but after prayers, everyone went to bed. Then the terrifying prediction came back to me and I realized that all the days of my life I would never be able to leave Hurricane because my first night away from home would be my last one on earth. Burying my head under the covers I finally slept.

In the brightness of day I was able to dismiss the grim promise, until one of my sisters mentioned going to Springdale, then the torment within me became intolerable. I hoped Uncle Lewis wouldn't bring his grist to the mill until fall, because if he did, he'd probably invite Mildred and me to return to Springdale with him. But something just as worrisome happened. Papa planned a family vacation to Moccasin to see Aunt LaVern Heaton's family. Moccasin was in Arizona. We'd never been out of Utah. My sisters were as tickled as if Moccasin had streets of pure gold. I wasn't tickled, I was scared.

Mama hummed while she baked mountains of cookies and bread, and everyone was busy and happy helping get ready to go. I helped, but I wasn't happy. Ianthus Spendlove drove to our house in Uncle Ren's wagon and our bedding and grub box were loaded in, I knew that this was the very last day of my life.

I didn't have to go with the family, but if I didn't, I'd have to tell why, and that would be tattling, and that would be the end. I might as well go along and enjoy the remainder of my life.

It was good to be perched upon a pile of bedding with the other kids. We chattered and giggled, guessing what we'd find around each bend of the road. Far across the open stretches, gray forms raced with the wind.

"Are they wolves?" I asked.

"No, they are tumbleweeds," Papa replied.

Later we came to where they were piled high in a barbed wire fence. Ahead was a mountain as blue as Pinevalley Mountain.

"Will we go over that mountain?" I asked.

"Tomorrow," Papa answered.

Oh, dear! If only I were going to be alive tomorrow I could see what the rocks on a blue mountain looked like. They must be made of blue glass. I could gather my lap full of them and take them home to Venona and Iantha. My heart ached with regrets and I became engulfed in a tide of misery.

At sundown Papa said it was time to pitch camp. 29 Ianthus brought the team to a halt off the side of the road and took off their harnesses, rubbing their sweaty flanks as they snorted with satisfaction.

We ate our supper around the camp fire, then made a wide family bed on a canvas on the ground. After we were all tucked in I lay listening to the contented sounds of the horses and the chirping of crickets. My emotions swung like a pendulum between fleeting surges of happiness and misery. I loved sleeping under the stars and the sounds of the night. Nothing could be more fitting for my last hour on earth. I studied the dark bushes around me and I knew that lurking behind one of them was the bad man, waiting for everyone to go to sleep so he could get me. I felt sorry for the family. They'd never know what had happened to me, and they would be sad as they went on to Moccasin without me.

This was the zero hour!

I might as well tell, because it didn't matter now. I could shout to the hills the whole tale of my misery, and it wouldn't make any difference.

I crawled out of the warm spot between my sisters and snuggled under the covers by Mama. There was no use to tell Papa because he would only say, "That's all a pack of nonsense. Go back to bed and get to sleep." But Mama would listen.

"Mama, the devil is going to get me tonight," I whispered.

"Of course he isn't," she said hugging me.

"Oh, yes he is," I insisted.

"Who told you that?" she asked.

I blurted out the whole miserable tale to her.

She said, "The Heavenly Father doesn't let the devil get little girls. When things trouble you, you should always come to me."

"But that would be tattling."

"It isn't tattling to talk to your mother."

"Do you mean I will still be alive tomorrow and that I can go to Moccasin?"

"Of course. When you go back to your bed say your prayers. Remember, the Heavenly Father will always listen to you and bless you. You must not let foolish things other children say make you miserable. The Heavenly Father wants you to be happy. Now have a good sleep." She pushed back my hair and kissed my forehead.

Oh, my! What a big load had dropped from my shoulders. As I crawled from under the covers a breeze fluttered my nightgown and my heart was light as a feather. A sky full of stars glittered above me. Snuggling down between my sisters I silently thanked the Heavenly Father for my mother who made things seem all right again, and drifted happily to sleep.1

The next day, as the wagon creaked through the silent sand, the mountain that had appeared blue yesterday became the color of dirt. There would be no glass rocks to take home. That's when I learned that even Pinevalley Mountain is not blue, but only appears that way because of the atmosphere in between.

Moccasin was a little town, seeming to cuddle between the low hills, gardens, trees and flowers. Little springs bubbled out of the white sand, blurping like little mouths. Moccasin folks cooled their cans of milk in a springhouse in the hillside and an Indian reservation was nearby. But best 30 of all was the reservoir with a boat on it. We'd never seen a boat before. We'd never even seen enough water to hold a boat.

Around the reservoir were clumps of water willows. Standing on the bank, I watched the Moccasin boys push out from those willows on planks. Their feet were spread apart, balancing themselves, as they pushed with long, slender poles. Enviously I watched them skim across the water. I knew I could do it too, and I begged them to let me try, but they said I was too little. So I watched my chance, and when everyone was gone, I ran to where the boards lay in the shallow water. Climbing on one, I spread my feet apart and balanced myself as the boys had done, and with a pole, I pushed out onto the pond. There was an ecstatic moment of smooth, glistening water under me as I floated graceful as Hiwatha. Then came a shout from a boat rowing out from the willows. "You'll drown!" The splashing of the oars rocked my plank as the boat pulled alongside.

"Get in," Ianthus Spendlove demanded.

The moment I lifted a foot to step in, the plank scooted from under me, and I went blubbering to the mossy bottom. I knew nothing about swimming, so I didn't even try. Thoughts flashed rapidly through my head. I would drown. Never would I see Hurricane or Venona or Iantha again. They would cry at my funeral. Glurk, glurk, glurk, down, down I went. I was surprised when I bobbed up like a cork and Ianthus caught my skirt, hauling me into the boat. The grace and beauty of my venture had turned to awkward misery as I was dragged toward Aunt LaVern's house, water weeds stringing from my hair and my wet clothes clinging to me. A trail of kids tagged, following me right into Aunt LaVern's kitchen, where she let down the oven door to warm me. Outraged, I stood helplessly shivering as she stripped me naked in front of everyone, boys and all.

After the humiliation, I was showered with such tender affection I felt as though I had returned from the dead. Goodness! Wouldn't I have something to tell my playmates when I got home!

The day Grandma gave me 10¢ so I could ride in a car to the flour mill, I never dreamed that some day there would actually be car owners in Hurricane, but Dr. Wilkinson bought one. And then Walter Stout bought a car and finally Ira Bradshaw, making three cars in Hurricane. Brother Bradshaw said a car couldn't have come to Hurricane until the convicts made a road, taking out the rocks and patching over the sand at the Black Ridge.

Forty convicts with teams had been assigned by the Governor of Utah four years ago to build roads in Washington County. They had finally reached Hurricane, setting up camp below the canal, two blocks north of us. The convicts sold pretty little hand-crafted things. Annie had a pincushion made from a mentholatum jar covered with tiny sea shells. The cushion part was blue velvet.

The day I turned eight years old, Aunt Ellen Spendlove sent me a cup of molasses so I could make some candy. I was born on her birthday. Mama and Uncle Ren climbed the canal bank with me and my sisters and a cluster of playmates followed us through the willows. Uncle Ren baptized me in the canal, then he and Mama went back down the hill and we stayed to swim in our old dresses. The only time Mama let us swim in the canal was on the fourth and twenty-fourth of July and on my birthday.2

We'd splash upstream as far as the bridge where the road crossed the canal.

There we'd flop on our backs, feet downstream, letting the water carry us 31 around the bend through the sun-splotched shade of the willows, as far as our cistern. Joyfully, we splashed, feeling the security of our rumps bumping along the sandy canal bottom. Or we'd crawl upstream walking on our hands while we kicked a jet stream with our feet. This was the canal version of the "Virgin River Crawl." To us this was real swimming, and could be done in as little as one foot of water.

In August, when the peaches were cut and spread on planks to dry, the pits were saved to make carbon for gas masks. All of our nation's industries were thrown into the war effort. Even our dinner tables were supposed to feel the effects, but the only awareness I had of this was verbal. We were urged to eat less so we could send more to our soldiers. Recipes for eggless, sugarless cakes and for all kinds of substitutions were published. Mama already knew all about substitutions. She could make something out of nothing. Women knitted socks, mittens and sweaters, and all of our wool scraps were made up into quilts to send overseas. We chanted a jingle that came from the Deseret News. I've forgotten the words, but it went something like this:

My beds they are sheetless, my stockings are feetless,
My pants they are seatless today.
My meals they are meatless, my food it is sweetless,
I'm getting more eatless each day.

There were a number of verses, each one ending with "Oh, how I hate the Kaiser!"

The scream of mortar shells became real and telegrams bearing sad news began reaching home. The heart of the nation was reflected in their music, like the plaintive song:

I've heard the prayers of mothers, some of them old and gray.
I've heard the prayers of others, for those who went away.
Oft times a prayer will teach one, the meaning of goodbye.
I've felt the pain of each one, but this one made me cry.

Chorus

Just a baby's prayer at twilight, when lights are low,
Poor baby's years are filled with tears.
There's a mother there at twilight, who's proud to know,
Her precious little tot, is dad's forget-me-not.
After saying, "Goodnight Mama," she climbs up stairs,
Quite unawares and says her prayers:
"Oh, kindly tell my daddy that he must take care."
That's a baby's prayer at twilight, for her daddy "over there."

The wonderful women who went overseas to tend the wounded, inspired the song:

There's a rose that grows in No Man's land,
And it's wonderful to see.
Tho' it's sprayed with tears, it will live for years
In life's garden of memory.
It's the one red rose the soldier knows.
It's the work of a master's hand.
'Mid the war's great curse, stands the Red Cross Nurse.
She's the rose of No Man's land.

The first of September my sisters and I went to the dry farm with Papa and Whit Spendlove to gather corn. Papa drove the wagon down the rows and we pulled the ears and threw them in. At night we slept on the floor of the 32 little camp house. I was on the outer edge of the bed and the covers didn't reach. The floor was hard, the night cold, and coyotes howled. My aching, freezing bones, the eeriness of the mournful howling, and the weird shadows cast by the moonlight was combined misery, terror, and tingling joy of adventure. In a happy sort of way I suffered.

At home the corn was piled in front of the barn and we shucked it. How good it was to dump last years dilapidated corn husks from our shuck ticks and fill them with fresh ones. The first night sleeping on a newly filled shuck tick is exotic. The crisp shucks crunch and crackle and the sweet aroma of the corn field fills the room, making sleep serene.

I skipped to the first day of school in my new blue dress, and Edith in her pink one. Mama said my eyes were bluer when I wore blue, and Edith's cheeks were pinker when she wore pink. I yearned for a pink dress. Edith was pretty even when she was angry, for then the colored part of her eyes were all pupil, black as coal. Her hair was the color of fresh wheat straw and hung in fat, shining braids over her shoulders.

Bernice Gates was our second grade teacher and she was far above the human race, like an angel. I had disdainfully accepted the younger kids in our class because two of them, Ray Bradshaw and LuWayne Wood, were almost the smartest ones in the room.

Iantha and I were playing upstairs in our northwest bedroom on a Sunday afternoon (22 September 1918). As we dressed our rag dolls, we talked about the Kaiser and the Germans. Then something struck the roof like a gun shot. Startled, we ran to the window. Then came another bang, and another. "The Germans are shooting at us," I cried. As the din became a deafening roar, we saw hail stones as big as peach pits peppering the ground. Because we were so war conscious, even this terrible storm seemed German sent. With the first lull, Iantha ran home. Soon she was back, her face drained of all color.

"Eldon Workman just got killed," she breathlessly exclaimed.

Eldon was Eloise's brother. The sky hung low and gloomy. A melancholy pall settled over me.

"Come and see where he died," Iantha said.

Trembling, I took her hand and we pattered down the muddy street to the tall power pole with the transformer on it, by Petty's store. In the soft, wet dirt at the foot of the pole was the outline where Eldon had fallen. The hail storm had disrupted the power and Eldon had climbed the pole to restore it. In my mind, he too was a World War casualty.

The news reported thousands who were killed in France and thousands more who died of disease or were wounded. Our country was brought to her knees. President Wilson asked the nation to fast and pray for peace. That fast day was the longest day of my life. We had always fasted on fast day, but not so long as this. Mama said we could eat after the sun went down. I was starved, and the setting sun hung for hours just above the peach trees, before it finally sunk out of sight. Not too long after this, the Armistice was signed.

On November 7, the Yankees cut through the Argonne Forest, which had been considered impossible and cut off the enemy's main line of communications. The battle of the Meuse-Argonne was the greatest ever fought by American troops, Two days later, the Kaiser and the Crown Prince signed letters of abdication and fled to Holland. The German delegates signed the armistice in a railroad 33 car in France, and at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, the news that the war was over was flashed around the world. The United States and all of the Allied countries celebrated. In Hurricane the church bell rang continuously for hours, and the few car owners honked and honked their horns. People cheered and whistled shrill glad whistles. Soon after that our soldier boys returned home.

But war leaves its scar. Not all of the boys came home, but all of the ones that I'd seen leave came back. The big scar we felt was the Spanish Influenza. It broke out first in Europe but had reached America by the fall of 1918. By the last of October the, Church had closed its temples. The schools, churches and show halls were closed. The only public gathering in Hurricane was the crowd outside of the post office at Aunt Molly Hall's. After the mail was sorted she handed it out the window as each person stepped forward. Everyone wore gauze masks. Anyone caught on the streets without one was subject to arrest. Mama kept a pan of Lysol water on the back of the kitchen stove, where gauze masks simmered, and she kept a stack of fresh clean ones ready for us to wear when we went down town. The only place we didn't wear masks was around home or when we climbed the hill by ourselves.

The quarantine was long and lonely. In spite of Lysol, isolation and loneliness, our family came down with the flu. We lay sick all over the living room where we could be near the fire. The lounge was pulled out for a double bed and there were beds on the floor. If Mama got sick we didn't know it, because she moved among us constantly, administering water, soup, mustard plasters and a cool hand on hot foreheads. Food was terrible. The taste of death stuck in our throats, and a black dizziness flattened us when we tried to sit up or walk. Many people died. In some towns there were not enough well people to care for the sick. The epidemic was so severe that generally the well didn't dare go among the sick. However, there were many heroic stories of dedicated neighbors who took the risk. Men in Hurricane and LaVerkin chopped the wood, milked and fed the cows and did outside chores for their sick neighbors. In some instances, one man took care of a dozen sick households this way, delivering needed items to their doors. Some women went into homes bathing, feeding and cleaning and they seemed blessed and protected for this very purpose. Papa's cousin Clara Jones, died the last of November, leaving a large family of children.

Mama fixed our food as nice as possible to attract our appetites, but everything tasted like the dogs had dug it up. We were so depleted that it seemed we too must die. Then Mama fixed some hot, stewed tomatoes which cut the dark, deathly taste from the back of our tongues. Tomatoes and toast was the first food that tasted good. As we ate, we recovered.

December 22, 1918, was set aside by the Church as a special fast Sunday "for the arrest and speedy suppression by Divine power of the desolating scourge that is passing over the earth."

This year, because of the influenza, there would be no town Christmas party. So the day before Christmas Santa Claus stopped at every gate in town in a Model T Ford, distributing red and green mosquito netting stockings filled with candied popcorn. I liked him, even though he wore a mask, because his "Ho. ho, ho" was hearty, and he was a man. I didn't like the Santa Clauses at Primary parties because they wore pillow stuffing and had women's voices.3

34 Christmas Eve, a neighbor left a little pine tree on our front porch. We didn't always have a tree, because we couldn't go after our own. When we did have one it couldn't be decorated until after supper, because it had to be set up in the middle of the table. The decorations were polished apples, strings of popcorn, and small twisty candles clipped to the tips of the branches with metal candle holders. Christmas morning Mama lit the candles. (Pine needles are flammable, and the candles had to be lit with care.) We admired the tree breathlessly and briefly, then the candles were blown out, the tree untrimmed and taken out so we could set the table for breakfast.

Our gifts were never wrapped, but spread out on the lounge like items in a bazaar. usually there was one gift apiece, and spread out this way they looked more abundant. This year I got a doll, the first talking doll I had ever seen. Grandma's silk bosomed friend Alice Therriot from Salt Lake City sent it to me because my name was Alice. The doll had a bisque head, hands and feet on a cloth body. A sound box in her middle made a sound like "mama" when I tipped her forward. Her cheeks were rosy and she wore a mischievous Kewpie grin. Her pink dress was lace trimmed and I loved and adored her. Up to now I had only had a Polly. A Polly was a cloth doll, the features, dress and all stamped on percale, then cut out, sewed and stuffed. Her arms were separate enough to get hold of, and eventually ripped in the armpits and her stuffing oozed out, but usually she lasted until summer.

Santa Claus belonged strictly to the world of make-believe. We were aware of Mama's struggle to get us a gift apiece. Still no one loved playing make-believe more than we did. We enjoyed Christmas as much as our friends did who tightly guarded the secret of Santa.

"The saddest day of my life," Mama once said, "was the Christmas when I was twelve. Father hadn't returned from his peddling trip and Mother was sick. We got up Christmas morning to total bleakness. There was no sign of Christmas not a single evergreen sprig or gift or anything. Heartbroken I went to Mother's room. 'Annie,' she said, 'if you'll look on the bottom shelf of the cupboard, you'll find a few cookies in a tin pail. I intended to make more, but couldn't do it.' Searching, I found a few burned molasses cookies. Mother told us that day who Santa Claus really was, and that he didn't come down from the North Pole with his reindeers. This came as a terrible shock and I grieved for days. I felt as though my dearest friend had died. I resolved right then that I would never do such a thing to a child of mine."

One mystery we could never solve was where the pan of animal cookies came from each Christmas. We knew Mama knew, by the way she smiled. There were more than a dozen kinds of animals, with shapes intricate and perfect, not clumsy ones like ordinary animal cookies. At Aunt Mary Stout's house was also a pan of the same kind of cookies. Still, our searching through both houses never revealed the cookie cutters.4 If Santa wasn't real, at least his elves were.

The element of mystery lent such fascination that Mildred and I decided to create a little mystery of our own. Edith and LaPriel were our gullible victims. In the ceiling above the door to Mama's and Papa's upstairs bedroom, was an open manhole, which was the only entrance to a never used attic. To enter, one had to climb the door.

"Santa Claus can't come down our stovepipe," we told our little sisters, "so he has to come down through this hole."

Skeptically Edith shook her head, but LaPriel's eyes grew wide with excitement.

35 "Santa has a work shop up there, you'll see," I said.

Concealed in Mildred's pocket were two strips of fleecy flannel, one red and one white. "We'll climb up there and ask Santa Claus to stick his hand out of the hole so you can see it," Mildred said.

Like lizards we climbed the door, hoisting ourselves into the dark manhole. Creeping back on the timbers above the lath and plaster I said, "Hello Santa Claus what are you doing up here?"

Making her voice deep as possible, Mildred replied, "I'm getting ready to pop corn."

Rapidly both of us clapped our hands. "Can you hear the corn popping?" I yelled.

"Yes," LaPriel answered.

The popping stopped because we had to arrange the flannel on Mildred's arm, putting on the red first and then a white cuff around her wrist.

"Santa, reach out your hand so Edith and LaPriel can see you," I said.

Mildred stuck her arm out and LaPriel shouted, "I can see it, I can see it!"

The attic was dark and eerie. We had mystified our sisters, so we were glad to scramble down. LaPriel was charmed but Edith was dubious.

Footnotes

  1. Story "Mama and the Heavenly Father" published in The Relief Society Magazine, July 1962
  2. Story "Baptism is a Family Affair" published in Friend, November 1977, p. 46.
  3. Since my hair has turned to silver I've become more appreciative. The most delightful Santas I have known were women, especially Edna Gubler and Geneva Segler. But they didn't wear masks.
  4. After I was grown I learned that Grandmother Crawford owned the cookie cutters that were passed around to all of her children to use each Christmas season.