Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton

Chapter 29
A Really, Really Birthday
(1940)

152 Marilyn's school hours were lonely ones fer Norman. He missed her. Most of the time he was good about the little errands we occupied him with, but we didn't give him quite all of the companionship he craved.

"If you don't be careful how you treat folks," he'd say, "someone I know will make an awful racket in this house till it falls down."

When Winferd wouldn't let him saw up the lumber pile, or use his brace and bit, Norman complained, "It will be just too bad when I'm a man. I won't knew how to build bridges and I won't know how to make houses and I won't know how to do anything. I'll just be like a baby. If big folks won't let me learn things when I'm little, I can*t do nothing when I'm a man."

All right, son," Winferd said, "see what you can build from these boards. Here are some nails and a hammer you can use."

Day after day, Norman nailed little boards together, making airplanes. He took each one on a test flight, buzzing loudly as he dragged it around on the end of a string.

153 At the first of the year Norman announced, "It's 1940, isn't it!" When I replied yes, he said, “1940 is when I will have a really, really birthday, isn't it!"

We marked each day off the calendar. The day before his birthday, he was accidentally poked with a stick in his right eye, so Dr. Mclntyre put a patch on it. While we were in Hurricane, we stopped at Graff's store where Norman tried on hats. As we started to leave without making a purchase, Norman asked, "Aren't you even going to buy a guy I know who's only got one eye, a hat?"

"Can you keep a secret?" I whispered.

His one eye opened wide. "I know a guy who can really keep a secret."

"Ok. We wanted to surprise you for your birthday. That's why we tried on the hats."

"Well," he loudly whispered, “you just take the hat home and I'll sure be surprised."

The long awaited February 29th dawned bright and clear, a perfect spring day for a party. Norman hovered about, excitedly watching with one eye, the cookie and candy making. Eagerly he gathered wood for a "hot-dog cooking fire."

The party was set for 4:00 o'clock. The sun shone until three, when out of the nowhere came dark clouds, and pelting hail fell thick and fast. Suddenly the roar and commotion ceased. As suddenly as it came, so it left. For about five minutes the ground was white, and then spring came again, warm, yet cloudy with the smell of damp earth. The guests arrived and we played the old standbys, "pussy wants a corner," "blind man's bluff," and "pass the button," and roasted weiners. Thunderheads appeared again from behind the hill and the sky darkened, so we passed out animal cookies and fudge and sped the little folks home.

"That was a really, really birthday," Norman said, counting his loot.

Marilyn's kindergarten year goes down in family history as "the year of the plagues." First, she brought home the chicken pox, followed by scarlatina, mumps, and finally whooping cough. We were lucky to get Norman's party over with between plagues.

Marilyn and Norman fared pretty good with the whooping cough, but it was almost too much for DeMar. He wasn't yet a year old, and it hit him hard. He lay in bed, a limp, helpless little fellow, so the doctor put him on sulfa, a new miracle drug. We gave it to him for twelve hours, as directed, then he turned blue, and whimpered a weak little cry, never stopping. The doctor gave him pills to counteract the sulfa. We could have lost him.

Long before DeMar could walk, he climbed on everything he could push a chair up to; the kitchen cabinets, the table, refrigerator, or stove. He understood only one direction, up. Whenever I heard the grating of chair legs on cement, I knew DeMar planned on going up. How to get down, he had no idea. The usual way was for me to grab him, but if I wasn't quick enough, he fell. His head bumped the cement floor often enough it should have pounded in an idea, but it never did.

154 When he crawled outside, there were new things to climb, like the ladder against the house. Just when he reached the top where he could peek into the attic window, he fell, cracking his skull on an iron tire rim.

"You're going to have an epileptic on your hands if this kid bumps his head one more time," Dr. McIntire warned.

"What can I do, keep him on a leash?" I asked in distress.

"Pad his head with rubber sponges," McIntire replied.

"How?"

"If you expect him to be normal, you'd better figure out how." The Doctor was serious.

I got a pretty package of four square sponges, pink, green, yellow, and blue. Stretching a nylong stocking over DeMar's head, I stuffed the sponges inside, arranging them like a football helmet, then turned him loose in his walker. He wheeled his way to the sand pile under the apricot trees, but the sponges slid down over his eyes and ears. No matter how I tied them, they wouldn't stay in place. They got in his way and made him more awkward than ever, so after a week's struggle, I gave up. The first time he found himself free, he scooted out the door in his walker and down the basement steps, banging his head on each one. I almost bawled as I gathered him in my arms. Tenderly I cold-packed his bruised little head and wiped away his tears. The only noticeable effect was the goose egg above one eye.

A heavy plank made a wheelbarrow ramp into our new house. When I saw DeMar crawling up it, I yelled and ran. Giggling, he put on speed, crawling across the rough subfloor. Facing me, he sat on the edge of the yawning hole to the basement. Before I could grab him, he reared over backward and fell. I let myself down through the opening to where he lay motionless. Grabbing him, I shook him. Finally he gasped and then began to cry. Dr. McIntire could find no injury, but DeMar whimpered for the next four months. He was not good, even for a minute. Then one morning he broke out with a bumpy, red rash all over. His crying ceaced and he was a happy little boy after that.

But I despaired of him ever learning to walk. He seemed destined to be a quadraped. The day he was fourteen months old, he had crawled to the grape arbor, where he gingerly got to his feet. Quietly I watched as he stood alone. With a look of exaltation, a grin spread over his face and he took a step. The grin grew bigger and he took another step, and another. I wanted to cheer, but kept silent. Carefully, so very carefully, DeMar walked in my direction, keeping his eyes on the ground. Then he saw my feet, he ran the last few steps and hugged my legs.

"DeMar, you're a big boy," I cried, grabbing him in my arms. "You can walk all alone!"

I kissed and kissed him. From that moment on he was a two-legged creature, never crawling again, except at play.

155 "I'm going to find me a new mother," Norman announced one morning.

"If you can find a new mother that likes you better than I do, that's just fine," I replied.

"A new mother would know that if a fellow put his shoes in the wood box, that he needed new shoes," he retorted.

"All right young man. You don't burn your shoes just because they have mud on them. You get busy and clean them."

With a wounded air, he put his dirty shoes on, stuffed his pajaes in his little suitcase, and went out the door. There he hesitated, as if he hoped I'd coax him to stay.

"I'm going now." He stood at the door and waited.

"Goodbye," I said, kissing his cheek. "Be nice to your new mother."

He trudged through the lot toward Sister Church's. A short time later, the sun cast his shadow across the floor. Looking up, I saw him standing outside the screen, his face downcast.

"Well," I said in surprise, "I thought you had moved away."

His voice choked. "They didn't want me."

"Well, if you will be good, you can be my boy," I said opening the door.

"Sister Church said, 'Now Norman, you run along home 'cause we got to go to St. George,' and she didn't even ask if I was going to be her boy," he said sorrowfully.

"Here, take this scrubbing brush and knife and scrape all that dried mud from off your shoes."

Setting his suitcase down, he took the proffered tools, and went out to do as he was told.

"My, what a beautiful job you did," I said when he returned.

Beaming, he sat on a chair watching me mix bread. "Mother," he said, "maybe I'll always stay here. Maybe I'll decide not to get married like those men over to Grandpa and Grandma Isom's place." (Meaning my brothers, Bill, Clint, and Wayne.)

"Good. I hope you won't get married for a little while, anyway."

He slide from his chair and went out to play, but every few minutes he came in and asked, "Are you about ready to bake that bread?"

"Why? Are you getting hungry?" I finally asked.

"Oh," he replied, "I was thinking you might bake some pie today."

"I haven't time to stop for pie," I answered.

"Oh my, I was wishing you'd make about five of them so I could eat a whole one."

"I've got to dig carrots for dinner."

"I can dig the carrots and you can stay in the house and bake."

156 "You're a nuisance," I said, dismissing him.

Presently, I looked out the window and there in the garden, laboring with his dad's shovel, was Norman. The ground was dry, but he worked hard. Soon he came in triumphantly with six big carrots that he had cleaned under the tap.

"Here's your acrrots, he announced expectantly, then ran out to play.

My heart melted. With a chuckle I got out the mixing bowl and rolling pin. Norman had won again. He usually did.

A favorite method of his was to come staggering in, mid-way between meals, with an arm load of wood.

"How nice," I would say.

Arranging it in the wood box, he'd beam at me, then wander about the room with a sigh, and say, "Ho hum, I'm hungry. I'd sure like a cracker."

I'd give him three or four, but when hunger pangs hit him again, the pile in the wood box increased.

One day Norman made an intimate call on a wasp family and as warmly received. Marilyn and her little playmante, LaReta Church, had asked him to get the nest down out of the attic. He completed his mission all right. The nest came down with the first whack, and almost simultaneously, two wasps got him. There was a shriek and Norman came tumbling down. I plastered his stings with wet soda.

In the evening as I sat writing, Norman whined at my side, because he had unwittingly wandered in just at bed time.

"I wouldn't a come in if I knew you waz gonna amke me go to bed." (Whine, wine.) "The sooner ya make me go to bed, the sooner I'll die." (Pause for effect. I continue writing.) "Yep, the sooner I have to go to bed, the sooner I'l die, so it's just up to you."

"Well, everyone must die sometime, so you might as well go on to bed."

"But I don't want to die." Regretfully. "I want to live as long as everyone does."

Winferd diverted my attention momentarily, then I suddenly realized the droning in my left ear had ceaced. Norman had slipped out as quietly as a shadow.

Looking back, I'm chagrined at our laxity in keeping the Sabbath. After we had attended Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting, we still had many daylight hours left of the Sabbath day. The poet who said, "It seemed so then, and it seems so still, that I'm nearer to God on the top of a hill," expressed my feelings exactly. Especially if there were pine trees on top of that hill. With conscience clear (almost) and hearts carefree (almost), we often packed our three youngsters and our picnic basket into the Chevy sedn and chugged up the mountain raod, (almost any mountain road) until we caught the cool, sweet whiff of pine.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, we aimed to picnic at Peter's Leap on Pine Valley Mountain. Winferd stopped the car at the rocky edge of a little meadow, and Marilyn and Norman scampered out. The had only gone a 157 little way, when Marilyn keeled over in a convulsion. As I reached her, a snake slithered away from her and I was certain she had been bitten. I screamed and Winferd ran to her.

"It feels like mys wallow is coming up in my mouth," Normal whimpered near my elbow. The color had drained from his face.

We examined Marilyn, but could find no sign of a snake bite. She came out of the convulsion and lay limp and white. We laid her on a blanket and nauseated little Norman slumped beside her. When I went to the car for DeMar, I discovered he had vomited on the back seat. All three of our children were sick, possibly from gas fumes. With water from the creek, we cleaned things up, then sitting in the shade beside our three whimpering youngsters, we looked gravely at each other.

"Winferd," I finally ventured, "do you suppose the Lord is trying to tell us something?"

"I've been wondering the same thing," he confessed.

"That worry feeling deep down inside each time we go on a sunday picnic must be a prompting that we've blindly ignored."

"I agree. From now on, we'll stop kidding ourselves," he asserted.

From that time forward, we did things more in keeping with the Sabbath, like reading, visiting, and enjoying good music. Our recreation came on afternoons when Winferd needed a break from his farm work.

"Let's go to Oak Grove and cool off," he often said.

Dutch ovens and food were assembled in minutes. We loved watching evening shadows fall and listening to the music of Leeds Creek as the water trickled and eddied down its steep, rocky course. No longer was there an "almost" in the carefree rejoicing of our hearts as we sought out the pines on top of a hill.