Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton

Chapter 43
The Fledgling Tries His Wings
(1954)

333 January 20. Virgil1 left for the mission home last Monday. We said goodbye week ago tonight. I accompanied him as he bid his friends goodbye. It was like dropping valentines. He's a big guy. On all the doors he knocked big, and received big welcomes. People love him. I felt honored to be in tow. He didn't say goodbye to me. He said, "Goodnight. Be happy." After he closed the door, I stood looking into the glowing coals in the fireplace. To myself, I said, "There he goes, out of my life forever."

January 13. My prayers and pleadings for Norman have been filled with anguish. Finally I surrendered and signed the papers so he could enlist in the Air Force. He is still 17. I took him to catch the midnight bus in St. George night before last. As we rode, we talked of standards. I wanted him to carry with him the culmination of a lifetime of teachings. His bus pulled in at the Big Hand Cafe just five minutes after we arrived. He kissed me goodbye, and I watched as he climbed aboard and sat down, then I drove away.

At Middleton the bus passed me up. For a few miles I followed, my lights shining on its rear as it carried my son away from home, closing the chapter of his childhood. How I have worried over him, and loved him. Our long talks together have been precious. He's been the guy to man the furnace and get breakfast while I did other necessary chores before going to the office. Seeing the bus taking him away from me was to much. The night was dark and I was alone. No one would hear or see me cry. The road simmered through my tears, as I gripped the steering wheel, crying harder and harder. As the tears streamed down my face, it seemed there should be a hand to slip into mine. I slid one hand onto the empty seat, but no hand reached for mine. I was alone. But wait! Was I really alone? I prayed. I've never prayed harder—asking our Father in Heaven to take special care of the vanishing bus and my boy, and to help him come home whole and clean.

As I passed through Washington, there was a boy thumbing a ride. He was the same size as Norman. Brushing away my tears I stopped, and he ran, opening my car door.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked.

"To Cedar City." he replied.

334 "Oh, I'm so sorry. I turn off at the Y."

"I'd better stay here," he said.

I really wanted to pick him up. Who else would take him out of the cold at 1:00 a.m? If he had been going my way he could have slept in Norman's bed.

29 January. We got our first letter from Norman today. He is stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. He writes:

"It's quite a coincident how I found the LDS branch here. This morning the commander had all the men fall out and go to the portestant services. After the opening song the chaplin stepped up and offered the opening prayer. The minute he started I knew he was a mormon, and immediately after the meeting I visited with him. He is son of the Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson. Talking to him sure gave me a lift. I sure needed it too. His name is Reed.

Tomorrow starts the third week since I left home and I haven't received one letter from anyone yet. I wonder why. I have written so many letters."

Terry has been in the St. George hospital for a few days. He was too sick to enjoy all of the attention he got at first—earache, sore lungs and shots. But the servings day began to look pretty nice, and from there on those bed tables that roll up to any position, with the mirrors underneath, and hidden trays and mysterious compartments, what with molding clay, toys and cheerful nurses, made him feel like a monarch. Now that he's home he gets treated ordinary. He even has to wipe dishes, and he wonders if he came home too soon.

We have a motionless pile of fur at the back door, but it isn't a rug. It's cats. Everyone gives my kids cats. They're real soft to step on when you go out, but it makes you feel a little unsteady. They are silently waiting, yearning for a few scraps to be tossed into their midst. Then they spring to life, snatching and growling. I'm always trying to give them to the neighbor kids, but the trouble is, they've got parents.

Our canal has been pushed out of existence with a bulldozer—trees and all. They've stripped the trees for firewood and hauled us two big loads. Edward Gubler brought them in the dump truck. It looks mighty good to me. They kids are having fun building with the wood. LaVerkin is going to have a new cemented canal.

February 13. Lolene awoke and stretched. "Oh my! I had the best dream. I dreamed I climbed a tree and all of the limbs were made of chocolate. I filled my lap with them and when I looked down, the ditch was full of pink and yellow and green lemon drops. There was a kid just going to step on them and I hollered 'don't' and then I woke up."

A few mornings back, Terry came up from his room. "Man! You otta seen what I dreamed Mother. I saw a car come down the hill and it wrecked and splattered all over. It was blue and it just splattered." As each of the kids came up, he'd say, "Man, you otta seen what I dreamed," then he'd repeat his dream. When Bishop Wayne Wilson stopped by, Terry said, "Man you otta seen what I dreamed." The bishop listened, then he related to Terry his own funny dream about flying like a bird.

335 March 16. The newspaper belatedly carried a story about my children. It began, "Alice Gubler's boys were burned when they attempted to start a fire with kerosene." The item concluded that, "they didn't think the boys would recommend starting a fire that way." How trite. When folks inquire about the incident, they invariably remark, "I guess they learned their lesson." I think that kind of interest is impoverished. The whole thing was an accident—the result of a home without parents. How can I warn my children of all of the things they're going to do that are dangerous? I cannot know what they will think of next. It would be silly for me to say, "Don't roll tires off the roof," (which they've been known to do) or "Don't fall out of the top of a tree—or don't fall off a ledge and break your arm—or don't climb a power pole and electrocute yourself." (Norman hung from a power line by the ball park while frozen onlookers watched for the electrocution, but there wasn't a complete circuit.) I can't say, "don't blow the fuses while I'm gone, and don't walk the rails of the bridge across the river." (The boys report their breathtaking exploits, doing just that.) I can chastise them after the deed is done, and counsel them, and try to make them safety minded, to plead with them that they not take foolish chances, but to suggest what not to do, would only plant ideas in their heads. Goodness! All of this soliloquy because of the mundane, unimaginative, lacking-in-understanding statement, "I guess they have learned their lesson."

And now for the kerosene episode, which happened on February 27th. I'm very prejudiced against a cold house. My kids have never cold. Even if the inside temperature was zero, and I asked the boys to make a fire, they'd reply, "It isn't cold." They love fires, but they prefer them out in the yard or down in the tunnel in the garden that they call their underground house. The smoke looks mysterious curling out of a pipe sticking up through the plowed ground. They're always making fires, but not in the furnace. What's more, they don't like to carry coal. Sometimes I have to say, "No fire, no supper." That gets action.

The kerosene incident happened on a bleak Saturday when I had to go to the office. It was one of those dampish cold days that makes you wish spring was more sincere. Mud—cold house—kids full of promises about the things they'll accomplish while you're away. Then the world is all at once interesting and unsupervised, and promises are postponed. After the boys whittle so many little cars, or the gang plays a game of Monopoly there will be time enough to do the things Mother said to do. But time skips a couple of hours here and there, especially during the Monopoly game. And suddenly the accusing hands on the clock remind them that Mother will soon be locking the office door and coming home. Now what was it she said? Oh yes. Have a warm, clean house. Whoops! Somebody let the fire go clear out! My! Mother will scold! Not much time left either. How can we speed things up? Ah, DeMar has the answer. Kerosene. Put fresh coal on the hot ashes. There. Now kerosene. Wow! The smoldering heat has a lot of vitality. More than DeMar expected. Black smoke billows around and around inside the yawning furnace. The kids gather to watch. It begins to behave like a monster that could get out of hand. What to do? If the furnace is shut it might blow the house up.

"I'd better strike a match to it," DeMar said.

Image of KIP cream tube and box

KIP tube and box (from a CollectorsWeekly.com web page)

Shirley was afraid. She coaxed him not to, but somebody had to do something. Terry, Lolene and Shirley decided to clear out. DeMar struck a match and threw it in. There was a boom that shook the house. Flames 336 enveloped DeMar and Gordon. Gordon was standing well back from the furnace, but the flames took off his eyelashes and the top layer of hair. Demar's arm that threw the match was seared, also his neck, face and head. They saw only the flash but didn't feel the flames at first. "Boy, oh boy," they laughed, running upstairs. And then the burns began to pain. They cried and writhed. The clock said Mother should be coming. But the time passed, dragging painfully now. No Mother. One hour. Why doesn't she come? Shirley was desperate. Someone had to do something. She sent Terry to the store for some "Kip."2 She plastered both boys good, and the pain subsided.

Two hours later I opened the kitchen door. There they were—my five bewildered little kids. DeMar's and Gordon's faces were swollen, and purplish red under the greasy streaks of Kip. DeMar's puffy ears stood out like Mickey Mouse's. Excitedly they told me the story and my heart hurt with a yearning for my little people. I had no need to say anything—only to help them.

The concussion had blown ashes from the fireplace across the living room, and yet there's no connection between the fireplace and the furnace flue. DeMar's face was so bad he missed a couple of weeks of school.

March 27. Maurice Judd, the family sweetheart, the one all of us courted for our sister Mildred, was killed last Sunday, March 21st, as he and Arden and Arcola went out on the mountain to tow a car. Strange incidents connected with the accident make it appear that this was no happenstance, but rather that he was called. I stayed with Mildred for a few days. How deeply I do appreciate the gospel of Jesus Christ. The peace of understanding helps ease the hurt.

April 2. Lolene pulled one of her baby teeth the other day. I noticed a blank space in her mouth, but was so busy making a ballet costume for Shirley I didn't give it much thought. Yesterday morning she climbed out of bed and hustled up into the attic. Pretty soon she came down with a glass of water. In the bottom lay her little tooth.

"Look," she said disgustedly. "Do you believe in fairies?"

"Sure," I replied.

"Then why didn't this tooth turn into money?"

I had no idea she had put it in the attic. "Maybe it takes time," I answered.

She returned the glass to the attic. In my hustle to get to the office, I forgot the tooth.

This morning she scampered to the attic. "Just look," she said out of patience, displaying the tooth in the glass.

"Doesn't it take quite a few days?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said, taking it back.

Again I forgot. This evening as I was ironing, I saw an empty glass in the laundry room. "DeMar, take that glass in the kitchen for Shirley to wash," I said.

"I found it in the attic with water in it," DeMar said.

"Oh!" I clapped my hand over my mouth.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

337 "Sh!" I whispered, hurrying into my room.

He followed. "What you doing?"

"Sh!" I looked in my purse. No money. In all the vases. Empty. Through my chest of drawers. Finally, I found one little tarnished dime. Dropping it into the glass, I then filled it with water. "Here, DeMar take it back quick," I said.

Terry had been following us, curious and amused. "Oh," he said, "Lolene put her tooth up there didn't she?"

"Now don't say anything," I whispered.

He and DeMar sauntered into the kitchen where Lolene was wiping dishes for Shirley.

"Hey, Terry," DeMar said, "Do you remember when we used to put a tooth in a glass of water, and the fairies turned it into money?"

"Oh yeah," Lolene spoke up, "they don't."

"How do you know?"

"I tried it. I got a tooth up in the attic now."

"It takes a long time," DeMar said.

"Well, I only look at mine in the mornings."

"But night is the best time."

Unconcerned, she went on wiping dishes. They kept coloring up stories about their luck with fairies. Finally, she climbed down from her chair, and put down her dish towel. She came in where I was ironing, and everybody tagged.

"Night is the best time to look," DeMar kept saying.

"Oh well," she said, "I'm not going to anyway. The attic is dark."

"I'll turn on the lights," Shirley volunteered, running up the steps.

Lolene followed, returning with the glass with the dime in it.

"Just look," DeMar said, "the dime was made the year you were born."

Her eyes danced. There followed a lively discussion of fairies. After the kids had all gone to bed, she snuggled up to me and whispered, "Mother, I don't really believe in fairies. I just made believe I did, because they all liked me to."

May 28. The swimming hole above Sheep Bridge at the Virgin narrows is the current rage. Pickups and jalopies loaded with boys make their daily pilgrimage there. I am given to worry. I can vision whirlpools of water pulling little boys under, and all kinds of nightmarish things. So my boys decided there was wisdom in getting me to the swimming hole to see.

"I'm too busy to go." I said.

"If we do all of the work will you go?"

"You never could get enough work done to get me to go," I replied.

Well, they decided to try. When I came home from the office night before last I was overwhelmed. DeMar was blistered and sunburned from 338 planting corn, and the other youngsters were grubby and sweaty from giving the house a total scrubbing and raking the yards. Speechless, I walked to my room and my troops followed, waiting expectantly.

"All right, all right," I laughed, "let's go swimming."

There was a happy scurry from my room. With the scissors, I whacked the legs off from my old green slacks, and ripped the long sleeves out of an old flowered blouse. Presto! A fine swim suit.

And that swimming hole! How could I ever have missed it? Sand dunes rippled from the ledges and rocks along the river, back to the green brush beyond. The river bottom was caressingly soft beneath the warm water.

"You'd better let me go ahead, Mother," DeMar suggested as we got out of the car. Running before us he shouted, "Women and girls are coming."

A scurry of nude bodies scrambled for the brush. I felt a little cruel to end their fun, but then boys really don't have to go naked.

The sand was warm and good to roll in when we got out to dry off, and there was plenty of driftwood to roast wieners with. I thanked my youngsters for insisting that I go to the swimming hole.

September 16. Norman came home on a furlough the last of August. I had worked like a Trojan painting and papering his room. I was Kemtoning3 the hall by the bathroom when he walked in. We were all in a rush getting ready for him. He came a day early and caught us in the upheaval. He looked polished and sharp! What a difference these months with Uncle Sam has made in him.

Norman arrived in time for the County Fair, and to see the excitement of DeMar getting his calf in the calf scramble. DeMar named the calf "Wild Bill." He's the wildest little critter that ever came off the range. Allie Stout delivered him in his truck. He sent me and the little ones into the house while he unloaded him. The calf shot like a bullet out of the back of the truck, leading the boys on a mad chase down the back lane, before he was finally penned in the pasture.

October 5. Wild Bill is undoubtedly going to be the star of the livestock show at Cedar a year from now. His formula is as fussy as a baby's. Bill weighed 350 pounds when DeMar got him. DeMar already had a heifer calf, Gazelle, but she lost importance when Bill arrived. She was put out to graze in Donkey Hollow, because we couldn't afford formula for two calves.

Donkey Hollow is pretty. The rabbit brush is bright with golden plumes, and bevies of quail run there. The male quail wears the brightest feathers, but it's his little lady that wears the topknot. I like that.

My boys have burrowed under for the winter. At nights when I come home, I can't see a boy nor hear a sound. I find Lolene cutting paper dolls on my bed, not saying a word, but making an awful litter. Shirley is in the laundry room making her hundredth doll dress and doll bonnet on the sewing machine. But the boys! The only evidence that I even have a boy is the red clay that has to be cleaned out of the house daily. If I wanted a boy, I could call from the back door all day and they'd never hear me. I have to go to a big gopher hole by the bamboo clump and throw my voice down it. Usually, I'm aggravated by this time, and I say, "I'm standing right here until you come out, so hurry." One by one, snake fashion, they slither out—three of mine, and six of somebody else's—a whole string of 339 them with red dirt in their hair and all over their overalls. This is a deluxe underground house with four apartments in it, two fireplaces, and little recesses for candles. They've dug enough under there to lay a pipeline to the street. If I had asked them to dig that much they would have felt burdened. When they coax me down under, I shiver at the thoughts of all of the little worm eyes that are staring at me from out of the walls.

Shirley is at the height of her boy hating stage. She hates the ones that ask her to dance twice in a row, because DeMar teases her until she cries. Pickle (Dilworth Griffith, or Dill) came in the kitchen as the family sat down to supper Friday night. As he stood in the doorway, he turned to me and asked, "Is Shirley here?" She was sitting all of 16 inches from him.

"Yes, she's here," I answered.

"Do you think she'd like to go to the show with a bunch of us?" His face flushed red underneath the deep tan. It had taken all the courage he could muster to ask for a date in front of a tribe of kids who were smothering their giggles. Shirley was giggling under her breath as she kept her face turned to mine.

"Do you want to go to the show Shirley?" I asked.

"Yes, I'd like to see a show," she answered.

"Well, he's asking you."

The "bunch" included four of the girls in Shirley's crowd, and the boys were DeMar's age—Cookie, Pickle, Hazard and Wes. They had squeezed inside the door behind Pickle to fortify him. They didn't walk when they left, but ran. After the show they ran back to the house. At the door Shirley remembered to shout, "Thanks." I enjoy the way Shirley hates boys.

Election time approaches, and again we are on the campaign trail. Gail Thomas is my opponent. She is a pretty and very much liked young widow.

The Republican candidates went out as a group together. When we knocked on Max McMullin's door in Leeds, he stepped out onto the porch with a cordial grin and shook our hands.

"Yes, I'll vote for you," he said, "I'll vote for everyone of you. That's what I told the Democrats when they came here yesterday too. I always vote for everyone on the ballot. Some I votes to come, and some I votes to go."

November 3. Election day is over, and I was voted in for a second term. The office hums today with the activity of a tax run, and people who are congratulating me on the privilege of taking their money for the next four years. I am reminded of a man who came into our office on election day two years ago.

"I'd better pay my taxes while I've got the money," he said. "If Ike Eisenhower goes in, all the banks will be closed, and there will be soldiers marching down the streets a week from today."

"What in the world makes you think that?" I asked.

340 Sober faced he pointed to the calendar. The following Tuesday was Armistice Day, and sure enough, there would be a parade of heavy artillery and veteran soldiers down the streets of St. George.

November 5. Yesterday Israel Wade came to work with sore eyes. He looked real miserable and I felt sorry for him.

"Why don't you wash your eyes with boric acid water?" I asked. "It always makes mine feel better."

"How do you fix it?" he asked.

I told how and this morning he came to work peering out of little slits. His eyelids are as swollen as if a bee had stung each eye. He looks like a frog.

"Israel!" I exclaimed.

"I did what you told me to," he said, sadly shaking his head.

Great Scott! I had no idea anyone could be allergic to boric acid. I'll never dare prescribe again.

November 11. My little grandson Darwin has a baby brother born yesterday. I'm twice a grandma!

Online Footnotes

  1. When Alice mentioned Virgil, she was talking of Virgil Goates. Lolene mentioned of him that "he used to give me handfuls of loose change out of his pockets. He had a dry cleaning business in Hurricane. He courted Mother for awhile. He may have gotten scared off by all her kids." (Memory from Lolene Gubler Gifford, 22 April. 2018)

    —Andrew Gifford, 22 April. 2018

  2. Shirley sent Terry to the store for some "Kip." This was a brand of burn salve or ointment that had wintergreen and other oils in it that was advertised in the 1940s and 1950s. You can see an ad for it here.

    —Andrew Gifford, 22 April. 2018

  3. When Alice talked of "Kemtoning the hall" it appears she was talking about painting the walls. Kem-Tone Wall Finish was "the first commercially successful, durable, waterborne interior wall paint" that the Sherwin-Williams Company introduced in 1941. See the ACS.org article.

    —Andrew Gifford, 22 April. 2018