Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton

Chapter 21
The Call of the Canyon

119119 How dear the town of LaVerkin had become to me. Farm and ward activities accelerated, but Saturday afternoons were declared a half-holiday, and it was a time to lay down the shovel and the hoe and gather at the town square for fun and games. Also, the All-Church Music Festival was planned for June Conference in Salt Lake City. The Church was small enough then, that there was no restriction on the number of singers a ward could send. Throughout the early spring months, Winferd and I gathered with other young folks around the piano in Graff's living room, in the back of their little store, and LaVerna taught us the festival songs.

Before conference time, Winferd had bid to run the Sulphur Springs, and his bid was accepted. So on the first of June, we moved from Uncle Willie's home into the little house down in the canyon. After two weeks, we left the place in Donworth's care, while we went to the music festival.

Always I had longed to actually see Salt Lake City, and now here we were, breezing along in the sun on hard church benches with eighteen others in the back of Paul Wilson's yellow truck. The men wore hats, pulled tight against the wind. Some of the girls had straw hats, but others tied brown paper sacks, shaped like sunbonnets, on their heads. At Salt Lake, Winferd and I got a room in the Whitehall Hotel, where a home town girl, Ida Isom worked.

"This is our Honeymoon Hotel," he grinned.

This was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel, and the first time I had been to Salt Lake. "And to think," I marvelled, "we actually came all the way in fifteen hours! What would Grandfather Crawford have thought of that?"

After an early morning practice in the Tabernacle with those who filled the choir seats and the balcony around it, Winferd took me window shopping. Sales signs loomed big in all of the windows. I'd never seen a sale before, and I was afraid I never would again. Goodness, how I wished I could splurge. Winferd bought me a fluttery, filmy blue chiffon dress for $1.66, and a pink suit for $3.47. Such elegant proof of his love. And for 10¢ each, we saw a movie, a "divine musical" called "Honeymoon Lane."

The Saturday night music festival was broadcast over the radio, and as we sang under the inspirational baton of A. Noble Cain, we visualized all of the home folks glued to the radio, listening. We tingled to be a part of this beautiful music, with the hush and the swell of sweet, controlled voices. At home, the broadcast did not come through.

At the Sunday morning session of Conference, President Heber J. Grant promised us that we would never lack for necessities if we paid our honest tithes and offerings. This promise came with great impact. He also warned us against investing in dream mines. At this particular time, there was a rash of dream mines. President Grant also pleaded with us to keep our thoughts and speech clean. He had the entire congregation stand, and with raised right hands, pledge themselves to never tell an off-color story.

120120 Etched in my mind throughout the years, is the picture of myself, standing beside my eternal companion, and taking this pledge before the Prophet of the Lord. Whenever Winferd or I were tempted, in the years that followed, to repeat an off-color funny, we have remembered this pledge and remained silent. (Most of the time.) I repent of the times when an overheard witticism has escaped from my lips, to the surprise of my children. Something within me so loves a hearty laugh. I renew my pledge to President Grant to keep my remarks above question.

Back home from conference, my life in the river canyon really began. The Sulphur Springs was mostly owned by the people of LaVerkin. They had developed the springs, building a swimming pool and five private baths. Three of the baths were directly behind the pool, and two of them were built at the source of the springs. Water in the pool was cooled down for swimming, but a Niagara of hot water pounded into the steaming hot baths. Stockholders received privilege cards of one-hundred baths every spring. Some stockholders owned two or three cards. These free swims made it possible to do a lively business without taking in a dime. There was no such thing as a motel or municipal swimming pool at that time. The warm pool at Veyo, the "boilers" at Washington, and the LaVerkin Hot Springs were the only swimming pools within hundreds of miles. Scout troops came from as far away as Provo to swim at LaVerkin in the wintertime.

Winferd never turned anyone away for lack of money. The mineral water ran in an open ditch about 175 yards from the springs to the pool. Once exposed to the air, the heavy mineral coagulated in ragged gobs along the bank, and unless the ditch was constantly swept, greenish black and yellow jelly-like masses floated like sea monsters into the pool. There was always a sweeping job for anyone who wanted to work for swims.

Winferd took pride in the place, dumping the pool and scrubbing it often. Dumping was done always after the last midnight swimmer had gone. Together, dressed in our swimming suits, we scrubbed the walls of the floor of the pool as the water receded, then whitewashed the interior and turned the water in. When the mineral scum, that had risen to the top like a sheet of ice, was broken and pushed over the spillway, the pool sparkled like a blue-green jewel, beautiful and hot.

Swimming didn't come naturally to me. Kate and Winferd were my tutors.

"Ok. Sit on the steps and let me show you," Winferd said. "Put your feet back like this for the kickoff. Lower your head and extend your arms like this. Inhale, then kick. You'll float to the other side."

Time and again I posed as directed, but I couldn't make that final kick.

"You're a coward," Kate said.

"Don't be a pantywaist," Winferd said.

Words of encouragement, like fraidycat, sissie, boob, chicken, came in a torrent. Finally I became angry. I'd show them! I'd kick off across the pool and drown. With face down, I gave a furious kick and scooted through the water, bumping my head on the opposite side of the pool. Pulling my feet under me, I stood up in surprise. I didn't sink! I floated like they said I would.

121121 They applauded, cheered, and praised me as though I had floated across the Atlantic. From then on I could swim, but I never passed a life-saving test. Whenever I practiced rescuing Winferd, I dragged him, face under water, the full length of the pool. It's a good thing he had extra lung capacity.

By the time we reached the shallow water, he'd come up spluttering. "Look dear, you just drowned me."

Papa gave Annie and Mildred each a Holstein milk cow for a wedding present, and this, he planned on doing for each of the nine of us. Now that Winferd and I were back from school, he gave us our cow, and Winferd grazed it in with his dad's milk cows.

For a wedding gift, Winferd's dad gave us our choice of ground to build a home on. If we selected land that was already under cultivation below the canal, we could have one acre, but if we chose Donkey Hollow, he would give us enough ground to build a ranch. Winferd was taken up with the idea of a ranch.

A small spring of water went with Donkey Hollow. Winferd drew plans for a reservoir, with ducks, trout and water lilies. He drew the house plans, and the plans for the garden and orchards. Then he contacted the Dixie Power Company about getting electricity to the place, and the city about pipeline water. His beautiful plans suddenly appeared to be a millionaire's dream, so he settled for an acre of ground in town.

I ran the pool during the daytime and Winferd walked the ditch for the Power Company every morning, going up the canyon to the sand trap. This was applied against the debt I had incurred for appliances, and kept our light bills paid. Then he worked on the farm for his dad, or worked on our one acre, putting in gardens and an orchard. The first tree he planted was a pecan tree which Uncle Joe Gubler had budded for our wedding gift.

Winferd had a hearty appreciation for our garden, which yielded, lush and beautiful. When he brought the first ripe cantaloupes and tomatoes from the garden, I thoughtfully regarded him as he ate.

Finally I said, "Winferd, I read an interesting article in a magazine about how to make your marriage work."

"Did it describe us?"

"Not really. The article had some good pointers in it that might help us though."

"Such as?"

"Well, for one thing, it says we should be as thoughtful about marriage as we are about business. For instance in business the employer periodically interviews the employee."

"In a husband-wife situation then, naturally the wife would do the interviewing, right?"

"Silly. The article says that both of us do lots of little things that irritate each other, and we should talk it out and then it won't irritate us any more."

122122 "Oh, I see. Seems like I read something like that in a book once. I believe it said there are many adjustments to be made in marriage, and that wives are the ones to do the adjusting. Wives are usually younger and smaller than husbands, and naturally more pliable. A husband can't change. He is big and burly and set up like hard clay by the time he gets married."

"Now you're teasing. I'm serious. It stands to reason that I do hundreds of little things that annoy you, but I'm unaware of them. If you pointed them out to me, then I wouldn't do them anymore. On the other side of the coin, I should be able to sensibly call to your attention the things you do that bother me. It's a 'growing to love each other more' period. It sounds reasonable to me." I paused to see if my comments aroused interest.

"I'm game," he said. "Go ahead and shoot. If you have grievances, now's the time to get them out and over with."

"Are you sure you won't be hurt?" I hesitated.

"Positive," he replied. "Since it's your idea, you go first."

My face was beginning to burn already. What if he should take me wrong! "Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all," I said.

"I'm waiting. You don't mean to let this opportunity pass you by, do you?"

"Well—" I reluctantly started. "I wish you wouldn't always hang your dirty shirts on the door-knob. Wouldn't it be just as easy for you to put it in the dirty clothes hamper in the first place?"

"It's habit, I guess. Subconsciously I enjoy having you wait on me. Go on."

"Right now while we're talking, you're salting your cantaloupe. Just before that, you sugared your tomatoes. Isn't that a little inconsistent?"

"Merely a matter of preference."

"Here's a pencil and paper. Each thing I mention undoubtedly gives you and idea of things you want to point out to me. I'll finish what I have in mind, then it will be your turn."

He began taking notes while I talked. "About your eating habits," I continued, "I guess it shouldn't bother me that you want your toast so brown it is burned, and your egg so raw that I have to look the other way while you eat it, but—." On I went until I had finished my gripes.

Winferd's list was beginning to look pretty long, and I wondered how I ever had the nerve to start this in the first place.

After a pause, I said, "I hope I haven't hurt you. Now I'll be quiet while you read your list."

He regarded me silently. Nervously I arose and put the sugar bowl and salt shaker away. "Go ahead, I'm listening," I urged.

He arose, took me in his arms and said, "I have been writing a list of all the things I adore about you. I wouldn't change a hair of your head."

"Oh," I exclaimed in humiliation. Never had I been so eloquently chastised. I buried my face against him, and he chuckled merrily."1

123123 With a hand puncher, Winferd washed the swim suits and towels in a black tub over the fire, near the corner of the house. The wash water drained down the rocky slopes to the river. Our kitchen scraps were also tossed down the slope, as well as the bouquets of cut flowers, after they had faded. (We grew beautiful zinnias in our garden up town.) The wash water irrigated our garbage, and to our surprise, watermelons, potatoes and zinnias sprang up among the boulders. Some of the melons had to be cut before we could pick them, because they were wedged between black rocks. The potatoes were queer shaped also, but delicious. Our sloping, garbage garden was a real delight to us, and the squirrels and chipmunks share-cropped with us.

In the fall, Winferd gathered grapes and almonds on shares, and spread them on the roof of the house to dry. Often we heard the scampering of little feet of our thieving pets, on the roof. Because they were so cute, I had encouraged them by tossing out tidbits from the table. When I put out the scraps, the big gray squirrels bounded down the hill with a fluid motion, but the little chizzlers darted in from nowhere, performing fancy didoes, clowning the food right from under the gray squirrel's paws.

Early one morning in August, a cloudburst came before Winferd had returned from walking the ditch. A flood roared down the canyon, and the river rose higher and higher until it slapped against the bridge, some of the waves breaking over it. Flood water swelled to the level of the path-walk along the ditch, splashing over it and muddying the pool. The rumbling of boulders being swept along with the flood, and the sight of uprooted trees tossed about like match sticks, filled me with terror. To add to my fright, Will Hinton turned the Hurricane Canal down the hill, and the stream tumbled and churned into the rock-walled ditch at the edge of our house. Because the flood level was higher than the Hurricane Canal intake, Will had to open the headgate above us to keep the canal from breaking. I was trapped between the river and the canal stream. A lashing wind added to the fury of the storm, whipping spray from the waves through our bedroom window.

The only pacing place left for me was between the pool and the house. I paced and watched for Winferd's return, but he did not come. Sinister shapes floated by. A bobbing roll of denim could have been somebody, perhaps Winferd. I began to cry. I prayed and pleaded for his safety. The hours dragged into midday. Our telephone had gone dead. I became hysterical. I knew Winferd had been washed away by the flood.

Late in the afternoon, Wilford Thompson came on horseback and shouted above the sound of the canal stream. "Alice, Winferd is all right. He said to tell you he has a crew of men forking trash off the tunnel screen, to keep the water going through the pipe. The flood is above the sand trap, so he can't turn the water out."

When the flood damage was appraised, we learned that many of the upriver farms had been badly gutted. The people in Springdale and Rockville and Virgin lost corrals, cows, horses, pigs, farm tractors and other equipment. Big fish were washed up on the river bank, and people gathered them by the tubfuls.

124124 Relief Society swimming parties delighted me. Some of the women's suits were of an early vintage, flapping around their knees like skirts, and some wore queer long-legged gray ones. The women used to play "back-out" by running in and out of the pool. Aunt Pearl Webb always managed to be on the end of the line. Everyone ran onto the diving board and plunged in, one at a time. Aunt Pearl froze on the end of the board. Shivering and clowning, she couldn't be coaxed in. When she started to retreat, someone ran toward her, dangling a mouse by the tail. Aunt Pearl screamed and dove, neat as a penguin.

Her screaming was worth going to a lot of effort to hear. Once Winferd even put a tiny red racer in a paper sack, and said, "Here, Auntie, this is for you." She reached in the sack, and her scream sustained Winferd for the rest of the day.

It's a wonder Winferd survived his many little surprises. One day he brought a red racer home in his lunch bucket. When I opened it to get his dirty dishes, the racer ran up the kitchen curtain. I almost knocked Winferd out with his lunch bucket. (Anyway, I would have, if I could have caught him.)

Once, when a mouse got in the house, Winferd grabbed the broom and took after it. "Here, stand by the door, so it can't go into the living room," he ordered.

He poked the broom behind the refrigerator, and the scared little mouse darted out, making a bee-line for me. With a screech, I jumped, landing on the hapless little creature. Shuddering, I covered my face, while Winferd slapped his thighs and roared with laughter.

While attending Dixie College, Winferd's brother Tell fell in love with Audrey Gregerson, and oh my, how Audrey fell in love with him. Winferd's philosophy had always been that when two people discovered they couldn't live without each other, then was the time to get married. This seemed to be the situation with Tell and Audrey.

Secret marriages were a contagion at this particular time. My sister Edith had secretly married Eugene Herman on the sixth of March.

Audrey was only sixteen, so Tell talked Winferd into taking them to Las Vegas to be married. Talking wasn't hard. This was a chance to take a trip with someone else paying for the gas. So on April 15, Audrey and Tell mere married in a bleak, barren, dusty room, by a Justice of the Peace in the Clark County Courthouse. This was my first glimpse of Las Vegas.

Tell's parents were unhappy about him getting married without consulting them, especially his mother. An interesting turn of events was, that on the twenty-third of November, Grandma Gubler was part of a conspiracy in another secret marriage. Winferd's sister, LaVell, had been dating Percy Wittwer of Hurricane. Percy was not yet of legal age, and painfully under his father's thumb. Even at the age of nineteen he had never been permitted to drive a car, and his parents didn't want him to date at all. They had plans for him. Percy was talented in music and had played the lead role in the school opera.

125125 Whenever Percy dated LaVell, he either had to walk to LaVerkin, or catch a ride with someone else. Often he had to hide, because his father came looking for him. Courting became so difficult that marriage seemed the only solution. Grandma Gubler played Cupid, making the arrangements in the Kanab Courthouse, in the forenoon of November 23. On the return trip home, the five of us stopped at Three Lakes, where Grandma spread a wedding dinner on the picnic table, of fried chicken, salad and fruit cake. We had no time to loiter, because Percy had to get home in time to catch the school bus. After a few days, the business of sneaking out at nights to see his wife grew tiresome, so Percy simply gave up and moved.

And then the boom fell! On us, that is. We had retired for the night when there came an angry shouting and pounding upon our door. Winferd arose, and Joseph Wittwer stormed in.

"I'm getting the sheriff after you for kidnapping my son," he shouted. He was so enraged words tumbled in a torrent. We had committed a crime punishable by law in helping a minor to get married. Wittwers had planned a great future for Percy, and now we had blighted them. Their grief, sorrow, and fury would never be abated. On and on for an hour he raged. I felt so sorry for him. Sleep did not come for either of us that night.

Evidently Joseph had spent himself, because we never heard another word about going to jail. Grandpa Gubler felt left out, because he hadn't been included in the planning. But Grandma took a mischievous delight in out-smarting Joseph, who eventually recognized the marriage as a blessing.

The first cold snap of winter froze the exposed pipeline that carried our drinking water from Hurricane, so we had to haul our fresh water. Ruby and Roland, Winferd and I, celebrated our wedding anniversary together each year, and this year it was our turn to be hosts.

I set the table with our beautiful wedding dishes—the hand painted china from Mr. Graff, and the thin blown crystal goblets and fruit dishes from the B.A.C. Faculty. Although there were only four of us, we used mountains of dishes that couldn't be washed until we hauled more water.

"Forget the dishes," Winferd said. "I'll do them while you're in Sunday School in the morning."

We had to take turns going to church. After Sunday School, I came home to find the kitchen slick and clean. Not a dish in sight.

"Yoo hoo, I'm home," I shouted.

No answer. I walked to the swimming pool. There were no swimmers, and no Winferd. I went through the back to the hot baths, and there, above the tumble of the water, I heard the rattle of dishes. I opened the door and looked. Bustling about in his swimming trunks was Winferd, picking up broken bits of glass and china and piling them into the wash tub. I couldn't believe my eyes! He had conceived the idea of an automatic dishwasher, piling our lovely treasures into the tub. He aimed to hold it under the spillway, but hadn't reckoned with the force of the stream, which knocked the tub to the concrete floor. The crash broke everything but the knives and forks, and they were turned black by the sulphur water. Winferd looked humble down in the pit amongst the wreckage. Humiliated and upset, that is. Nothing I could say would change things. It really was a bit of a mess.


  1. Story "Adjustment" published in The Relief Society Magazine, May 1964.