Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton

Chapter 28

145145 One February day, Norman sat on a bench outside, his shoes beside him, as he tugged at his stockings.

"You can't go barefooted yet," I said, putting his shoes back on his feet. "When the trees put their green dresses on, then it will be barefoot time."

"Is the leaves the trees' dresses?" he asked.

Later, I undressed him for his nap, and he gathered up his shoes and stockings, putting them in the woodbox.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked. "What if someone should burn them up?"

With a pelased grin he replied, "If somebody thought they was wood and burned them up, then I'd have to go barefooted, wouldn't I?"

One day, as he awkwardly whittled at a stick with my butcher knife, he cut his finger. As I taped up his finger, I lectured him about using my knives. Regarding me with interest, he observed, "If you put that tape on your mouth, then you couldn't even talk."

146146 On April 19,1939, our third child, Merwin DeMar, was born in our garage. He was a chubby, almost nine pound little guy, with a mop of dark hair. Goodness! How glad I was to see him. Never had I been so impatient as I had been for his arrival. McIntire was the doctor and LaVell Hinton the nurse and Wealthy (Tillie) Campbell was our hired girl.

Our washing equipment was set up outside under the grape arbor, which also shaded Winferd's work bench. One day as Tillie was busy getting the fire going under the black tub, Norman climbed upon the work bench and spilled a can of lye. Quickly Tillie boosted him down and sent him to the house, then hurried to fix the fire. Before she had a chance to cleean up the lye, Marilyn came to the work bench to get a can of wheat for the chickens, and Norman tagged. He reached to pull himself upon the work bench, then suddenly screamed and ran into the house. Never had I heard such an agonized cry.

"Norman, come here," I said."

His eyes were scrunched tight, but he fumbled his way to the bed, and as I lifted him up beside me, I could see white powder on his eyelashes and on his cheeks and down the front of his coveralls. Where tears streaked his face, blood pocks began to appear. Putting a speck of the powder to my tongue, I tasted it. It burned like fire.

"Lye!" I exclaimed.

Tillie, who had raced in behind Norman, ran like the wind across the square to call the doctor on the store telephone.

A ghastly picture of my little boy living in darkness all his life flashed before me. "Oh, Norman, Norman," I cried.

The sun sent a shaft of amber light through a bottle on the window sill above me. Consecrated oil! Grabbing it, I unscrewed the cap, pouring the oil into Norman's eyes and on his face. I had to pry to get it into his eyes, and what I saw made my heart turn cold. Even the colored part of his eyes had turned milky white.

"Oh, Heavenly Father," I ipleaded, "please, please don't let my little boy go blind."

Out of breath, Tillie burst through the door. "Where's the vinegar?" she gasped.

I told her and she grabbed the bottle and dashed vinegar into Norman's eyes and over his face and hands. He writhed and screamed with pain.

"The doctor can't come. He said to bring Norman to him," she said.

Winferd was mixing feed for Graff and hard to contact, so Tillie ran back to the store for help. While she was gone, Norman lay whimpering beside me.

"Open your eyes, please," I coaxed.

He finally did. They still were a murky white.

"Can you see me Norman?" I asked.

"No," he answered.

147147 "Try hard. Can't you see Mother?" I begged.

"No," he said.

I waved my hand before his face. "Can't you see my hand?"

"No," he sobbed.

"Shall we ask the Heavenly Father to make your eyes better?"


"Do you want to pray with me?"

"I can't Mother. You pray." His sobbing never ceased.

I rubbed oil on his blistered face. I was so anxious for my prayers to get through that it seemed almost as if my feet were racing to the portals of Heaven and my hands were pushing the curtains wide. "Please, dear Heavenly Father, spare my little boy's eyes. He needs to be able to see to serve Thee."

Tillie returned and carried Norman out to Aunt Mae Gubler's car. Marilyn had gone to find help, too, and she returned with Ovando. He gave me vinegar soaked cloths to wash my arms which were spotted with purple blisters from peeling Norman out of his lye splattered overalls. I had been too concerned over Norman to realize that I was burned. Ardella came and changed the sheets. By then I was burning and itching all over and anxious for a vinegar bath.

Ages later, it seemed, Tillie and Aunt Mae returned, smiling, with Norman. "He's going to be ok," Tillie said. "He has to keep the bandages on his eyes for a week, but he'll be able to see."

With a relieved sigh, I said a silent prayer of thanks.

With a chuckle, Tillie reported, "When the doctor asked what happened, Norman said, 'I got lye in my eyes and on the same day that I fell out of the swing, too.' Then the doctor said, 'There's nothing wrong with your eyes. They are pretty and blue.' Surprised, Norman said, 'Are they?'"

When the bandages were removed, his eyes were pretty and blue. There were only the scars from the lye holes inside his lower lids and on his cheeks. Norman could see! My prayers had been answered.

As our family grew, the house shrunk. With five people sleeping in our wagon-box sided bedroom, it was a squeeze. Winferd built double-decker bunks for Marilyn and Norman and we painted them ivory, decorating them with chubby animal and kid decals. DeMar occupied the crib.

Winferd cast a calculating eye at my sunken garden. "Guess we'll have to grow something besides flowers down there," he said, and ruthlessly scooped the hole clean.

Walls were squared up, footings poured, and a house began to grow. Eagerly, Norman was on the job, constantly underfoot, until Winferd's help began to complain.

"I'd like to help them," Norman muttered, "but they won't let me."

Patting him on the head, Winferd said, "Come on feller. Here's just the job for you."

148148 Elated, Norman scraped cement into the forms with a tablespoon. And so, the walls of the house grew rapidly, with Norman and his spoon on the "off" side, and Winferd and his help pushing wheelbarrows up the ramp on the "on" side. Soon there was a roof overhead. But little did we dram of the long delay befeore we would live under that roof.

In his discourses, Brigham Young said a young man should build him a nest, then put a little bird in it--that he should paint his little cottage and plant flowers around it. While Winferd concentrated on building a house, I turned my thoughts to the little nest that five of us birds were tucked into alread.

When Graff had a paint sale, I realized that Winferd's wages were already gone for building material, but our speckled hens were laying good. So with egg money, I managed a gallon of floor paint. My, how it made our bare cement floors shine. But now the windows suddenly looked bare. Ah! Wide soft ruffles of pale yellow crepe paper was the answer. It tooko away the bare look and complimented the flowers on the window sill.

Mary Bastow, my art teacher from the BAC came to see me. "Oh Alice," she exclaimed. "What a pretty house!" Her eyes swept the room. "Your grouping of living room furniture in this end, and your kitchen appliances in the other, makes two beautiful rooms in one. Would you mind showing me the rest of the house?"

"I'd love to," I said.

She exclaimed over the cute bunk beds, but when she saw the fruit shelves, clothes closet, shower and toilet grouping, she said, "I've never seen space so economically and artistically arranged. Would you mind if I include your place on our economy homes tour list?"

How flattering. I could only reply, "I'd be awfully pleased."

The tour she spoke of never reached LaVerkin, but the thoughts that it might made our little house smile.

Building drained our pockets dry. "It's like pouring gold into a bottomless pit," Winferd remarked. We tried to build and keep out of debt at the same time, turning deaf ears to the critics and free-advice givers, who clamoured, "For Heaven's sake, get a loan, finish your house and enjoy it." We did play "pas-the-button" with the deed to the place with Zions Bank, making only small loans at a time that could be cleared quickly.

Wickley Gubler set up his power saw and cut all the limber for the house. When he and Winferd worked together, the structure echoed with music, for they both whistled and sang as they worked. By summer, the house stood like a skeleton—rough cinder-cement walls, open floor joists, with loose plank paths and empty holes for windows. Winferd's overalls had been patched on top of patches so many times that barely a shred of the original denim could be seen. He was a cheerful, champion patch-wearer.

Norman showed concern for his Daddy in his materialistic prayers. Kneeling in his lower bunk bed, he prayed, "Heavenly Father, please give us more milk and cream and butter, and Heavenly Father, Daddy works so hard on our new house and he needs some glass for the windows."

149149 He was appreciative, too. Seldom did I make cocoa, but I happened to one morning when it was Norman's turn to ask the blessing. He bowed his head and said, "Heavenly Father, thanks for the cocoa, and please bless it. Amen."

One afternoon, a woman tourist dressed only in halter and shorts stopped at our gate to ask directions. Marilyn and Norman eyed her up with fascination.

After she left, Marilyn exclaimed, "Oh my, but wasn't she skinny!"

"She wasn't skinny," I explained, "she was fat."

"She was fat, but she was skinny too. She had lots and lots of skin all over her."

"That's because she drinks skin milk," Norman remarked. "Skin milk is what makes lots of skin."

During the summer, I sewed cute dresses for Marilyn to wear to kindergarten. On the first day of school, Norman watched with admiration when I dressed Marilyn in her crisp blue, pleated skirt and brushed her shining ringlets around my fingers. His eyes shone as she skipped to the bus.

"All of the people will say sister is a pretty girl," he said proudly.

But after she was gone, and there was no one to play with but the baby in his crib, he slumped. Unhappily he began to mutter, " you don't want me to break the light, do you? … You don't want me to cut your dress, do you? … You don't want me to scratch the paint off from the chairs, do you? … What would it do if I banged the buckets on the cement as hard as I could? … Would you like me to spit in the flour bin?" … Etc.

"What makes you think of such things?" I asked.

"Well, I was just thinking you wouldn't want me to."

"I really wouldn't," I replied. "I think it would be more fun if you scrubbed your hands and helped me with my baking."

The bread dough I had mixed was pushing the cover off the pan. Norman opened the cabinet door under the kitchen sink and swung the hinged step in place, that Winferd had built. While he climbed upon it to wash, I set out the cooky sheet, raisins, cinnamon and sugar. He loved to mold "gingerbread" men from bread dough on baking days.

Whenever Marilyn or Norman got out of the range of my voice, I rang a cow bell, and it brought them home. It saved a lot of chasing. I had a really good thing going, until too many wise cracks from well meaning friends made me feel self conscious about it.

Marilyn went to school in the afternoons, and that half-day was endless to Norman. One day he disappeared right after dinner. I rang and rang the bell, to no avail.

"Well, baby," I said, picking DeMar up in my arms, "we're going to make some house calls."

The neighbors hadn't seen Norman. DeMar grew heaver and heavier 150150 as we trudged from door to door, and a dark cloud of worry loomed over me. Finally, Cleone Iverson came by in her car.

"Alice," she called, "Norman is with his Daddy at Graff's feed house."

"Thanks," I called back.

"Winferd, Winferd, how could you do this to me," I whispered to myself. "How could you take that little kid with you without letting me know?"

I was fagged from lugging a two-ton baby. The afternoon was shot, and my monstrous ironing was still undone.

Hours later, when the errant pair returned, I was so glad to see them that I forgot to scold. Norman looked so little, wan and white. Miller's dust had settled on his hair and powdered his coveralls. Crazy black eyebrows and a drooping moustache accentuated his whiteness.

"Where in the world did the stage makeup come from?" I asked.

"He found some tar. It just happened to land in the right places," Winferd explained.

When I told what a bad afternoon I'd had, Winferd said, "I'm sorry."

He hadn't really abducted Norman. It was all innocent enough. Since he was almost late getting back to work, he drove fast, bouncing through the pockets and ruts of the dusty road. He hit one mud puddle that plastered the front of the car. When he reached the end of the bench, Mr. Drennen hailed him.

"Hey, do you know you have a kid hanging in the spare tire on the front of your car?"

Winferd hopped out to investigate.

"You could have knocked my eyes off with a stick when I saw Norman," he related. "He was dripping wet with mud."

"I was hanging on just dandy," Norman added.

I shuddered to think what would have happened if he hadn't hung on "just dandy". Winferd's first reaction at finding Norman was to spank him and make him walk hime, but he was afraid he might not make it, so he kept him with him. When Mrs. Iverson came along, he sent a message to me.

Kindergarten gave a new dimension to our lives. Marilyn announced, "I learned a new game in school today. Norman, get up on the table and I'll show you how to play it."

Kids on the table were scarcely more welcome than cats, but I was curious enough to let her go.

Norman perched upon the table, and she went out the door, picked up a stick and came in chanting, "Every night, when I come home, the monkey's on the table. PIck up a stick—now Norman, when I hit you, jump off—and give him a lick—". She gave him a whack that was more than he expected. Letting out a yelp, he landed on his shoulder on the cement floor. "Pop goes the weasel," she shouted.

151151 Norman lay on the floor crying. He had cracked his collar bone, and wore his arm in a sling for the next three weeks.

One day I sent Marilyn to the store for yeast. A hullabaloo of barking dogs brought me to the door. Instead of coming home on the beaten path across the square, Marilyn meandered through the tall tumbleweeds, her yellow sunbonnet barely showing above them and the busy plumes of dog tails that wagged around her. Like a whirling mass of fur, the dogs milled around her as she scampered through the gate. Laughing, she ran through the open basement door of our unfinished house. The dogs leaped through the window frames and raced with her. Her peal of laughter mingled with the chorus of barking that vibrated and echoed throughout the unplastered rooms.

She loved all things that could creep or crawl. One day she brought a milk snake in the house.

"Get that thing out of here," I shrieked.

Quietly she stroked it. "Mother, look at it," she said, "it's is pretty."

"You get it right out of here," I demanded.

"Please Mother, look at it. It is beautiful."

"Oh Marilyn," I said in desperation, "maybe it is, but I can't see it. Please take it out and turn it loose."

Disappointed, she obeyed.

Winferd was largely responsible for his daughter's attitude toward creatures. As I sat snapping green beans one day, Marilyn dumped a fat, green, tomatoe worm in my lap.

"Daddy sent this to you," she announced.

I jumped and screamed. Just outside the door I heard the burst of Winferd's laughter.

One day Marilyn presented me with a black widow spider. She simply could not resist the gleaming jet marble on legs. She seemed immune to fear, and all creatures respected her.

After the children were tucked in at nights, Winferd often read to me while I mended or ironed. This is the way he prepared his Sunday School lessons, or read from his good books or magazines. One night he read from the Better Homes and Gardens that each one of us goes through life with ome unfulfilled desire, like the little old woman who had always wanted a gold thimble. Her family scoffed at her silly whim and bought her instead, what they thought she should have.

"Do you have an unfulfilled dsire?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered. "I have always wanted one big doll with real eyelashes and deep blue glass eyes."

"And you never got one?"


"But you did get a doll?"

152152 "Oh yes. I had a Polly that tore at the armpits and her cotton oozed out, and a doll that said "mama" when I tipped her forward. Then one Christmas Midred and I got dolls alike, with painted faces and glued on hair. Mama bought the heads and made cloth bodies. Remember? That's the doll I had when we ran the swimming pool, and our little guests demolished it."

"Do you still wish you had a big doll?"

"Kind of. When I got big enough to pray quietly by myself so no one could hear, I used to ask for a golden doll. I knew I wasn't going to get it, but it was fun asking and a happy way to drift off to sleep."

I thought no more about this conversation until I awoke Christmas morning. There, in Marilyn's rocking chair, was a big doll with my name on it. She was the same size as DeMar. She had real eyelashes and deep blue glass eyes that opened and shut. Over her soft brown curls, she wore a red sunbonnet that matched her dress. Her molded arms and legs were chubby and her fingers lifelike and separate, on pudgy little hands. She was an absolute beauty.

"Oh Winferd!" I exclaimed, "how could you, when you're struggling so hard to build?"

With a hug, he said, "It's Christmas. If I could, I'd put the whole world in your stocking."

"But she must have been terribly expensive," I remonstrated.

"Fear not," he grinned, "I got her at a bargain."

"Thank you," I said, throwing my arms around his neck. "She's adorable."

She was an important doll in the years that followed. To get to rock her was the reward for being good and getting things picked up. Our children literally loved her to pieces. She stayed with us a long time, but eventually, the elastic that held her arms and legs together lost its stretch, and her bisque finish crazed and peeled. Finally, she mysteriously disappeared.