Look to the Stars
by Alice Isom Gubler Stratton

Chapter 36

209209 Throughout the year of 1947, the Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of the saints entering the Salt Lake Valley. As Stake MIA Special Interest leader, I was in charge of the Centennial Dance in March. With feed sacks dyed a pretty blue, I made my centennial dress. The floor length skirt was full and swirly, and the the waist nipped in to a slenderness that I recall with longing. The shell pink lace dickey, fastened around the throat with a beading of black ribbon. Lace ruffled at the wrists of the mutton leg sleeves. I made a swallowtail coat for Winferd from an old dress coat. He wore knee britches, long stockings, and had gold buckles on his shoes. We curtsied, and gracefully swayed through the minuet, in the floor show. This beautiful affair is highly embellished by memory, because Winferd was there, escorting me on his arm, bowing and smiling at me. The camera of my mind undoubtedly took a lovelier picture of the affair than any ordinary camera would have done.

210210 Utah had a state-wide beautification project that year, and I was chairman of the committee in LaVerkin. Opportunity had flung her door wide open to me. When we built our home facing the square, we little realized the complications we were heaping upon ourselves. There was no through road. To get in and out, we had to drive across the square. Every time it rained, the hard packed clay became as sticky as flypaper, and we could neither get in nor out with a car. The Vernon Church family, to the west of us, had to either go around three blocks to get to the church house, or to walk through Uncle Jo Gubler's field on a little footpath along the ditch bank. Town people often cut through our lot to go to Church's. We regretted building our home where there was no road. Checking the original plat for LaVerkin, I found where many of the roads had been closed, and sold to the adjoining land owners, with the stipulation they would be reopened when the need arose. The need was now.

Grandpa Gubler said he would give Winferd the necessary land on the north side of our lot so we would still have an acre of ground, and Wickley Gubler said he would give up the north row of pear trees in his orchard. We would have to sacrifice a row of English walnut trees.

When I presented the plan to the town council, there was some lamenting. "No one will use the road but you," I was told.

"You promised that if I would take this job, I would have your full support," I reminded them.

Image of the foremost of a line of Lombardy poplar trees, Populus nigra, Italica or Lombardy cultivar

A Lombardy poplar

The first (or foremost) in a line of several such trees. (Populus nigra, Italica or Lombardy cultivar)

Public domain image

Reluctantly they agreed to opening up the road. I scheduled a Saturday in March to cut down the poplar trees along the square that were in the middle of the right-of-way. Practically every man in the town came, with axes, saws, chains, and all of the necessary equipment. First, they tore out the old grandstand. This was like a funeral. The ball players grieved openly, and as they looked up at the tall lombardies that had been planted by the first pioneers, they shook their heads.

"Someone is going to be mad at you next summer, " one of them remarked.

"The trees are rotten," I responded. "They break in every wind."

The lombardies in front of our house were an ugly litter of broken branches.

The whine of the saw went through the first tree, and it crashed to the ground. The huge old trunk was nothing but pithy, dry rot, with the exception of a two- or three-inch live section around the outer edge. When the men saw this, there was never another word said. They not only cut down the trees along the right-of-way, but went on around the square, felling all nineteen of the old pioneer sentinels. Like beavers they worked, sawing up the wood, and stacking it behind the church house, and cleaning up the limbs. By sundown, the square was clean.

The people worked diligently to open up the road, clearing away all of the nut and fruit trees, and graveling the surface of the new road. We built new, tight fences. Sanders Brothers had their turkey hatchery in operation above the canal, and trucks began rolling daily down the new road. As long as the hatchery was in operation, this road was the main trunk into town.

211211 The day we went to St. George to buy car licenses, we didn't have money to buy two sets of plates, so we only licenced the sedan. At hay hauling time, Winferd had a problem. He couldn't haul hay in a passenger car. Besides that, he only had one battery and coil between the two outfits. So he parked the car that wore the license plates, and put the battery and coil in the truck.

"I feel like there are phantom cops behind every tree," Winferd confessed. One day at dinner, he announced, "A cop pulled me over today."

"Oh no," I groaned. "License plates are cheaper than fines."

"But I didn't get a ticket," he said. "The cop just yelled, 'Hey mister, get those kids off from your cab. Do it now!' then drove away."

"What on earth were the kids doing on the cab" I asked.

"I thought they were riding on the load of hay, but when that cop pulled me over, there sat Norman and DeMar, perched upon the cab. I was driving fairly fast, too."

"And he didn't get you for not having license plates?"

"I'm sure he would have, but the kids were so conspicuous that he couldn't see anything but them."

"Thank goodness for small favors," I sighed.

After that little brush with the law Winferd didn't push his luck, but took time out to go to St. George to license the truck.

Again the Fruit Grower's Association imported Mexican help, but this time they were not city boys, but farmers. Winferd's four Mexicans lived in our little house. They were destitute. The Mexican government had killed their cattle and burned them in trenches, because of the hoof and mouth disease, and their families were hungry. These men were industrious and faithful. They never went to Hurricane to a movie, or even so much as indulged in a bottle of pop, but sent every possible penny back to their families. At the end of the day, they would sit in our yard and sing. Their voices were mellow and rich, and we enjoyed them. They appreciated fresh loaves of bread from our oven, and loved baked apples heaped with homemade ice cream. They liked our big front room, too. Often, as they sat there, they'd say, "You teach us English. We teach you Spanish." We didn't grab the opportunity as we should have.

One evening after they said goodnight, Winferd remarked, "They're so loveable that they'd almost come in and sit on our laps."

After the pear harvest was over, we packed our camping gear in the truck, ready to take a long-planned vacation. I had baked many kinds of cookies and sealed them up in molasses buckets. I had patched overalls and packed coats, bedding, dishes, and grub boxes, while Winferd tied up loose ends on the farm. The truck was outfitted with a canvas, drawn tightly over wagon bows. We whistled as we hustled with our preparations.

Then Ovando burst through the front door. "Where's Win?" he asked.

"Watering the lucerne."

"Tell him I won't be able to use Donworth this week, so he'd better start cleaning the molasses mill while he has help."

212212 "But we're leaving for Bryce Canyon in the morning," I gasped.

"You can't earn a living by going off on vacation," he said gruffly.

"You sure can't," I snapped. "That isn't earning a living. It's living."

"When you're depending on the farm for a living, the farm comes first. We can't use Don tomorrow, so Win had better use him while he's available. It's a lot of hogwash running off on vacations. When you're working with other people, you had better arrange your affairs to fit theirs."

My eyes were beginning to shoot sparks. "Look, just because you and Horatio can't pick apples tomorrow, you want us to change our plans. The family comes before the farm. If it wasn't for families, who'd need a farm?"

"If you don't take care of the farm, the family can't eat. If Win doesn't get the mill ready, we'll run into frost before the molasses is made."

I couldn't believe him! "Do you think we're going to let our kids down just because of your schedule? We've made plans and promises. Everyone is excited and ready to go."

"Well! If you've made up Win's mind, there's nothing I can do," he huffed, whirling on his heel.

Almost bumping into him, Winferd said, "She didn't make up my mind. I promised the family this trip, and now we're ready to go."

"You'd better get the mill cleaned while Don is free to help. You'll set us back till frost if you don't."

"The mill will be ready before you are," Winferd promised.

With a snort, Van was gone.

Ooh! I wanted to storm after him and smash him.

Putting a strong arm around me, Winferd said, "Calm down dear. Ovando just doesn't understand about wives and kids."

"I'll say he doesn't. I get so mad at him. It burned me up when he scolded you for buying me a winter coat, instead of using the money to buy cabbages and onions to peddle. Forty-seven years without a wife ruins a fellow."

Winferd grinned. "Someday he'll marry, and we'll all get a kick out of what happens to him then."

As I cooled off, I had to admit Ovando was the family pet, and every woman in town was always picking out the perfect wife for him. And we enjoyed him a lot on Saturday nights, when he came to exchange haircuts with Winferd.

We were gone five days on a camping trip to Duck Creek and Bryce Canyon. As Winferd had promised, the mill was cleaned and ready long before anyone was ready to cut the cane.

That November, our precious Lolene was born at LaVell Hinton's home. As I looked at her, I wished that every woman in the world could have a baby girl exactly like her. She was born under the "new order." I DIDN'T HAVE TO LAY IN BED TWO WEEKS. I could even get up and go to the bathroom, and I could sit up to eat. After ten days, I came home happy and strong, and hung a washing on the line. The December sunshine was glorious.

Online Publication Notes

  1. Lombardy Poplar trees

    Alice refers to a cultivar of Populus nigra (or black poplar) trees, or the Italica cultivar, that grows with branches nearly parallel to the main stem, forming a very columnar shape and coming to a narrow crown. Because the cultivar originated in the Mediterranean region, it is adapted to hot, dry summers. It is a male clone with a short lifespan, prone to fungal diseases, which can be blown over in high winds. This matches Alice's narrative. See the Wikipedia article, "Populus nigra" article, the Cultivars section.