Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 31: New home on Gordon Place on a hill overlooking Salt Lake City

Great Grandma lived in a cavernous old house on a narrow street called Gordon Place that ran between State and Main Street on a high hill.  The Utah State Capitol building was a few streets up State street to the east, and the Mormon Temple a few blocks south on Main street to the west of Gordon Place.
I couldn't have asked for a more centrally located place to stay for the year.  Grandma and Grandma Wilson lived on fifth south and third east in another big house which Grandpa had turned into small apartments along with another house.  He was trying to eke out a living for him and Grandma and little Uncle Bill with rentals and giving chiropractic treatments in his own office with Grandma acting as his nurse. So I would be able to walk down and see them on a Sunday.
Great Grandma's house had been turned into two dwellings, one for her and one for her youngest son Hyrum next door, who I was sorry to hear was dying of cirrhosis of the liver.  I had not heard much at all about this Wilson alcoholic, but sure enough he was the oldest black sheep in the family.  I had long thought his wife, Alda, was a beautiful woman with long red hair and always flashing a glorious smile.  I thought Uncle Hyrum had sure lucked out finding her, as he was so sick he was no longer bringing in money, although he dressed up in a suit and went out to hustle every day.  Alda made the living with her career as one of the city's most popular hair dressers, according to Mother.  Mother also said Hyrum had very cruelly made her have an abortion each time she got pregnant! But she was being severely punished now with Uncle Hyrum dying which would leave her entirely alone. 
I was shocked at such ruthlessness, but Mother said her Uncle Hyrum had been a spoiled man who needed all her money and her attention. I really did not get to find out much more than that as Uncle Hyrum was too ill to entertain guests. He paid Grandma a visit every day, but for only about five minutes. 
As for Great Grandma I was immediately taken into her daughter Aunt Anne's confidence who lived directly across the street from her in another historic old house.  She wasn't very long in telling me that Great Grandma had ruined her life many years ago by causing her to give up the only boy she ever loved, forcing her marry the wrong man.  But the man she had been living with so unhappily for so many years had given her four of the handsomest sons I had hardly ever seen in one family as well as two devoted daughters.
She told me she would come over and give Grandma her bath every week which no young great granddaughter could be expected to do. She made Grandma sound almost like a wild animal you had to manhandle into the tub if you were to get a bath accomplished. I thought maybe she was exaggerating until I heard them in the bathroom the first time.  Great Grandma screamed and hollered the whole time, sounding like she was being killed, so I was very relieved Aunt Anne had deemed that job too tough for me.
She warned me Grandma might become dissatisfied with me at any given time, but she would try to see that I would have a place to stay a year.  She said it looked as though her sons and daughters would all have to take turns keeping her as she was too much for any one person to deal with the year around. But they just hadn't wanted to start taking her yet, even though she was getting a little too demented for independent living. 
I could see mother and daughter were still arguing with one another after many years.  I did think to ask how Grandma had forced her to give up her one true love, and she said that Great Grandma threw herself down on the floor in a dreadful tantrum and kicked her legs in the air until she agreed to do it!
Wow!  That sounded like one giant fit, but somehow I was reassured by such information rather than put off.  My goodness, she sounded like she was related to my mom.  I was in fact quite relieved to find out that Mother had no doubt inherited a good part of her temperament from this very notable relative. She was not a one of a kind monster as I had feared at one time. Great Grandma was now beginning to make me think behavior like hers was just ordinary in that family.  In fact my mother resembled this grandma more than she did her own mother who I don't recall ever raising her voice in anger, she was always so patient and kind. I was already really glad I had come so I could stop pitying myself because Mother had such a volcanic temper.
I thought I should go very slow with Great Grandma at first, trying not to bring out the worst in her.  Of course, I had developed ways of handling Mother which I found worked with Great Grandma  too.
I could see that I had gotten entirely the wrong impression of her from hearing all my life how she had received a miracle cure for stomach cancer.  The story was she had developed agonizing pains in her stomach and when she was opened up she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was simply closed back up and sent home to die. But Great Grandma was made of stronger stuff than the doctors knew.  She told everyone she refused to die because she was a widow with a large family to raise, so she swallowed olive oil constantly she had blessed in the temple.  And she simply never died.
I naturally thought she must have prayed day and night, too, to receive such a miracle, but that was apparently not the case either. I had pictured her a very devout Mormon giving thanks to the Lord for her life having been spared to this very day, so was taken back to find out she did not attend church at all.  In fact, if she was expected to do anything she did not want to do she would exclaim in a deep wailing voice that she knew she was not going to last long and they would probably never see her again even though she was eighty I am sure.
I thought she looked ancient but was still a very striking old lady with piercing dark eyes and very high cheek bones.  Her hair had turn white but I thought many of her relatives had inherited their good looks from her. She looked almost Indian to me but she only owned up to some French blood.  She said she was mostly English.
Great Grandpa had been the blond parent responsible for some of the blue eyes in the family.  Grandpa Wilson told me he was a very mean man who died when he was eighteen, the oldest son in the family, but his dad had given him so many beatings before dying he had not forgiven hm to this day.  He had gotten wounded by a rock flying into his abdominal area while doing road construction work and never recovered.
If he had been as mean as Grandpa described him perhaps it was fortunate for the family he did die young, even though Great Grandma was driven to take in boarders which was maybe why she agreed to take me in, out of force of habit.  And the kids all soon had to pitch in and help her feed the family as soon as they got old enough to work.
I wondered if Great Grandma thought that the boy she wanted her daughter Anne to marry would be a better provider than the other one.  I did think it was going to be nice to live next door to such handsome cousins as Aunt Anne's sons, one of whom was only a year older than I was, but had lied about his age and had gone into the service just before I came she said.  She said he was her wildest son, and she could only hope the service would take some of the rebelliousness out of him.  Her youngest son was several years younger than I was, who she said was the best athlete in his class, so she could see what he might be doing through his school years. He was a smart boy and was determined not to get into trouble like his older brother.  She said his dad and older brothers would help keep him interested in sports if he would just keep his grades up and refrain from fighting with his teachers.
Mother must have taken me to West High school to register before she went back home.  I was disappointed to think I was not going to be able to go to East High school which my dad had attended when he lived with his oldest sister Nethella, but it was located too far to the east of the city for me to reach by bus every day.  As it was I had a pretty long walk to West High school.
Oh well, I would only be going to West High for two years before I would have to find lodgings to the University of Utah.  The east side was where the more well to do people lived. The west side high school was down by the railroad tracks and poorer kids either walked or rode the bus from their neighborhoods where they had attended junior high school. I had actually wanted to hang out with the rich rather than the poor, but beggars cannot be choosers.  Perhaps in my impecunious state, the poor were more my kind.  
I did not even inquire about seminary as I had left Garland so I would not have to attend my third year in a Mormon seminary studying Church history.  I thought I would do that on my own.  I would after all have a lot of religion thrown at me in Salt Lake, the site of a very impressive array of Mormon church buildings in Temple Square, so I didn't want to risk an overdose.
Well, there was nothing like going to live in the city that was the heart of the church to find out how powerful the religion really was.
I would not be expected to attend church since Grandma didn't go, but one of Grandma's most religious sons, Junius, was even a temple official, who came to eat lunch with Grandma several days a week.  He also worked for the Safeway chain and brought her sacks of groceries.  She prepared his lunch, and it was easy to see she adored this son.  He looked to me as though he did not have a bad bone in his body.
He reminded me a great deal of one of her other sons, Joel, who had been the Mormon bishop for quite a few years in Boulder before he decided to move to a town outside of Salt Lake so his daughters could live at home while attending high school. He got a job at the oil refinery and soon the whole family was busy acclimating themselves to city life.
His oldest daughter, Winolia, a year older than I, was now a junior. She was a very kind girl, a great deal like her father, which was quite a feat since her mother was a born critic.  I never knew of her to visit Great Grandma at all, but that did not surprise me.  The only people this aunt was fond of were her own relatives, and of course her daughters, even though she did not much care for the Wilsons, their father's people.  She did not have to tell me that she and Great Grandma had clashed. That was a foregone conclusion.  
Aunt Neta took me to stay with Uncle Joel's family a few times when we went to Salt Lake.  Winolia had shared stories about Grandma Wilson with me who she said always bought strawberry ice cream when she came to visit her because she knew it was her favorite.
Winolia was so busy as a junior in her high school though, she only came into visit Grandma about once the year I was there.  Grandma knew she was coming and made sure somebody brought strawberry ice cream. Winolia and I both had some and went to the movies.  We could also walk down town and find a movie theater close by.  I thought that was wonderful. 
On the whole, I thought Gordon Place was a very satisfactory dwelling from which to launch off my attempts to conquer the city of Salt Lake, as much as possible anyway.  I thought it was going to be a very illuminating year.

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