My grandpa’s hectic home

Posted by: Duane Hiatt in Commentaries Add comments

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page duanehiatt.com I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

My grandpa’s hectic home

My father grew up in an unhappy family bordering on dysfunctional as he described it. His stepmother “Aunt Ethyl” was a poor housekeeper, and an inept financial manager, not that there was much finance to manage. His six half sisters were born so close together that he remembers most of his growing years in a home filled with clutter, dirt, and the aroma of stinky diapers in the day and bed bugs swarming over his mattress at night.

My father’s father bought a farm just in time to welcome in the financial crash of 1929. He bought it one day, lost it the next essentially. The rest of his life grandpa would share crop and hire out as a farm worker—not the road to riches. Often he would work for his sons Randall and Delphin who both had farms. The peace of the gospel did not grace my father’s home growing up. My grandfather enjoyed his pipe, and did not enjoy activity in the church. I think it was tied to his feelings of failure as a provider. He hated the idea of paying tithing to the church. He said, “My argument is not with my God. It is with those who want to take my wallet.”

He also seemed to withdraw from a leadership role in the family. Partly this was a communication problem. My grandfather was hard of hearing. The family story was that once when he was working in the field he got tired and lay down for a nap on a ditch bank. A bug crawled inside his ear and ate a hole in his eardrum. I accepted that story long into adulthood. One day my brother Gordon said, “Does that make sense? A bug would eat your ear drum, and even more strange, two bugs would eat both ear drums in one sitting?”

The only way to get a message into grandpa was to shout into his ear. The neighbors probably knew as much of what went on in the Hiatt household as the people inside the house did.

Grandpa never recovered from the loss of his farm or from his most crushing loss; the death of his young wife. She died of heart problems leaving him with three small sons. As my dad related the story, in his grief and insecurity grandpa fell into the arms, or the clutches of a school teacher named Ethyl Tanner. Grandpa and Aunt Ethyl must have had something going for them. She bore him six daughters in fairly quick succession. To her daughters, of course, she was Mom, and to their children grandma. But to her stepsons and their children she was known as Aunt Ethyl.

To me as a child Aunt Ethyl was scary. She had a shrill voice that could peel the wall paper off the walls. She would shriek “Ves” which was short for Sylvester which was short for Franklin Sylvester which was grandpa’s full name. Then announce her message, and grandpa would nod, amble off to perform some duty or just escape.   Aunt Ethyl’s signature laugh completed the caricature; a high pitched cackle that made me afraid to look in her oven to see who might be in there.

But my father had no refuge of deafness to run to. He had to hear every word. Most of those words were harsh criticisms of him “She always told me, ‘You can’t do anything. You’ll never amount to anything,’” he told me

According to dad, she was light on her daughters, but heavy on the boys and most heavy on him.

In some defense or explanation of Aunt Ethyl, her designated title itself indicates the problem. When my first wife Diane died, and Sharon and I were married, I asked all our children to call her Mom. Diane and I had talked about this before she died, and agreed on it. All of our children call their stepmother mom, and all of our grandchildren call her grandma. It took awhile to get some of them to do it. But we worked it out.

Aunt Ethyl never achieved the rank of mother with her sons or grandma with their children. Surely this sent her a message about their lack of acceptance of her as a mother..

Beyond this, apparently grandpa never quite got over mourning the passing of his first wife Adella. He kept her picture also containing a lock of her hair hanging above their bed. I can believe this was no comfort to his second wife. Certainly my father longed for his lost mother. Probably insecurity and the lack of acceptance that Aunt Ethyl lived with contributed to her harsh manner with her step sons.

Whether it was as bad as my father described it, and whether most of the problem came from their poverty and lack of social standing rather than from their stepmother and their ineffective father, no one will know this side of the veil.

We had to cut Aunt Ethyl a little slack a few years ago when we read an article in the church Ensign magazine. It was from a `woman in Payson, She said when she was newly married and a young mother she often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Her two angelic visiting teachers were older women of long experience and great compassion. They helped her negotiate these difficult years. One of these saintly women was Ethyl Hiatt. My brother Gordon and I were stunned. We thought surely it was a typographical error. Maybe there was another elderly lady in Payson named Ethyl Hiatt (not likely in our little town.) Maybe Aunt Ethyl changed in her older years. Maybe she never was as scary as we had been led to believe. Maybe we will owe her an apology when we see her again. I am ready to apologize. I hope it makes her happy. I just hope it doesn’t make her so happy that she laughs.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:

“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:

1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is:  My Dad as Abraham Lincoln and big band singer

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page duanehiatt.com I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

My grandpa’s hectic home

My father grew up in an unhappy family bordering on dysfunctional as he described it. His stepmother “Aunt Ethyl” was a poor housekeeper, and an inept financial manager, not that there was much finance to manage. His six half sisters were born so close together that he remembers most of his growing years in a home filled with clutter, dirt, and the aroma of stinky diapers in the day and bed bugs swarming over his mattress at night.

My father’s father bought a farm just in time to welcome in the financial crash of 1929. He bought it one day, lost it the next essentially. The rest of his life grandpa would share crop and hire out as a farm worker—not the road to riches. Often he would work for his sons Randall and Delphin who both had farms. The peace of the gospel did not grace my father’s home growing up. My grandfather enjoyed his pipe, and did not enjoy activity in the church. I think it was tied to his feelings of failure as a provider. He hated the idea of paying tithing to the church. He said, “My argument is not with my God. It is with those who want to take my wallet.”

He also seemed to withdraw from a leadership role in the family. Partly this was a communication problem. My grandfather was hard of hearing. The family story was that once when he was working in the field he got tired and lay down for a nap on a ditch bank. A bug crawled inside his ear and ate a hole in his eardrum. I accepted that story long into adulthood. One day my brother Gordon said, “Does that make sense? A bug would eat your ear drum, and even more strange, two bugs would eat both ear drums in one sitting?”

The only way to get a message into grandpa was to shout into his ear. The neighbors probably knew as much of what went on in the Hiatt household as the people inside the house did.

Grandpa never recovered from the loss of his farm or from his most crushing loss; the death of his young wife. She died of heart problems leaving him with three small sons. As my dad related the story, in his grief and insecurity grandpa fell into the arms, or the clutches of a school teacher named Ethyl Tanner. Grandpa and Aunt Ethyl must have had something going for them. She bore him six daughters in fairly quick succession. To her daughters, of course, she was Mom, and to their children grandma. But to her stepsons and their children she was known as Aunt Ethyl.

To me as a child Aunt Ethyl was scary. She had a shrill voice that could peel the wall paper off the walls. She would shriek “Ves” which was short for Sylvester which was short for Franklin Sylvester which was grandpa’s full name. Then announce her message, and grandpa would nod, amble off to perform some duty or just escape.   Aunt Ethyl’s signature laugh completed the caricature; a high pitched cackle that made me afraid to look in her oven to see who might be in there.

But my father had no refuge of deafness to run to. He had to hear every word. Most of those words were harsh criticisms of him “She always told me, ‘You can’t do anything. You’ll never amount to anything,’” he told me

According to dad, she was light on her daughters, but heavy on the boys and most heavy on him.

In some defense or explanation of Aunt Ethyl, her designated title itself indicates the problem. When my first wife Diane died, and Sharon and I were married, I asked all our children to call her Mom. Diane and I had talked about this before she died, and agreed on it. All of our children call their stepmother mom, and all of our grandchildren call her grandma. It took awhile to get some of them to do it. But we worked it out.

Aunt Ethyl never achieved the rank of mother with her sons or grandma with their children. Surely this sent her a message about their lack of acceptance of her as a mother..

Beyond this, apparently grandpa never quite got over mourning the passing of his first wife Adella. He kept her picture also containing a lock of her hair hanging above their bed. I can believe this was no comfort to his second wife. Certainly my father longed for his lost mother. Probably insecurity and the lack of acceptance that Aunt Ethyl lived with contributed to her harsh manner with her step sons.

Whether it was as bad as my father described it, and whether most of the problem came from their poverty and lack of social standing rather than from their stepmother and their ineffective father, no one will know this side of the veil.

We had to cut Aunt Ethyl a little slack a few years ago when we read an article in the church Ensign magazine. It was from a `woman in Payson, She said when she was newly married and a young mother she often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Her two angelic visiting teachers were older women of long experience and great compassion. They helped her negotiate these difficult years. One of these saintly women was Ethyl Hiatt. My brother Gordon and I were stunned. We thought surely it was a typographical error. Maybe there was another elderly lady in Payson named Ethyl Hiatt (not likely in our little town.) Maybe Aunt Ethyl changed in her older years. Maybe she never was as scary as we had been led to believe. Maybe we will owe her an apology when we see her again. I am ready to apologize. I hope it makes her happy. I just hope it doesn’t make her so happy that she laughs.

What do you think about this part of the book?

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:

“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:

1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is:  My Dad as Abraham Lincoln and big band singer

Comments are closed.