Rex and Beth, a love story

My uncle Rex Wride was every teenage boy’s idol. He owned a Harley Hog when far fewer Americans rode motorcycles. He was a pilot, and an officer in the Civil Air Patrol. (He tried to join the Air Force, but failed the physical.) He was movie star handsome; a dashing babe magnet who always had a new beauty on his arm. He traveled to Europe and various spots in America.

Sometimes he took my brother or my mother and me along. My first view of southern California is burned indelibly in my heart, mind, and imagination. We crested the San Bernardino Pass, left behind us the snow flecked cold deserts and cruised down to the palm trees and then the white surf and deep blue endless depths of the Pacific Ocean. Relaxing in a roadside stand crunching deep fried giant prawns courtesy of Uncle Rex and sipping freshly squeezed orange juice (not the strange pasteurized concoction they gave us back home in grade school,) changed this country boy’s world view forever. The southern California I saw then will always be the Land of Oz to me because of Uncle Rex.

He owned what we then called a portable radio. Today we might call it a portable hernia maker. Full of electricity sucking vacuum tubes and powered by a battery about the weight of six bricks, the whole unit was more like a mountain climber’s backpack than the microscopic slivers we wear today. But it had no power cord attached and was therefore magic. I admired it. Uncle Rex gave it to me on the spot. My mother protested but Uncle Rex insisted.

Who wouldn’t love an uncle like this? Apparently few, especially of the fair gender.

Why then hadn’t one of these ravishing beauties captured him long ago? I couldn’t figure it out.

Then one day I saw him pushing a hypodermic needle into the skin of his thigh. It made me shudder. But I still couldn’t put the puzzle together.

Pause here while those of you who are old enough can remember, and those who are not can imagine the innocent naïve world of a few decades ago.

Today everybody could instantly see the problem. Drugs. And everybody would be wrong. The shot was not cocaine or heroin. It was insulin, my mother explained to me later. Since he was a boy Rex had endured the kind of diabetes that never lets go of you. It drains your strength, weakens your resistance, and shortens your life.

Rex was determined to not burden a woman with a husband whose years would be few, and problems many. So he never got serious with his beautiful friends.

Enter Beth, lovely, educated, and talented flight hostess for TWA airlines.

Beth’s mother was wrestling with a flat tire by the side of the highway near American Fork Utah when Rex drove by headed the other direction. Being Rex he spun his car around and took over the project. As he pulled off the offending flat and bolted on the spare, their conversation turned to family small talk. The woman mentioned her daughter stationed in Kansas. Rex mentioned his brother,  a soldier in Kansas. They traded addresses and telephone numbers. Rex later met Beth. He pursued her until she caught him I guess, as the old saying goes. He explained to her that he loved her, but refused to be a burden. She refused his refusal. They were married and lived happily ever after.

For six years, and three children.

Then the spoiler clamped down. Diabetes ravaged his body. He died.

It is hard enough to endure the loss of a beloved companion under any circumstances, but to know in advance that your time together will be short raises the commitment to a new level I think.

Beth shouldered the burden of loneliness and of providing for their two boys age four and two and their new born baby girl. She bought a restaurant named Holiday Inn. Work, work, nurture children, sleep a little labor a lot. When the national corporation threatened to sue her if she didn’t change the name. She stared them down with documentation that her restaurant was “Holiday Inn” before their company existed. Knowing her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also asked if they wanted the publicity of running a widow supporting three children out of business. The big boys backed down. As far as we know Salt Lake City boasts the only Holiday Inn not part of the worldwide chain.

Long hours, little sleep, chutzpah, and faith brought out a previously hidden talent in Beth, a gift for business. The restaurant provided their needs, and enough to spare that she got into home real estate. She also bought land in the mountains and with family help built a retreat for the family and friends. Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren carry forever the golden memories of stays in the cabin. Generations rise up calling her blessed.

The closing chapters of this part of the love story are mercifully brief. Instead of the Christmas festivities she and her family had planned, she entered the hospital for a few days.

She gathered her growing tribe of loved ones about her and told them as she had over the years, “I love you all. I love to be with you, and I am grateful to know that we will be a family forever.

“But I have spent 57 years living on the memories of six years. I long to be again with my husband, and very soon I will be.”

And thus it is. Last Thursday was a beautiful funeral, an appropriate tribute to a love that will never end.


Every True down in Trueville loved Christmas a lot,
But the Grump up in Sueville most surely did not.

He claimed to be happy and maybe he was,
Had no gripe with the reindeer or with Santa Claus.
He could join in the singing about peace on earth,
But he ground his Grump teeth about Jesus’ birth.
A star and bright angels why how could that be?
He said, “Superstition. Makes no sense to me.”
In matters of faith he would give not an inch.
His heart was as shriveled and cold as the Grinch.

He said, “If there’s one thing I thoroughly hate
It’s to have signs of churchiness mixed with the state
Never mind that our money says ‘In God we trust’
That’s an old fashioned notion that’s dry as the dust.”

So he thought till his humanist thinker was sore.
Then he thought with his humanist thinker some more.
Then he thought, “I know what I’ll do, just what I’ll do.
If anyone talks about Jesus I’ll sue.”

So he called up his lawyer friend Clyde the attorney.
And Clyde said up front, “What’s the fee it will earn me?”
The Grump said “I’m really embarrassed you’d ask
To be paid to be part of so worthy a task.
We are saving this land from religious fanatics,
The noblest victory since Appomattox.”

So the Grump and his side kick Clyde the Attorney
Set out on the work of their humanist journey.
The Grump sent out more than one great proclamation
To every far corner and edge of the nation.
“Better our walls should be filled with graffiti
Than we should help people have faith in a deity.”
“Season’s greetings,” they shouted, “Hooray Santa Claus”
But refused to acknowledge who’s season it was.

One day on the corner where Elm Street runs through
They chanced to meet sweet little Mindy Lou True.
They said to her, “What’s that bad song you are humming?”
“Away in a manger, for Christmas is coming.”
“That’s religious,” they scolded sweet Mindy Lou True
“Why if everyone sang that you know what they’d do?”

“They might do what Jesus did,” Mindy replied.
“They’d start to feel wonderfully happy inside

Their joy would spill out all over each other
They’d love everybody as sisters and brothers
We would humble ourselves and repent of our sins
And our frowns would be covered all over with grins
If we learned to love baby Jesus enough
We might even be willing to share all our stuff.”

“Stop your talk of religion,” the Grump and Clyde told her.
But Mindy Lou True became even bolder.
“Why that’s a religion that you two are preaching.
To me this makes more sense than what you are teaching.”

So the Grump and his lawyer had had quite enough.
They took off in a whiff. They took off in a huff.
Through the cities and towns they went suing and stopping
Any talk about Jesus, but they loved Christmas shopping.
Then they ran to their home to chuckle and chortle
Over how they stopped Jesus from looking immortal.

The Christmas they taught was no birth of a king.
It was kind of a warmed over washed out old thing.
Instead of the wise men with stars in their eyes,
We got Grump and his lawyer, couple a wise guys.
In the home of the free and the land of the brave
They made talk of the Savior a thing to be saved.

The Grump issued his seasonal formal decree,
“Mistletoe is ok and the log and the tree.
Happy holidays everyone have a good time
But don’t mention the Christ Child for that is a crime.
Season’s Greetings and have you a happy new year
Have a glass of spiked eggnog and send up a cheer.
But don’t set any manger scenes up now you hear?”

Grump said, “Those Truevillians are burning with rage.
They don’t know we have entered an enlightened age.
They don’t need faith and reverence the Grump said with pride.
They’ve got Rudolph and Santa. They’ve got me and Clyde.”

Then he heard in the street a low rumbling sound.
Like the thunder of elephants pounding the ground.
He looked out the window and all he could see.
Were the Trues up from Trueville the little city.
“Oh no,” cried the Grump, “They will lynch Clyde and me.”

But the Trues started singing a beautiful song.
They sang it out loud and they sang it out long.
They sang, “Jesus has told us to love everyone
For each of us is the Lord’s daughter or son.
You can’t take away Jesus, he’s still in our hearts,
And when we feel happiness that’s where it starts.
Though you’ve tried to stop Christmas, you’ve tried and you’ve tried,
We still care about you. And we even love Clyde.”

Then a new thought was born in the Grump’s little brain
He thought and he thought, and he thought once again.
It stretched in his mind till it even caused pain.
Could it be that religion is valuable too?
That the song of the Trues down in Trueville was true?
If it was, then the Grump and Clyde knew what to do.

The Grump’s brain grew more than three sizes that day.
He grew humble and some say he started to pray.
Even Clyde the attorney had something to say
Though he said it in quite an attorneyish way

“We the parties in question hereafter referred
As the parties fore mentioned first second and third
Express affirmation of what we have heard.”

Nobody from Trueville could tell what he meant
But they loudly applauded his worthy intent.
And the Trues and the Grump and the lawyer named Clyde
Felt a wonderful Christmasy feeling inside,
And it lasted, they say ’til the day that they died.

The End

(Chorus of Trues) Aaaaah Clyde​

Home Teaching, (sort of)

A few years ago a group of Mormons eager to show that members of the church were not the dour drones often pictured in the media and also eager to make enough money to pay a higher tithing put out a series of fluffy funny movies about our culture.

One of these was a slapstick comedy about home teachers. Home teachers are men and older boys called in pairs to look to the needs of families assigned to them. At least once a month they bring an uplifting message and offer their services for whatever needs the family has. My experience both in being a home teacher, and in having home teachers visit us is that the system works pretty well given the foibles of people. But that is a large given sometimes. Probably the main challenge is overcoming inertia on the part of the home teachers and scheduling a time with the “teachees” in our busy world of today.

But there is also such a thing as too much enthusiasm, and being too prompt in visiting. .How do I know? Been there done that, as the saying goes. My companion and I often get so involved in conversation with the family we are visiting that we are late for our next appointment.  But not this time. This time for some reason we were early, surprisingly early. So early that our next family was still having dinner with friends they had invited over. A perfect time for us to reschedule and slip away for a few minutes and return.

Option two was to barge in and enhance their festivities. We chose option two. I had even brought my guitar along as a special treat. I offered to play background music for their meal like a gypsy violinist at a swank restaurant. My offer moved them deeply. Their guests were so moved they moved from the dinner table down the hall, and escaped out the bathroom window I assume. We never saw them again.

Undeterred I broke out my guitar and began to play. The mother of the home was so touched by my performance that she could not speak—or breathe. My companion correctly diagnosed that my music while probably a contributing factor was not the sole cause. In her haste to be cordial to us, and her friends she had swallowed something that stuck in her throat. Ever anxious to serve, my companion stepped behind her and executed the Heimlich maneuver. The choke still stuck. He tried again a little harder. She is not a really big woman. He is built like an NFL linebacker. After the second crush of her rib cage, she waved the stop signal and staggered out of his reach, coughing, but breathing. Down the hall she weaved maybe headed for the bathroom window. No. She soon returned. Gracious and hospitable, but subject to short coughing spasms.

Her husband remained calm. When you have fought in the jungles of Viet Nam, made a career as a security officer in the States and abroad, and are standing on one knee you were born with, and one manufactured by physicians and necessitated by a terrorist bomb in Afghanistan, a little domestic drama doesn’t raise your heart rate.

Meanwhile I had picked up the pace on my guitar, then shortened our message so we could let this family finish their dinner and cough in private.

We apologized that we had interrupted their peaceful afternoon and chased off their friends. But the wife was gracious as usual. Without realizing it, she also had the best line of the whole encounter. She said, “It’s alright. They are members of the church. They have home teachers too.”


Few experiences in this life are more gratifying than sitting in the congregation while your grandchild reports his or her Church mission. Stockton Hiatt included in his account several miracles he had experienced; miracles clothed in various raiment.

He told of two young children in Africa; their situation unfortunately not uncommon. They were two more children than their parents felt they could support so they were left at an orphanage. The boy was four. His little sister was two. Yet, a worker told them “You are too old for people to want to adopt you. You will probably spend your life here in the orphanage.”

The little boy was crushed. He wanted to be in a family. He made it a point of personal prayer. He had never prayed before, and didn’t know the formalities He could only pour out his heart to heaven and hope for the best.

Meanwhile in the town of Billings Montana a mature married couple prayed. Prayer was not new to them. They prayed, “Heavenly Father our family is grown now. We have space and financial means to reach out and bless other people. What would you like us to do?”

God heard their prayer and matched it with the prayer coming from the orphanage in Africa. The couple adopted the two children and took them to their new home in America. Prayers answered mission accomplished, miracle received

The second miracle was to a young man, a talented athlete. The high point of his impressive high school career was out leaping a wide receiver a foot taller than he was to knock away the pass and seal for his school the state football championship.

He was anticipating even greater things at the collegiate level. Then tragedy struck. He contracted a disease that would leave him crippled for life. At least sufficiently handicapped that he would never play sports as he had before. He was bitter. The Heavenly Father he had trusted all his childhood had let him down. What was the use of praying to a God who had so little power or so little concern that he could not fix his devastated life?

He left his activity in the church, and lost his hope for the future. This was his condition when Stockton and his missionary companion found him. Stockton himself had interrupted a college football career to serve his mission. So he could identify with the young man’s love of sports, and console him. No obvious miracle on the outside, but in the boy’s heart a more important one. He found his lost faith, and looked forward to a happy and productive life even within his limitations.

An older woman confined to a wheelchair for many years had resigned herself to this condition. But she asked for a blessing to give her patience to endure. Stockton and his companion went to the tiny house where she lived with her daughter.

In the blessing Stockton found himself promising the woman that she would walk again. She thanked them for the words of comfort. And they left her home.

As they walked down the wheelchair ramp that covered her front steps, they were prompted to stop. They sat down on the ramp and Stockton said, “For some reason, I think we should pray.” The reason was made manifest in the prayer. They had the distinct impression that they should return to the woman’s kitchen. She was surprised when they knocked again, but invited them in. Stockton said, “We have not finished our work here. The Lord promised you through us that you would walk again. Now it is time for you to walk. Stand up and walk.”

The woman haltingly raised herself supported by the arms of her chair. She let go and stood unsteadily. Her daughter said, “Mother be careful you will fall.”

The mother did not fall. On trembling legs she took one step then two and several then she began to run and skip around in her small kitchen she even jumped up and down. Tears ran down the faces of all in the room.

This was a miracle indeed, on the level of the Apostle Peter saying to the crippled man, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6) It was biblical in its proportions.

Stockton didn’t intend to enter a national debate, but such does exist between the “Magical Thinkers” and the “Scientific Thinkers.” For a quick overview see columnist Jerry Earl Johnston’s discussion “In the modern world, there’s scant room for magic,” Deseret News, June 20, 2015, p. C1. For an older philosophical/theological treatment I suggest Miracles, by C.S. Lewis, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1947. If you choose this route, set aside some time, and your predispositions. It’s a deep and interesting trip.

The Magical Thinking movement has entered the halls of ivy with university courses being offered on everything from unexplainable events to witchcraft. Scientific thinking was already ensconced in academia and, if current trends continue may become America’s unofficial national religion.

Those who choose to exclude the miraculous from their universe of possibilities may interpret Stockton’s experiences using only their logic. The African children’s adoption might be classed as a coincidence. Kindly people reaching out and helping children is not too uncommon even in today’s sometimes hardened world.

The young man’s change to a more positive attitude was admirable, but not outside the realm of natural possibility. His body was not miraculously healed.

The strengthened legs of the woman might be explained as a psychosomatic condition cured by the encouragement of the elders triggering a new resolve and providing energy to her legs.

The Magical Thinking people would have no problem accepting all these things as miracles. They would also accept many other things that I, and perhaps you would not classify as miraculous.

Who is to have the final say on these and other such events? I suggest we give that authority to the people who experienced them.

I suspect the African child does not believe his prayers were answered by a cosmic game of chance. I think the athlete knows that it is by God’s grace that his heart was healed and he can now look ahead through new and happier eyes. The dancing lady must have known she was standing through strength beyond her own.

And there was one more miracle that Sunday, the authenticity of which I claim the authority to decree. Stockton didn’t know he had reported this one, but the rest of us got the message. He, like tens of thousands of other young men and young women, had answered the call of Jesus to, “Follow me.”

He had thereby matured to true manhood through his service to the Master of Miracles.

That is a miracle to make the heart of a grandfather swell with gratitude.

The Revolutionary War

The more distant in time the more we forget, and tend to think of the war for independence as a skirmish between people in funny looking clothes shooting muzzle loader rifles so primitive that they probably only got off a shot or two before the battle was over.

Reality: Approximately 25,000 America soldiers killed. Thousands more injured for life or whose lives were shortened by their wounds.

Personal Application: Harry Golden, in his Washington based newsletter “The Carolina Israelite,” and in his book Only in America noted that for years we clucked our tongues in disapproval over the statistic of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. But humans can’t personally identify with a statistic. It was not until a 13 year old girl described her life, as a statistic of one, that we felt the horror of the holocaust.

Likewise the Revolutionary war. Here is a statistic of one, one family.

The Jacob Brawler family from South Carolina sent twenty-two sons and their father to fight for freedom. They were all killed in battle except one who was seriously wounded and died a few years later.

Let us remember Jacob Brawler, his sons, and the thousands more who gave much, and those who gave all that we might be free to shoot fireworks, hold parades, stuff ourselves at barbecues, pursue our happiness, and live lives that most people in the world can’t even dream of.

Restoring Crystal

As a child (but old enough to know better) I was lying on my stomach on the floor of our living room idly swinging my feet from the knee joint when I idly kicked the curved glass front panel out of the china cupboard, one of the few nice pieces of furniture we owned. Glass shards rained down on the carpet. At the noise Mother came running, stopped at the doorway and stared at the destruction. I remember she was sad, but not mad. More resigned that she had chosen to have boys over fancy furniture. It was only a matter of time before one of them became the bull in the china closet.

“Can we fix it?” I hoped out loud.

“No. It’s curved glass you can’t replace it, she sighed.

We sadly moved our solitary show piece into the corner of another room. It was functional but no longer displayable.

She never punished me, but I punished myself. Then I forgot about it; at least I think I did. But it may have floated to the surface as I wrote this little bedtime story.

Picture yourself as a parent.  You have a beautiful home, well-furnished and pleasant to live in.  In fact it is just perfect.  You also have a child.  The child is not perfect.  But you love this child with the unfathomable love of a parent.  One day the child walks through the perfect living room.  The child decides to stop and touch a beautiful crystal vase on the table.  This is against your instructions, but children will be children.  The vase crashes to the floor.  You hear the crash, rush to the door and see your beloved child trying to put together the pieces of your precious vase.  It is a pathetic sight to see the little awkward hands trying to undo the damage and restore the shattered crystal.

As a parent you have a problem.  You could be merciful and ignore the event, sweep away the debris, sweep your child up in your arms and say, “It’s all right.”  This might relieve the child’s feelings.  But it would not be true.  It’s not all right.  The vase is shattered.  The room and the home are now less than perfect.  This is not the standard you have set for your home.

More important, the child might never learn that there are consequences to doing forbidden things.  So on the other hand you might exact justice.  Demand that the child either restore the vase to its original beauty or buy an exact replacement for it.  But this is not practical.  The vase is very expensive. The child has no money.  And to repair shattered fine crystal is impossible.

Perhaps a third alternative is to simply pretend the accident didn’t happen.  But as a parent you know that if the problem is not corrected it will happen again and probably get worse.  If your child doesn’t learn and practice correct rules of conduct he or she will probably fail in life and you will fail as a parent.  Your work which is to bring to pass the happiness of your children will never be accomplished.

Another person enters the room.  You smile when you see him come.  He is such a joy to you.  He is your oldest son.  Your son comes to the child, kneels down and takes the child’s tearful face in his hands.  The son asks, “Do you need help?”  The child can only nod.

“I can help you. Would you like me to?”

The child nods again.

This kindly brother with incredible dexterity picks the delicate shards of crystal from the floor.  The glass cuts his hands.  He bleeds, but he continues to work.  He replaces the crystal pieces in their exact previous arrangement.  The warm glow from his hands melds the broken fragments into perfect integrity again.  The beautiful vase is as it was.  No, there is a luster and glow about it that make it sparkle as it never did before.

The child finds a few words in its limited vocabulary and stammers out, “I can’t pay.”

The older brother says simply, “Come.  There is no charge.  Just follow me.  Do what I do and someday you too can work miracles.”

The older brother takes the child’s hand and they both come to you the parent.  You embrace them both.  All of you rejoice in one another’s presence and in being again in your perfect home.

Life on the high wire without a net

Many of us in our fantasy moments would like to be bold and adventurous, living on the edge.

But going over the edge while piloting a plane that is about as air worthy as a loaded cement truck would probably not be on our to do list.

But then we are not Dr. Keith Hooker. We’ll get back to that scene. On a previous occasion Keith scattered another plane, over a considerable portion of the real estate just outside Montrose Colorado. Fortunately Keith’s “co-pilot” Wid Tolman, built the plane including seat belts and harnesses. But who could foresee a mini tornado blowing up on them just as they took off. It flipped their plane upside down. An emergency belly landing is tricky enough. A back landing isn’t even covered in the manual. Fortunately Keith and Wid were able to eject. Unfortunately the ejection wasn’t on purpose. They just got flung out.

Miraculously they walked or staggered away. The plane was SMOA, Scrap Metal On Arrival. Their scratches, cuts and bruises, were featured in the local newspapers, but fortunately not on the obituary page.

Years earlier Keith baptized himself, a plane and his two passengers, in an Alaska river. It was a chilly swim and wade to shore for Keith and his wife Phyllis. It was a typical day floating in warm water for their almost newborn baby inside her.

The empty gas tank, and emergency landing, within spitting distance of the Spanish Fork Utah airport are hardly worth mentioning. The bent propeller memorial of that event standing in Keith’s back yard could be just an artistic sculpture. Keith was an excellent pilot. He just had this edge thing.

He came down from other heights in a similar robust fashion, rappelling off cliffs, hiking into slot canyons and occasional caves. And he also went up in like manner. He climbed North America’s highest peak Mt. McKinley, and challenged the world’s tallest Mt. Everest. Bad weather beat his party back down, but they were pushing the last stages to the summit.

Dr. Hooker was a connoisseur of survival “foods” including rodents, bugs, and worms. Some of these delicacies he got his children to enjoy, or at least eat with him. Would that I had such persuasive skills with our children.

Not surprisingly, his medical specialty was emergency treatment. He was head of that department at our regional hospital. I suspect Keith would have been most happy striding through life in a loin cloth with only a knife stuck in his belt.

Except that he was also a conscientious husband and father, church leader, civic contributor, and a good neighbor to me and others.  I was having a well dug. It looked like I would run out of money before we ran into water which would be when we tapped into the Yangtze river in China. Keith said he wanted to invest in the project. Eventually we reached a modest water source. I never would have made it without his help.

He freely gave medical service and supplies that would have made him money but instead made him many friends. He also made a few enemies. You don’t live with such gusto on the edge without bugging a few people. But among them were not the folks in Alaska, and later southern Utah to whom he brought his services by airplane. Nor our city police and fire departments whom he served for many years.

And so it came to pass that one warm summer morning his son announced to the gathered friends of Dr. Keith Hooker, “Today we are witnessing a sight I thought I would never see, my father lying in an open casket. I was always certain we would be sweeping and scooping up the remains of his last adventure, dumping them into a box and battening down the lid for his funeral.”

There was no disrespect in his description. We all smiled knowingly.

I know some well-organized people who have prepared the program for their funeral, but Keith took it one step further. He introduced the final song himself by way of a recording which starred the flying “cement truck” we started this story with. I’m paraphrasing here, but I think I have it pretty close.

Keith’s voice said, “This song is special to me. Once on a visit to a small clinic in southern Utah we flew out right after a pretty good rain. The landing strip was dirt, or in this case mud, at the top of a high mesa. I opened up the engine to full power and headed down the strip. The muddy ground, and the mud the wheels were throwing on the plane slowed us down way below take off speed. We went over the edge of the mesa and dropped like a rock. I went into a power dive to try and get enough airspeed to pull out of our fall before we hit the bottom of the canyon. Above the screaming wind and the roaring engine I heard a strange sound. Like a screeching banshee on steroids. I glanced over. It was my friend singing and hollering out the hymn, “How great thou art.”

The ball of mud with wings slowly began to level out, then climb. We pulled slowly up and above the nearby cliffs hoping we were not in a box canyon. A few minutes later we had enough altitude to start breathing again. For some reason a few minutes later planning my funeral seemed like a good idea, and I thought, ‘That song my friend was murdering would be a nice closer.”

The recording stopped. A young man with a guitar came out and announced, “Keith asked me to sing this song. I’ll be singing it loud because his last instructions to me were, ‘Sing loud because I’ll be in the box.’”

He sang loud.

Volunteers from the police force had kept an honorary sentinel watch over his casket the night before. The fire department crossed the flag-draped long ladders on their trucks to make a tall inverted V for the hearse and procession to pass through on their way to the cemetery.

At the graveside service we were respectfully somber. We would miss our friend, and perhaps we were even sad for him that his life didn’t end with a flourish. Cancer doesn’t lend itself to high action drama.

But our hearts were comforted. We knew Keith was launched on his greatest adventure ever.

Stock, stocks, and stalks

Glen McBride (Some names in this post have been changed to protect the insolent.) was a stockman in my home town. Normally stockman was a respectable trade but not the way Glen did it. He drove to Salt Lake City every day to trade on the stock market. To us that was just short of gambling, and made him more of a city slicker than a cow puncher. Maybe to show his small town roots he also dealt in the kind of stock we were used to. That is to say, cattle. But his efforts were not very convincing. I never saw him in cowboy boots and/or hat. He didn’t hang out at Sterl Taylors barber shop and join in the debates (arguments) that Herfords were just as good a beef steak as Black Angus and a whole lot cheaper. His herd consisted of one cow, and his grazing ranch was anywhere he could drive a stake in the ground to anchor the chain his cow was hooked to, and pick up a day’s free grazing off grass that grew by the roadside. Theoretically he would move his stock every day when he got home from chasing his other stocks in the Salt Lake market, but often it was too late or he didn’t remember to do it.

The code of the west as we had it preached to us growing up was, “The animals eat first, then the humans.” A corollary was, “First you feed the beef cow, then he feeds you.”

The most authenticity Glen achieved as a stockman was that his cow enacted the words of The Sons of the Pioneers cowboy song group’s mega hit “Cool Water.” It begins, “All day I faced the barren waste without the taste of water, cool water.”

I don’t know if Glen ever watered his one-cow herd. On hot summer days Mom would sometimes make my brother Gordon and me carry a bucket of water to the poor parched beast. She would down it in one long slurp.

But burning sun and stock and stocks were the last things on my brother Gordon’s and my mind that night as we stood staring at the black depths of the tree lined street and sidewalk in front of us. The lonely pale yellow eyeball hanging under a corrugated metal hat on a power pole; that was our last island of vision. Beyond its feeble circle of light the black tunnel of trees rustled and whispered threats if we entered into them. But enter we must. It was the only way home. Gordon and I were shivering from fright not cold as we were sucked into the black tunnel. Above us a breeze stirred the whispering leaves. Branches scraped against each other like a saw blade searching for something to cut.

Most fearsome of all, the enemy hovering over us was plant based vegetable matter. By this time in our lives we had long lost our naïve love and admiration of the green world. The sweet poems and pretty songs about the beauties of Mother Nature’s children had been drowned out by the harsh realities of face to face encounters: weeds that stick in your socks, thorns that flatten your bike tires, poison ivy and stinging nettle. Hours pulling, and hacking weeds on our uncles’ farms had showed us the dark side of the vegetation world. Plants could be maddeningly malicious. They could tangle your feet or your hoe, spring back to life right behind you as you weeded the long endless sugar beet row. The wild wicked weeds always beat up on the puny vegetables that were planted on purpose. I didn’t know then that the plant world was under the curse of Adam’s transgression, but I well knew they were under a lot of other curses because I put them on them.

But Gordon and I didn’t realize the depths of depravity plants could sink to until that night. We had just come from a movie our mother counseled us to stay away from.

“It will scare you to death,” she warned us. We didn’t listen.

The movie showed the crash of a flying saucer in the frozen north. It came from a planet far away where the plants had become the masters, and animals were first on their food chain.

The monster who survived the crash and set out to feed itself on human blood was named, as was the movie, “The Thing.” It sucked the blood dry from the Alaskan huskies in a camp of scientists, then from two of the scientists themselves. It propagated at an alarming rate until the scientists found a way to kill the monster and its offspring. Or did they? The trees around us, the bushes tame and wild, even the grass seemed to claw toward us to launch payback time. The eaters and the eaten would now change roles. Plants would hunt animals, eat flesh and drink blood.

We survived the black tunnel of trees, but not intact. Our hearts beat faster. Our breath came in gulps. Our warning systems were pumping adrenalin. We were keyed up for fight or more likely flight. Fortunately so because as we passed a low concrete wall in front of Erlandson’s big house rustling bushes in the garden and landscaping lunged at us. We heard them coming and quickened our pace for home.

Suddenly with a bellow “The Thing” itself attacked us. In the blackness we could only hear its steps and smell its rank breath. It snapped closed a chain trap throwing us down on the road. We fought our way free and ran for our lives.

We burst in through the front door to the safety and light of our home. Spilled out the story of our escape and showed the chain and road burns that proved we were not making the story up.

Any moment the blood sucking “Thing” could burst through the door as it did in the movie and suck the life’s blood from our veins and arteries.

Mom was ignorantly calm about the whole crisis.

“Ït was running?” she asked.

“Yes and fast.”

“Toward you or away from you?”

“Mom it doesn’t matter. It yanked a chain across the street that knocked us to the ground tried to tangle us up to suck our blood. It was ferocious, murderous!”

“And thirsty?” she asked.

“Yes, thirsty.”

“For blood, or for water?”

In the distance we could hear the howl or moo of some “Thing” or other.

Ok, it did sound a little like a cow. But I’m warning you. Beware. Since that night I often look at a tree in the darkness or even a Brussel sprout on my plate and wonder, “Did the scientists in the frozen north really kill them all?”

Our Towns

Thornton Wilder became famous for writing, among other things, a play about common folks in a small town. He named his play, “Our Town.” If we all had his talent we could find the same charm, drama, and oddities in our own towns large or small. In my town of Payson Utah and surrounding cities and villages the oddball history tidbits would include; drunken cows, vegetable headed people, the voice of God, and monsters from space chasing screaming boys in the night.

Sugar beets were a big cash crop in the old days, but not profitable enough to build a sugar factory for every little town. So the sugar company built a big processing plant on the outskirts of Spanish Fork about five miles northeast of my town. They then buried pipes leading to juicing centers in the surrounding towns. They pumped the sugar water to the plant to be made into sweet white granules. This worked well until one of the lines sprung a leak. It happened to be under a cow corral. The sugar water leaked to the surface, and fermented in the warm sun.

The cows loved it. But one day the farmer came out and found his dairy herd smiling and staggering. Some stories say they were leaning against the pole fence singing “Sweet Adeline” in barbershop harmony, but that may be an exaggeration. The Carnation Company used to have printed on their labels, “Milk from contented cows.” I’m thinking that’s not what they had in mind.

The first settlers to the town five miles south of us were grateful to a Native American who warned them about an impending attack from others on the warpath. The settlers prepared themselves in time for the battle. The hostile elements seeing the armed farmers decided against fighting, and peace was restored. The settlers wanted to honor their benefactor by naming the town after him, but they couldn’t quite bring themselves to it. The friendly Indian’s name was Squash Head. They did the next best thing and named the town after his brother Santaquin.

It was an outlying village in my day, one where people might have paraphrased the Bible and asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth (Santaquin)? How about a voice commanding enough to represent the Almighty himself?

The great Cecil B. DeMille was directing the crown jewel of his career. To use Hollywood vernacular, a spectacular, colossal, astounding, epic motion picture extravaganza The Ten Commandments. The pinnacle point is Moses on Mount Sinai. Next time you see the movie, listen to the rumbling, thundering voice emanating from heaven as the commandments are etched by fire into the stone tablets in front of Moses. You are hearing the voice of Delos Jewkes from Santaquin Utah. Delos made his way to Hollywood, and made a comfortable career there with his fine bass voice. Among other things, he would hire out to notable singers giving recitals. Delos would wait in the wings, and when the singer came to a note lower than his register, he would lip sinc, and Delos would hit the note from backstage. He didn’t get to share the applause, but he got part of the payout.

Every little town likes to be known as “Home of the World’s Greatest…” something or other. I’m suggesting early Payson settlers missed an opportunity to be known as “Home of the World’s Driest Reservoir.” It wasn’t planned that way. It just worked out, or rather leaked out that way. They dug a hole high enough in the foothills above the city that they could water the fields and town. They may have even planned on a future pressure system. Citizens cheered as they filled the reservoir. Next morning not so much cheering. The bottom of the project was a sand and gravel sieve that sucked the little lake dry. No water, but I’m guessing some pressure on the city fathers who forgot to check out that little detail.

And the monsters chasing children? Stay tuned for the next exciting drama.

Live Long* in the funeral business

One third of the title of my book of memoirs is “Live Long*.” It’s not “Live Long.” It’s “Live Long*.” The asterisk is important. As I mention in the book, for you of the younger digitized generation, the asterisk is the ancestor of the hyperlink. It takes you somewhere else. The “else” in this case is this explanation:

*Not long in years necessarily, but long in perspective.

My experience has been that the longer I look ahead to where my present actions will take me, the better my decisions and follow through tend to be. Also, I’m always looking for examples of where this process has been successful. If you have some from your own life or others you know about, I would appreciate your sharing them with me.

One of the better examples I’ve seen, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, was from my high school sports days. If I had a good game on the basketball court The Provo Herald newspaper would sometimes run a report of the game on their sports page. This was a big deal to us in the little town of Payson. A few days later I would get a laminated copy of the news story in the mail from the Berg Mortuary in Provo.

As a healthy young athlete choosing my favorite mortuary, casket, and burial plot was not exactly on the top of my agenda; especially when I had just had a successful game. I admit there were nights when I played lousily enough to attract undertakers and even circling buzzards, but mercifully the newspaper didn’t usually cover those games.

I thought then, “This is the most far sighted ad campaign I’ve ever seen.”

It still is. The people who started it have long since chosen their own casket and plot. But hey, Berg Mortuary is still in business, and here I am writing about them decades later. Not many ad campaigns live longer than some of the folks they were designed to sell to.