Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Get a New Baby Sister

Although over half a century has passed, it seems as if these evets happened yesterday.  I am thinking back to this time of year in 1966. There were seven children in the Loren and Genevieve Johnson family at that time.  The four Johnson girls and three Johnson boys had a contest of sorts going on. It was not a contest where we had any chance to influence the outcome, but the debate was a very heated one, nonetheless.  If the new sibling we were expecting any day was a boy, then the boys and girls would be tied at four each. If our new sibling were a girl, then the girls would be the winners and would outnumber the boys by two!  Each side was certain they would win. 

We were living in a small community called Fairview, Utah.  Fairview is in Sanpete County.  Sanpete County is right smack dab in the middle of the State. It was and likely still is an agricultural community.  The hospital where the baby was to be born was located in another small neighboring town named Mt. Pleasant.  At last the day arrived and Daddy took Mama over to the hospital.  The details of this are quite fuzzy.  I think this happened during school.  It was Wednesday, September 14, 1966.  I cannot remember for sure, but it seems we school-aged children walked home to find an empty house.  I am not certain where the younger children were, but I think a friend of Mama’s had them. Daddy came home to give us the good news.  It was especially good news for the girls in the family.  We had a new baby sister!

Mama stayed in the hospital for about a week.  During that time, Daddy went to visit Mama and the new baby often.  Back then it was not a hospital policy to allow children (with their possible attendant germs) in to visit.  Dad would come home with reports of how cute our new sister was and give us messages of love from Mama but to the younger children especially, there was no tangible proof this baby sister really existed.

At 12 ½ years of age, I was the oldest of the brood so I had added responsibilities at this time.  I was pretty much in charge of the household when I was not in school during that week. The other children who were old enough to have chores, did them. I remember thinking that we had the “cleaners” and the “messers.”  Mark (7), Julie (5) and April (2) were the designated “messers.”  They may have tried to help, but their best way to help was to don their jackets and go outside and play.  April who was just a toddler at the time needed quite a bit of tending.  I was already used to taking care of her a lot and she was a delight to tend.  I remember telling her she was, “my little friend,” and she seemed to like that designation.

Bud (Loren Jr.) was in charge of all the outside chores. He was just barely 11 years old at the time.  He along with George (the fourth child and second son—age 8) gathered in wood and coal for our fires. Bud had the added responsibility to chop the wood. The boys never had to help with the inside work because it was “woman’s” work and they had enough tasks to keep them busy outdoors. Marlene (the third child, and second daughter—age 10) and I did all the dishes.  By far the biggest chore was the laundry.  To make matters worse, we had no clothes dryer. The clothing had to be taken outdoors and hung on the line to dry.  It was an overwhelming task that never seemed to end.     

Daddy was always the one to do the grocery shopping.  Mama did not drive back then.  Getting groceries was Daddy’s responsibility new baby or not.  I think we had things like hot dogs, frozen fish sticks, frozen chicken pot pies and Campbell's Vegetable Soup for dinner.  We were used to being spoiled for breakfast.  Mama was like a short order cook.  She always had some type of mush (oatmeal, Germade, etc.), cooked.  If we did not fancy that, she would make bacon, eggs and toast for us.  We often had pancakes.  During that week she was in the hospital, we ate cold cereal for breakfast.

So the eight family members in the small home we were renting, muddled through in the best manner we could without Mama.  Always before when a new baby arrived, there were grandmas and aunts to help.  In Fairview we were away from family and on our own (with daytime childcare help for the preschoolers from one or two ladies from our church who were friends of Mama).  After what was the longest and most difficult week of my life up until that point, Daddy went to fetch Mama and our baby sister. We scurried about making sure the house was presentable for them and waited in eager anticipation to meet our new sister.

Mama was such a welcome sight as she stepped across the threshold.  We were all excited to see our new little sister, but I was most happy to see Mama and turn the job of running her household back over to her.  She “rolled up her sleeves” (so to speak) and immediately set about doing laundry. Years later, as a young mother with Mama helping me welcome my newest baby into my home, I realized how overwhelming it must have been for her, and I apologized profusely for letting her do the laundry that day.

“Oh Gemie,” she told me.  “I was so tired of lying around in bed for a week, I was glad to have something to do.”  Right or not, it made me feel a little less guilty.

Mama had always wanted to name a little girl “September.”  She had given up on having a daughter born in September, and had named her previous baby (a girl born on April 2, 1964), "April." 

“No Mama,” I remember arguing with her over her choice of name for my baby sister. “People will think you got tired of choosing baby names and just started naming them after the month they were born in.”  Mama reluctantly agreed that this was true.  I think, however, if Daddy had really liked the name "September," that would have been our new baby sister’s name.

A periodical, The Church News, came every Saturday in The Deseret News, a Utah newspaper (owned by our church) which my parents subscribed to.  I was reading the most recent copy and remember seeing an article with a picture of a young lady who lived in Hawaii.  “What do you think of this name Mama?” I queried as I shoved the article in her face.  A young woman named Marvelee Soon was pictured and identified in the article.  Mama and Daddy both loved the name.  I was proud that I was the one to find Marvelee’s name for her.  Unfortunately, as she was growing up, Marvelee was not very fond of her name.  Years later in another Church publication Marvelee (Johnson) found another article which had a Marvelee Soon Tahauri in it.  We think it was the same person, now married.   

Marvelee was such a good natured baby.  Mama confided to me how grateful she was that Marvelee was so content to just sit in her carrier and watch her work.  I remember that I tended her a lot. It was my job to dress her for Church every Sunday.  One Sunday I accidentally closed the car door on her hand as we were getting in it to leave for Church.  Her tiny fingers were bent at a 90 degree angle backwards!  I was horrified!  It was very painful to her, but the hand seemed to recover quickly from that mishap.

Marvelee has always held a special place in my heart. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grandpa Milton Johnson and the Sacrament

My grandpa, Milton Edwin Johnson was blind the last ten years or so of his life.  In reality, he was my step grandfather, but he was the only grandfather I knew and so my entire concept of “grandpa” is the kind and generous man he was.  I don’t think he ever tried to learn Braille, but Grandpa became quite adept (with the help of Grandma and others of us) at accessing information with his “talking books.” A lot of those books were on Gospel themes.

Our family attended Church with my grandparents every Sunday and we sat together most of the time.  On this particular Sunday, I requested to sit by Grandpa and was given the privilege.  Why we jostled for the opportunity to sit by Grandpa and not Grandma, I will never know, but it made him feel important (and I think Grandma was glad we made a fuss over him). 

Due to his blindness, a specific protocol had to be followed for Grandpa to take the Sacrament.  Grandpa would hold his right hand upwards on his lap.  When the emblems (bread or water) arrived for him to partake, you were to tap his hand so he would be ready and place either the piece of broken bread or the tiny cup of water in his hand in such a way that he could grasp it. 
On this particular Sunday, my mind must have drifted during the Sacrament.  I would like to imagine I was thinking about the Savior, and what I planned to do during the upcoming week to follow His example better; but my teenage girl mind was likely thinking about my latest crush.  At any rate, I was not remembering whom I was sitting by or that a special protocol must be observed. When the tray of bread arrived, I took my piece of bread, grasped the tray by the handle and offered it the person sitting next to me on my right (who happened to be my blind grandfather).  When Grandpa did not take his piece, I gently nudged him with my elbow.  As his thumb and forefinger closed in on a single piece of bread, I realized whose hand it was and felt immediate guilt that I had not followed the protocol.  I silently chided myself.  I remember thinking that I was very lucky that he did not knock the tray out of my hand sending the pieces of bread everywhere. I was very careful to follow the prescribed protocol when the water arrived.

Later that afternoon, I went to visit my grandparents.  I found Grandpa listening intently to one of his talking books.  His face lit up in excitement when he heard my voice.  “I was hoping you would come!” he said.  He then explained why he was so excited to see me.

“I saw the bread!” he exclaimed.  “I could not see your hand, but I saw the tray and the bread.”  He then went on to say, “It makes me think we take the Sacrament way too much for granted.  It is a lot more important than we realize.”  He explained that he was using his talking books to learn more about the Sacrament.  I wish I could remember the book or article we were listening to. Grandma must have helped him find it before she went down for her nap. That Sunday Grandpa and I gained a greater testimony of the ordinance we call the Sacrament.  The Spirit also bore witness to me that my Grandfather was truly worthy to partake of the sacred emblems, or he would not have been able to see the tray with the bread.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Love at First Peep

One day, when I was about seven years of age, my father arrived home from an out-of-town trip with a curious box.  Strange “peeping” noises were emanating from it.  My siblings and I waited in eager anticipation as Daddy removed the lid. Inside the box, we were delighted to find 12 of the most darling yellow baby chicks!  I fell in love with them at first peep! Daddy let us help feed and water them as he moved them to a larger box.  We were allowed to hold them briefly if we washed our hands immediately afterwards.  

When the chickens were big enough, Daddy built a chicken run in the backyard.  By the time they were adults, the chickens were no longer yellow, but pure white.  They were difficult to tell apart from each other, but we named each one and I think my siblings and I were pretty good at determining who was who.  To us, they were our pets.  We continued to help feed and water them but we were no longer allowed to hold them and were commanded not to touch or pet them due to the possibility of our contracting Salmonella (or some other dreaded disease).  I am quite certain we broke that rule many times. 

Sunday dinner was the most important meal of the week.  One early Sunday afternoon my nose detected the unmistakable scent of Mama’s fried chicken wafting throughout the house.  This was a common entre for our family and Mama made the best fried chicken I have ever tasted!  When I arrived in the kitchen I spied a lovely Lemon Meringue Pie sitting on the counter.  Mama also made the best Lemon Meringue Pies in the world.  My mouth began to water.  The pie would be dessert for those of us who could manage to eat a piece of chicken, a respectable amount of vegetables, and drink a glass of milk.  As much as I enjoyed fried chicken and even looked forward to the creamed carrots and peas that were being offered that day, my eyes were on that pie!  

Soon we were called to the table and sat down to enjoy what promised to be a lovely meal.  In the course of the conversation between my parents as we ate, I was horrified to realize that the delicious fried chicken we were imbibing was in fact the remains of one of our beloved pets.  I stopped mid-chew.  I could not bring myself to swallow and spat the mostly masticated contents of my mouth out onto my plate.

“What’s the matter?” queried Mama, a concerned look coming over her face.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” I replied.  That was not a lie.  I found myself completely without appetite at the realization that one of my friends was on the menu.  I did not even want a piece of pie, and probably could not have eaten even a bite of it either.

“YOU EAT YOUR DINNER,” my father commanded sternly, his brow furrowed in a deep scowl.  “Don’t you know there are children starving in China?”  I can’t remember for sure if it was in fact China, but somewhere in the world children were starving and my father knew exactly where that was, and somehow, by some magic, my consuming the crispy carcass of my former pet would be the means of providing nourishment to those poor souls.  Despite my feelings of guilt, I could not bring myself to comply. Much to my relief, I was sent from the table and not allowed to eat anything more for the rest of that day.

As the weeks went by, our chickens disappeared one-by-one.  I found that I needed to distance myself from them emotionally, so I no longer interacted with them.  It was some time before I was able to eat chicken, fried, or in any other form.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fourteen Years of Grand-parenthood!

Fourteen years ago today, I became a grandmother!  It was such an exciting day for our whole family. I was to have attended his birth in American Fork, Utah, but that as it turned out, was not to happen.

About 10 days before our grandson was born, I looked over at my youngest son, Adam, lying on the sofa in our family room.  "Maybe, it the light," I remember thinking to myself, "but his nose looks crooked."  I went over to investigate, and discovered that it was indeed crooked.  As he and his older brother Christopher explained, they had been playing baseball with a basketball and Adam's face got in the way of Chris' line drive.  

"We must wait for some of the swelling to go down," explained Dr. Carder.  "But, because of his age, we cannot wait past 10 days to do the surgery."  I reported this to my daughter Alyssa, who was awaiting the birth of her first child and had invited her mother to be present.

"It's okay Mom," she said when I informed her that I would be unable to be there. "Ryan will never remember you missed his birth, but a ten-year-old needs his mother when he has nose surgery."

The nose surgery went perfect.  "Those bones just snapped back into place," informed the doctor.  "A second surgery is often necessary when they are about 17, but I'm not sure that will be required in this case."  Dr. Carder's words were prophetic.  No repeat surgery was needed.

Ryan Thomas Christensen arrived in the wee hours of the morning on March 29, 2003!  I was hoping he would wait to be born on his great grandfather's (my father's) birthday which was the 30th of March.  But, Ryan was to have his own birthday.  He was named Ryan (after Nolan Ryan an outstanding baseball pitcher for the Texas Rangers).  His middle name was Thomas, (same middle name as his father).

I don't remember his weight or length, but I was with  my daughter Alyssa when she took Ryan to his two-week check-up. Dr. Liddle recounted the scary moments after he was born not breathing.  "I've never seen a baby go from an APGAR of two to a nine,' he explained. Ryan had a good check-up and seemed to be doing fine aside from having re=flux.

I remember taking the night shift with my adorable but fussy new grandson.  Because of the re-flux, holding him in an upright position after feeding seemed to help calm him.  In the upright position cuddled up next to me, he went to sleep that particular night; so I laid him down in his bassinet and dozed off myself.  I awakened with a start about five hours later to the fact that that I had let him miss his four AM feeding.  I rushed over to him as I realized that without thinking (and out of habit) I had put him on his stomach to sleep.  (His parents had stressed to me the importance of babies being put on their backs to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS--exactly opposite the advise I was given when I raised my children).  To my relief, Ryan was sleeping peacefully.  "Well," I remember telling his mother Alyssa, "If you get to the point where you could kill for sleep, you know what to do." Ryan did much better bundled up like a burrito, sleeping on his stomach.

So Happy Birthday to an outstanding young man!!!  I love you Ryan and I am so glad you came to our family 14 years ago today!