Sunday, December 24, 2017


The most memorable Christmas Eve of my youth almost didn’t happen.  Let me start by explaining that I was the eldest of eight children.  Being from a large and relatively poor family, meant that many of the Christmas gifts we were given were hand-made gifts.  Luckily my parents were talented, so these hand-made gifts were quality gifts.  Some scrap lumber may become a lovely child sized dish cabinet.  A large empty laundry box, covered in contact paper might be re-purposed to become a wardrobe for a new fashion doll.  Pretty much every year at least one or two of us got something made with a little more love than the gifts received by most of our peers.  This particular Christmas Eve when I was half way through my senior year in high school was destined to become no different.

“I’ve found every single one of my gifts except one,” confided seven-year-old April to me as I was urging her to bed that night so that Santa Clause could come.  It was no secret to any of us that April peeked at her gifts before Christmas.  She would none-the-less act very surprised as she opened each gift Christmas morning.

“Oh,” I asked,  my interest piqued, “what gift are you expecting that you haven’t found?”

“A doll like Julie got last year,” was her answer.  After tucking my young sister into bed, I approached my mother with the sad news that Mrs. Santa was one gift short of her next-to-the-youngest child’s expectations.

Mama was alarmed.  “I wish I had found this out a few days earlier,” she remarked, (but I could already see the wheels in her talented head turning). 

We went to Mama’s store of fabric and she started rummaging through it.  The year before, she had made a Raggedy-Ann doll for Julie, who was two-and-a-half years older than April.  Luckily she was able to find enough red yarn for the hair of another doll.  Between the flesh colored fabric left over from last year’s project and an old sheet, we had enough for the body.

“We will have to make the doll fairly large,” explained my mother.  “We don’t have time to make it a dress too, so it will need to fit one of the dresses we already have.”  Mama found just the right dress.  It was probably even one April had worn as a toddler (before passing it down to our youngest sister Marvelee, of course).

“I don’t know what are going to stuff her with,” said Mama.  “I will have to think about that.”  I became concerned.  I had visions of all my treasured stuffed animals being robbed of their innards.  This was happening in Moab, Utah, after all.  There were no stores open to cater to late night shoppers who needed just one more item.  Then Mama hit on just the right stuffed toy.  A large toy dog, which had certainly seen better days, was earmarked for extinction, (and it was not my dog)!  I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing in my collection would need to be “sacrificed.”

My sister Marlene, who was two years younger than me, was enlisted to help. So it was that three of us set about to make one little girl’s Christmas dream come true.

We came up with a pattern (which mostly came out of Mama’s head), and began cutting.  As the head was being cut out, Mama began threading a needle and set about embroidering a face on the doll.  I sewed the doll as Marlene began stuffing the various limbs.  I remember this Raggedy Ann somehow had the trade-marked stripped stockings and black shoes. 

As the night wore on, we became giddy with laughter (which Mama tried to contain so as to prevent us from awakening the household).  This was the most fun I had ever had on a Christmas Eve!  As the dog, shrunk, the doll grew.  We had just enough white fabric to fashion a pinafore and an hour or two before sunrise, a beautiful Raggedy-Ann doll was placed under the tree, and Mrs. Santa and two weary “elves” stumbled off to their beds.

We were awakened about an hour later by shrieks of delight as an excited little girl discovered her new doll.  “I just knew I was going to get this!” exclaimed our little sister.  “Now tell me,” she queried, “just where were you hiding her?”

“Santa brought her,” was the only answer that came to mind.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our first Thanksgiving as a Family

It has been 41 years since Jerry and I welcomed our eldest child into our home.  She was born on a Sunday afternoon, November 21, 1976 at about 2:30 PM.  She weighed 6 pounds 14 ounces and was 19 inches long. We named her Camie and we fell instantly in love with her!  She had black hair and dark eyes (which soon went brown).  She was a tiny Spanish beauty even though only a quarter of her ancestry is from Spain

My aunt, Alice Johnson, was in attendance at her birth.  This was not planned.  She was the head nurse in the nursery at Utah Valley Hospital.  When my attending nurse became extra ornery, my husband marched her down the hall to the nursery and informed her she was trading places with my aunt.  The hospital for some wonderful reason allowed this, and Aunt Alice stayed with us.  She was not a labor and delivery nurse, but she was a vast improvement over the nurse I had and was very professional.  She timed contractions was very comforting and calming.  I remember that she marked the time of birth.

As soon as Camie arrived, we began calling to announce to our parents that they were grandparents.  For my parents, this was their first grandchild.  For my maternal grandmother, this was her first great grandchild. Both our families were in Church, so we couldn’t reach anyone to tell them this most exciting news.  It was a couple of hours before we were able to let them know they had a new granddaughter/great granddaughter/niece.  Of course, they were overjoyed at the wonderful news.  My mother immediately began planning to make the 200 mile trip to come and welcome her first grandchild.

Aunt Alice warned us that Camie was an “angry baby” when she would bring her in from the nursery for her feedings.  Camie immediately began experiencing colic. She spent her first night at home sleeping on her daddy’s chest, where his heartbeat lulled her and allowed us to get a few hours rest.  When Grandma arrived, she spent hours carrying Camie around, trying to soothe her.  After we had spent several sleepless nights, Jerry called on my mother to say the family prayer.  I remember some of the words of that prayer.

“Heavenly Father,’ she pleaded, “we all need some sleep, especially Camie.  Six o’clock would be a nice time for her to wake up.”   Camie slept through that night.  She awakened, crying at exactly 6:00 AM  to the second.  We learned many lessons from my mother.  One of those was to be specific in your prayers.

I remember feeling guilty that my mother was not in her home in Moab, Utah cooking Thanksgiving for the family there.  I was the oldest of eight children and most of the rest were still at home.  I am sure extended family pitched in to help with the family in Moab.  Mama cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us there in Provo, Utah.

As soon as she was able, my Grandmother Holyoak came up from Moab to see her first great grandchild.  She was quite elderly and had really looked forward to having great grandchildren fearing that she would be gone before getting any.  She may have been just as excited as my mother to have Camie born.  Just before the family arrived for this visit, I accidentally stuck my infant daughter with a diaper pin while changing her diaper. Every time Camie looked at me she would start to wail remembering her injury. I remember worrying that they (the family) would think I was an incompetent mother.

I received some good advice from my grandmother on child rearing.  She said, “They never feel well until they have had their bath.”  She advocated bathing Camie first thing in the morning.  Her baths seemed to calm my fussy daughter.  Now the advice is different, but back then, that was good advice and it worked for all eight of my babies. 

I was also worried about spoiling my daughter.  Grandma told me that was nonsense.  “You can’t spoil a child under a year old,” she informed me.  “You can easily un-spoil them,” she continued, “but it’s hard to make up for lost attention.”

I was worried that Camie wanted her feedings too close together.  Grandma emphatically told me.  “You don’t tell her when she SHOULD be hungry; she will tell you when she IS hungry!”

When Camie was about a month old, we made the trip out to San Jose, California so she could meet her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousin out there.  I remember Grandma Martin giving her the first tub bath in her sink. It was so fun sharing her with them.  We had a fun Christmas there with them. 

So armed with some sage advice on the part of her grandmothers her great grandmother, and Aunt Alice, we muddled through the first few months and year.  Camie had no time for cuddling.  She was too busy learning and doing, to waste time snuggling.  When I would try to cuddle with her, she would stiffen up and look over my shoulder.  She began walking at around 10 months of age.  About that time she became much less fussy.  She was a bright little baby who seemed more like an adult, trapped in an infant’s body.  Her first word at around 10 months of age was “flower” (“wow-uh” as she would say).

When my mother was born, her mother had crocheted some baby shoes for her to be blessed in.  I was also blessed in them as was Camie.  I gave them to Camie when she was pregnant with her oldest son (before we knew she was having a boy). So today, she will be here for Thanksgiving dinner with her husband Spencer and their five children. Their youngest is a daughter who was blessed in the shoes her great, great grandmother crocheted.

Jerry and I have many wonderful blessings we are thankful for.  Not the least of these is our wonderful, beautiful, oldest child.  So glad you got to make our first Thanksgiving together so wonderful Camie!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Remembering the Account of a Murder/Kidnapping Near Moab, Utah in 1961

When I was seven years old, my parents let an unemployed man named Abel Aragon, from Price Utah, camp out in our peach orchard.  Mr. Aragon, a decorated WWII veteran was looking for work in Moab, Utah where we lived.  According to Mama, he was somewhat disgruntled that he had sacrificed for his country, but was unable to find  the employment necessary to support his family after he returned.  Mama seemed under the impression that he had some mental problems which she attributed to his war experiences. I am not sure how my parents became acquainted with Mr. Aragon, but they felt sorry for him and did not feel he posed any danger to their family.

I do not know how long it was after he left our property, that Mr. Aragon held some tourists up at  gunpoint near Dead Horse Point State Park and shot a woman and her companion.   The woman, Jeanette Sullivan died at the scene. Her companion, Charles Boothroyd, was left for dead, but survived to tell the story.  The woman’s 15 year old daughter Denise was in the car when her mother was shot and attempted to drive away.  Denise had never driven a car before and Mr. Aragon was able to force the car she was driving off the road.  He then forced her into his car, kidnapping her. 

Three days later on July 7th, Able Aragon was stopped in a road block at Crescent Junction, Utah (about 40 miles north of Moab) where he fatally shot himself in the head.  He was alone at the time.  The whereabouts of Denise was not known.  She is presumed to have been murdered by him.  To this day, her body has not been recovered. 

My parents did not talk much about this incident within my earshot, but I was aware of it.  I began having nightmares and was noticeably more anxious than normal during the day.  Mama began to question me in order to determine what my problems were.  I confided to her that I was worried about being kidnapped.  I remember her assuring me. “You don’t have to worry about being kidnapped; your parents are poor.”

“Hallelujah, we’re poor,” I remember thinking.  I immediately felt more secure, wrapped in the protection of our poverty.  Mama did not tie the reason for my fear to the kidnapping of Denise Sullivan, who was likely taken because she was a witness to the murder and attempted murder.  It wasn’t until I was several years older that I realized I could be kidnapped for reasons other than ransom.

To read more about the incident, read the account of the Deseret News reporter who won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting of this story:

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.  I often reflect on this incident as the emblems of the Sacrament are blessed and passed to the congregation each Sunday.

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!