Ancestral Family Background

At this point I feel I should briefly tell a little about my Mother because it is so interrelated with my childhood. She was born down in Weber Valley several miles south of Mancos, Colorado. This was a wild, untamed country where my grandfather tried to ranch without water. Times were very hard and there were often Indians who would call at their home and demand food and water. The water had to be hauled there by team and wagon and every drop was precious. Later they moved to Mancos where my grandfather rented ranching property.

My mother, Mary Pearl Willden Evans was the oldest child of William and Emma Barker Willden. The other children were Oscar, Arabelle (my dear Aunt Bell), Ernest, Ethel, Ray and Vernon. Uncle Ernest was born with a hearing defect, and speech problem–perhaps because of his hearing loss. He was a fine man who was always helpful to my grandparents. He died in a bicycle-car accident when he was about 35. Aunt Ethel was a ‘sharpie’ as far as brains were concerned, but she had a speech problem that in those days was taken as having fewer brains. So she was not sent to school for long, however she read widely and her mind was sharp up until the time she died, although at times she was bitter and somewhat paranoid.

My favorite of the Willden family was my Aunt Belle. I can remember when she was married that she got two new dresses. I can’t remember the color of one of them, but the other was a brown silk and I thought it was the most elegant thing I had ever seen. It was an exciting time as she and Uncle Clarence Slade packed their things and went to Salt Lake to the Temple to be married (sealed). They built a little two or three room house over on the ‘town-site’ not far from the Church and there she lived until she died. Uncle Clarence farmed and was also in the honey business and I can remember seeing him in a large straw hat with a white cheesecloth protective sheet all around the bottom, covering his face and shoulders so the bees wouldn’t sting him as he took the honey out. Aunt Belle always raised a wonderful garden and I can remember the new potatoes and peas she took from the garden in the middle of the summer and cooked them together with a white sauce with generous hunks of butter put in at the last. It was ambrosia. She was my confidante and one of my idols. I can remember that I supposed my Mother asked her to tell me the ‘facts of life’ so one day we were driving over to Dryside together and she gave me the word. I sat there with my face flaming with embarrassment, I am sure as her kindly words rolled on and on about not tempting boys with revealing clothes and what would happen to me if I did. I still loved her dearly.

The furniture in their house was very primitive and none of it changed through the births of about nine children. Their bed contained a sagging mattress, stained and I’m afraid rather lumpy. Aunt Belle finally had to have an operation (female of some kind) and she didn’t survive it. I was in California at the time and couldn’t go to her funeral, but I grieved from a distance. Uncle Clarence re-married a few months later and the new wife threw out the old bed mattress and insisted on a new one—which she got. I often thought that my Aunt should have been a little more insisting on having a few better things in her life.

Uncle Oscar was next in line and one of the memories I have of him was when he went to war–WW I. I was eight or nine at the time and I remember standing on the West end of the porch that ran along the entire front of Grandpa and Grandma Willden’s Dutch type hone, and waving goodbye to him with a small American flag. I always felt quite close to him and Aunt Della and enjoyed being around them. He died many years ago, but Aunt Della as of this writing is still alive. I should visit her often. She has been ill for years and years with heart trouble, etc, and no one ever dreamed she would outlive Uncle Oscar.

Aunt Ethel, as I mentioned earlier had a speech defect and people regarded her as retarded. She and her brother didn’t go to school much and were considered ‘dumb’. She never married and became embittered, neurotic and even somewhat paranoid. But, I’ll never forget how she took care of my Grandmother when she was old and dying. I wasn’t there when Grandma had her last illness, but I have been told that Aunt Ethel nursed her faithfully and that sometimes Grandma became very cross with her and would even slap her. But, this must have been because of her pain and illness because my Grandmother was one of the kindest people I have ever known. Aunt Ethel lived until she was in her seventies. To show how sharp she really was, I remember Uncle Vernon telling about getting upset at her and telling her he was sick of her doing something or other, so she sent him a get well card. What a shame to have had them miss so much they could have had in life. In fact, Uncle Ernest was killed because he couldn’t hear the truck that was behind him.

Uncle Ray was next in line. He was quite shy and reserved but we were always good friends and he always looked out for me. He wasn’t the tease that Uncle Vernon was, but I enjoyed being with him. He married Lily Zufelt who is about my age and we have always enjoyed being together. At the present time Uncle Ray is almost helpless because of a stroke which he had several years ago. He must be helped and carried to bed, the bathroom, or the car on his infrequent trips anywhere. It is very hard on Aunt Lily. When this happened to him, they lived in Salt Lake in a beautiful home with a lovely garden and fruit trees and berries that were the joy of his life. For a time Aunt Lily had him in a rest home, but it was too expensive and since she had to have help they moved to Moscow, Idaho where one of their two sons, Boyd, was head of the Institute of Religion at the University of Idaho. Then he was transferred to Ellensburg, Washington, where they built a new home and built a nice apartment in the basement for Uncle Ray and Aunt Lily. She is very tied down and a very shut-in life for her, but she tries to be cheerful. I wish they lived closer where I could let her get out once in a while. Boyd and his family are very good to them, but they all have very busy lives.

Uncle Vernon was the youngest and he was very outgoing and a great joker and tease. I have mentioned this briefly before. He still teases me whenever I see him. He married Dove _____. They now live in Cortez, Colorado. Vernon is not at all well, but he and Dove still go dancing twice a week and whirl around the floor all evening as if they were 18.

My mother was the oldest in her family and since I was the oldest grandchild, and my grandmother’s family was rather scattered out in year, I had two uncles (Vernon and Ray–the youngest in the family) who were with me in Grade school for a couple of years.

My Mother, Mary Pearl, wanted very much to have an education. During her high school years, she spent her summers with my great-grandmother Dunton in the LaPlata Mountains where she helped her milk cows, make cheese, and altogether working like the proverbial dog. I don’t recall that she was ever paid anything for this except her board and room. After struggling financially through high school at Mancos, she desperately wanted to go to college and become a teacher. The only school available was a Normal School, which at that time was a popular type of college all over the country for teachers to learn how to teach. The financial struggle was great, but my Mother managed it somehow and when she had finished, she had to go to Cortez, Colorado to take the state exams for a teaching certificate. All the way to Cortez, she prayed that her mind would be alert so that she could know the answers to the questions because she felt ill-prepared for the test. She said that during the test answers came to her that she hadn’t even remembered studying and she passed and received her teaching credential.

Her first school was in the wilds out of Durango, Colorado, where she taught in a little one room schoolhouse with all eight grades. She made $50 per month and I believe she paid $5 per month for board and room. The rest she saved. When she went home for the summer, her family had moved to Mancos where my grandfather was farming. He was about to lose the farm for a mortgage, so she took the money she had saved for a longed-for piano and paid it on the mortgage.

She went back the next fall and taught again and when she went home in the summer, her parents were doing better financially so she bought her piano. The next year she taught in New Mexico, not far across the border to Colorado. There she met my father and in a few months they were married. Soon after this they went with my maternal grandparents to Redmesa where they both homesteaded the land which we still own on those woody hills of Redmesa.

I should add a little about my Dad here, although his history is written in greater detail elsewhere. He was born in Wales where as a young child started working in the mines which was the main industry there among the men down to children. This was typical in those days. But for the present let me say that he was an educated man—self-educated. This he continued throughout his life. He went to about our equivalent of the eighth grade. He spoke both Welsh and English. However, in the school system there he gained a good grounding in English, math and was a beautiful penman. My Dad came over from Pontypridd, Wales, when he was fourteen.

People would have him calligraphy fancy documents. I have never before or since seen handwriting that was so beautiful and distinctive as his. He was called on many times to write important documents for the Church, friends and neighbors. We are fortunate to have quite a few manuscripts in his writing. He filled a mission to what was then the Eastern States Mission, which probably encompassed all the Eastern Seaboard. I remember his telling us about when they were in Baltimore and very short of cash. I think they traveled without purse or script entirely. They had a few pennies and went down to the waterfront and bought a whole bunch of bananas for fifteen or twenty-five cents; not just eight or nine, but an entire bunch like hanging on a tree! The eventually ate all of them and lived on them for days. Someone has said that milk and bananas are a complete dietetic combination so if they had had some milk, they would have been in good shape.

Dad was a very gentle person, quiet and calm. I never remember his getting very angry at us except for one time when I was a child and I sassed Mother. He cut a willow (this seemed to have run in the family) and chased me clear to the top of the orchard and garden back of our house. He caught me and really used the willow on me. I knew I had it coming so I stoically took it.