Memories of my Grandparents Emma and Bill Willden

With the assistance of Idonna Evans Richins

I never knew my great-grandmother on the Barker side (Emma’s). But I have heard over and over the story that she lived in England in a beautiful manor house. At one time she was downtown and passed a building where she heard the people singing one of our hymns. She was impressed to go inside and met the missionaries and joined the Church. Her story is one of great tribulation as she crossed the ocean and came with the pioneers to the West. Her story and my Mother’s are in another history. The story is also told us how she would get homesick for England and think of the view from her upstairs window of the beautiful trees and green countryside. And now, knowing how dry the West is and having seen the green of England I can sympathize with her.

At this point I’m going to relate a little about some of my rather distant relatives. Some of them were named Smith and were part of the company who went through the ‘Hole in the Rock’ across the Colorado River near Moab, in order to go to Colorado and colonize it. My great-grandmother Dunton was one of the six Barker sisters of whom my Grandmother Willden was one. The first I know about them, they lived in Parowan, Utah. Grandfather Barker drove a freight wagon to Pioche, Nevada and other places, to bring in freight Utah. At one point my great-grandfather began gambling. At times he took his girls with him on the freighting trips so that he wouldn’t gamble. But, on one trip when he was alone, he gambled and lost his wagon and horses. The story goes that he wrote for my Great-grandmother to come to Pioche and live because he didn’t want to face everyone in Parowan. My great-grandmother is supposed to have consulted with the bishop and he advised against it. Something which my mother has always held against him, so she wrote and told him (her husband) she would not come and she divorced him. After this time it was very hard to raise the six girls and they were often farmed out to work for their room and board because she (their mother) could not feed them. Eventually, they went to Mancos, Colorado area and great-grandmother married a fellow by the name of Dunton and had one son, who was really a peculiar individual, of whom I was terribly afraid. He looked wild—never married, and died fairly young; at least around middle age. I do not know where my grandmother and grandfather Willden met, but right after they were married, they moved to Weber which was way down a canyon from Mancos. There the life was terribly hard—having to haul in water in barrels. They were very poor. All their children, I believe, were born down there and some said the canyon was cursed and that is why (Pearl’s siblings) Ernest was born partially deaf and Ethel had her speech problem. I’m sure that this was not the reason…it might have been poor nutrition on my Grandma’s part or the hard times or something. And the sad thing about both of them is that had they been born today or even 25 years ago, both the hearing and speech problems would have been taken care of and they could have lived very normal lives. Eventually, the family moved to Mancos Ward, which I believe was actually Webber where my grandparents lived. Webber Canyon was around 20 miles south of Webber where there was a colony of Mormons and a ward.

I vaguely remember my great grandmother Willden. She was very ill and died when I was very small, but I remember going over to the town-site where they lived across from the church. They had a fireplace in their four room home and I was fascinated by it, and have loved them ever since. I can’t stand to live in a house without one and it never sits there unused. Every time we got to Great Grandma Willden’s, the first thing I did was to ask for a slice of bread and jelly. She made wonderful big loaves of white bread and the reddest of jelly from the currant bushes by their house. My mother wasn’t the best cook in the world and her bread never turned out like great grandmas, and I was always scolded that I had asked for bread and jelly. But, nothing could deter me, it happened every time. And great grandma always smiled and cut a big slice for me.

It was told that when great-great-grandma died, two of her sons (brothers of my Grandpa “Will” fought over which one would get her shovel and didn’t speak to each other for 20 years I’m sure that one of these brothers wasn’t my grandfather for he was a very mild, caring man and I never knew of his fighting with anyone. He was a very hard worker and did everything possible to make a living for his family. Redmesa never had enough water coming from the mountain river to last the summer and no one ever got within a hundred miles of getting rich by making a living there.

For many years they lived down in Weber Canyon near Mancos, but heard that there was land to be homesteaded in Redmesa, so they moved there. Later they built a large two-story Dutch Colonial home where I spent many happy days. We lived next door on the land my Dad and Mom homesteaded and each time I went from our place to Grandpa and Grandma’s I always swung a few times on the gate between our homes.

I know very little about the background of my grandfather “Will” Willden. Whether he was born into the Church or where he lived as a child, but he came into my life when I was born. I’m sure that the family was very poor all during his life and my earliest memories of some of his immediate family was going as a child to a little room square house where his Mother lived next door to the general store on the main road in Redmesa and just across from the “Meeting House” and down a few steps. One of my memories was going with my Mother to visit her when she was quite old, or so it seemed to me, and my great-great-grandmother lived there also. She was very sick when I knew her and my only memory is of going to this home several times, patting her hand and saying “Poor Grandma.”

My Grandmother Willden was everyone’s idea of a wonderful grandma. For one thing, I remember the large laced up corsets she wore and how she would put them on and then cinch and cinch to enfold her ample figure. (Thank goodness we just ‘let it all hang out’ now.) She always had time for us and goodness knows how, considering the life on the farm without any modern conveniences. The lives we lived then would seem archaic to the young people of today. Grandma always had a heavy earthen jar filled with her large sugar cookies, which to me tasted like ambrosia. When she made homemade cheese in a large new washtub, she would let me take a knife and cut every which way into the contents until the whey began to form. In one corner of the large kitchen was a cream separator which we turned for hours it seemed and watched the skim milk come out one spout and wonderful cream the other.

Donna remembers when Grandpa Willden played the violin while she danced. She also mentioned the antique (to us) telephone where everyone in the valley had a ‘ring’; one, two, three, etc. We thought they were wonderful.

Another happy memory of my childhood at Grandpa and Grandma’s was standing under the mulberry tree in the summer and reaching up and eating mulberries until our faces were purple when we emerged from under the wide-spreading branches.

Grandpa and Grandma’s house had a large porch which reached along the entire front of the house. Vines grew around the posts and in the summer beds were put out there and many a night I listened to the bird’s night songs, the lowing of the cattle, and quite often the howling of coyotes. Sometimes I even slept.

My Grandma “Aunt Em” as everyone called her was not only greatly loved by her grandchildren, but the whole valley as well. She didn’t have any more than an 8th grade education, but was always reading and trying to improve herself. Most of the time when I was very young and living at Redmesa, we didn’t have a doctor at all and the closest one was in Durango, so Grandma was called on constantly. She was always ready to put on her coat and go on a moment’s notice to give a sick child a bath, or rub his back and say soothing words, which made all of us feel better. And people seemed to get well. I never remember anyone dying that she carried her doctor book and attended to. One outstanding memory of Grandma was her ability as a nurse. She had no formal training, but had a huge ’Doctor Book.’ People came from all over the mesa to get information from the book. Grandma had a soothing touch and calm voice. Many a child in the valley would ask for ’Aunt Em’ to come and make him or her better. She was greatly loved and spent her life in serving her family, neighbors, friends, and anyone who came in contact with her. She was a tireless worker and took in washing on the scrubbing board to keep her sons Ray and Vernon on missions.

My grandparents always had a lot of company. Everyone was made welcome at the long wooden table at one side of the dining room. I often marveled that when company came unexpectedly, thee was seemingly nothing in the house to eat, but, before long Grandma would have a hearty and delicious meal on the table.

I spent a great deal of time at their house when I was young and loved exploring the upstairs and especially the attic. There was one spot in the attic where there was a small hole in the roof that let sunlight in a slender beam down on the many books and magazines stored there. I sat by the house under that beam and read to my heart’s content. In the boy’s room, which was large and furnished with many beds, there were very large portraits of my great-grandparents and relatives all around the wall. Donna reminded me of how their eyes seemed to follows us when we moved around the room. Sometimes it was eerie.

Grandpa Will was a shy, quiet man, but had a fine talent for music. He played real honest-to-goodness old time ‘fiddle’ like a pro, and played for all the dances in the valley for years. For years he smoked and it was the bane of all the family and I’m sure they made much of his life miserable nagging him to quit. And, he finally did and he and Grandma went to the temple just a short time before he died.

My Grandmother, probably from her English forebears, loved tea and occasionally had a cup. This horrified my aunts and uncles and Mother, who ‘nagged’ her about this. After she died, I pointed out to Mother what a hard life she lived and felt that if a cup of tea now and again gave her solace and pleasure, I’m sure the Lord would forgive her in a minute. I was not at Redmesa when either my grandfather or grandmother died so it seemed very remote to me. But, I love both of them very much, although I was much closer to my grandmother than Grandpa. I’m looking forward to meeting them when I die and getting to know both much better. I’m also looking forward to my reunion with Aunt Belle.

Grandpa was known for his honesty in all his ‘dealings’ with both his extended family and the people of the valley. He was one of those people about whom it was said: “His word is as good as his bond.” He was scrupulously honest and was in much demand all over the valley if someone needed help at any time. He was not very talkative and I don’t ever remember having much of a conversation with him, but I always loved and appreciated him. He didn’t show much outward affection toward us grandchildren, but we knew that he loved us in his quiet way.

Until my grandparents were ill, and near death, did they ever stop being hard workers. There were no tractors for the farm, no mechanism of any kind like farmers of today take for granted. All the work was done by hand from cutting down trees, cutting off limbs and bark to be used for post for the fences. Times were difficult and there was never much money, but they lived lives of quiet determination to make the best of everything.

My Grandmother never had a washer, dryer, vacuum, dishwasher, garbage disposal, or any of the ‘luxuries’ we take for granted today. She washed on a board, heated the water for the wash in a big iron stove, canned fruit, much of which she raised, and worked long hours in her garden. She also gave much service to the Church and community. She was quite a bit overweight, but had a wonderful lap and I spent many hours sitting in it. She was the typical overweight loving grandmother.

I’m appreciative of the legacy of honest work, joy in living, and the gift of loving grandparents gave me. And, one of these days, I plan to meet them and tell them so.