High School

It seems that for the moment I have told most of everything I can remember about my childhood. When I was 12, (I think mother was wrong here by two years. If she started school at age five and went to the eighth grade in Redmesa, she would have started high school at age 14. Later in mother‘s history, she said she skipped a grade in grade school because she was such a good reader, so she would have entered high school at 13 years of age.) I went to Durango and lived with friends of the family and started high school. The high school building looked to me like the largest building in the world and I thought it was simply marvelous. I was very shy. I’d never been around anyone but my family and friends on the Mesa, but here, I felt I was in a sophisticated group, and that I was a ‘country bumpkin.’ My grades were so-so and mostly I remember feeling that if I could just be the student chosen to go from room to room getting the roll sheets, I would be the happiest person in Colorado, and later as a junior and senior, I was, and it was great.

When I finished a year of high school, staying with relatives, they (my parents) finally made their final move to Durango and lived there until a move to Provo, when I was a junior in high school (the story about this later) then back to Durango, then two more moves to Salt Lake, and the last one was final and they lived there the rest of their lives.

After I had been in school for several months, my parents decided to move to Durango permanently. They rented a house and moved so I could move in with them. I don’t remember too much of my first two years in school, but I really didn’t study and I got A’s in the things I liked and C’s in the things I didn’t. I never remember taking a book home, but I enjoyed school and fortunately Colorado had an excellent school system so I learned in spite of myself.

During the summer before I would be a junior in high school, I got very sick with pneumonia. I had had many colds the winter before, was very thin and not in very good health. The doctor told my folks that I should be taken to a lower climate. Durango is a mining town with a smelter at that time, nestled in the mountains and to the North many more beautiful mountains. South a few miles the altitude dropped quickly and Farmington, New Mexico about 30 miles to the South has a much warmer climate than either Redmesa or Durango.

In 1924, my parents had been thinking of moving to Utah for some time. My cousin Bertha that I mentioned before was still teaching in Provo at Brigham Young University, and she urged my parents to come there. So it was decided we would move there. In Provo we bought a new house, a new piano and furniture and my cousin insisted I go to BY High. At that time most of the University was still on lower campus and the high school was sort of integrated into it. About the only buildings on upper campus at that time were the Maeser Building and perhaps the Grant Library. Practically all of the University was on lower campus and the BY High School was all mixed in with the College, and I didn’t like this. In fact, I hated Provo from the start.

I guess the high school didn’t have an orchestra, but the University did. Somewhere or other Professor Madsen, the conductor, heard me play and asked me to play in the symphony. I didn’t audition or anything. There was a Professor Boyle campus and at that time the school was so small that everyone knew everyone else, and the children of the professors sort of felt they ran the school or something. Anyway, Professor Boyle’s daughter (I think her name was Wilma) played the piano and she was furious that I got into the symphony. She met me in the hall one day and really read me the riot act. Asked what I thought I was doing, a little high school snippet playing in the orchestra. I was dumbfounded. I stood there and couldn’t say a word in my defense. I was flabbergasted and horrified. She went on and on and when she finally left me, there I stood–a gibbering and completely devastated high school student leaning against the wall of the College Building. That seemed to be the last straw, so when my folks decided they would have to return to Colorado, it was a joyous decision for me. My Dad was having trouble finding a job, and our business back in Colorado and all our property needed attention, so we sold the piano and furniture, and he house and packed up the car and headed for our home in ‘beautiful downtown Durango.’

When I re-entered he high school there, I had been to Salt Lake and lived in a much larger city than Durango (according to Durango standards) and for some reason that gave me confidence and I entered school with an entirely different attitude. Instead of sitting in classes and muttering clever remarks that only my neighbor could hear and which she or he would repeat much to the delight of the class and which I would berate myself for not saying these clever things aloud myself. So, I started saying them aloud myself and I suddenly became one of the popular girls in school.

I joined clubs, and was invited to parties. However, I was the only Mormon in the school and while I never felt any prejudice because of this, my standards were different and set me apart. They had a club there (yes, even in those far off days) that in order to join you had to go off to the mountains with a blanket and sleep with three or four fellows and then you were eligible to join. I was aghast when I heard of this, especially since they were supposed to be the elite of the town. I was friendly with all of them and even went to some of their house parties, but they knew my standards and never violated them.

The mines and the smelter are now long gone from Durango, and it is now famous for the narrow gauge railroad that runs from there to Silverton, in the heart of the beautiful mountains over what is still called the Million Dollar Highway. There is also a famous ski resort a few miles north of Durango called “Purgatory,” so the town flourishes through tourists, and has grown considerably, the town has kept its little main street the same as it was when I went to high school there–many of the places of business still have the same name.

Even the movie theater is still there and that is where I worked most of the time I was in high school playing the piano for the silent movies. Since I played by ear, I seldom had to glance at the suggested order of music to fit the different types of scenes in the movie, but just sat there and play away at whatever we going on up on the screen. I also worked along with my Mother at the creamery there wrapping butter, etc. I always had a job when I went to school and one summer, they were rather scarce so I went to work at the local laundry–for one day. That was too much for me and I quit. The work there was awful.

There were fellows in town who respected my standards and I never lacked for dates. But, they knew my standards and always respected them. I can remember one date in my senior year when I wasn’t feeling good all day, but it was one of the big dances, so my parents said I could go, but that I had to be home by 11:00 o’clock. Promptly at eleven my date and I left the dance, but since I was supposed to be home by eleven, my parents went trotting off to look for me. They met us about a couple of blocks from home and I never remembered being so embarrassed in my life. My date seemed to take it all in good spirits because I dated him again.

I had a good friend in high school who wasn’t a member of the Church, but who also had high standards and I enjoyed being with her. The big problem was that she lived with her grandmother, who was a spiritualist, who was always seeing things at night, and had many weird ideas. She almost persuaded my friend to believe the same as she did. The grandmother had a Ouija board which she believed in implicitly. This friend, I and other friends got together and played with this Ouija board for hours. Many times it would come out with answers, and moves that I was only thinking about and which no one else in the room could have known.

It got hold of me and my parents were concerned. However, I persuaded them that it was harmless, but then we started making tables move. We sat around a small, but heavy table in the kitchen and stretching out our arms and putting our fingers touching each other we went through some mumbo jumbo or other and asked the spirits to come. We would ask a question and tell the ‘spirits’ to answer one thump of the table for ‘no’ and two thumps for ‘yes.’ That table would rise and thump and move here and there and it was too heavy for any one’s fingers to make it do it. This finally really got to me. We went on with fooling with this for some time, but I finally got so nervous that I couldn’t be alone in a room even in the daytime. This friend’s grandmother told tales about going to bed at night and seeing all kinds of lights in the room, etc. When my parents finally became aware of what it was doing to me, they made me stop immediately, saying that it was a ‘tool of the devil.’ I don’t know if they were right or not but I knew for sure what it was doing to me, so I stopped.

During these years my Dad continued to work at the mines. Each morning he went up the mountain to the South in coal cars and through the mountain to an opening in the hills and then went into the coal mine from there. My Mother’s childhood had been so poor financially that she was very careful with money, and when she was married she always made sure that we had money in the bank and owned property. She was a good manager and didn’t spend a penny she didn’t have to because she wanted to feel secure with a bank account. They bought a medium sized house in Durango which was furnished and now I know that the house was full of antique furniture, but I hated it then. It would be worth a fortune now, but we had many conveniences that were unknown at Redmesa. We even had a clothes washer that had a hoses attached to the sink faucets that ran the washer. We thought it was wonderful, and an electric clothes iron so we didn’t have to heat the irons on the coal stove.

We had a big apricot tree in the back yard and I used to climb up in it and sit and read by the hour. There were a few young people in the Church Branch there and every Sunday night after church, we all got together and went to a movie. I don’t know why this was allowed, but we did it with the sanction of our families. We met in a smelly lodge hall over a business downtown which reeked of cigar smoke every Sunday. It was just a small branch then but now they have a large church house and a large ward.

We often went to Pinkerton Springs for picnics. This was a small resort a few miles North of Durango, and the mountains were beautiful even there. The Million Dollar Highway runs between Ouray and Durango, Colorado. We thought it was wonderful (two lanes). It would cost ten times that to build it now, but it is still called the Million Dollar Highway and goes through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States (or anywhere else). The ancient mining towns along the way are also interesting.

During my senior year in high school I played piano in the orchestra; was president of the Drama Club and had the lead in the senior play and many other activities at school and yes, I was chosen to go around and pick up the attendance sheets–one of my dreams come true, and I loved it. I was also very good in typing, probably because my hands were agile because of playing piano. During this senior year I typed 10 words per minute more than any other student in Colorado. I got a free trip to the University of Colorado at Boulder (I think). My typing teacher went with me and a girl who was in the shorthand contest. It was a wonderful experience for me. I didn’t take shorthand because I thought that music would be my career forever and years later I took it at a secretarial school in Salt Lake so I could get a better job and pay my way through music school.

And so in 1927, I graduated from high school at 16 having skipped a grade in grade school because I could read so well when I first started school. My grade point average was only about 2.8 and could easily have been 4.0 if I had studied. My senior year I took Chemistry, and it was and is still a complete mystery to me. If anyone in the class had a B average at the end of the year as a senior, they didn’t have to take the final exam. Of course, I had to take it, and I got something like a 64 on it. I went to the teacher and asked him if he was going to keep me from graduating–it was a required course. He said no, and it wouldn’t do a bit of good to make me take it again because I could take if forever and not do any better, but he had just one word of warning–when I reached college, he said I should stay as far away from the Chemistry Department as I possibly could. He didn’t need to warn me–I intended to avoid it, and I did.

Also during my last two years of high school, I played in a dance orchestra. We traveled all around the area and sometimes took a little mini-tour where we would be gone for two or three days. On looking back, I can’t imagine how my Mother ever let me. I was the only girl in the band and she always admonished the leader that they were to take care of me and they always did, and I’m sure had anyone ever made a pass at me, the band would have descended on him en masse. Nevertheless, when we stayed in some crummy little hotels, I often drug the dresser over in from of my locked door. But, no one ever crashed one of them down. During the dances if anyone made a pass at me, the orchestra ganged up on him. All in all, it was rather a fun experience, and besides I earned money–and that is probably why my Mother let me do it.

Speaking of our financial condition in the family, we didn’t ever want for anything, but Mother thought things over ten times before she ever spent any money. If I came home from school and said I needed a new dress for one of the dances or something, she would go into a tizzy about our financial situation and say she couldn’t afford it. We were on the edge of bankruptcy, and that she was sure she was overdrawn at the bank. Usually I subsided, but if I kept on, I usually got what I needed. Then when the bank statement arrived, there would be several hundred dollars (a lot of money in those days) in the bank.

By this time, my Dad had bought into a music store downtown, which all the family, but mainly myself helped run, as he still worked at the mine full time. The other half owner was a piano tuner that we had known for years. He always turned our piano. He was a Seventh Day Adventist and a very interesting and fine man. I wanted to go to school, but didn’t quite know where I wanted to go. I was sixteen when I graduated from high school and really was too young and immature to go away at that time so I stayed home that summer and fall and worked in the store.