Autobiography of Louisa Pickett Porter
Copied by Roger Porter from a typescript in my possession, November 2002
(This autobiography is a compilation of several separate writings over many years.)
Overton, Nevada August 29, 1958
Dear Nancy, Roger, and Susan,
You want a story of my life, you say, so I will really try and remember every little thing that happened during my childhood that might interest you.
I was born, too long ago, in the little village of Marion, Idaho. It was a few miles from Oakley and at the present time, 1958, Oakley is the only recognized settlement in that neighborhood but at that time there was a store, church and school at Marion. My parents were homesteading in Burley at the time of my birth, but there was hardly any settlement in the Burley area at that time so Mother journeyed by buggy or wagon to Marion so Dr. Nielson could attend to the birth of this, the fifth child in the Mannie Pickett family.
I remember very little of the place of my birth. I have a few memories of visiting my Aunt Janie and my grandmother and each of their funerals when I was quite small, four or five I imagine. I remember being served canned tomatoes with sugar, of all things, by the Sessions family next door to my grandparents’ home just after Grandmother’s funeral. This memory has stuck because I was so dreadfully hungry but I could hardly swallow the sweet tomatoes. How I yearned for a dish of tomatoes with good old salt and pepper and a piece of homemade bread and fresh churned butter on the side!
Another of my early memories was my fifth birthday. Now I was old enough to wash the dishes. I’d helped with the dish wiping many times but as a special prize for being five I’d been promised I could wash! How proud I was as I stood on a chair in front of the cook stove (a wood and coal burning stove) and washed dishes. There were no gleaming sink and disposal. We carried in every drop of water we used and carried every bit out when we were through using it. We didn’t waste it either. When we were finished washing dishes we put the freshly washed dishes in another dishpan and poured boiling water from the teakettle on the stove, over the washed dishes. This was called, “scalding” the dishes. (All wastewater was carried as “slop” to the pigs.) We then took these boiling hot dishes out of the scalding pan, wiped them and put them in a cupboard whose shelves were covered with bright oilcloth. Then we closed the glass doors to keep all dust out. That was really a big day in my life. One that I’d looked forward to for many weeks and months.
When I started to school my older sisters had taught me to read, spell and do simple arithmetic problems. The school authorities wanted to start me in second grade but Mother didn’t want me pushed so she wouldn’t agree to it. However, one boy, Smoot Tolman, could read as well as I so we were sent to a far corner to amuse ourselves and each other while the other children sounded out “Mama see Kitty. See kitty, Mama,” in the old Beacon readers. By midyear the top students from the three first grades were put in a grade together and allowed to progress as fast as we could. We were able to finish the third grade in two years and this group of children was considered a good, teachable, evenly graded group on through high school. Many teachers told us we were a joy to teach, eager and quick and pleasant.
My closest chum for seven years, through the grades, was Ruth Story, a beautiful curly haired honey blonde, and I practically worshipped her. She was born on leap year, Feb. 29, and had a real birthday only every four years when we really celebrated her birthday. The in between years we celebrated on Feb. 28. I always spent the night with her on her birthday – all seven years. We each had other friends but none so close. I think from grade three through six I was class president and Ruth secretary but I think we probably elected ourselves. Each year we planned an elaborate party at the end of the year and bought our teacher, Maude Spencer, a nice gift. She liked our group so much that she asked to go on with us each year. We thought her practically perfect and as I look back, I believe she was a wonderful teacher and really deserved our love.
My brother, Royal, was my main playmate at home. He was two years younger than I and we enjoyed each other very much. We played together most of the time, as Mother was a firm believer in children staying home and not pestering the neighbors. If we ever did go to the neighbors we were allowed to stay just an hour and if we overstayed we weren’t allowed to go back for perhaps two or three weeks. We were seldom lonely, however. There were kittens to dress up, dogs to play with, horses to ride, haystacks and trees to climb, books and magazines to read (not many, but a few to be read over and over). We helped with farm chores and rode on the hayrack and wagon box. We learned to do our share in house and yard. There was water to carry, sometimes just from the well when I was very small and later from the pump, sometimes from the neighbors pump and sometimes from the ditch for wash water as it was softer than pump water. There were eggs to gather, wood and coal to bring in for fires, chickens to feed, calves to be herded, cows to be milked (by Royal – not me), garden to be gathered, potatoes and fruit and milk to be brought from the cellar. In fact, there were errands for small feet and legs at all hours. Very often in summer we went swimming in the ditch but it was more like wading as the ditches were very shallow. We thought it was fun anyway and could really get cooled off.
When I was eight – or almost eight – a big event took place. We were called to the living room on the morning of Oct. third and discovered darling twin brothers. One was tiny and screaming and very dark. The other was larger – very blonde – even cotton haired, and placidly sucking his thumb. We were all thrilled to death with the new babies and each picked twin names for them. My father, who was very amenable in most things, was adamant about naming babies. He blessed them and gave them the names of Roscoe Briggs, and Moscow Emanuel – henceforth known as Pat and Mike, respectively. During the blessing the seven Picketts on a long bench in church almost exploded in hilarious laughter right in the middle of the prayer given with the naming. Now there were extra chores, more water to carry to scrub two batches of diapers on the washboard each day. Two babies are a chore in any family and ours were no different. Royal and I were drafted into watching the babies and keeping them entertained. We had very little spare time now, but the twins were our pride and joy and we laughed at them and showed them off to family and guests alike.
In the summertime now we were big enough to thin and hoe beets and each year we did a few more. It was backbreaking, sun-roasting, tiring work but we were on our own and we felt wealthy if we made a few dollars in the beets.
We lived two miles from town but generally walked to town to all practices or an occasional movie matinee or for any other reason. Occasionally we needed to bring groceries or such. I could harness the horse, hook up the buggy and drive to town when I was ten. This I frequently did as Arilla and Zella were working in town and I’d go and get them when they were ready to come home. I liked to drive to town alone imagine I was in a queen’s coach, or some other wild daydream.
By this time, however, we had our first car, a Maxwell, which we all loved, and we thrilled to ride in it. The buggy was saved for the kids to drive, as Dad was master of the steering wheel.
My Junior High School days are rather hazy to me, but I remember we had the same craze for parties as youngsters of today. Each Friday night someone had a party. I was included in all of them even though I didn’t have one. Transportation in those days was more of a problem than today. Most people had cars but they weren’t used as universally and constantly as they are today. Two miles in snow and winter weather was a problem for most young teenagers. The parties were very similar to the ones today. They were probably no worse and not better but just as much silly fun as the ones now and in the future. Teenagers seem the same, yesterday, today and forevermore.
My high school days were crammed full of activity, fun, practices, parties, dances, plays, programs and thrills. I remember coming home various times and practically falling in the house with laughter and nonsense with the remark, “Oh, I had fun! I never had so much fun in my life.” Dot, my sister just older than I said scornfully, “Fun, fun! That’s all you think of. What’s fun? I never had fun in my life.” She was the quiet one in the family and was more reserved and inhibited than I and I guess my boisterous exhibition grated on the finer part of her nature.
Every program, play, chorus, dance or anything of that nature I felt was incomplete if I didn’t have a major part. I was the irreplaceable person, I thought. My Bee Hive work I loved and worked hard at, as I did the rest of the classes in Sunday school, Choir, and all church activities. When I was 14 I became Sunday school teacher in the Cradle Roll. It was an experiment in bringing the tiny tots into class work instead of leaving them with their mothers in their adult class. I guess we experimenters did a good job as they kept it in the Sunday school program and even took them smaller and younger.
In school, I took all the speech I could in addition to private speech lessons. In my junior year I lost out in the Declamatory Contest, but in my senior year I entered and won the local contest, the sub-district, the district and lost out in the state. I think the district contest at Buhl was one of the highlights of my experiences. I had been in bed with flu for over a week and as I usually did, I lost my voice completely. Laryngitis was a real bug-a-boo to me all during my life, but this time I felt it really was my undoing. I was heartbroken-of course. My doctor gave me some really potent tablets to take and told me to take one about half an hour before my turn to give my reading. When the contestants gathered in the wings of the auditorium stage I could hear the other five in my division-humorous-discard me as a bad bet. They weren’t worried about me at all because I couldn’t speak above a whisper. When I went onto the stage for my reading I was really in trouble! I was reading the “Formality at Siwash” and as I talked, my voice came out more man-like and deep. If anything, my reading was improved by the voice change and such a surprised group of competitors you could not imagine! I really had a very appreciative audience and they laughed and laughed. In fact the saying “I had them rolling in the aisles” was appropriate in this incident. The auditorium was packed and they really seemed to enjoy it. It was such a thrill as I felt I could do most anything with them. My coach made the statement later that, “I had them in the hollow of my hand.” When they announced I had won, my voice was gone. I couldn’t even thank the judges for their decision, but whether I was just too thrilled to talk or not I do not know. I do know that I was unable to talk above a whisper all during the next week.
The last two years in high school I had the comedy lead in the operetta. The last year I also coached some of the speaking parts and made up and taught all the dances including the solo dances. I was listed on the program as assistant coach and dance director. I spent a very busy senior year, but I was having the time of my life.
I believe during my high school I had no more than two or three dates but I went to every dance and danced every time. At least once a week I went to a dance and for two hours and more, danced my feet off. Dancing was a first love of mine and I believe I would have felt completely frustrated if I’d have been kept from dancing. Steady dating was frowned upon and boys and girls went to dances in groups rather than dates. We danced with a different partner each dance. If we especially liked to dance together we might promise one partner every third dance or every fourth dance and it wasn’t at all unusual to promise six or eight dances ahead. The way the teens of this day dance together all evening seems so very dull to me as we really had fun and danced with ten or twelve partners each evening.
In addition to dancing I liked all forms of performing. I loved to be in front of an audience. Sometimes I read for programs. Sometimes I sang and sometimes I sang and sometimes I even danced. I reveled in being in plays and operettas. At home I liked to ride horse-back and play “tom-boy” games.
I can’t remember much about our high school graduation except that six of us senior girls sang two sextettes on the program. I wrote the “toasts” for six of our class at our banquet.
The summer after graduation I worked in the fields, thinning and hoeing beets and saved my tuition for college. That summer I also sang for almost a funeral a week. The local undertaker and his wife were good friends of mine and he was also our stake and ward choir director and my accompanist.
In the fall I moved in with Arilla and Bryan who had moved to Pocatello and I lived there and went to school at the Idaho Technical Institute (now ISU). For several years the Idaho Technical glee club had come to Burley on their tour and had thrilled me to death with their program. My greatest desire was to be a member of that sixteen voice chorus. The first year they took just the male chorus but I went along as a reader and also featured with the boys in some comedy numbers. During those two years though, I’d decided I’d rather teach in elementary grades so I went to summer school the second summer to take the additional education classes needed for my teaching certificate.
During my college years I dated much more than in high school – but no very serious entanglements. I continued having a glorious time performing for many programs in school and in down-town programs for Rotary, Kiwanis, Church, etc. Sometimes I read, sometimes I sang, sometimes we’d take a play or skit to the programs. I read for our first college assembly, a 12-minute reading.
The first year I tried out for the all school play, which was “Three Live Ghosts,” a comedy-drama of the First World War. I was cast as “Old Sweetheart,” the drunken cockney mother of a shell-shocked war hero. It was great fun to do and was the heaviest part in the play. Flu, the week before the play, almost put me out of commission but I finally made it. During rehearsals, when we weren’t on the stage we were in the wings or in the hallway practicing new steps of the Charleston. Bradley Johnson and I even invented a few of our own.
When I went home for Thanksgiving the day after the play, I discovered they hadn’t started dancing the Charleston yet. At the Thanksgiving dance a fellow who had been to California to school asked me if I could Charleston and I told him I could. The house was packed to overflowing but they cleared the floor for us and the watchers even stood up on the benches to watch such a curious phenomenon. Of course it did my exhibitionist heart good and I was in “seventh heaven” to be performing for such a huge audience so extemporaneously.
The second year of my college I didn’t try out for the school play because I’d been asked to take part in the American Legion play which was to be directed by a guest director who had been on the legitimate stage for many years. It was a rare opportunity as he was a real director who had played on Broadway in this play, with Alla Nazimova playing the part I had. During the staging of this play he spent a great deal of time urging me to make the theater my career as he puffed me up so, telling of the rare gift of native ability I had above most stars of the day. As I look back now, I don’t know how I resisted his flattery as he made it sound as if all I had to do was wire Broadway they could have me. I guess Broadway will never know what it missed.
The second year of my college life I lived in Colonial Hall, a girl’s dorm on the campus of Idaho Southern. (They changed the name during this year as they were fighting for a four year school instead of Junior College.) This year on campus was a wonderful experience. At the end of the year I stayed on for another summer session so I could work on my recital-voice certificate recital. I sang (alto) in the summer school quartet for our summer concert. I also took a few courses I’d missed that qualified me to teach elementary school. I found a job at View, twelve miles from Burley and I learned to drive the folks’ new Nash. I drove out there each morning and back each night. I had lots of fun this winter as we moved to town and there was lots going on. Our mutual put on a 3-act play and Marcia Christensen and I were in it. It was “Peg O’ My Heart” and I was Peg. Owen McBride and Ralph Swan were in the play, too, and we made up a foursome at all the dances, shows and parties. We really had a lot of fun that winter. Marcia and I and been really good friends for four years and always had lots of “giggly” “silly” fun, and this year we really had a lot of fun. We went to dances anywhere within a radius of 25 miles around and nearly danced our feet off.
The next year I went to Murtagh, 20 miles from Burley, to teach. I would go home most weekends but I stayed with the J. I. (Justin Isaac and Emmerett Bates) Tolman family during the week and this is the year my friendship with Loa (Jennie) Tolman began. I believe this was the “funnest” year of my life. I had more dates that year, with different people, than any year of my life. I dated different people all week and went home on weekends to go with Owen. Marcia had married Melbourne Steele and gone to Washington D. C. so Owen and I were a twosome now instead of a foursome.
At the close of this year I received a contract to teach in Pocatello. I’d hoped when I left school there to go back as soon as I got the two years of experience they required. When the contract came I almost turned it down as Murtaugh had been so much fun and I’d enjoyed the extra curricular work they’d given me. I’d directed all their plays, three-act plays in High School and the MIA Contest plays. I’d loved every minute of it and they thought I’d done so well they’d offered to pay me for it the next year as I’d done it for the love of it the first year. I really wanted to stay there but decided to go on to Pocatello. I’ve often wondered how my life would have turned out if I’d stayed down there as Pocatello practically turned my back on several romances I thought I was having in Twin Falls and there abouts. On one small decision hinges one’s whole life sometimes. My life hinged on whether to sign for Pocatello or Murtaugh. Of course I’ve never been sorry, as I have had a wonderful life and would not trade with anyone anywhere. Nevertheless one sometimes wonders just how one’s life would have turned under different circumstances.
If I thought I needed to stay in Murtaugh to stay in the field of drama, I was mistaken, for the next few years I directed plays, took leads in plays and operettas, sang in quartets, choruses, taught the dances and was all around handy man for MIA. I lived in the 2nd ward and 3rd ward. They had someone clear across town come after me and deliver me so that I would make up and teach all of the dances for their operettas. One year I just taught the dances and danced in some of them but the next year I taught the dances and also had the lead. Some of the local gals resented me no end but we finished it with “screaming” success. It was fun, too.
This year, too, was the year our stake staged one of those super pageants that were so popular along about that time. I had a very good part in it and I think we presented it about 10 or 12 times to a packed recreation hall. We drew crowds from as far as Boise, Idaho, and almost as far as West Yellowstone the other way. Whole stakes would drive to Pocatello to see it rather than put it on themselves. The best material from the whole stake was picked so minimal practices were necessary. Also this year the stake Relief Society put on a three act play and I had the lead. It was a really good comedy-drama, “Her Husband’s Wife.” It was one of the best parts I ever had. Royal played the humorous part of my uncle. It was his first experience and he was a huge success. He was frightened to death but I worked with him at home and helped him until he gained enough confidence to do it. People who knew him and his quiet, shy way couldn’t believe it was he. I think he really enjoyed it and it was a new and pleasing experience for him.
At the end of this busy year I sent Royal on a mission to Hawaii. Earlier in the year when I was home one weekend our Burley Bishop asked me how I would like to go on a mission. I told him I’d love it but that my folks couldn’t even send me to Heyburn (4 miles across the river from Burley) as it was in 1932 and farmers had had a very rugged time for several years. I told the Bishop, however, that I’d sent Royal on a mission if they could get him to go. To everyone’s surprise, Royal said yes. He’d been very inactive in church till that year when he was in the play. I had planed on a $120 a year increment raise for the next year. Instead we were all cut $120, as the depression was on us in very deed. I went to live with Arilla and Bryan in the North Apartments to save money (save me money – it cost them more). After Royal left for Hawaii I went to Yellowstone to work at Canyon as cabin maid. It was a grand experience as the workers were all college kids and we had so much fun. I figured the money for this work would help make up for the $240 cut in my salary for the coming school year. When the summer was half over I had a severe appendicitis attack and was sent home to Pocatello for an operation. That set me back another $200 to $300 besides losing the rest of the summer pay. It seemed the devil was “agin” me. (It continued to be “agin” me, as the following January I broke my leg and that was another big expense.)
Written Feb. 8, 1980:
In 1932 Ardella Keller, my housemate, and I went to third ward MIA instead of First Ward where we lived. It was a long way to walk but we enjoyed it there as there were more young people there than in our ward. It was opening social and after the program there was a dance. We were having ourselves a very good time when a girl and a young man approached me. The girl (whom I thought I didn’t know) introduced me to her brother. Three years before I had seen him and heard him play and sing at Frazier Hall at Idaho Tech (later ISU). I was on the social committee so had helped plan the program. It was Sarel Porter, of course, and he had asked to meet me. I had heard a great deal about him as Phyllis Beckley, one of my best friends, had raved about his beautiful singing voice for two years. She was in high school chorus with him so I felt I almost knew him but he had been on a mission for almost three years. We danced and visited and found that when he stopped in Hawaii on his way home from New Zealand he had met my good friends Myral and Loa (Tolman) Clark. They had given him my name and told him to look me up. (He’d lost the paper it was on, however.)
We dated steadily till July. In July a Mutual group went up to Justice Park or Cherry Springs for a picnic. After we ate we sat around the fire and sang and laughed and had a good time. Finally, Sarel asked me to walk down to the river with him. When we were far enough away from the group he asked me if he had a ring in his nose would I wear it. (We’d been singing that Maori song “Down on the Hoko-Moko Isle” that says “And for a ring dear I suppose, I’ll use the ring that’s in my nose, Down on the Hoko-Moko Isle.”) This was my proposal!!! I wore the ring for two years before we could afford to marry. I was teaching for one hundred dollars a month and he was working for Woolworth’s for fifteen dollars a week. It was at the pit of the depression and had I married I would have lost my teaching job. No married teachers were allowed to work, as there were so many single people out of work. There was no way we could marry.
In the meantime my friend Ardella Keller met a fellow one Saturday night, got engaged the following Saturday night and married the next Saturday. They kept it a secret for two years and she went on teaching.
Finally after two years we decided to do that. We took Sarel’s sister Thora with us and went to Yellowstone Park. On the way we stopped at Driggs and were married by a Bishop Kilpack or Kilpatrick. It was supposed to be a big secret. The bishop promised he would keep mum. The following week after we returned home our wedding announcement came out in the Salt Lake Tribune. We hurried up and made a formal announcement for the Pocatello paper.
I was out of work and by that time Sarel was working for Orange Transportation for $60 a month. They raised it to $70 when they found we were married. I applied to the school superintendent for one of the half time jobs married teachers were allowed. The principals taught half days and the married teachers taught English at Roosevelt School. This position I held for four years. By that time Sarel was making enough so we felt we could have a baby. We had been living in an apartment Royal and I had before we were married. We had saved enough from our meager wages to put a down payment on a house at 257 S. Hayes in Pocatello. We moved into that house, rented the upstairs two rooms and a bath, and built two bedrooms on the back and were ready for Nancy.
Pregnancy for me was nine months of misery. I never got over the nausea, which was not just in the morning but all day and especially in the evening. When she arrived she was worth it—a little doll and we adored her. She did just fine health wise until she was four months old when she had a very severe attack of flu. It left her weak and wan and so pale she was almost transparent. She lost all appetite and could not seem to be able to sleep. Sometimes she would go twenty-four hours with only four ounces of food. She was a constant worry with no resistance to colds, flu, earache and sore throat.
In between sick spells she was lots of fun. I especially remember when we’d take her up town all dressed up and she drew everyone’s attention. She knew nearly everyone in town and everyone knew her.
Nancy was precocious in her talking. When she was twelve months old she said everything and it was very plain. Then for one month she clammed up and wouldn’t say a word…at thirteen months she turned it back on and talked a blue streak…she talked in phrases: “Here we go,” “Uppa town,” “Uppa stairs,” all such phrases as that. She was so tiny and talked so plainly it was often embarrassing. Once she and I were on the “galloping Goose,” a branch train from Burley to Pocatello. She’d been all over the car making friends with people and they thought she was just a baby. I’d put her down on the seat for a nap. Just as the train stopped unexpectedly, she said aloud, “There’s a damn fly.” Everyone in the car heard her and they roared with laughter. We’d been with my folks for a week and my mother was death on flies. She just had a “hissy” when one got in the house and went after it with a vengeance using that remark.
When Nancy was well she was fun to take up town. We had no car so we walked. She would run ahead of us and then wait for us. We’d exclaim over her as though she were a little lost girl and pick her up and wonder if we could keep her. She was never tired of this game and other make-believe games. Our Nancy was a “fun” little girl when she was well, but a worrisome child when she was ill. She was ill so often that it was a constant worry. From the time she was tiny she was a very religious child with a deep faith. Once we had been up nights with her and she was pale and wan and looked like a breeze would blow her away. She was sitting up in my bed with some food I was trying to get her to eat. She looked up at me with those huge brown eyes of hers and said, “Mamma, Jesus says, ‘Let the little children come unto me.’ Why can’t I go to him?”
While I am on this train of thought I might as well give background for my religious training and faith. When I was young Sacrament meeting seemed to be for older people. One other girl and I were the only children who went every Sunday. Where along the way I acquired my abiding faith in prayer I don’t know. Contrary to what many people think, prayer is a vital part of my life—not oral prayer, but secret prayer. I could relate many instances where prayer has lifted me from the doldrums and put me in a much lighter frame of mind but I shan’t. Suffice it to say it is the guiding light and force in my life. Life would be meaningless without prayer. I tried to instill that feeling into my children when they were tiny and feel and hope it has stayed with them. It is impossible to over-emphasize the power prayer has played in my life.
This, too, will be a hard segment for me to write because I am much more emotional than I pretend.
As in all good marriages we had a few ups and downs but not until the year we moved to St. George did we have a real struggle. I had so many severe migraines and such arthritis pain that I didn’t care if I lived or died. It seemed our marriage was on the verge of crumbling, too. Anyway it was a very hard year.
However, most of the years of my married life I have boasted that I had the nearest perfect husband it was possible to have. My friends in Pocatello used to kid me saying, “Yes we know…your Willie can do everything. He isn’t like that. He’s perfect.” We never had trouble about money. We seldom, if ever, disagreed about how the children were to be raised. We didn’t argue about things the other couples complained about. I hope I never criticized him to others (which is always a huge mistake). I don’t believe he criticized me to others. Our main worry was about the children. Now after forty-six years of marriage I still say he is the nearest perfect a husband could be. Zella asked me once if I ever told him that and of course I did but he just laughed at me. Unless we had an audience, our arguments were OF THREE SENTENCES duration. (Our worst arguments have been in front of others, especially if the audience butted in and tried to settle matters.) You can’t make a fight out of three sentences. I have been really blessed to have such a husband. For the most part our lives have been smooth and compatible.
Written June 7, 1982 in Ogden with Susan and family.
“Life and Times of a Farm Girl” in early 1910-1925:
It seems my kids are never satisfied with my life story. It may become the size of “War and Peace” if this keeps up!
Tonight at the Stuart Family Home Evening they asked me to tell something about my childhood and how it differed from their children’s lives. I told them the following: (Maybe I’ve already written about some of this but I couldn’t stand to read all that “garbage” to check so it is “you for it.”)
When I was small we went to school in a covered wagon similar to the pioneer wagons. There were planks for seats on either side. In winter we took hot rocks or hot bricks and blankets to keep us warm. It was bitterly cold in those wagons. Sometimes the wagons couldn’t get through the snow so Dad put sleigh runners on a regular wagon box, put hay or straw in the bottom so it wouldn’t be so cold and he took us to school. He also picked up all the kids between our place and school, a little over two miles.
Our family members were all inveterate readers so on the long winter evenings we sat around the fire and the one lamp and usually Dad read to us. I especially remember “The Call of the Cumberlands,” and other classics of that time. He was a very good reader and we all enjoyed that. This we did in the living room. Sometimes some of the family had schoolwork and they sat around the other lamp on the kitchen table and did school work. I always loved to read and could read hard third grade readers before I went to school. I read everything I could get my hands on.
In summer we all worked. The oldest girl, or two girls washed the breakfast dishes and the cream separator, which was a beast, cleaned up the house from one end to the other. There were no unmade beds, no clothes on the floor, the living room had to be either carpet swept with a Bissell or vacuumed every day as well as dusted. In the afternoon after our main meal the kitchen had to be mopped.
Mother and the little kids spent the summer mornings either weeding or getting garden stuffs for dinner. Her whole morning was spent in the garden or preparing foodstuffs for dinner at noon. The boys and Dad couldn’t help with gardening because they had cows to milk and milk to separate from the cream, animals to feed and drive or lead to a trough into which water had to be pumped for them to drink. Then the fields must be plowed, harrowed, leveled and prepared for planting. The planting took much time. There was always something to be done. Irrigating was done by digging with a shovel and homemade culverts were used. They took three crops of hay from the fields so that took many days of backbreaking work. They worked from 5 AM till about 9 PM.
We sometimes had time to play while we were too little to go to the fields but we had no close neighbors and almost never had friends to play with. We had no toys to we had to invent our own games. We had an interesting life and never felt picked on because everyone lived the same way.
There was always plenty of good nourishing food. For breakfast we usually had cooked cereal or in the winter sometimes meat, gravy and biscuits.
For dinner, our main meal at noon, we always had meat, potatoes, gravy and a vegetable. There was no cool aid punch or such, but good, fresh water to drink. Mother was an exceptionally good cook. She seldom measured things. She could tell by the “feel” of things if the ingredients were right. Our noon meals were fit for a king. Our evening meals were homemade bread and milk. Usually fruit, bottled: pears, peaches, plums or apples, for those who wanted it. For variety we sometimes opened a can of salmon or a can of tomatoes, which we ate with salt or sugar and bread and butter. We could also have any leftovers from noon because I was grown before we had an icebox, where we bought 50 pounds of ice every other day to keep things cool. We always had plenty of good nourishing food, though we had very little money.
Today I told the kids about my most frightening experience (sounds like a Sept. school theme):
After haying was finished on the lower field the derrick had to be pulled, by horses (we had no tractors), to the upper hay field. It was a big awkward contraption that took them about half a day to move. They had to lift the electric wires above the pole across the derrick and across the cable on the pole.
Royal and I were arguing about something as he sat on his horse and herded cows quite close to the house. I looked up and saw two workhorses go down and then my father fell to the ground. I knew this was a dangerous operation so I immediately thought they had all been electrocuted. I tried to motion and tell Royal about it but my voice was completely gone. I couldn’t utter a sound. I kept motioning him and trying to talk but he could see something was wrong and finally rode swiftly to the upper field. In a very few minutes my oldest brother, Bulo, came riding through the lane yelling for us to call a doctor as Dad had been killed. It was my mother’s day at Relief Society and she was waiting for Dad to pick her up at the grocery store where Arilla was cashier. The doctor saw them and picked them up and brought them with him. It was a very short time before they got there but of course it seemed like hours. The doctor found Dad covered with burns from where the cable touched him, but the doctor brought him to consciousness. The horses, also, had “come to.” Dad was in bed unable to use arms, hands or legs for many days. What a painful period of time for him and what a frightening experience for us!
About one hundred fifty feet from our house we had a potato cellar, which seemed alive with toads. I feared toads, mice and “creepy crawly” animals like that almost with my life. The coal pile had very sharp little rock like pieces of coal about twenty-five feet from the coal pile. When we did something we shouldn’t you could bank on a punishment. Mother allowed no talking back or misbehaving in any way.
One day Royal and I had done something we shouldn’t have. Royal was barefooted but I had shoes on. Our punishment was to bring in a bucket of coal and a bucket of potatoes. The coal wouldn’t have hurt my feet with shoes and Royal had a playing acquaintance with toads. Mother gave me the potato bucket and Royal the coal bucket. When we got out to the cellar and the coal pile we traded buckets, I to get the coal and Royal to get the potatoes. Mother called out the window, “None of that!” She’d caught us out again.
Speaking of punishments, one day Royal was helping me dry the dishes. We had glass doors on the cupboard. We started scrapping and broke the glass in the cupboard. We immediately became allies. I had bare feet and legs. (I always wore dresses except when I was working in the fields).) Royal had on overalls so the willow we knew Mother would use stung my bare legs almost unbearably. I immediately put on a pair of Royal’s overalls and we both stuffed towels wherever we could. Mother was across the lane picking sage. We looked like stuffed teddy bears when we went out to tell her what we had done. But to our surprise she saw us, hear our story and laughed to hard she fell over on the grass in gales of laughter. It really struck her funny to see us stuffed for a willowing. It is the only time I remember when we needed a good willowing that we didn’t get it.
Mother was an exceptionally good disciplinarian. She allowed no “back talk,” no long periods of explaining, no alibis. We were told to do something and we did it. She had no time to explain and argue the point with eight kids. We knew what to expect and got it.
Living on a farm with no conveniences and no labor saving devices was hard work for everyone. We washed clothes on a washboard till I was around twelve. We washed for twin boys when I was eight. We had huge washings but there was no changing of clothes three or four times a day or even every day. We had very few clothes and had to take care of them and wear them over and over. It was backbreaking work but again everyone practically lived the same way. When the twins were three or four we got a hand operated two-tubbed washing machine. We still boiled all the whites in lye and washed everything through two washings.
There was no running water in our house. We pumped water, carried it in the house and wastewater was carried out. We had a wash bench that was perhaps three feet long. On one end was the washbasin, a towel hung above it; at the other end was a large bucket of water. Wastewater from the food, potato peeling drainings, etc. was carried out to the pigs. The rest was thrown out a ways from the house into a dusty section of the yard that couldn’t grow grass.
We had a huge lawn and push mower. Dad or one of the boys mowed it many times. In fact our front lawn was so large that when friends of the older ones in the family wanted a party they planned a lawn party. They would string Japanese lanterns all over the lawn and play games, running games as I remember it, and the place would ring with laughter and good healthy fun. Refreshments weren’t all that important. The games took most of the planning.
The girls in our family didn’t work in the fields as many girls did – though Zella says she did much more than the rest of us. She preferred it to the housework. However, during beet thinning and hoeing and potato harvest Dad paid us the same per acre as he did the hired hands. I started thinning beets when I was eight or nine. The beets were planted in a straight row and they came up three or four together and much too thick for the beets to grow as they needed to. We took a short handled hoe, bent over and cut out all but one beet for about every ten inches. It was hot, miserable, backbreaking work. I hated to work during the heat of the day so I arose at barely daylight, worked till seven or so and would go in for a breakfast break then back to work till noon. After noon dinner I would sleep, or at least rest on the bed where my poor “broken” back could straighten out, then back to the beet field till it was too dark to work. Royal always wanted to work those hours, too, but I’d awaken him about 4 AM and he couldn’t make it. He would invariably turn over and go back to sleep. I guess I hated the heat and the continual backbreaking work worse than he did. (I have often said since then that thinning beets was the hardest work I ever did unless it was scrubbing carpets.)
The potato harvest was no picnic either. We had a quarter bushel wire basket that we filled with potatoes then dumped them into sacks Dad would scatter around the field. We put four baskets full in each sack. I earned my first half-year of college by thinning beets and picking potatoes. I saved practically every penny – no pop, no candy, no “funny” books or Nintendo.
When I didn’t work in the field I generally walked to town in the afternoon when the work was done for a piano lesson or to get books at the library. I would carry four to six books home, as many as they’d allow me, and each week I’d walk back for more. Every spare minute I had I read.
Occasionally we so would run out of bread for lunches for school Mother would give me a nickel and Royal a nickel and we’d go to the grocery at noon. One would buy a box of saltine crackers and the other would buy three or four wieners. Then we’d share. All for one nickel each.
I was the tomboy of the family. Sometimes they even called me “Tom.” I rode our horse Lassie whenever I had the opportunity. Racing with anyone was TABOO, FORBIDDEN, a definite, “no, no.” If mother found out we’d raced there would be no more horse back riding. Once when the folks weren’t home the neighbor boy, my age, challenged me to a race. I was afraid Mother would find out and had an awful battle with my conscience but finally Satan won. We were to start from the neighbor’s gate and go past our lane until we came to the ditch some way beyond our lane. We were racing neck and neck until we came to our lane and Lassie was used to turning in there. I had no saddle so when she whirled into our lane I slid off her, hit my head on the gate and went on sliding fifteen or twenty feet. I was hurt! I had a solid bruise from my head to my heels and could hardly get up. I knew if Mother found out there would be no more riding the rest of the summer. I tried to not limp. I wore long stockings and long sleeved dresses for a long time before it healed, but she never found out. Royal didn’t tell and neither did the boy but I spent hours of misery trying to cover up my hurts and my pain. It was a lesson in obedience I never forgot.
Written Jan. 8, 1977:
When Roger was here at Christmas he asked that I write some of the fun things I did in my younger life and put it in my life story.
When growing up I had four main loves: music, drama, speech and dancing. I started giving readings when I was in the eighth grade. I guess it was so bad Mother gave up some of her butter, cream and egg money to give me reading lessons. A few years earlier it would have been called elocution lessons. I went to Zatelle Sessions for lessons then and all through high school. I took speech and drama and all through college and never had as good a teacher as Zatelle. She was a reader, for public entertainment, and a college major in speech and drama. She gave me a better foundation than I got in either high school or college or any I have observed since then. She was a better director of plays than any in school, church, or community I have had, seen or observed.
I did readings all over town for every kind of club or meeting, both in Burley and later in Pocatello. One summer I took private lessons at Utah State College in Logan, Utah. The teacher, my coach, said I memorized more quickly than any student he’d ever had. He was also lavish in his praise of my interpretation. I guess it was because I loved it so. “WE DO BEST THAT WHICH WE LIKE MOST!” He sent me to read for every program he was asked to furnish a reader all during the summer. I read at least twice a week. That summer I also had the lead in the summer school opera and it was a fun time. I must have learned twenty new readings from twelve to twenty minutes long during that summer.
I turned down many dates that summer to work on readings or to memorize lines for the operetta. It was “Hulda of Holland.” I learned the Dutch dialect and to “clog” dance as the Dutch do it. It was fun, fun, FUN!
The first year of my regular college term in Pocatello I had one of my favorite roles as “Old Sweetheart,” a cockney souse (drunk) who tries with the Ouiji board to find her shell-shocked son on his way home from First World War. It was a lovable comedy character I just adored. This time it was cockney dialect.
I think I told you about the American Legion play with the director from the Broadway Stage. It was a wonderful experience. I guess it could be said mine was the character lead, not the peaches and cream romantic lead where boy gets girl.
Most of the time in school I had second lead or character lead, usually the best parts by far. This legion play was a new venture and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved character parts and played them to the hilt.
In Burley the first year of my teaching we put on “Peg O’ My Heart.” I had the lead, that of Peg, and used the Irish dialect. It was my first experience with the lead but it was a good solid part, no milk and water heroine was Peg. This proved to me that it was fun to play leads, too.
In Murtaugh, the second year of teaching they asked me to direct their school plays and their Mutual plays. That was great fun. The senior kids were just three or four years younger than I so we worked hard and played hard. The Mutual plays were also enjoyable and very good experience. Remember this was long before TV and whatever we did brought packed houses.
The last play we did in Murtaugh was “Kathleen Mavourneen,” a really fine fun play. Kathleen was also an Irish lass who spoke with an Irish dialect. The senior girl who was playing Kathleen defected at the last minute and it left me to play the part. It was a very satisfying experience.
Back in Pocatello, the third year of my teaching, the opportunity came to play the character lead of a rich society lady, slightly overweight who carried a little dog with her wherever she went. This was in a stake pageant that drew people from Ashton or father north, to Twin Falls or Boise in the other direction. Everyone was supposed to either produce the pageant themselves or see one that someone else produced. We played to packed houses for ten or twelve nights.
Also that year or the next the opportunity came for one of my favorite roles. It was “Her Husband’s Wife.” My part was the hypochondriac wife who picked a cloudy, frumpy girl for her husband’s next wife, as she was sure she isn’t long for this life. This time Royal was talked into playing my eccentric uncle and he was a hit. People who knew him as a quiet, shy young man could hardly believe it was he.
The story of this play was unusual. The dowdy girl found out the wife had picked her and why, so she spruced herself up into a lovely well dressed, well groomed person. When the wife saw how attractive she had become she decided to stay alive. I remember the last lines when she told the maid to throw away all of her medicine. She asked, “All of it?” Her answer was, “Yes every bit of it.” Here again was a very satisfying role and I loved it.
I had many more parts but these are my favorites and the ones I remember most. Later, I had a good role in the third ward operetta. I lived in the second ward but they sent someone to pick me up and bring me home, as it was 25 or 30 blocks. The first year I was to make up and teach all the dances for a Mutual operetta. I did just the dances that year but the next year they asked me to do the dances again plus play the leading role. (Owen Benzley was in these.)
During these years “Community Singing”” was very popular. (Today I think they call them “Sing-a-Longs”). I went all over Pocatello to lead the singing for programs for church, clubs, PTA etc. I met many interesting people and it was a satisfying hobby.
One of you asked me how I got started directing plays. I’d been in plays since I was four when I had a singing part in an operetta. I always loved it. My speech and drama experience with Zatelle Sessions sort of paved the way. When I was fourteen the Stake Relief Society needed money badly. I put on a children’s operetta for them. I walked to town every day to practice. I used kids from all over town up to age 12. I wrote the script, made over the script, taught several cute dances. That summer, also, my mother was ill, in bed with heart trouble, a bad valve. Both of these things were valuable experiences for me but pretty hard on a fourteen year old. I washed, ironed, cleaned house – the works! Anyway to get back to the operetta, I started rewriting the script and have been doing it ever since. We put this on for three nights and filled the house every night. Remember again there were no TV’s in those days and I’d used kids from each ward in the stake. There were very few radios even in those days. We made our own entertainment and most people supported all ventures like that. They even seemed to enjoy them.
When I first went to Pocatello to college they asked me to direct a play in the first ward, a one-act play. I used it again in a college program. There I directed it and took the part of a smart-aleck teen-age boy. Also, and again, it was fun. Later, I directed first ward contest plays. By then I was launched. From then on I was nearly always involved in some sort of amateur church or college theatricals, directing, playing a part, or both. I felt this was my destiny.
Also, you ask, how did I get involved in teaching of and originating dances? I always improvised dances to any music I heard as most little girls do. When I was a sophomore in high school I had the part of a gypsy dancer, Bathea Cutler was a dancing teacher in Burley so the school hired her to teach two of us a gypsy dance. We used tambourines. That year and the next two I taught several dances to the chorus or small groups of the chorus that year and the next two for the operetta. While in college all the PE I took was dancing. When there was a required Gym class I always found a dancing class that I could take and make it suffice for the PE credit. I didn’t care for sports but I loved dancing. Both the talent, if there was any, and the nerve held me in good stead through the years. There was also a great desire and there-in hangs nine-tenths of our success.
Louisa was born 14 November 1907 in Marion, Cassia Co., Idaho to Mannie and Dora Leona Briggs Pickett. She was raised in the Burley area, went to college in Pocatello at what is now Idaho State University, and taught grade school in Pocatello, Murtaugh and View, Idaho. She married Sarel Orien Porter in Driggs, Idaho, 14 July 1934, and their three children, Nancy, Susan and Roger were born in Pocatello. Sarel worked for Orange Transportation and Garrett Freight lines as an accountant. In 1949 the family moved to Overton, Nevada where they purchased a motel/trailer park. Sarel worked construction and Louisa taught third grade. They sold their home after the children were gone, moved to Las Vegas and retired about 1968, after Sarel had heart surgery. Sarel died in Mesa 21 March 1981 and Louisa died in Pocatello 20 February 1991 in Pocatello. They are both buried in the Mesa Arizona Cemetery.