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My Life History

by Clarissa Esplin Luke

I was born in Orderville, southern Utah, on November 19, 1879. My parents had been called from Manti, where they had just built them a new home, to go to the Muddy. Then they were called back to Long Valley. Such bad roads they had to travel over with team and wagon! Mother got so tired trudging along carrying Clara and pulling Dave along. She told Henry, the oldest boy to stop the horses. She climbed onto the wagon load and started throwing some of the chairs off. The had brought such a precious little furniture with them; Henry said, “Mother, we will need every bit of our furniture.” She said, “Well, I just can’t walk any longer.” Every night when they stopped she would have to wash out the baby’s clothes. She would spread them to dry on the endgate of the wagon. More than once while she was getting supper a big wind storm would come up and scatter the washing. How she would have to hurry to gather things up! I have been over some of those roads and I know how the wind can blow and the sand fly. Dad, Marion, and I have wondered how they ever got through that bleak country over those bad roads. We feel the bleakness as we speed over our good roads in our comfortable cars.

Mother’s life has not all been hardship. I remember her telling how in England they would go for a walk wearing their little silk dresses. When they would meet Queen Victoria they would spread their pretty little dresses and drop her a curtsy.

Her parents joined the Mormons and started for Utah, leaving their worldly goods behind them. Her father died on the way and left her mother with a big family to care for. Her folks wanted to help her if she would come back to England and forget Mormonism. She worked her way to Utah. She was a midwife. One man wanted to pay her money. She said, “No, you have wheat and I need bread for my children.” Before they reached Utah the oldest daughter, Margaret, my mother, went out to help with the living by working in the home of neighbors. The family decided to move to California. The man wanted her to go. She said, “No. I’ll have to talk to my mother.” He said he would go and see her mother. Then he said she told him to take her to Utah. Her mother had not told him so. When they got to Utah he wanted her to go on to California, but she wouldn’t go. And there she was, a young girl in Salt Lake City, a stranger, all alone. She used to watch for all the emigrants. She would go to church and listen for notices about emigrants coming in. She said a girl could hardly go outside without some man wanting her to get married. She said she got so tired of it she threatened to marry the next one that asked her. I guess the next one must have been John Esplin because he is the one she married. He had come a lone young man from Scotland. After they were married they were called by President Young to go to Nephi. There they built a new home where Henry and David were born. Father went to conference where he with others was called by President Young to go to the Muddy and build a settlement. How my mother hated to leave that new home to go to that hot, dry place in Nevada. She said it was so hot they could hatch eggs just by putting them out in the sand, or was it cook them!

While living in Salt Lake City she had a dress made out of burlap – quite a change from the beautiful silk dresses she wore in England.

Sister Clarissa Wilham waited on my Mother when I was born. I was named for her. After she got crippled up and was in a wheel chair I used to go often to see her. She used to give me presents on my birthday. Her hands were so crippled she could only take on stitch at a time but she made dozens of cushions out of pretty silk pieces, also silk quilts. Silk did finally come back into the lives of these pioneers.

For years we lived on a farm a mile above Orderville. One day they had been to town to bring coal oil for the lamps. They set it outside. I spied the interesting can. I tipped it up and let the oil all run out of the little spout.

One day my sister Minnie wouldn’t let me go with her. So I threw the big plate with the blue decorations onto the floor and broke it. It was one my grandmother had brought from England. Sometimes Aunt Kezia, my brother Henry’s wife, lived on the same farm. Sometimes my brother Johnny’s wives lived there. We kids used to walk down through the fields and go to Primary. Lucy, one of Johnny’s girls, had a sore toe, for so long! There were always little white rags along the path that came off her toe.

One night when I was walking home with my father through Sister Norward’s place she said, “Why are you going barefooted and carrying your shoes?” When I would get to town the kids would be barefooted so I would take my shoes off, too.

In the mornings after we got our dishes washed, floors swept, and the big dooryards swept clean, we had to shine our shoes no matter how old they were. We had only the soot from the stove lids to do it with. My brother George, sister Persis, and I used to walk to school when the weather was good. Stormy weather we rode the horses or took the buggy. When my sister and I went alone we had a little cart. We could always beat the teacher, Brother Edwin Cutler, getting our horse out of harness and ourselves into school. When Persis’ eye was so bad she couldn’t go to school my mother said to Brother Cutler, “Why don’t you let Clarissa ride with you?” He said, “She won’t, she runs away.”

I could always beat Jode Covington. They lived about half way to town. He would come out when I passed but I could always beat him to school. We used to have to read our reading so many times. I would use beans to keep track of how many times. We had to learn poems and write compositions. I used to go way up on the hill all alone to do those. It seemed like there was more inspiration there.

In the summer I liked to chase birds, butterflies, and squirrels. One day I caught hold of a squirrel’s tail. It ran down its hole, but I kept pulling and it kept pulling until the skin came off its tail, and let him slip down his hole. Did the hired man laugh!

Some nights my father would read to us from the Juvenile [Instructor]. Some nights we would play Pussy-Wants-a-Corner, Button-Button, or some other game. One night my father put a big iron ring on my leg, then he could hardly get it off. He used to put potatoes in the ashed to roast and have them before he went to bed. Mother would sit in her rocker knitting. She had her own rocker. If any of us were in it, we would get right out when she came into the room. So many young people today are so thoughtless about offering the easier chairs to the older people. My brother, Dave, said Father wouldn’t sit in a rocker if he knew it would kill him not to. How different we are today, how we like to drop into the easy chairs.

We lived on the farm for some time after Father died. When our sister, Sarah, lost her husband she came back to the farm. Soon we bought a home in town where Mother and I lived. Sometimes by brother, George, stayed with us, sometimes he stayed on the farm. We used to have quite a bit of company. We always kept a cow that I had to milk. If I didn’t get home very early I still had to go alone to milk the cow.

I went off to High School for three years at Cedar City. How homesick I used to get! My brother, George, and nephew, Israel, came one year so that made it much better. People thought Israel and I were twins. We always sat together in our classes and went together at nights. One night the teacher was giving a recital. George, Israel and I were the ones chosen to give the program. George gave a serious poem, and Israel gave the comedy. They started out the same. People held their breath as they thought Israel had got excited and was giving George’s poem all over again.

I hadn’t been there long until a real nice looking young man, and a good fellow wanted me to get married. I said, “I came to go to school.” He said, “You can still go to school.” That wasn’t my idea. One of the fellows from the Dixie country where they have such beautiful roses, different kinds of nuts, and nice fruit would want me to go over to their place for fruit, but I told him I didn’t like it. One night when we were sitting talking, we heard him coming with George. That is one time I really moved fast. I ran into the bedroom and jumped into bed. shoes and all. I was sound asleep when they wanted me to go for fruit.

I was teaching at Mount Carmel, and what do you know – Mell Luke applied for the principalship. He had a little buggy and two little horses that liked to go. Of course he would beg me to go with him up to see our folks.

Some of my students were larger than I. One day they told me if I did not take them on a picnic they would put me in the ditch. They could easily have done it, but I wasn’t afraid. When we went home on a visit, some of those boys came to see us. I had to look about three times to get to where they were they were so tall. I met one of the boys at conference in Salt Lake City. Did I feel small!

After Mell and I were married, June 12, 1907, in the Salt Lake Temple, we lived with my mother until she died. We were very happy together. She died just before Margaret was born. After Lowell was born, Dad wanted to go away to school. He was in the bishopric so they wanted him to promise to come back. We just took our bedding and fruit and went over to Murdock. Dad went to school, and taught some classes. He graduated from there in two years. Vaughn was born there, in Beaver. We left all the furniture and things we had bought there and went to Logan where Dad went to the AC for three years. He worked after school and on Mondays; the AC didn’t hold school on Mondays. Clare was born in Logan. Dr. Budge waited on me. When he saw the condition I was in, he insisted I have an operation. I said if we had enough money I would. He said he did not care about the money, I must have the operation. He said he didn’t see how I ever stood it. No one did know the suffering I went through. While we were at Murdock George said he would pay for the operation if I would have it done. The people at the hospital sure made a fuss over Clare; she was surely pretty.

The principal of Ricks College came to the AC to get teachers so when Dad graduated we came to Rexburg. How George begged us to stay in Utah! He said he would give us a house, a cow, feed for her, etc., if we wouldn’t go to Idaho. We left all our furniture and things. Some one promised to pay for them but never did. George gave us a ford in which we came to Idaho. Irene, Persis’ daughter, came with us to go to Ricks. We spent one week going all over Rexburg trying to find a place to rent, finally found two small rooms. We bought a tent to sleep in. It was a bitter cold winter. Dad and Clare both got pnemonia. We were almost strangers in this town. It took a great deal of faith, but the Lord was good to us and heard and answered our prayers. One night the doctor was there late. He said he would come early in the morning. We felt that he didn’t think Clare would live. We had the Elders come. Bro. Smith told his class they could feel the death sweat on her brow when they administered to her.

By Christmas the Coons family had finished their new house so we rented their old house. Dad was in the Presidency of Ricks College. He got a chance to be president of the Farm Bureau at Rigby so we moved there just before Anna was born. One day while I was in the bath tub a bunch of neighbors came in to give me a shower. One of the neighbors, Mrs. Lemon, said to send for her before the baby was born. She was so good. We couldn’t get a girl. After the baby came she came every day to wash the baby and take care of me. Dad went to work and kiddies to school. The baby and I got along fine. Mrs. Lemon said she thought I was as well off. The kids had to work when they got home.

I worked in Primary before the twins were born. We had such a nice group of Primary workers. We built a beautiful temple and the handcarts and things that the pioneers had. We surely did enjoy the Primary work.

John D. was born a little black, curly haired boy. He lived only two months. He contacted whooping cough from a girl who had come to town to visit.

William was born while we were living in Rexburg.

Before the twins came one of the Primary presidency said to call her when the doctor came. She and Mrs. Soffe came to help. Floyd was born. In five minutes here came Lloyd. Did the doctor give a yell! So each of the ladies had a baby to care for. About two o’clock they called up Sister Lee, Primary president, and told her to get her machine out and get to work. Her husband said, “Isn’t that something to call some one up in the night that isn’t even a relative.” Every morning the tree ladies came and took care of the babies. They were going to have a shower but broke out. Twins weren’t so common there so people flocked to see them. So many men would come to see them.

At Rexburg I worked in Primary. President Austin asked Dad if I could be president of the Primary. Dad said I had a Primary of my own. But I taught in Primary, also in Relief Society, and I was a Relief Society Visiting Teacher. I was a Relief Society Teacher in Rigby, too.

After the twins were born, Dad went to Lewisville to teach school. Jennie Clements said when we drove up to Sunday School she just stood and watched because we had so many children. We all went to Sunday School together.

Dad accepted the principalship at Midway High School. The children thought that he was a little hard because he never let his own children receive too many honors which they felt they had earned. We all enjoyed the ball games, programs, etc.

Nelda was born in Lewisville. I worked in Primary both Stake and Ward before and after she was born. Grandma Ball, a dear friend of ours, always went to union meetings [Stake Sunday School] with us. We traveled around the stake together. Was she surprised when Nelda was born. I used to take lunch and she and Bro. Jardine would eat with us. When I poured hot chocolate out of our thermos bottle, she just couldn’t understand.

In Lewisville I taught the literary lessons in Relief Society and was a visiting teacher.

in 1929 we were proud and happy to send our first boy, Lowell, on a mission. He was called to the Western States.

While we were to April conference in Salt Lake City in 1930 our house burned down. All of the neighbors were good to help and saved most of the things from the house. We all lived with various neighbors for a week and then finally we found a house at Midway. Then they insisted we come to Menan to church. I still taught in the stake and ward primaries. I taught the social science lessons in Relief Society. And was also a visiting teacher. I taught the kindergarten class in Sunday School.

In 1935 we moved to the Salem Ward, just north of Rexburg. The High council, of which Dad was a member for ten years, and the stake presidency had us come down for a nice party. Menan wanted me to come back for a party, but I didn’t get back. When we first moved all our old bunch would come to stay over night and bring their friends with them. We had beds everywhere until even a burglar couldn’t have entered. When they all went to Sunday School people thought we had an awful big family. Persis’ boy, Gail, spent two winters with us while we were in Menan. The twins and Gail certainly had good times. They would almost wear the carpet out looking to see if the bus was coming, then away they would go, first Anna, Floyd, Gail, Lloyd, and Nelda. The PTA had the parents come over to meetings at the school to talk over things. The bus driver said some places he drove up, one would come out, then another, and another. I said it sounded like Lukes. Dad said that he would charge the driver up for a new carpet.

One night William brought five fellows home with him. The next morning which ever way I looked I could see a few more heads peeking up out of the beds.

We put all of the children through two years of college at Ricks College. Lowell, Margaret, Clare, William and Anna filled missions for the church. We were ready to send the twins on a mission when war broke out. Dad said he couldn’t send a boy on a mission at a time like that so William, Floyd and Lloyd served our country in the armed forces. We also had three sons-in law in the armed forces. Vaughn and the girls had to take the farm over and know what work meant. We wanted Nelda to go on a mission but they raised the age and wouldn’t let her go.

Anna spent six years in Japan where she aided the missionaries along with other things.

We haven’t had too much money to give our children, but we have really had a happy home. We are proud and happy to be able to say that all of our children have been married for time and all eternity in the temple. At the present time we are boasting of twenty-nine grand children. (This was written more than a year a go now, March 5, 1955)

I taught in Sunday School and Primary here until I had a breakdown. I am still doing relief Society teaching.

We have had a great many people in our home where ever we have lived. We have arisen at twelve o’clock midnight, sometimes to get supper for late callers. We have enjoyed having people come. Sometimes some would have to sleep on the floor.

I was always thankful that I had a husband that held the priesthood when we would wake up in the night with some of the children sick and he could administer to them. It seemed we depended more upon the Lord than a great many do now. Now their first thought is the doctor.

When the girls got to teaching, they were so good to help buy clothes for the children or to help buy a piece of furniture. We usually bought one piece at a time and all helped to pay for it.

We are more thankful all the time for the blessings the Gospel brings to us. Dad often says he wishes he had had as nice a home as we now have when the children were all home. We are thankful we have room for them to come and enjoy it with us. We are thankful we have room and health to help take care of the grandchildren occasionally. What with Dad’s water work, draft board and Scout meetings, I have quite a few evenings alone to read, write or sleep.