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My Father, As I Remember Him

by Lenna Esplin Pay

My dad was short of stature, being about five feet six inches tall, and never weighed more than 145 pounds; but other than that he was the biggest man I ever knew. He had curly reddish brown hair, and it was with that hair mother said she first fell in love.

I remember first how Mama would send Roland and me up to the corner of what was called Sand Street to see if Dad was coming home from Grandma’s. He always got up early and went down to help Grandpa with the morning chores and do what else he could to help them. Then he would come home and have breakfast with us. (he was very thoughtful of his parents.) He had a fast, brisk walk and held himself straight and proud. When he was about a block away, we would run to meet him; and he would pick me up and take Roland by the hand, and together we would go down the lane to have breakfast with Mother. He had a habit of patting Roland on the head and calling me his little missionary girl, because I was born five months after he left for his Southern States L.D.S. Mission.

Dad and Mother were married December 5, 1903, in the St. George temple [temple records show 8 December 1903]. In those days, there was no Zion’s tunnel and people had to go to St. George over what they called the Sand Hills and by way of Yellow Jacket and Cane Beds. Mother and Dad made the trip to the temple with Joseph Jorgensen and Elenor Hoyt. They made the three-day trip by horse team and wagon. The girls slept in the wagon box at night and the men had a bed roll they placed under the wagon. The men cooked the meals and the girls washed the dishes. All the water they had to use was obtained from a barrel carried on the side of the wagon. Mother used to laugh as she told how father looked with his curly hair and shapeless cotton flannel garments made by his mother. He looked just like a little cuddly teddy bear, she would explain.

They were to be the parents of ten children, three girls and seven boys. The first girl died at birth of prematurity. All the rest lived to maturity. A brother and sister of mother’s were also members of our family for a number of years. Lettie came to live with us when she was thirteen and Father and Mother took care of all her needs until she married at about eighteen. Carlos came out to see Mom when he was sixteen and stayed. Dad sen him on a mission and helped him get a start in the sheep business. Previously they had lived in Farmington, New Mexico, with their father and stepmother.

We grew up in a very happy home, although Dad was gone a lot of the time when I was little. He had a herd of sheep and had to be out with them most of the time. But as we grew older, he began making enough money so he could hire herders to take care of his sheep. We were always sorry to have him go away but happy to have him come back. Mother was especially sad when he was gone because she had all the responsibility of a growing family. By nature she was a very happy person and would sing as she went about her work even though she felt very tied down because she loved to sing in the choir and participate in other church and community activities.

We lived in three different homes in Orderville, each one a little better than the one we left. Dad was making more money all the time and was a good manager of the property he owned. Mama and Dad’s first home was an old two-room rock house they rented close to his parent’s home. It was just behind where the old Ward Hall used to be and the seminary building now stands. Palona and Roland were born here.

When Dad went on his mission, Mother and the children lived with Grandma and Grandpa Esplin. Dad’s brother James and Grandpa paid Dad’s expenses on his mission and also extended free board to his family. I didn’t even see my father until I was two years old. The only “father” I knew was Dad’s brother Uncle James and I had grown to love him. Mama said Dad felt very disappointed when he came home from his mission and I would have nothing to do with him and would run to Uncle James and kiss and hug him.

After Dad came home, they bought a four-room brown frame house down by the creek, just below where Rena Tait now lives. Emily was born here. We then moved to a four-room house on Sand Street. It was nicer with a big fireplace inside and a porch in front. Dad built a coal house out back for extra storage space. LaVoy and Willard were born in his house (Mother had all her babies at home attended by a mid-wife.) I remember the big watermelon Dad served to the mid-wife, Grandma, the family and the neighbors. We were always sent to the neighbors when a baby was expected and we always loved the baby dearly.

Dad finally decided his family was getting so large that he must get a bigger house. The Will Heaton home was for sale so Dad bought it. It seemed like a palace to me, standing on ground higher than the road with the sandstone cliffs behind it. That was to be our permanent home. Jim, Vance, Ross, and Don were born here. This big white house had ten rooms with an upstairs that Emily and I loved. At last we had a room of our own where we could play with our dolls in peace. The boys also had a room across the hall, but they knew our room was off limits for them.

Dad always loved to garden and take care of his animals. We had our own vegetables, our cows for milk and butter, our chickens and raised our own meat. So we didn’t think we lacked for much. He was a good provider, was very ambitious, and tried to improve things for his family. I think we were the first family in town to have an inside bathroom and toilet. He had that put in right after we had the Spanish Influenza in 1918. He thought it was pretty bad to empty the slop jars all the time. He and Roland didn’t have the flu; so he had to do everything. He mopped the kitchen floor by pouring water on it and then sweeping it out the door and afterwards walking right back into the kitchen with his muddy shoes on.

He never did help much around the house. I never did see him change a baby’s diaper or sit down and rock one. He loved us all but he wasn’t very demonstrative. We kidded him goodby when we went to school or to bed and when he came home after a trip.

He was a strict disciplinarian. He never raised his voice in anger; but when he said no, we knew that is what he meant. Emily didn’t always do as he wished and would sass him back; so she had a lot of privileges taken away. She would always make me ask for money for things we girls wanted or to take the car. She said he would always give it to me and not her.

He was very kind to his children and had a lot of patience. He would take us to the field with him on the hayrack and then ride back on the loads of corn or small loads of hay. I remember how happy we were on those trips. We would all sing and Dad would whistle. He didn’t’ have a singing voice, but we knew he was happy when he would whistle. It was a different whistle from most. He put his tongue against his teeth and the sound came out. I have never heard anyone whistle the way he did.

Dad’s idea of Christmas was more spiritual than that of today. To him it wasn’t so much the number of gifts that counted, but the spirit of the occasion. After all wasn’t it a holiday honoring the birth of Jesus? Yet, maybe that was more of a general concept in those days when he and mother were first married, for Christmas things weren’t even displayed in the store windows until a week or two before Christmas. A few days before this special holiday we went back on the hill and cut our own little pitch pine and decorated it with handmade things. Our gifts weren’t wrapped in beautiful Christmas paper with lovely ribbon bows, but were put under the tree or on a chair with our name on a piece of paper. We never received more than two presents, a big present and a smaller one; but we had a happy Christmas. We sang all the Christmas carols Mother had taught us and were told about the birth of the Christ child.

Dad was very generous with the Piute Indians that came around begging on Christmas Day. He gave them four, sugar molasses or baked bread and cakes; and sometimes the Indian children got one of our toys. I always hid with my new doll when the Indians came. I was afraid he would give it to them.

Dad was gradually taking more interest in church and community affairs. He was president of the town board, water master, and president of the school-board that met in Kanab once a month. He had to go across the sand to Kanab in a one-seated buggy drawn by one horse. He had to stay over night and come back the next day. It was slow going through the deep sand. He was also the power behind getting our new school and the high school and the town incorporated. At one time or another he was the president of each of the church organizations except the primary and the relief society of which Mother served as president. He put his heart into everything he was called to do and was loved and respected for it.

We always had home-evening where we all participated. We learned to get up and pray and give a gospel talk and sing most of the ward hymns. We also knelt in prayer every evening around the table and Father led us in prayer. As we grew older, we all had to take our turn at saying family prayer, some of which were shorter than others. We weren’t very reverent all the time, but Dad insisted we meet together in prayer before the evening meal. He and Mother believed in anointing and blessing the sick, and when we were ill and he administered to us, we had complete faith that we would get better. He always had consecrated oil in the house.

I knew he and Mother were very happy during those early years. But when he accepted so many community positions and was gone so much, Mother resented it. When he was elected to the state legislature, we were all very proud he had won this new honor, but Mother didn’t want him to go because she thought he was taking on too many responsibilities. He served two terms and worked hard for the development of Southern Utah. He wanted to do all he could for this area, for he thought it was a forgotten place as far as the members of the legislature were concerned. At first he used to walk from his hotel on South Temple Street to the State Capitol everyday. He enjoyed walking and it was a new experience to live in a large city and watch all the busy people. Every week though he took time enough to send home a box containing fresh lettuce, celery, grapes, bananas, oranges and a sack of candy. The last year he was there, his once good health began to fail. He couldn’t make the walk to the capitol and he developed a bad cough he couldn’t get rid of. At this time I was living in Salt Lake going to business school and helping him with his secretarial work. When his second term in the legislature ended, he refused to go back again even though Kane County wanted him to. He felt that the northern block got all they wanted and the Southern Utah people were forgotten and his work was useless.

He seemed happy to be home with his family and his business and his ward. He was bishop at that time. But the big depression was on. His sheep weren’t bringing in the money he had been used to and his growing family was needing more and more. Besides this the problems of the ward were growing more and more severe. He had to mortgage his sheep to meet his obligations. He became depressed and had a nervous breakdown in 1932. He changed into an entirely different person. Mama didn’t write checks, and he refused to give her the money for the necessary things the family needed. He tried very hard to bring himself out of the depression but he couldn’t shake it. He grew worse and worse; so Mama’s brother Carlos went to the general authorities in Salt Lake and asked them what to do. They said to take him to the state mental hospital in Provo for treatment. Carlos asked him to go for a ride up north to see relatives and he took him to the hospital in Provo.

Carlos said he would never forget the look on Dad’s face when he realized where he was. He looked as if he had been betrayed by everyone. At first he seemed to improve, but then he became worse than ever. A good part of the time he was in the hospital he spent in bed with a serious heart condition. I went to see him twice, but he wouldn’t even talk to me, didn’t even ask about home or mother or the family. Mother went up once to see him, but it seemed to make him worse, so none of us went any more. Frank Harmon, his brother-in-law went to visit him once in a while. I feel so bad now when I think how unfeeling we all were. We just didn’t understand his illness.

I remember coming down stairs early one morning when he was in Provo. Grandpa Esplin and Mother were talking, and he said, “We just can’t let that boy stay up there, Chat. What are we going to do?” The tears were streaming down his face. “He was the best boy and the most considerate of any of my sons. We can’t let him die up there alone.” He was very proud of Dad and loved him very much.

Finally in November, 1934, Mama received word that Father was coming home. We were all very happy but wondered if he really was better. He came home with Charlie Anderson. Mother said that when he came into the house, he just looked around the room, took a bath, and went immediately to bed. She felt so bad she went over to Aunt Chastie’s and cried and cried. She thought they had just sent him home to die.

He spent most of his time in bed or sitting in a large chair in the dining room. He felt so miserable that he couldn’t sleep at night and spent many of them in the big chair. I remember how good Jim was to Dad. he would stay up at night and talk to him, rub his back and try to make him comfortable. I am sure he appreciated all Jim and the other boys did for him.

He couldn’t eat much of anything but he did like brown sugar. I guess because it gave him quick energy and tasted so good.

He finally worked himself back into the family ways again, but he was different. I think he thought he had disgraced his family and we were ashamed of him. AT first he wouldn’t even go to church at all, but finally he started to go but not with the family. When he finally arrived at the church house, he would slip in a side door and sit well away from the rest of us. Mama always sat in the choir; but any of us would have been happy to sit by him.

I do blame the church for the way he was treated by the members, especially those with whom he had worked and the others who had been so friendly with him and sought his help and advice. No one came to see him or talk to him except family members and Alvin Porter. He was the only man in town who treated him as a normal person.

Father couldn’t walk very far and would have one of the boys saddle up a riding horse for him and help him on. Then he would ride all over the fields and hills around orderville. He even went to the herd at times. Mama tried to talk him out of going, but he was very stubborn and went anyway. She was afraid he would be injured or die someplace where he couldn’t be found.

But his health grew even worse and he began filling up with fluid. Then he would go to St. George to see Dr. Donald McGregor, who was also a personal friend. He would put Father in the hospital for a few days, give him shots, and drain off the excess fluid. He would come home thin and worn out. Then in a few weeks it would begin all over again. We all knew this couldn’t go on forever and he knew it too. He straightened up all his business affairs as best he could. He had such a sad look when he looked at his family. He wanted to do so much but he couldn’t. Then on Easter morning, march 28, 1937, he passed away at the age of 54. Mother said it was a relief to see him to and end his suffering; but she wondered why such a good brilliant man should suffer so much and die so young. He was buried in the Orderville Cemetery on April 1.