An Interview with Helen Froerer Lauper, age 74
April 9, 1989 – San Ramon, California
by Julie Lauper and Karen Danielson
edited by David Peterson
[Her husband, Dennis Lauper, was also present and makes some comments. Apparently, the incident of the "raft trip" was brought up before the tape started.]
Helen: The event took place when we were on a Youth Convention in Orville, and we were taking turns on a raft and when we were out in the middle on this raft, the raft started going down over the rapids and Dennis says, let's jump off. There were three of us on it and I said, "Oh Dennis, I haven't got anything on under my things, I can't." By that time we were down going over the rapids and this raft stuck right in the middle of the river on a rock and we had to get off or it would have moved on down the big slope. We stood there for four or five hours while the CC Boys and people from around the town brought a rope down on both sides of the river and then we had to decide between the three of us which of us would go first. This other fellow, Chuck Stamp, says, "Helen you go first because then Dennis can come behind you and help you." Oh, I got out just a little ways and the water was just so swift like this and I looked back kind of scared and Chuck Stamp says [to Dennis], "You better go out and help her." So [Dennis] came out and the rope broke so we went down one thing and then swirls like that took us under once and then we came up and then we went down once more. [Fortunately] we knew enough about breathing, about swimming, but then I kind of panicked about the third time, so Dennis gave me a great big push towards the mountain. Something said to me in my head, "put up your hands," and I put up my hands and there were two rocks there, and I drew up on a little levy just like that. Then I said, "Oh, where's Dennis, where's Dennis?" He got another swirl and dunked again and he was almost out of breath, but he climbed up on this bank and just laid there. The people up on the mountain said "stay there, stay there," and they came down to us. Chuck was still out there on that raft, so some fisherman threw a fisherman hook and caught in his clothes and then they worked a rope over to him and tied it on the raft and pulled him in. That was quite an experience.
Karen: How come you guys were on the raft in the first place?
Helen: We were taking turns with all of the others, about 200 up there, wasn't there, young people you know, it was an outing. It was right after we were married. And I kept saying, "Dennis we're going to drown, aren't we?" He says "where's your faith, where's your faith?" Then I remembered my patriarchal blessing said that I'd be a mother in Israel and I'd just had a miscarriage just before that so I knew that I wouldn't die and it gave me faith that I was going to get out of there. But you know that when we got out of there, there wasn't a part on our body that wasn't black and blue from hitting the rocks in this cold water as we went under . Marc was there and he thought for sure we was gone because he was way up the river. When he was driving us back to where we were staying that night, we were listening to the radio and there had been three or four that had drowned in that part of the river. We could have been one of them very easily. So that's a faith-promoting story. The next day, they had a testimony meeting and we all bore our testimonies. It was very interesting.
Julie: That's great, wow, so we'll start with you, but you can jump in at any time you have something to say, but just can you tell us a little bit about your early life with your family, your relationship with your family?
Helen: Well, I was number 10 in a family of 11, and we had a very nice family life. We all went to work when we were young because my father was a school teacher and worked for the school board, so we all went to work very young. When I was eighteen I was head of the candy department in Kress's and when I was a little older than that, I was over the fountain in Newberry's, and then my folks came to California in the winter-time, so I came to Ventura. That's where I met Dennis. We then came back every year for two years but then the next year I didn't come back. Dennis had moved up to San Francisco by then, and he had left on his mission from Oakland, but I saw him in Odgen as he went through. Then, seven years later, we got married.
Julie: seven years?!
We had a very very long romance of letter writing and I have every one of them, which he wants me to destroy. But we've had a nice life.
Julie: That's different from Ralph and Jane, they went out like on four dates.
Karen: Yeah, half a dozen dates and then they were married.
Helen: Well I knew the first day, when I walked into church. I was in, I guess, the last year of high school and he was in the Sunday school and he was announcing it, and I said to my mother, "That is the guy I'm going to marry," and my mother said, "Don't be silly."
Julie: My mom would freak out.
Karen: Yeah, she'd go "what?" – and then she'd start laughing – "that's funny, Karen!"
Dennis: We'll probably have a small controlled fire in one of the bedrooms and burn the sweetheart chest with all the old crummy letters.
Helen: Oh, they're nice letters. He's quite a poet. We had a nice life and we had two children. Marc was our first child and then four years later we had Karen and she was handicapped and we spent many years taking care of her.
Julie: What was that like, caring for her?
Helen: Hard. Up every night of my life until she was fourteen years old. She never slept very much and we'd take turns going back to bed. First she'd be with him, then she'd be with me. She had hypertension, you know. So she wouldn't wake the children down below, we'd set in the bathtub with her and blow bubbles, or in the front room. My sister and her husband lived below us in an apartment at that time. But little Karen can understand everything, but she don't put out very well, but she can understand and remember, she has a memory, doesn't she, Dennis?
Karen: I know, I can tell she remembers me.
Helen: Oh, she remembers places you've been, what you've done and everything, and I go down once a month and visit her. She was home for three days just a while back.
Dennis: It was quite a surprise [when] one day she got out of school early for some reason and we didn't meet her, and I don't know just what the circumstances were, but she was brought home by these other people. She told them which ways to turn, here, here, and no, no, here, she'd go like that, so she directed them right to the house. Then they realized that she had a sense of direction and though she lacked the ability to discuss complex subjects, why she could give simple directions, simple answers like that. When I'd tell her, "Karen, go downstairs and get me a yellow-handled screwdriver," she would do things like that, which was pretty good. I remember the first time that she showed ability to write. We were told that she'd never be able to do anything academically. We were on the way to Clear Lake, and we were on vacation and her mother and I can almost remember the exact place, [with] the trees around. Suddenly she printed her name, Karen, K-A-R-E-N, on a funny book cover and then she just started laughing, [since] she had done something to excite us so. Just a simple thing like that, we never could forget it.
Helen: She works eight hours a day, every day, she leaves at 7:30 and gets home at 2:30 [Dennis: More like six] Is it? I don't know. [Dennis: She does work!] She's good with her hands.
You know all about Markie, he had five children and they're all active. Two in the BYU and you know that Kasey [Bronson] has just been to Washington, DC, and has seen the Capitol and everything. He was one of them chosen out of the school to go. [Dennis: You had better talk louder or you'll not be on the tape] Oh, I think it must be sensitive, huh?
Julie: So what was your life like when you were in school, when you were in high school, were you into academics or sports, or boys?
Helen: Oh, I was into basketball. I was center on the girls basketball team and I also belonged to one of the sororities at school, the yearbook shows that. I think they only dated me. It wasn't because I had a lot of money, but because I was a good basketball player and I went out quite a bit, but my folks never let us date until after we were out of school. Only we went on dates with chaperones, you know, like they do at the dances and things, and then after we got out of school, we could go to the church dances. We used to have a great big dance hall in Ogden, Utah, called the White City, where the big bands would come, and we'd go as groups to that. That was interesting. Herb Ted, Ria Rito and Harry James and my lifetime was a very happy life, I would say.
Julie: What were you like as a child? As far as your testimony, not as a child, but as a teenager? Were you very much into the church?
Helen: Oh, I always went to church until, oh, about the 12th grade, and then I got a job at the Continental Bakery Company and they worked on Sunday. I used to go to work sometimes, it depended on the seasons of the year, sometimes I'd go to work at at 4:00 in the morning, sometimes I'd go at 8:00 in the morning, it depended on what we were making. I was floor lady and I used to get home and take my mother to church at night. We always used to have sacrament meeting at night, but I lost a little faith at one time because I went with all the girls from church and I met up with a very nice German girl that lived in our neighborhood who didn't have any friends. She came down from Tremonton, Utah, and we got kind of sick because her dad wasn't nice to her and I felt bad for her because she used to have to iron. Her mother would wash and I used to go help her iron so she could get out and play you know. This was when I was in high school, she was a couple years younger than I. [Dennis: you helped her iron?] Uh huh, the sheets, she had a big place.
Then one day, six of these girls came from the church. It was a Sunday evening: we used to get together on a Sunday evening and go to one person's place or the other and make tomato soup or french fried potatoes or taffy pulls. This one Sunday night, May [the German girl] and I was setting on the front porch, and these girls told me to come on out and said that I could either choose between their group or May, that she was wild. I said, "She is not wild", and they said, "Well, she goes with Ruth up the street who is wild, who smokes and that, and we can't ruin our reputation and that." They were kind of snooty kids, you know, and they said that they would give me a week, and I said, "I don't need a week, May is my friend." So that ended that I was a little bit disillusioned, but I always went to church. We [also] were to church when we went to Ventura every year.
Julie: What were some of your goals?
Helen: My goals? It was to go to the temple. I went with a lot of fellows. My mother worried plenty because a lot of them were Catholic. It kind of worried her [that] I might get involved, but I made up my mind after she hadn't had any of her children, but one, marry a Mormon and he wasn't active, that I would. [As for] myself, I wanted to go to the temple so I wouldn't let them down, so I waited for Dennis. [Dennis: Thanks.]
Karen: How did you guys meet?
Helen: We met at church.
Karen: Through the dances and stuff?
Helen: Well, it was really in church, wasn't it, in a Sunday School class. Then I went to Junior College, too.
Dennis: Well, we met each other, we saw each other in Sunday School, but we didn't get the opportunity to really socialize there. [Then], we started the fall season of the dances. We used to have dances pretty regularly in those days, that was the big activity. There was no TV and radio and that stuff so we liked to dance. Everybody, it seemed, danced in those days. I played football for the Junior College at the time, but I injured my knee so I couldn't dance at the time, so she sat out a few with me. We sat out and watched and she was kind of nice and understanding about it, and so I thought, well, that's a bigger [?] girl...
Julie: what kind of dancing did you guys do?
Dennis: Waltz and fox trot.
Helen: Face to face. In those days you were face to face.
Dennis: You put your arms around each other.
Helen: In those days you didn't dance far apart like that. Cheek to cheek we were dancing in those days.
Dennis: Virginia Reel is where you went around and around and we did that at some kind of event.
Helen: I loved to dance.
Dennis: You were light on your feet.
Helen: So that was the story.
Julie: What was it like being one of 11 children? What were your parents like?
Helen: Great, we all got along pretty good, me being next to the baby. My little brother was sickly. He was born in my mother's later years and he had thyroid gland trouble. That's when you have a large throat and don't talk correctly, and he died when he was seven, of pneumonia.
I had a sister just two and a half years older than I am, Edda, and she was killed when she was 54 here in Oakland and then I had another brother killed in an automobile crash up when he was 17 and that was those three.
My older brothers were engineers, a couple of them were at school, a couple of them were working out on the road or wherever they worked, and my oldest sister was married and living in England. My other sister Mable, who you know, was working in San Francisco at I. Magnin's and Arther was an engineer for Ventura. So when I was home, [it was] just my sister and I for quite some time. Then she got married and I was home alone with my folks and then I got married. [Dennis: You were the baby] Oh, yeah, the big baby. So, we had a happy life.
Julie: What were some of your traditions or customs at holiday time?
Helen: Dad always took us ice skating, that was something, but my ankles weren't strong enough so I'd watch the others, but we went tobogganing. He always took us to the circus when it came to town. We'd go down at the railroad yard. Ogden, Utah, was where the stations met, you know, out there, from the South,[Dennis: the switching yard] The switching yard. The circus would come in and unload right there and he'd always get us up and go down and see them unload the animals and they'd have a parade that day through the city. Our dad always was the one to plan and always on Memorial Day we'd go to Lagoon. That was a nice place to go. We really liked Little America and so we had a lot of activity.
We all worked from the time we were twelve. I used to go to the grocery store, wait on the candy tray before the school hour, then I'd go to school and then come [back] and help them stock the shelves, but we were kept busy when we were young.
Julie: What were some of your hobbies? Did you like to read, or play any instruments?
Helen: We were game players. Our folks gave us all a chance to play the piano, but I don't think any of us were that interested at the time. We had too much going with sports and going out and I always sewed. All my sisters sewed, we made our own clothes then. All my hobbies were sports, always have been, not just for me to play, but to go watch.
Julie: Do you have any memorable experiences you can think of?
Helen: Like what?
Julie: You know, when you think back about your childhood or your family is there anything that comes to mind?
Karen: A birthday, or something?
Helen: Well, my mother had so many children, I don't think any of us had birthdays like you girls had. I remember when I was thirteen. I was thirteen on the thirteenth and I made up my own birthday party and I invited my girlfriends and handed out the invitations and that's the only birthday party I remember having. [Dennis: If you hadn't done it why you wouldn't have had any!] And I remember it was nice. Well, I remember I invited the girls that I knew had the most money to bring me nice gifts. Well, I knew them all and played with them.
Karen: What did you guys do at your birthday party?
Helen: Played games if I remember right. [Dennis: Post Office, Brake the Plow.] No, we didn't have boys, I know it was all girls at the birthday party. Me, I wasn't [yet] sixteen. My folks didn't go for all that, boys.
Julie: Was there anything really different? I mean, I know our lifestyle is very different.
Helen: Well, I think our lifestyle was, we were taught well, good manners. My dad was very strict, especially with the boys; I had seven brothers. He was strict with them. They all went to church and as they came older, Dad tried to encourage them to go to church, but they said they'd gone to church enough to last the rest of their lives. They'd gone so much. They used to have a religion class, Primary. They [did not have] what they called Seminary, but something they had right in school; it was like Seminary, but they didn't call it that. [Dennis: Institute.] Institute, and they were all good students and thought of getting out and making their thing in the world. Two brothers were in the first World War and those two were engineers.
Karen: What was going on in terms of world events?
Helen: During my lifetime?
Helen: I remember the radio came in when I was in eleventh grade. I remember my brother that was killed making a little crystal set and would put the earphones on and listen to that. [Dennis: He assembled it himself.] Yeah, he assembled it himself; he was very good at that. And the next time I remember, we had a big long one and my dad always used to listen to the news and then he went to bed early. Then, we'd sit up late, my sister and I, and listen to that.
But my dad always planned. We went and got our own Christmas tree up in the mountains and we always had candles on it in that day. I know my mother worried about the fire, but we still had candles and we always made chains, you know for across the rim [?]. I remember the brothers who were away from home would always send nice gifts, usually fruit from California: apples, oranges -- not apples, we had apples -- but oranges and bananas.
My one brother made suitcases and big trunks, the trunks for the back of trucks. They used to have trunks on the back of cars, you know, and for their advertisement they had balloons. This one year he came home and when we got up in the morning, our whole room was filled with balloons. You couldn't even walk in the room. He'd blown these balloons up during the night and filled the whole room.
Now, I'll tell you one other thing: I love dolls. My sister Mabel, who is the only sister I have living out off all of us -- she's 83 -- always sewed for me and always was like a grandma to Karen. But I always loved dolls as a youngster and I'd go downtown and looked at them and tell her who worked at an Emporium where they had a toy land and I'd show her the doll I wanted. But when I got fourteen, she said I was too big for dolls, but I had picked this baby doll I wanted. I remember her coming home with a package, and I went to her room and measured that package and I thought, hmm, it's a baby doll. She gave me a black doll and that was the last doll I got. In those days it wasn't like it is now, you know. When she gave me this black baby doll, I remember I was so hurt. [Dennis: You thought she was putting you down, huh?] Uh huh, breaking me of having dolls anyway. I think Karen had it for years. Karen had a lot of dolls and she liked black dolls and she used to go for a ride and she'd throw them out the window and we'd have to stop and go find them. Sometimes we didn't, and then she'd get mad and she'd throw them over in the neighbor's yard.
So, that is the story of my life. I had a good life.