An Interview with Ralph Lauper, age 73
April 13, 1989 – San Ramon, California
by Julie Lauper
edited by David Peterson
[His wife, Jane Lauper, was also present and makes some comments. Apparently, she had been interviewed just prior to him. Some specific topics are noted below.]
Ralph Lauper: Where did we get to?
Julie: You haven't really started yet.
Ralph: I haven't?
Julie: No, so it's pretty much your turn, I think.
Jane: Well, the one thing I wanted to add was that I wanted to tell you something you might have to keep in mind. My grandmother saw the man that become my grandfather. She was playing the organ and she looked down in church and she had never seen him before and knew that was the man she was going to marry. I saw Ralph like that. Your dad saw your mother when he came back from England on a boat. He turned his ticket in on the airplane and got a boat and he knew that about your mother, so watch out kid.
Julie: I won't even know who I'm going to marry.
Jane: It runs in the family.
Ralph: My father was born in 1869, which put him 25 years after the prophet was murdered, so the Church was very young. That was four years after President Abraham Lincoln was shot. My dad used to tell me about these things. He came to New York from Switzerland at age 24, when New York City was dirt, streets were dirt and the sidewalks were board walks. That was at the turn of the century. He didn't have any money and he had to work round washing dishes in cafes and so forth to get enough money to come out west. He said he lived on peanuts for a week one time.
Jane: Peanuts, not just "nothing", but actually peanuts, goobers.
Ralph: Yeah, he lived on peanuts. So I figure he put up with quite a bit so that I could enjoy the things that I did. He never made a whole lot of money, but he had ten kids. We learned how to work, because if you didn't work, you didn't eat. We were farmers and I don't know what the other guys in the family have told you or who you're going to interview, but my earliest recollections are milking cows, eight or nine cows in the morning before I'd go to school and then coming home at night and doing the same thing, plus feed the pigs and the cattle and chickens. We all had a lot of chores to do. You talk about doing your homework. We used to have to stay out of school for a month at a time in the fall to harvest the crops. That was excepted around there because every family, every kid, had to do it, and I'm not talking about 17 or 18 year old guys, we were just barely 10 years old. Some of my older brothers did it when they were younger. I was running six or eight head of horses in the field on a plow before I was 10 years old. So work we did, in the snow and sleet falling and your hands get so cold you can hardly move, but you still had to go out and pull those beets out and top them. One of the easier jobs was herding cattle for my dad; we'd herd his cattle. You'd take them out of the corral during the day and take them out in the area and around and out to the countryside to graze, and bring them home at night. It was lonely, but not all that hard; very lonely for a little kid, but most kids at that time had to do some of the ...
School was not too bad, not too good. Strange thing that the schools weren't as good as they are now, but the kids were pretty good students because we weren't spoiled and we didn't have any TV to watch and we didn't waste a lot of time. We'd have our kids parties: you'd get with your friends, get on a horse and get your girl on with you and that was your date. We didn't know anything about waiting 16 years to have your first date. Most of us didn't even live that long. So then we'd get around and that, but it was not the kind of date you'd have, no: no cars, no nothing, just horses. You'd go over to your friends house and they'd have a party. There would be 15 or 20 kids. We liked to do it, but we didn't always have that much time to do it in.
School would be two rooms: first, second, third, and fourth grade in one room, and fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth in the other room, one teacher a piece. And Utah schools ranked very high in the nation on the basis of what the kids learned, very high, but they never had multiple teachers until high school.
We made money on the side by trapping coyotes, badgers, skunks, and beavers; not beavers, but muskrats and things like that. Once in a while a fox, but I can recall having a pet coyote that played around with me like a little pup. We bought [her] from some Indians that came through and worked for my dad for a while, and she was [a] fun little animal. I remember having a pet skunk that my brothers trapped in a lock one day, and I played around with and got to be friendly with and brought in the house and so forth. It didn't bother me any. He'd cuddle up, very clean. I'd throw him in the canal, and he'd swim around and get himself clean. He'd get himself very clean. I had a horse, [but] it didn't have a bridle or saddle half the time. Just put a rope lose around its nose and that's the way most of us would ride, ride to school.
Jane: The rope went just on one side, huh?
Ralph: Yeah. It would have a rope around the neck and put the noose over it's nose and you'd guide it. If you'd want to turn that way, you'd put it like that. It would feel it on it's neck and turn right, or if you wanted to go that way, you'd just move it down.
Julie: It wouldn't do it for me.
Ralph: Well, if you teach it, if you trained a horse that way. We didn't do much saddle riding in that day.
Jane: Well, they were wild horses, weren't they?
Ralph: We'd get them off the desert. We used to chase them out there. It was different.
Jane: The Man From Snowy River.
Ralph: We were real frontiers boys. When we came to California, I was just getting ready to go in the 8th grade and we were the only family there in the Church at that time. Dennis was telling me just the other day, that was around 1939 [actually, it was 1929], now it's 1989 and there are five wards right in Camarilla and a couple stakes and we went to school in Oxnard. This wasn't far from Los Angeles by today's milage, 60 miles, but in those days it was quite a ways. And once in a while we'd hitchhike down there, and later on Dennis and I got us a car We paid 15 bucks for a Ford and painted it about 30 different colors and boy you could hear us coming before we even started the motor. We'd drive to L.A. and every once in a while we'd take some girls, and sometimes not, but we'd go down there and spend the day.
When we were in Ventura, we went to school there and I never got past the first year of Junior College. I don't know if Dennis graduated or not from Junior College, he might have. But Dad died and we moved to Oakland, and most of us went on our missions from up there, and after I got home from my mission... I went to Denmark, and the war broke out and I stayed there and was the last to get out of Denmark and came over on a freighter to New York harbor. We went around the Arctic Circle because we were dodging the submarines. [I] got me assigned to the East Central States Mission and finished my mission there, a two-and-a-half-year mission. [more on this later]
[When I] got home [in 1941], just a few months later, why, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and I got in the World War II draft from the infantry. I applied for Air Corps training and was accepted into the Air Force and so I went to pilot training in various places: San Ana, California, King City, near Salinas, south of San Francisco, Gardner Field and Taft, south of Bakersfield, and then graduated and got my wings in Stockton, California. I went from there to Salt Lake City and over to New Mexico and learned how to climb the big boulders and then got a crew and went to Dyersburg, Tennessee, and later to Florida and finished training in Florida. Then we flew out of Florida to Trinidad, and the East Indies, that's 2000 miles out in the Caribbean. [We] spent the night and then went down to South America to a little town called Fortaleza, below in Brazil, and spent a couple, three days and then hopped over from there to Dakar [capital of Senegal] and French West Africa and Senegal. (You've probably never heard [of] Senegalese people, big tall blacks.) We were over in Senegal for a few days and then onto North Africa by way of Tindouf [Algeria] and Bizerte and Tunis [both now in Tunisia], Colonial North Africa. Then from there into Italy to join up with the 15th Air Force heavy bombardment. There [I] got 51 missions flying over Northern Italy, which was still held by the Germans, Southern France, places like Toulou [Toulon?], Toulouse, Milly [?] and places like that, and up into Germany to places like Augsburg, and Salzburg, Munich (Munchen they called it); heavily defended place Wienestadt, then over to Yugoslavia, over the Danube River into Budapest [Hungary] and Bucharest [Romania], places in Hungary and as far out as Ploesti [Ploiesti in Romania], out near Russia, five or six times. And I got the purple heart on my last mission and came back home and ...
[Final Air Force Mission]
Jane: Tell them about that, the mission that got you a Purple Heart.
Ralph: Well, you don't have to be real glamorous about it. I just happened to be leading a squadron of bombers that day in the last mission out to Ploesti, and it was the most heavily-defended target of the German Reich. They said they had 8200 navy guns out there. It's unbelievable, but they would fire at us for about an hour before we'd get there and while we were on the target, and coming off of it, they had lots of guns. All around there, it was oil they were trying to save. We weren't going to tear up the oil and we'd sent the first 300 bombers of a 1,000-plane-raid and we'd go over with the "Ediperswam" bombs, they'd call them, little light things, 15 or 20-pound shrapnel bombs, little ones. They'd drop them by the hundreds, and when they'd get near the ground they would break, they'd explode, and that was very discouraging to the German gunners. They'd just spray the ground with all kinds of lead; it was like blowing up a hand grenade and everything would catch you. That would disrupt things a little bit. The second 300 [bombers] would [then] come over with the big stuff.
[Jane: Well, I meant when you got your tail shot off and everything].
Ralph: Well, it got shot that day.
Jane: And how you'd lost a gunner.
Ralph: And then we'd tear up the railroad yards, everything, blow up the gas mains and the rails on the tracks would look like copper wire bent and then the last bunch would drop sheaves of Magnesium bombs. They burn 400 degrees hot; they'd melt everything and set it on fire. Well, that's what we were doing that day. I was having engine trouble and I wanted the guys to go on without me and I wanted to finish because that day was going to be my last mission and I didn't like the idea of going home, of aborting a mission; anyway, I never did. But they wouldn't leave and so I took a squadron of B17 bombers -– seven of us -- over the Ploesti Oil Fields all alone that day, 'cause everyone else was going on ahead of us. We could see the fight ahead of us. I was one of those crazy guys who did that. I've never talked much about it and I don't know if I would dare do it now, but I did that day, and I had 100 miles to think about it coming down on the bomb run from what we called the IP "initial point". It was a lake up northeast of there, so we gathered wind on our tail coming down toward the target, and they had been beat up pretty bad, but there they were sitting and they realized that here comes some more of us, so it seemed like everybody in the German Army was shooting at us –- just us seven. They'd already taken on the whole air force ahead of me, and that probably saved me, in a sense, because the German fighters were all fighting the bombers when they pulled them off the target, way out heading west, [but] when we got there, they still found time to hit every one of our planes and I lost an engine. I got it going after a little while, and we were heading for home and I remember saying, "Let's go home for lunch, fellows. We're all through here." We swung off the target and the engineer was here just a while back and I reminded him of the mission, and he and I chatted about it and joked about it because he said, "Let's do it because we don't have any friends here." I remember him saying that on the intercom. He was sitting right over there in that chair. He was just a young kid, about 20 years old.
We got as far as Yugoslavia. We had a few run-ins that day with fighters, but they were all running out of gas and ammunition. Finally, we got out to Yugoslavia, over the Danube river, coming in. We were down real low because you'd lose altitude coming out to save gas. We were down about 10 or 11,000 feet, which was nothing; that's just two miles in the air, and there was a battery of Germans [anti-?]aircraft down there. This guy would move around, our observation plates would tell us where he was, and we had him pegged about 100 miles north there that day. He slipped south and he probably had 10 or 12 guns, and he was sitting down there and he took us. He was probably a captain with a few sergeants, lieutenant and gunners, and they were on trucks, normal trucks. Anyway, he started to fire and the first thing I knew...anyway, I'm telling you this just to tell you how I got my Purple Heart. He started to fire, and the first that I knew he was down there was because a shell broke right outside my window. So, right away I racked the plane over the other way and I yelled into the radio to the rest of the guys. Everybody was hit, most of them had lost an engine or so forth, but they were all still flying, all seven of us. And we didn't want to lose anybody then, when we were only a few miles from home. And so we started making evasive action, that big seven, [those] big bombers, as fast as you could. You can't operate them like fighter planes, but we were zigging and zagging and I was telling everyone, "Take some evasive action; loosen up the formation so you can maneuver, fellows." They were just starting to do that when I racked my plane up this way, so I would go this way, hoping that these shells would break out there, because they were getting closer and closer, and one of them broke outside the window. It shattered my windshield and the side, and it ripped an engine almost off, and oh, man, a piece of flack came through there and hit me right there. It burned me on the arm, and then I got it stabilized pretty good and then this kid...
Jane: Your plane [stabilized], not your arm.
Ralph: ...and then this kid I was telling you about, this engineer boy, he came down out of his terrap [turret?] and cut my jacket off. I still joke with him about how he owes me a new jacket. He cut my jacket sleeve off and dressed my wound, and then we came home and didn't have too much trouble. I was used to it by that time, I came in with two engines and a water hose in the airplane, and no oxygen and a hurting arm. It hurt like crazy and we were dog-tired. We went out 10 or 12 hours working hard, we'd been up since 2:00 in the morning getting ready for the flight, and so we got a bag of marshmallows. I remember when I got out of the airplane that night, I got down on my hands and knees and I rubbed my hands and said, "That's it. That's all for me. I'm going home."
Jane: When he got to his place, all of his roommates had divided his stuff up.
Ralph: Well, they did that on another mission out to Wienernerstein [Wiener Neustadt?], that's a place right south of Vienna, and my best friend was flying off to be left there with another squadron that day. I watched him get shot down and things were going bad because we lost 100 airplanes that day; that's 10 men in a bomber, that's 1000 men, highly trained flying men, lost in that one raid. Parachutes looked like snowflakes. They started on the bomb run and we were going along when all of a sudden, "fromp," and the airplane shuddered and they were breaking all around us. The fighters got so mad because we'd been knocking some of them down. The German fighters got so mad they came right in the flack-captors. They didn't like to do that often; when they came in the flack, they run the risk of getting hit, too. Usually, they'd pull off when we'd get on the bomb run, then wait for us around the other side, wait for us when we came out, to start the fight again. But that day, they were in there with us, and everything was going to pot in a hand basket, and when that thing hit, I thought we'd been hit in the nose. I thought they'd be dead down there [the other guys in the plane?] and I started calling and they were doing fine. I kept calling a role through the plane. The ball treck [?] got her to dive underneath the radio operator in the radio room, the engineer up in the 20-50's [?] up above there, and the two waste gunners. I got down to the radio operator and said I've been calling for the tail gunner, and the radio operator broke in and said, "He's not here anymore; they shot off the end of the tail." Your dad has a picture of that. You can ask him to show you.
Jane: Eight feet of the plane.
Ralph: To show you a picture of that... [shows Julie a picture of a bomber]
Jane: That little guy went down with it.
Ralph: ...got shot right off the plane, and that big fin that sticks up was flopping around like this, and that steering wheel was jiggling, and we flew all the way home like that. Brought Germans half way home; very lucky to be alive, but that's a little bit of the experience of the day, talking about war experiences.
Jane: Well, when he got home [back to base], all these guys had his stuff divided.
Ralph: Well, we were late.
Jane: Shoes, clothes, and all of his mementos and everything.
Ralph: They were really good with mementos because they knew somebody would look for those. The claims officer was supposed to take some of those and send them home to your wife. We had gotten married just before I went overseas. We got married in Florida. President Grant said if we wanted to get married as servicemen, we should not try and get to the temple because it would be impossible to do, they wouldn't let us off long enough, so "get married wherever you can," he said. This was the President of the Church, so I took him up on it and then asked her to come on down there and marry me. We got married in Florida and three weeks later I went overseas. But the day we got married, they'd give us one night off, but I had to be back to work by noon the next day.
Jane: And then when he went overseas, he had 22 gallons of gas [left] in his plane, and he had to "fly it out".
Ralph: Instead of going home and saying goodbye to my wife, I had to take the...
Jane: To empty the plane, he had to "fly it out".
Ralph: I flew clear up to Washington, DC, and all over Georgia and all over South Carolina and everywhere trying to use up that gas, and everybody else had to do it. And bear in mind that gas was rationed then! You only got four gallons a week for your cars and here we were wasting that gas, nearly 3,000 gallons in one airplane. One guy went over the Atlantic Ocean and opened the transfer valve and figured out a way to open them up and let his gas fly out underneath. But he ran the risk of getting it in the exhausts, and why, he would have got blown up then instead of later. But I watched him get blown up over Yugoslavia one day, Herb Wacker from New York. But he did it [dumped his fuel] that day, but I didn't want to do it because I wanted to live a little longer than that. He just postponed the day that he got it. We were all mad. When we got home, in was 2:00 in the morning and they wouldn't let us off the base to tell our wives goodbye. So all they did is hear the airplanes taking off out there in the base the next morning and flying over the town on our way out. Everybody was cotton-picking mad. They wanted dessert, but what could you do.
We stayed in the Army. After I got back home, I was in the Army for quite a few months. I got a leave of absence for a month and came home and then got reassigned to Sioux City, Iowa. While I was there, why, your dad was born and I flew out to St. George to see him and his mother, and she nearly died in the birth. Those were rough times. She couldn't have him and when she was just about dead, why, they operated on her and took him out. She was in the hospital for a month, and meanwhile, I stayed 20 days there and I had to go back to the island, right back to work, because I was instructing then. They had a little bit better deal than we did. The guys who were going through then had combat pilots, like I was, to instruct them. When I went through, my instructors didn't know anything about combat and they didn't know much about the airplane; they didn't know much more than I did. But the guys that got us were lucky because we could tell them all from the standpoint of, you know, what the real world was: what to expect and how to handle it. We stayed there that winter in Iowa, and the next June I had a chance to get out.
I had so many points. They gave us points for various things. They gave us a point for every month of service; I had 41 months. They gave us 12-1/2 points for being married; well, I was married. We got some points for a child and some points for overseas duty, and we got points for decorations; you get five points for decorations. I had five air medals with five oak-leaf clusters which saved us six air medals. I had the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was five points. I had the Purple Heart, which was five points. I had the Presidential Unit Citation for the work we did down in Ploesti; we cut them down from 12 billion barrels a day, to less than a million. For pinpoint bombing, we got the Presidential Citation for that, the group did. I had a Battle Star, which is worth five points, for the European Theatre. I had the Battle Star for the Battle of Italy, and I had one for D-Day, the day that we invaded. I was in France the day that the Allies hit the Normandy Coast in World War II. I was up there bombing some railroad yards in France.
I had all kinds of points, and the first thing you know, they offer me a chance to get out. They said you could stay in if you'd like, and I said thanks anyway. In 2-1/2 days we were gone. We came out to San Francisco, went into St. George, and from there we spent a lot of time in different places. But I think life has been good to us in a lot of ways. I don't know what else you'd like to hear. I don't know what the other guys told you. What did Dennis tell you, for example?
Julie: A lot about his growing up.
Ralph: About young life?
Julie: Yeah, so maybe you could tell me about your mission or being bishop of the ward.
|Elder Ralph Lauper, 1940 more|
Ralph: Yeah, he was a bishop two or three times. My church service was a little different from his. I was a young high councillor at about 28 years of age. I'd been head of Elder's Quorums and Priest's Quorums, Deacon's Quorums, and Teacher's Quorums and so forth. And before that [high councillor], I'd been a Seventy, since before I went on my mission, I was ordained a Seventy by Joseph Fielding Smith [who] later became President. And then when I was overseas as a missionary, I was district president after I'd been there for four months. Then the war came along and they took the missionaries out. They were going to leave one of us in each district, so they made me a district president and I didn't feel like I knew very much, but there I was all alone in that district running the district. There was just eight of us in the entire mission, one in each district, so I was pretty humble. I went out tracking alone and talked with people, and that was my experience with talking in tongues, not a bunch of gibbering, but I testified. There's more than one way to talk in tongues. I could talk in Danish. I was so humble, I was talking perfect Danish, so they told me. They said you talk like a Dane. They could tell I was an American, the way I acted, the way I dressed, but the said they couldn't get over that you don't have an accent. But I was all alone, so I wasn't getting it from anyone else, no companion. I didn't have that for quite a little while, a matter of a couple of weeks I guess, and then the President of the Church decided, he talked to the State Department, and decided to get all of us out of there. So we closed down shop and that's how we came out of there. I went into East Central States Mission in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
Jane: But it's a lot different now than it was when you got transferred. When he got transferred, he met Dennis who was just coming home from his mission, and they spent a week together.
Ralph: Oh, we did that.
Jane: He was touring around.
Ralph: We did that when we got thrown out of Europe. I radioed while I was on the high seas on a boat and told him to hang on for me and wait for me in New York. He was coming out of France and he went out through Holland on a Dutch boat called the Pendulum. And I went out of Copenhagen up around through Svongor [Stavanger?] and Bergen, Norway, and he came out on another boat and he waited around in New York for me. They didn't know what to do with us. There were so many missionaries coming from Europe and crowding that place [that] they were having a terrible time with reassignment. So we got there and they decided to release him because he had 26 months then and me, I didn't have more than five, six months then; five months by that time, six months I guess, from May to October... five months. So they decided to keep me around, but the President of the Eastern States mission, who was handling this big Exodus, he says, in essence, "Why don't you guys get lost for the weekend and come back Monday and I'll be able to do something for you." I don't even remember where we stayed. We had a room somewhere. We went to the World's Fair over the weekend. We had a lot of fun and went out there and waltzed in that big ballroom and there was Buddy Bergen with that beautiful trumpet he was playing. We stood and watched him; we didn't dance, but we went to everything. We went around and visited, and then we came back and they had me ready to reassign: "no hurry, you'll go out to the East Kentucky Mission." That was the East Central States Mission, Kentucky; Louisville was the headquarters. "Check in there and your brother Dennis can take off and go home." So we went down to Washington, DC, and spent three days there looking around there and having fun, and then we went on a train that went out as far as Cincinnati. I got off one night, since then I was bawling --I was so lonely -- I kept staying on that train heading west, and I had to get reassigned...
Jane: Tell her also the time you took a bunch of missionaries and went to a movie on Sunday.
Ralph: Oh, yeah. So I stayed in a hotel all by myself there in Cincinnati that night and grabbed a train the next morning out to Louisville and Kentucky, and stayed around there three or four days before the President even had time to talk to us. He asked where I wanted to go and I said I wanted to go to the toughest place in the mission. So he sent me over to Knoxville, Tennessee, where they'd had nothing but problems. I said "I've been fooling around long enough, I'm losing the missionary spirit, I might as well go home if I don't do some work out here. I've been wasting all this time."
We used to hitchhike there to get from one place to another a lot of times. We didn't fuss around paying a lot of money for tickets, so he had me working in Knoxville and planning a conference for him one time. We had a big district conference. They came in there and we had the meeting. The movie "Joseph Smith" was in town, so I asked the President after one of our meetings, "Can we go over and see the show?" Did you [Julie] ever see that?
Julie: Ut uh. [No.]
Jane: You ought to see it, if it ever comes by.
Ralph: I think you've got it, haven't you?
Jane: I don't know whether I have or not.
Ralph: Either that or Brigham Young. Anyway, there are two of them, and one of them was in town and he says, "I don't see anything wrong with it, Brother Lauper. Show propriety and be careful." I got all of the Elders and the lady missionaries lined up and we went, and I'll be doggoned if he didn't end up going himself. The President, he went; he was an old seminary teacher, too. I could see a lot of my other missionary presidents going, but not him, but he did.
Jane: And then tell about the time that you ate dinner with the people on the farm that had the chicken fly in the window.
Ralph: And then we had the Church Census during that time. She's referring to a time when I went up into the hills to take a census, and gosh, they lived real primitive in those days. They'd see the Elders coming from way down the road, coming up the old long road, up the hill to the cabin, and you'd see some kid coming out of the house and running after the roosters. He'd chase that rooster until he couldn't run anymore and he'd catch him and have his head cut off, have him scalded out and picked and cleaned out and fried and on the table by the time we'd got there. The body heat would still be in it. They'd fry that chicken and we'd eat it, and you'd better not say you didn't want it, because that would hurt their feelings. Then they'd clear off the family and you'd get the bed, the only bed, practically, in the house. Everybody else would sleep on the floor and the mother and the dad would sleep in the kitchen or wherever. The Elders would get the bed, but that one night that she's referring to, along about 11:00, [there came] a terrible smell. There was no glass in the window. They shut the shutters, but there was no glass. We had the shutters open and boy those dogs...
Jane: No screen or anything.
Ralph: ...the dogs had just come in from a skunk hunt and they'd got sprayed, and they'd come back and parked right below that window, whining because it burns and that stench was so strong. The family didn't even notice. I was nearly sick, so...
Jane: No, the one I wanted you to tell about...
Ralph: ...so the next morning, we had some more chicken. I'm just sick anyway, my stomach's queezy, and we got chicken again for breakfast with dumplings and a lot of gravy. I'm looking down there and seeing the eye looking [back] at me.
Jane: They don't even cut that off!
Ralph: The beak, you'd see the beak and the big yellow legs right down to the toenails and that's about all I could handle. [Then] here comes one of the roosters that was left, and he didn't know what kind of danger, [but] he [comes] flying in through the cotton-picking -- the dog spooked him out there -- flying in through the window, circles the room once, and lands right there with his...
Jane: Right in the gravy!
Ralph: ...his feet in the gravy. She grabbed it like this, and takes him over and "whap"!
Jane: And there was all that stuff all over his feet in the gravy!
Ralph: "He's out, now eat your 'dinner', Elders. Eat your breakfast."
Jane: Now tell them about drinking out of that cup.
Ralph: Yeah, this was all terrible.
Julie: Where was all this, in Kentucky?
Ralph: Where was it? It was down in the Smoky Mountain area, North Carolina, so that's East Tennessee, on the border between North Carolina and East Tennessee. So I go outside, and I'm kind of getting myself together, and they have a well there, so I pumped a little bit then pulled it up to get that dipper. The old boy liked to chew tobacco. He was a good ole Mormon, but he did chew his tobacco, and I'm trying to figure out how I can get me a drink out of that cup because there's no other cup and you know these guys have to be drinking out of the same cup with all of the rest of the family, too. So I reckon he's right-handed, and he's going to be drinking out like this, so I'll get a little smart: I'll take it with my left hand and I won't drink out of this part of the cup. I'll get right over by the handle, and shoot, I just got about my second or third swallow when he comes over and says, "Oh craggy, Elder! You're left-handed just like I am, Elder."
Jane: Now, tell about Joseph Fielding Smith and the plant.
Ralph: So, I got shiggers [chiggers? little biting bugs]. Later on, I became a district president there over in East Kentucky district. I'd been in North Carolina and then I'd gravitated back to finish my mission up in East Kentucky. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith and his wife were coming through for a conference, and the President had great confidence in me. The mission president he told me, well, he wrote me a letter of instructions. He says, "Line up the agenda and the conference schedule. You tell me where we're going to be." He told me how many days we had and Elder Smith and his wife would be with us. I already knew him [Elder Smith] because I'd been on the boat going over to Europe with him when I went on my mission, so I was acquainted with him personally. In fact, she was my real buddy.
Jane: She used to wave at him when she was singing or something.
Ralph: In conference, in Salt Lake.
Ralph: She was my friend, and a real good woman. She was always good to me and he was there and I'd run the meetings. The President had me run them all, and I'd announce so-and-so and then I'd sit down and say, "What's your pleasure, Elder Smith?" And he'd say, "Elder Lauper, talk to us 10 minutes on the Apostasy." I mean, I wouldn't even know what I was going to talk about until he's tell me right then. Boy, he sure had me losing weight there all week long. Here you are with an apostle, and the guy wouldn't even tell you ahead of time. He'd really test, and I'd get done and, why, he'd reach over and pat me and that was all. Never said another word about it, good, bad or indifferent. He gave me an A for effort every time because I was trying, and he knew I was trying. But I was conducting, and one thing I could do was run a meeting. So I was doing that pretty good, but the President he was having me run the whole meeting.
Jane: Anyway, Ralph learned to speak without notes.
Ralph: So, he comes out of the hotel, the morning I go to say goodbye to him over in Lexington, Kentucky. Heard of Lexington, the blue grass country? Beautiful race horses there. You can go out and spend a beautiful afternoon on your Recreational Day out in the blue grass looking at some of those big farms and some of those world-famous race horses. I took them there one afternoon for a few minutes, a few hours, a bunch of them, the President and his wife and President Smith and his wife. I'd seen these big plant, and I knew what it is because I've been in the South; it's a tobacco plant. Joseph Fielding Smith liked to tell about how he'd rather see a kid dead than see him smoke cigarettes. That's all you'd hear him talk about from the stand when he was going throughout the Church. There is his wife coming out with a tobacco plant and I said, "Where did you get that thing?", and she said, "Brother and Sister So-and-So gave it to me." (They were making a living on tobacco down there.) "It's a beautiful plant, they're so pretty," and he was trying to get as far away from it as he could. I really baited him and I said, "Well now, that's really going to look nice right there on your front porch, even better yet, put it under the window in your office." "Oh pshaw," he says, "Oh pshaw." That was something. Then I said, "I didn't think I'd ever see one of those things coming between you two." She gets in and she's laughing. He's moving over to the car.
Jane: He's moving his legs from it.
Ralph: The mission president is horrified too, and he didn't know how to handle it, but I loosened it up because I started to raz them. Finally I told him, "You ought to slip over to the library and get a little book on how to best care and keep that, so you don't lose it. It could die if you don't." I don't know how he got rid of it, but that was something.
Yes, I had my life threatened down in Teleco Plains, Tennessee. I had a bunch of guys threaten to kill me. They gave me to sundown to get out of town and I won't go into the gruesome details of it, but I did defy them. However, I did tell their leader that I would inquire of the mission president. I said, "I didn't ask to come here, so I'm not going to tell anybody that I'm leaving. If he wants me to go, I will." I wired him, you know, you have seen the guy in the old telegraph office going tick, tick, tick. Well, that's what it was, one of those kinds of things. He tick-tacked a message off to Louisville, Kentucky, and I said the situation is tense here, my life has been threatened. "I'm not afraid," I said, "what do you wish for me, to stay or..." When I went back into town, they were all gathered around in groups, and I got my companion. They kept on threatening me, and I said, "Don't try and scare us off. There are a lot of people who would wonder where we are if something should happen to us, or if we don't show up. You don't scare us." And he said, "We got rid of the last sheriff we had down here," and he went on like that. It was a battle of nerves. Pretty close to sundown, I went back to my room, and the landlady, she was a feisty little woman, she said, "I have a shotgun here and nobody's going to come in this house, I'll shoot him." I said, "I'm glad you won't have to, because I've got to stay in this room for a while." And I said to my companion, "Let's go upstairs," and we laid on the bed and discussed our situation. Some of them were gathering out front, and we were upstairs. It was a little colonial house, and finally at sundown, I said, "OK, let's go." "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going out in town. We're supposed to be out in town." "Ain't it sundown?" I said, "So we're going into town." I said, "When I get a call, if they call, wire from Louisville, see that I get it, will ya? I'll be in the café."
While we were in there eating some soup, they made some a soup, there was a little kid running over there with a message, a wire, that said to get out. I looked it over and said, "I'll do what the President said," and I looked up the head man and I said, "I've been told to leave here and I'm going to, but I'm not going to go before sundown or anything," I says, "I'll be in my room tonight all night long. I would suggest you don't send anybody over because I won't be responsible for what happens," and I bluffed him. He built bonfires out in front, beyond the front yard gate and had some pots of liquor and drugs. They drank all night long, but they didn't burn the house.
Jane: Isn't that something?
Ralph: I went to bed and slept like a baby. I woke up all sleepy and got ready to leave. I was kind of worn out by that time. I took my suitcase and said, "Let's go Elder," and thanked the landlady for her hospitality. I walked out and said, "Good morning, gentleman." I said, "Some time when you're not busy, come out west and we'll show you a little hospitality out there. We'll show you how to treat strangers," and we walked off down the road. He was fuming.
[Church Service and Family]
Jane: Now tell them about St. George, with her dad, when we went to the temple with President Smith.
Ralph: She's talking about when your dad was a little kid about like this. Elder Smith and his wife came there and they were going to check on the temple and, like I say, I knew them and President Snow. The Stake President knew that I knew them, and I was his high councillor, and he asked Jane and I if we wanted to go down and inspect the temple; they were doing some renovations on it. I said, "yes," so we went down there, and he had your dad by the one hand and I had him by the other and this little kid...
Jane: He didn't even have a recommend to get into the temple.
Ralph: I says, "Does this kid need one to get in there?" And he made the guy look at his recommend, Elder Smith did. He said, "It would be alright, Brother Lauper," and we went in there and that little kid ran away by himself. He found that Celestial Room, where they had a bunch of lumber there. They were doing some work, and he got a hold of a hammer and went out there and started beating. That sound went all the way through the temple, and we thought, "what in the world??"
My church service has been somewhat varied, besides those I served as a member of the presidency of the Seventy, I was Sunday School Superintendent of our ward and, I guess, Stake and Mutual Superintendent; now they call it President of the ward and stake. I was a high councillor there different times; Stake Genealogical Chair, Stake Mission President...
Jane: Tell them one of the best things you ever did in St. George. They used to have flies and they'd come in the windows. They had cows and things all around the tabernacle and no screens on the windows and no air conditioning so the windows were just wide open.
Ralph: When I was superintendent of the Sunday School, I'd go in there and start talking and this was the historic St. George Tabernacle. It's a historic monument of the Church, built in 1870, wasn't it? It was old; it was a really revered place, but the flies would come in and they'd go for your nose and your mouth and I just got sick of that and hearing the cows bellowing half a block away. People were just keeping cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens right there in town; there was no law against that kind of thing. I told the President we had to do something about that.
Jane: First of all, he would string fly paper things around and people would get stuck in it. Then, he'd put dishes of that blue poison stuff in the windows.
Ralph: Arsenic. That stopped it a little bit, but not enough. So the President figured out a way. He was a young kid that had just come into town from the ward, so he put me in charge of fundraising and we raised enough money to fix up the tabernacle. We made the choir seats more gradual; it was like climbing a stairway to get up to the choir. We leveled that out a little bit and fixed the front steps so that a person wouldn't have to be 20 years or younger in order to get into the church.
Jane: All the Stake Presidency, they'd meet down below before the meeting, and then they'd use the back wooden stairs with a rail, so they had an easy way to get up. The stairs were about a foot and a half apart and rounded so the people didn't dare come to church -- the old people!
Ralph: The sandstone in the foundation had to be restored. The balcony had to be shallowed out some. By golly, we got some money together to do that. That was a good thing to have done.
Jane: He still has people that tell me, if I get home without him, and those people are still around, they say what a great service he did.
Ralph: So, her church [service] has been varied: two or three times Relief Society President; she's been in the Stake Relief Society presidency; she's been Stake Mutual President; she's been Stake Primary President; she's been, not ward Primary President, but she's been ward Relief Society President two or three times, and she says the work she likes to do best of all is secretarial work. She likes that better than any of it. When she was president of an organization, the first thing she looked for was a good secretary, before she'd look for counselors.
Jane: Well, you know, actually, in the Book of Mormon, the Lord thought record-keeping was so important that he...
Ralph: He still does.
Jane: ...Nephi to kill Laban to get the records.
Ralph: That's the difference between civilization and no civilization, people keeping records. Where there's no record, people parish, whole civilizations, but the ones that keep good records have the culture and everything else. That's pretty much our lives. Is there anything you want to add, Grandma? You didn't get as much time.
Jane: I can't think of anything else.
Ralph: Well, we had two kids.
Jane: We enjoyed our kids. We had two "only children", thirteen years apart. One thing I've always felt bad about, those kids of mine. When they were ill or when they wanted just one of us, they would always call for their dad instead of their mother!
When we were in Sioux City, I had never seen a man do anything in our home. Of course I wasn't around little kids very much, but my brother didn't do anything with his. And Dad never did anything with my little brother, but Ralph said, "Well now, this boy's as much mine as he is yours," and so he got a taxi and sent me downtown and gave me some money to go shopping so he could bathe the baby without me hanging over him and telling him that was my baby and telling him how he was going to break him.
Ralph: I had that little fat kid up at 6:00. He was fun; a really good kid because he was at that time very healthy and a good-natured guy by nature. He'd have fun splashing and kicking. You know how they get when they are enjoying themselves. I guess I liked it, I'd do it all the time.
Jane: Well, even with his brothers' and sisters' children, they didn't always run around and play with their old parents; they'd come and play with Uncle Ralph because he would, you know how they were, dusting off their clothes they didn't want to be dusty or dirty or anything, and he'd just get down on the floor with him and they'd crawl all over him and he'd have a lot of fun with them.
Ralph: Kids are more fun than grownups. I love little kids.
Jane: But, anyway, we're enjoying working in the temple together and feeling that we should hurry up and get completed here in Oakland so we can get back to work. We're going to meet with a bunch of people in Sacramento.
Ralph: And that little Angel Moroni pin you gave me, I wear it all the time over in the temple. That's the only place I wear it, because I don't I want to lose it. I wear it on my tie. It's real nice. That's where it's at, Julie, is the temple. That's the only difference between this Church and a lot of others. Basically, it's the ordinances and covenants that we make, and the revelations and apostles. That's three differences. Basketball and drama and dance you can get at school, or anywhere else. And in many cases, better than we do it in the Church. You'll find good chapels everywhere, Catholics, Methodists. We've got a lot of Methodists in this town. We think our chapels are a little more utilitarian, but not really. You don't have to be a member of the Church to have a chapel, to have a church, so that's not the difference. The difference is the found in the big white houses.
Jane: You know something, that reminded me of something else. He was Bishop for 10 years and the first week he was made Bishop, the building burned. Somebody started a fire and he had to find another place for our congregation to meet, so we went up to Danville. The other ward that was meeting in that ward over in Hayward had to go to Castro Valley. And another thing, when he was in office, he had to excommunicate the Bishop that was before him and the one before that was excommunicated. When we divided wards, the Bishop that became Bishop of San Ramon had to be excommunicated. So, he's one of the only Bishop's in San Ramon that has had any longevity.
Ralph: I'm a survivor. It was tough to do the job with the guy's dropping out on me like that all over the place. You lose credibility. It took the Church back 10 or 20 years. We're coming out of it now, but it was tough for a while.
Jane: He did a good job. He was a fundraiser. To build the church out here, he was head of a "Hello Dolly" campaign thing. I can't remember how much money it brought in, but boy, you could tell them about that.
Ralph: Your dad knows the ward there on Stone Valley. They raised a few thousand. What we did is bought the tickets and we took the whole movie theater down there, Century 21.
Jane: By the Coliseum.
Ralph: By the Coliseum. 3200 seats. We sold the tickets for X number of dollars, some of them for $10, some for $25. [We] let them sell them for what they wanted, and your ward made $8,000 or $10,000. Some of them up as [far as] Concord and down in Fremont. It was unbelievable, and we made 24 or 25 thousand dollars. [In all it] was about $97,000 made on that night. That was one of the best things I ever did, or was associated with. I didn't do it; I had a lot of people do it, but I was the organizer. I was supposed to be the chairman and fundraiser.
Jane: In our ward, you could by a $100. Was it a couple of seats, or what?
Ralph: Rica was a little kid. She had her $15 seat down near the front, but Jane and I each had a $100 seat up in the gold braid section, protected by gold braid.
Jane: And we had orchids flown in from Hawaii.
Ralph: We had search lights out in front. We had red carpet leading to the door. They had orchids that came in by United Airlines that day. Everybody got an orchid as you went in to sit down. You go inside and sit down with the program there and a couple people from the cast of Hello Dolly were here, and after the movie you went out to the Hotel Claremont in Berkeley.
Jane: If you had the $100 tickets.
Ralph: If you had any ticket, you'd get a lavish buffet dinner, but if you were a member of the ward and had $100 tickets, we went into a sit-down dinner with the china and crystals...
Jane: You got a room over night.
Ralph: ...and all, and then after you were done, why, you would pick up a room key and stay all night.
Jane: At the Claremont Hotel.
Ralph: Claremont Hotel. But the other guys, the ones that bought the other ones, like in your ward, they could go there and have a nice buffet dinner and enjoy. There was a lot of money made on that. When I think of all the stakes Southern California got together and took over Disney Land one night, it was a fundraiser and they raised $76,000, shoot, we made $96,000: one ward, our show. That was something. But now they don't let us do that anymore. We took home $24,000 ourselves and the other wards split up the balance.
Jane: But anyway, he was really an outstanding Bishop.