An Interview with Viola Lauper Johnson, age 76

September, 1989 San Francisco, California
"Memory Questions", asked by Karen Danielson
edited by David Peterson

  1. Where were you born and when? Describe where you grew up.
    Born April 12, 1913, Elwood, Box Elder County, Utah nearest town, Tremonton City. I was #8 child in a family of ten children.
  2. Tell about the house you grew up in and what your room was like. Did you share it with someone?
    I grew up on a farm in very poor financial conditions, and in a less than adequate farm house; no inside water nor plumbing. We were very poor. Our house was barely two rooms with a tent alongside for additional sleeping space. While children and young people of today speak sometimes of sharing a room, we shared our beds. When we were small, we slept at the foot of bed as well as the head. It would be appropriate here, before answering further questions, [to say] that we were, and are, survivors.
  3. What kinds of chores did you do when you were a child and teenager?
    Lots of chores:
    • Pumping water for household use, as well as to supply water for the animal trough
    • Carrying water in and out
    • Picking up and carrying firewood
    • Taking out the ashes
    • Churning butter
    • Helping with bread making
    • Daily herding of the cows taking them wherever feed could be found
    • Feeding of the smaller livestock and chickens.
    Once each week, a lighter chore: I worked on cleaning the shoes of my father and brothers. As I grew older, I learned all household chores, including cooking, cleaning, canning, and laundry.
  4. Describe your favorite dress or outfit that you remember from you teenage years. Why was it special?
    During high school years, I persisted in learning to sew, finishing first, a two-piece gingham dress which rather pleased me. I also turned out a tweed coat that I was never completely satisfied with, but I had to wear it a long time. My very favorite would have to be a pretty blue shantung two-piece, with white collar, which I purchased for my high school graduation.
  5. How old were you when you learned to drive and what kind of car did you learn in? Describe what you remember.
    I really learned about driving our Model T Ford when I was 11 - 12 years old. I sat in the car, in the yard, working the pedals and hand instruments, while maneuvering the wheel. I did this as much and as often as I could get away with it. I actually drove alone, and with others, on the farm roads about the time I was twelve.
  6. Who was your best friend when you were about my age? Tell things you liked to do together. Describe him/her.
    My earliest best teenage friend was Bessie Gledhill. She was my opposite in looks, being dark of eyes and hair, although we were similar in size. We worked together on our Beehive and M.I.A. projects, enjoying all chances for music participation, and liked to sing together. She had opportunity to study piano, which I envied. We went to our first Ward dances together, but not with boys. She had a brother the same age as my brother, Marc, so often, we all went to parties together. I guess this brother of Bessie's was probably my first date.
  7. What are your favorite memories about church?
    I liked Primary. The classes were interesting to me, especially any crafts, which were never available at home. I enjoyed keeping up the lesson work book with pictures, etc. This, too, was sort of special for us. Our leaders were sweet, hard-working women. I remember Sister Jensen with love. When in M.I.A., I was used as a leader much of the time (for want of better leadership talent). I had early teaching responsibilities and such. This was challenging and difficult. I never objected to church attendance, but rather found it enjoyable to go with my family. For Stake Conferences, we were required to go several miles distance. This entailed quite a long day of travel and meetings, but with my family, it was fun. It was a way of life for us!
  8. What was your most embarrassing teenage memory?
    At a high school graduation celebration, I went out with a young man to dinner. This young man was a non-member and more worldly than I, so that I was not always altogether comfortable; nevertheless, he was fun. On this particular occasion, he was careless, spilling coffee on my new blue dress, which I thought was beautiful and which I loved. It was most embarrassing for both of us, as well as unfortunate. The dress was never quite the same.
  9. What did you do on your first date?
    As much as I can remember, I believe it included a movie, which was always pretty special in our day. Without any fast food places, or soda fountains, our treats were something brought from home such as popcorn or homemade candy. Our parties were house parties, and not with dates, as a rule. We would play games (that you wouldn't believe, they were so old-fashioned) that were real fun in a crowd. For refreshments, we would have peanuts in the shell, hard candies, and sometimes homemade ice cream.
  10. Who was your favorite teacher and why did you like them?
    I love the memory of my first grade teacher. She was Miss Myra (Underhill). Later, a team of man/wife teachers, the Neelys, presided over the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades of my elementary school. They were dedicated and caring, making wonderful contributions, and leaving many wonderful impressions as I graduated from 8th grade. Beginning 9th, I rode a bus for many miles to high school. My English teacher, Miss Sergen Benson, was special. I was inspired and learned much from her. My chemistry teacher, a huge man named Joe Snow, kept me frightened the whole year, but I did learn to enjoy the class and claimed a high grade and appreciation for chemistry.
  11. What did you like to do in your free time?
    During high school, we lived far from the school and no social mix was possible. I was chosen to participate in an operetta, but it was not possible to enjoy this privilege. There was always so much help needed at home, and beyond those tasks, I studied late into the night. The summers allowed for a bit more in relaxed fun, but even so, our farm life presented little variety. I was a good horse back rider, but our swimming was in the irrigation ditches or under the water flume where the water was deep and dangerous. I never learned to swim. I loved doing simple things with the family. We children played together without much in the way of material things.
  12. What was your favorite book?
    We all leaned to read and loved it; however, our chances for books and reading material was very scarce. At school, reading opportunities were welcomed and we learned to enjoy the classics, even some Shakespeare, and most certainly, the English poetry. I was fond of Sir Walter Scott's "Lady of the Lake", and Lord Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon", and they are still favorites. I enjoyed the Bronte sisters' books: "Jane Eyre", etc.; novels by A.J. Cronin, "The Citadel"; Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth", and others. Also Willa Cather's "My Antonia", and others by her; along with a favorite, "Mother", by Kathleen Norris.
  13. Describe the type of clothes you typically wore to school.
    One or two cotton dresses was my attire until the cold days called for one wool school dress. During my last years of high school, I wore a school uniform consisting of navy skirt and white starched middy blouse.
  14. Did you have a way of earning spending money? What did you spend it on?
    I had no spending money until I had part time jobs during high school. I then worked in a restaurant or two, after school and on weekends, using those earnings for clothing and school expenses. During summer, I did hire out to pick berries, going away for weeks at a time. HARD!
  15. If you could choose any decade between the 30's and the 80's in which to be a teenager, which would you choose and why?
    There is no way to compare my teenage years with any of the latter decades because of locality and circumstances. I would say the years in the 50's, when I was raising a teenage daughter, were rather a good time to choose. During that time, the city of San Francisco and its schools were so much less liberal than later, were comparatively safe and sane, and seemingly under control. San Francisco could not pose as an ideal locale to raise a family, yet her teenage experiences were interesting and fun, and she did enjoy many opportunities.

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