Memories of Mother
By Ivan Lauper
[Originally dictated to Viola Lauper Johnson at the same time that he dictated his own autobiography.]
Mother was a very loving person, and a very fair person. She would never allow for one son to be more glamorized nor receive more than another. She always insisted upon equality. She wanted her boys and family always to be together. She strove for this. Actually this would sort of haunt and bother me, for whenever I would leave or return (I was more adventuresome than the rest, and this agonized mother more than I can describe), I was plagued by the thought of what mother would say. I almost dreaded to come home for as soon as Mother saw me, she would inquire of me how long I would stay. I was truly conscious of how she felt. Yet knowing that I would be going away again, I tried being flippant and smoothed over these thoughts, which made us both feel very sad. Mother worried about us. She was an overly self-sacrificing person. We wanted for her to enjoy things, but never having enough to go around, it seems she would be the one to deny herself. She was known by everyone as a very humble person. President Hinckley, and others of her friends, always marveled at her humility and spiritual devotion and great faith. Her early life experiences had influenced her personality to the point of making her withdrawn, and much too often, depressed. This has been a hangover into other members of our family.
Both mother and our sister, Alice, suffered much depression at the demise of [our] brother, Felix. When I was to return to California, following his funeral, I didn't know which I should take with me first ---to help them through this difficult period.
Mother was forever a staunch guiding hand. In her more advanced years, when free of the heavy responsibilities and drudgeries, she was a lot of fun to be with ---having finally accepted a few more pleasures in life.
I will here briefly recount some of our Mother's major illness and the effects on us all. On the subject of child birth, my convictions were that we were having too large a family. As much as I love each of the family members today, and I would truly have a very difficult time in trying to answer on this subject, knowing full well what the Church teaches. Yet, the experiences we were going through and the existing privations made me feel, even at a young inexperienced age, as mentioned above. Those births were traumatic experiences. Seldom did mother have a doctor present, but I can remember one coming all the way from Tremonton in a very heavy storm. He had to cut barbwire fences to gain access to the fields in order to get to us ---the snow being reefed up so high on the roads. This was at the Barton Place where Vi was born. I remember when Dennis was born. I was away that night, doing baby-sitting with the Miller children, and when I went up the hill next morning, little Dennis had arrived. At that time we were living in a little shack, which was the amount of improvements the man ahead of us had made on the homestead ground.
To supplement this building, we used a very large tent. During storms it was difficult to keep the water out. I remember running our finger on the inside surface of the large tent from spots where the water seemed to be soaking in ---running the finger all the way to the bottom. Heavy snows were precarious, BUT this was home! Also, on rainy days we often would get down under the table and play a game of bumping knees to furnish entertainment. Mother had a very difficult time with Ralph. There was no doctor present. I had to help dad deliver this babe, and I distinctly remember using the scissors to sever the cord. This was without any discussion or instruction in the matter, and I was then about 14 years of age. I had been very accustomed to helping with the infants and children. Mother would depend upon my help and would dump them on my knee as I was nearby helping her with many household chores, from bread mixing to various and assorted things.
Previous to my assisting Dad with the delivery, I had been off hunting a mid-wife. This was before I really knew the meaning of such. Ralph came forth and was very dark in complexion. I am not sure what a 'blue baby' is, but some would call him that. His looks frightened and bothered me. Ralph was child #10 and Mother's last, but she did not rally following his birth. It was noticeable that she was losing rather than gaining strength. She grew worse and was taken to the Tremonton hospital. We knew little of cancer in those days, but I distinctly remember the medics stating that Mother had cancer and would not recover. Dr. Pitt and one other doctor were the only two assigned to her case. They both were very sophisticated and confident of their diagnosis and treatment. (It is interesting to note here that Mother outlived both of these doctors). When dad realized how seriously ill our Mother was, he came to us and called a family council, saying, "1f you want your Mother to live, you will pray". And we did! And our prayers were answered. This left a strong impression on all of us, which I've never forgotten. I am sure that I have not participated in spiritual experiences to the extent of many of our family members, but I can here record of another instance in praying for our Mother. Being very close to her, it was always a heavy load on my mind as to how we would manage without her. She did survive many illnesses and weak periods. I can't ever remember mentioning this item before, but long ago I gained a testimony of a higher manifestation of power. It was in regard to this constant fear I had of mother perhaps not staying with us. I remember going out alone one night and going to my knees and making a supplication to the Lord, asking that he heal my mother and make her strong, and allow her to remain with us. No real reason on that particular instance, but this was a constant fear. I still have with me the feeling of manifested comfort I received that night as I finished my prayer, and of course have felt it through the years. That memory has come back to me many times, it being something very, very unusual.
At the time above, when Mother went to the hospital, a neighbor family, the Berchstolds, took the infant Ralph. Dennis was a toddler approaching two years, and others very young, including Alice who was only eight, barely. I was assigned the indoor chores and 'mother's work', for Serge was needed outside. It was dreadful! I was pretty confused and lonesome. Many of the relatives visited Mother in the hospital without us children really realizing the full reason that they thought they were perhaps visiting her [for] the last time. The word had gone out that she wasn't going to make it and many came for the final visit. But she rallied after our family prayer. Then there were frequent examinations and consultations in an effort to stimulate a will to live. She survived! And her major wish thereafter was to live until her youngest child, Ralph, would reach 18 years. She lived a good deal longer.
I can't remember exactly how long the above illness lasted. Dennis grew very attached to me and called me 'mother'. I was the one responsible for all the homework, for the sisters were very young. Dennis would follow me around, being still a baby, asking for loving and other things. It was such a sorry experience that it was almost easy for me to cry on occasions --if I let myself go, but I had to try to comfort the little ones, with the help of Alice. Viola, too, was very young and didn't talk much. She wakened, crying, one morning, blubbering, "I don't want the mumpies" ---already very swollen and miserable. The worst of all with Viola was that she was extremely allergic, having serious eczema, which was all over her body and head. Her hair had to be shaved completely and the treatment included being lathered with a strong and offensive ointment made of mustard and sulfur each night. This was messy and difficult but I learned to tie up one end of an old stocking and make a cap for her to wear, trying to protect clothing as well as bedclothes. That episode can never be forgotten but somehow she improved in time. We learned as we went along, having to prepare three meals per day, and every night I had to make bread. We ate six loaves of bread each and every day. Dad wasn't handy around the house, but he did teach me to make bread without yeast, using corn, fermented in a little jar with water. He knew how to get it to rise (we were far enough from a store that we often did not have yeast). It also took training and experience in knowing how close to the oven I should put the batter to raise. If too close to the heat, the dough was on the floor in the morning. It was several years later before we owned a bread mixer. It was a great item, for the kneading was very tiresome. There was also a lot of butchering to do at times. I remember once [we butchered] five hogs at a time. We'd buy, when we could, 100 lbs. of beans and an equal amount of rice. A delectable meal consisted of spare ribs, roasted or baked in the oven, with one of the above --rice or beans. For breakfast we had cornmeal or oatmeal. The evening meal was rice or beans alternately. This menu I followed daily and we always used the six loaves of bread. The cooking didn't bother me too much after a while. As I said before, Serge and I had experience in being away from home, boarding out while working for other farmers. Those stiff assignments, coupled with marketing, farm work and all, were challenges that rather hardened and groomed us for difficult things.
Another sorry ill period for our Mother was following Felix's death, which was really such a short time after John's passing. As stated before, both Mother and Alice suffered extreme depression. I had decided to take Alice with me to California upon my return. Realizing at the time that our Mother really needed a drastic change and some help. So it was not too surprising when only after a period of grieving, along with her ordinary heavy load of work and responsibility, Mother's health broke. She suffered a complete nervous breakdown. I do not know all [that] she was going through, but I do know she was so despondent she had rather given up living. For a long period Dad and Viola attended her at home. She was not truly a hospital case. The Relief Society ladies helped but no improvement came. At length dad took her to a Salt Lake hospital for a while. Most of the time in Salt Lake was spent in care of friends and relatives. I pleaded with the family to send her down to Los Angeles. Alice and I helped engineer the trip. When arrangements were made, and the ticket purchased, she was booked on a train going right through Delta to Los Angeles. This was unknown to Mother, for she had a mind to get off at Delta station and abort the trip. [However}, she was only able to wave to the family and sped on through. When Alice and I met her at the Los Angeles depot, she appeared a forlorn little ‘slip' of a woman, who had given up in every respect, and was diminishing. I cannot state now just how long it took before she even gained enough spirit to want to live. I believe it was one day while on a little outing to Seal Beach, when I was able to coax Mother into eating her first sandwich and [she] started taking a little interest in life.
I often think of this, for later, many year later, it was most pleasurable when she would pop up at our home in Southern California, having accepted arrangements for a little visit with Helen and me. Mother did a lot of varied and happy living in her later years of life