Harry Waldamer Madsen: This is My Life

July, 15, 1965; 945 Princeton Way, Salt Lake City, Utah

[Typed from the original manuscript by Viola Lauper Johnson; additional edits by David Peterson.]

In the due course of things I was born. This happened at the beginning of my earthly existence -- April 4, 1890. Frequently, I have been called a fool, and [I] escaped earning the title by a close margin of four days. On the other hand, a two day postponement would have brought me and the Church out on the same day. Considering the lack of doctor and midwife at my arrival, it is remarkable I was born at all; so accept the event as philosophically as may be.

The hardships of my parents in that frontier settlement of Salem, Idaho, makes me wonder as to what they hoped to offer their four boys and one girl, in bringing then into this life. They showed a lot more courage and faith than their posterity have evidenced.

Our little log house of two rooms, chinked with mud, served as the family home for a few years. As I visited the site last summer, I visioned the little building, placed a few yards from timber, and the yard banked with dirt to keep back the "high water" of thaw season. A trail led fifty or more yards through the brush to the river, from which was dipped our water for drinking, washing, and all culinary purposes. When the silt was too much in evidence, the water was left in two wooden buckets, candy buckets, to settle; or if we were too thirsty, we just strained it through our teeth.

During the spring thaw, all the lowland about our house, and even the cellar built independent of the house was deep under water. The crude road leading to the nearest neighbor, nearly a mile away, was rendered impassable, save for horseback. I was born during one of the high-water periods.

At night, my older brother and I could lie on our straw tick and wonder at the weird yapping of coyotes. The few chickens we tried to raise were a constant invitation for the hungry bobcat, or a lynx, to raid our coop and make off with a struggling hen The dank odors of the woods was frequently added to, in no uncertain way, by the many polecats who seemed to assume as their special calling, a close surveillance of our scant door yard. Poor Rover, our dog, was in constant trouble with the varied denizens of our timber land. Skunks cologned him until he was fit to die with the shame of it all, and then a series of porcupines came out to inspect the new settlers. Rover inspected them, and father had a real job holding him down while mother, with the aid of a nipper, pulled out the quills from his inquisitive nose and bleeding mouth.

The stagnant water, or sloughs, as we called them, served as the best breeding ground for mosquitoes and fish you could imagine. The minnows, in thousands, fed on the larvae of the mosquito; but despite this, there were millions leaving the water, full-grown, to drone their vicious tune, and prey on man and beast 'til both were well nigh eaten alive. We could not open our mouths to breathe without sucking the insects into our throats. Mosquito bar was of little avail. The horses would run from one end of the field to the other in an effort to rid themselves of the pests. Their poor backs were a series of welts.

A mile and one-half to the south of our farm was a tract of land spoken of as the "town site." Here, a few of the farmers were striving to set up a school house and a church. Father was counseled to move his house to this section so that his little family might have a chance to get a bit of schooling and to attend church. Also, the rigors of the winters might be mitigated by closer community structures. Good people helped father dismantle our house and transfer it to the plot. We even got a shingle roof and a shanty set against the sunny side of our humble abode. Father worked, oh so patiently, with a whitewash brush to smooth out some of the rough places of the logs and render white the mud chucked in between the logs. He gave some men a bedstead in exchange to lathe and plaster the ceiling of the two small rooms. Loads of dirt were piled around the base of the house to prevent the wind from blowing in and up through the crude flooring. Burlap sacks, when they could be spared, were tacked to the floor in lieu of carpets. All told, we were quite comfortable. The mosquitoes ate us in the summer, and the bed bugs, which just thrived in the old wooden bedsteads and straw ticks, ate us summer and winter.

As my sister and younger brother were added to the family circle, Franklin and I were relegated to the loft to sleep. The loft is akin to attics, as we now know them, only, small as we were, we could not stand upright under the low roof, except a few feet each way from center. A hole or opening was cut from the outside, and by the aid of a ladder, later replaced by a stairway, up we went to get such shelter as we might from the frigid winters. A scant bedding was all the family had, so to keep warm, we slept with all our clothes on and hugged each other for mutual warmth. During a blizzard, the snow sifted in on us. I have always said I froze so much during those awful days, my hands and feet are still cold in consequence.

Shortly after getting into our re-built house, father got some help and dug a well. I remember this distinctly, for I had the measles at the time, and a man by name of Coombs, whose heart was as big as his stomach the size of which I marveled at visited us, and after looking me over, ordered that I stay in bed under the covers til the heat drove out the rash. It spoiled the day for me, and I shed tears of disappointment, but all to no avail. Finally, I fell asleep, and to the best of my knowledge, did recover from the disease.

Speaking of the well, it was never satisfactory -- not being deep enough, the water was 'rivery' in taste during the thaw season, and frequently, [it] froze over so hard in the winter as to be nigh impossible to break the ice to get water at all. For days, the animals of our yard had to eat snow for water, and the family [had to] melt tubs of snow for household purposes.

When we were barely old enough to lift an axe, Franklin and I must still get out and do our best to replenish the wood box. Coal was unknown in that Idaho town, and to keep any kind of even temperature with wood was just impossible. The winter nights twenty and thirty degrees below zero, froze the milk and water in the house. The vegetables in the cellar, despite every effort with straw and hay covering to prevent it, were ruined. The only ice cream we tasted was this frozen milk. The cream had to be carefully saved to be churned into butter, to be taken to the little store, for a little sugar or a few dried apples, rice, etc. Good, rendered lard was spread on our bread, with just a pinch of sugar, if mother could spare it, from our frugal store, to make the bread a little more palatable with lard.

Father would take sacks of grain to a neighbor of ours, two miles away, to have it ground into meal. It came out looking like the 'cracked wheat' of the grocery store. The best of it we ate as mush and the rest of it was for the pigs. What an event when a pig was to be killed! We missed none of the details. My uncle, Jim Olsen [the husband of his mother's sister, Minnie], used to come over from across the river to help with the kill. How the pig objected to the knife inserted into his throat, and how astonished he looked as the snow crimsoned with his blood; and what a screaming when the blood was about all out. It didn't last long, for the pig died. Then he was soused into a barrel of scalding water so the men could scrape all the hair off. This done, the brute was hung up in the shed and then, wonder of it all, a few deft cuts and the pig was disemboweled. What a study in anatomy for us children. We never have forgotten those lessons. A few hours of freezing and our winter meat was brought into the house. Lacking proper refrigeration, the fat was rendered out and poured into buckets. From the refuse, soap was made and the hams were preserved as best we could out in the cold winter of the granery. If a few mice sampled these hams or, in the spring, the flies did a maggoty job, well, we just couldn't afford to be too particular, cutting away the affected parts and giving thanks for what was left.

About this time, I was led over the to the river, which, in April was running full and over from the thaw, and taken in hand by a kind neighbor to be baptized into the Church. Franklin became a member two days before me. Father never learned to speak English very well, so mother was the spokesman and business manager of the family; and be assured, she did a wonderful job. So pathetically little to work with, yet she, in some magic way, kept us clothed and fed.

Always ambitious for our advancement, mother taught us "pieces" to say in church socials and school programs. I don't recall how I learned to speak English for, at home, Danish was all we heard.

My first day at school was not so propitious. Franklin took me, but at recess, not being able to make much of what the boys were saying, I concluded, in my small head, that they were making fun of me. I blurted out, in good Danish " Dien Task" [meaning? "din" means "your" and "taske" means "bag"...] and legged it off for home with my brother in full, but useless, pursuit. Later I was confronted with a book and asked to read. I held it open, as that seemed the proper way to do, and waited for something to happen. A long pause, then "John", said the teacher. "John", I repeated, and waited some more. All the other pupils in the room also waited. "I am afraid," said the woman in charge, "that this is a little too hard for you." Another page was assigned to me for study, to be reported the next day. Mother saw me through that lesson. If I knew one letter from another, I don't remember, but to this day, I can quote that page of reading, and here it is:

This is Anna and her dog, Sport.
Can Sport run?
Yes, Sport can run.
Run, Sport, run.

Book, or no book, I could read that like a top!

Franklin and I were in a dialogue for the school, a year or two later. I had some lines which went like this:

You'd scarce expect one of my age
To speak in public on the stage.
But if I fail to show Demosthenes,
Or Cicero... (etc. etc. etc.)

Mother couldn't pronounce these two celebrities' names, so asked Mr. Clay, the teacher in a note to kindly help me with those two words. After school, for several days, I got a going over with these two ancient orators, 'til I felt they were my very best friends,. Well, the dialogue went off as per schedule, and everything was lovely 'til in the heat of the thing, I got mixed up and tore right into Franklin's lines, instead of my own. They had a job getting me stopped, and with the result, I well nigh wrecked the show and embarrassed Mother to death.

A great event of the dead of winter of this year was a school picture, which is still in our possession. My teeth chatter as I think of this picture. I was so drawn in with cold that the miracle is the camera caught me at all. The little school was heated by a 'frost killer' stove, fed with large chunks of wood. During recess the teacher and larger pupils surrounded the stove; and we smaller ones could freeze any way we wanted, on the outer fringe. One day I made the inner circle, only to have the back of my hand shoved against the stove -- a large burn was the result. Everybody laughed, but I, not wanting to cry in public, went outside and got on the ice pond. A few seconds later, both my feet moved ahead without me, and a head hit the ice. I soon realized the head was mine.

Farming, for my father, was a hard experience. Not at all robust, and past sixty, it was a job I marvel he could do at all. He did his best. With the crudest tools he toiled early and late to provide for his little family. Mother did far more than her share of the work, even when carrying me, must help pitch hay. Her health gave out with it all, but she never complained. As Franklin was older than I, he was pressed into the service first. A load of hay tipped over and he was buried in it, but dug himself out while Father was frantically searching for him at the other end.

To get a load of grain or hay hauled home from the farm without mishap was a real accomplishment. Once, the rim on a hind wheel came off. Luckily, we got stopped before the wheel collapsed. Getting stuck in the muddy pasture was a frequent. tragedy. Our best cow bloated and died; one horse took sick and had to be killed.

One fall season, after the threshing and harvest was over, and a little schooling was again possible, the two little ones of the family conceived the notion of a bonfire as they had seen someone have on a recent visit. They chose the straw stack for their bonfire. Nothing much could be done! People came from miles away to help, but with no water, little could be saved. By a miracle, the house was not ignited. How I remember my aged father going up the outside stairs into the loft, time and again, and on bended knees, pleading with the Lord to spare the home. His prayers were heard. In those days, even us children learned to pray and with a purpose. How helpless we were without the comfort of Heaven. In meetings, later on, the Bishop called on the farmers to donate hay and straw to feed our few cows, pigs, and horses.

Poor father had to go out in the dead of a severe winter, break trail to people's homes, and do the best he could to haul home the feed they were kind enough to give, but not to help deliver. He would come home chilled to the bone, his beard was one mass of ice. Later, as the weather permitted, all the kind people got together, came to our farm, cut down trees from the woods, and held a "log-raising" for our benefit A stable, shed, and coops were set up, but much chinking and plastering would be needed to make them warm. This could no be done 'til summer so the animals had to freeze in the best way they knew. Willows were laid every which way to serve as a covering, but did little to keep out the snow. When we threshed again, the straw was stacked feet deep over these buildings, rendering them quite comfortable again.

The following year, Julius, the last of the family was born. It was agreed he would not be born alive. Mother had been anything but well, and a doctor's help cost money. The nearest one was four miles of bad road away. But Julius was blessed to live, and is going strong to this day. Franklin was eleven, and I was nine; Minnie was a year younger, and Axel nearly two years younger than I when the baby was born. Father had to act as nurse, for Mother was confined to bed. A long time after, she still must stay in bed, finally getting about. She still had to go to bed each month, or bleed to death.

Somehow, that spring, my older brother and I would get up, harness the horses and drive to the farm. With me as driver, Franklin would hold the plow, and we ploughed acre after acre of land in preparation for the crops. The grain that year froze before it ripened, so our crop was good for pig feed only. It took three bushels to buy the same flour that one bushel of good wheat would produce. As Mother got better, Father turned to the farm and I stayed home to care for the baby and help mother as best I could; washing diapers and baby things, and then trying to iron them was my job. Sometimes Mother, in bed, would do her best to wash by hand some of the daintier things while I held the pan of water for her.

The training of hard necessity we children got, when far too young to be exposed to such severe tasks, was not without its recompense. We had no money to spend; everything had to be saved or used sparingly. Want was always close to us, yet in it all, we did our best without complaint and learned to be truly thankful for the great blessings we enjoyed. What a treat to have a pan of clabber. Maybe, after fast day, as a special boon, the cream would be left on, and crumbs and a little sugar sprinkled --made it just divine. Mashed potatoes and meat from the pig was very welcome. Fruit was almost unknown, but in lieu thereof, we boys ate many raw potatoes and carrots. In the summer, green peas and carrots, wild gooseberries, and currants delighted our ever-hungry bodies.

Old Patriarch Lillienquist [sic] came to Idaho one winter, and for a load of hay, gave us all Patriarchal Blessings. How we doted on these! And mother, with tears in her eyes, would vision when her children would do great things in the Church. Nothing else mattered, so we lived the Gospel and did our part in serving the Lord.

Through all our poverty, father paid his tithes, and never was the tithing hay or grain anything but the best. We have adhered to the law of tithing all our lives, and I want my children to always feel an honor-bound feeling to render to the Lord the tenth of their earnings as being His. Not that the Lord needs it, but we need the lesson of giving it, and as we give freely, so will our interest in the Church be great, and our purposes good.

The Fall after Julius' birth, Father got the aid of P. W. Madsen, his eldest son, our half-brother, in supplying us a farm in Lehi, Utah. We sold the Idaho farm, house, and everything for the best price possible, which was very little indeed. Uncle Jim Olsen took us to Rexburg, where the railroad was extended. In glorious expectancy, we were headed for some fair Eldorado! When we arrived in Salt Lake and met P,W,, he told father the place in Lehi had been sold, but he kindly arranged for another place there.

The strain and worry of all the years told on Father, and the next year after reaching Lehi, he was rendered helpless with paralysis. For three years, he was thus afflicted, at times being utterly helpless and even delirious, Mother was reduced to a skeleton in trying to care for father. Death came as a reward to Father, when I was twelve years of age. The wealthy son from Salt Lake [P.W.] very kindly came and saw to the funeral. The burial [was] in Salt Lake. During Father's life, we had lived rent-free, but soon thereafter, we received notice of a nominal rent charge to be paid each month. We had no income, save [what] the little we boys might earn at odd jobs, and the money brought from Idaho had all been used in living and caring for the home needs.

Axel was not old enough to do more than a part of the chores. We three worked for the farmers, the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, and anybody where we could earn a few cents, doing any honest task. We had learned to work and took our responsibility seriously. Somehow, with Mother's wonderful management, we got along. Always, 'til we married, did mother receive all our earnings, and right well she handled the affairs.

When we couldn't find work, we went to school. The only full school year I ever attended was the year I graduated from the eighth grade, and then, I was out two weeks to help harvest beets. At that time, I still graduated with highest percentage in the class, which was terrible for a poor widow's son. I always liked to read, though as children, we had access to so few books. One day, my school teacher came to see me. I had narrowly escaped being killed from the kick of a horse to my jaw. Six stitches were needed to close the gash. This teacher, seeing me with a history book, suggested I try to read literature and fiction as well, and brought me the book, "The Heart of a Boy", as the first book I every read through. How many hundreds since! This reading was my education, and in the beet field, instead of listening to, or participating in dirty stories, I conceived the notion of telling, to a boy on each side of me, the stories I had read. We hoed as I talked, and as the adventure unfolded, we worked harder in the tenseness of the situations, and so were more valuable to our employer.

The tragedies of my childhood had a tendency to depress me and led me to worry a lot over things that might never happen. Coming to Lehi, we were constantly picked on as those "Danish kids". We did entertain on school programs with Danish numbers and recitations, only to be made fun of by thoughtless children. All this helped to make a terrible introvert of me. Painfully bashful in a mixed group or in informal gatherings, I cultivated no friends, but found pleasure in solitude. Axel, my younger brother, and I worked much together and sought no other company. I memorized easily when small and had no difficulty in speaking a piece in Sunday School, but to entertain a boy or girl, I was lost. I remember when we first came to Lehi, father took us by the hand to church. One Sunday morning, Brother Southwick had struggled hard to draw from the school the names of the current twelve apostles. Then he asked if anyone could give them all. As no one offered to do this job, I rattled them off as fast as I could speak. Thus, from a ten-year-old, the house was brought down. The Articles of Faith, Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, and Testimony of the Three Witnesses would have been equally easy, as they later found out.

We were too poor to go to dances or parties, anyway, so could only look on from the side lines and wonder. Naturally, I would read and study because that did not cost money, and I have learned this great truth: the things most valuable and worthwhile in life can be had for the least cost.

My school teachers ware always kind and helpful. If I got in two or three months in the ninth grade, a little more in the second year, and a little less the third year, with the average for the fourth year. I was still able to get full credit for four years complete high school work in all the subjects taken. This included everything but algebra and geometry. I am no good at all in solving problems of arithmetic, so I could not make up back work in those subjects. However, at the end of the fourth year, I was 18 years old. I took Mr. Hopkin's advice that I go to Salt Lake, take the School Teacher's Examination, and get a school to teach.

Psychology was one of the subjects to be examined on. I had read only one book on this subject, but so well that I was able to get 75% on this subject, and yet I had never had it as a course in school. Drawing and nature study -- things I had next to nothing on I did not so well in, but all the other subjects were from 85% to 98%. I went at those examinations prayerfully. Orthography was one subject that I had never studied as such, though in spelling I had just won a selection of 25 volumes of books as the best speller in our high school. That was the same year Axel came to Salt Lake, as Lehi's representative in public speaking. With no coaching at all, [he] won the State High School Oratory Gold Medal. Oh, we did count for a little, but not in the social set, in those poverty days.

Mr. G. N. Child, then County School Superintendent of Utah County, when I told him I wanted a school for passing the examiniations, said, "You can't pass, but if you do, I'll see about a school." So, it was my coaching experience to be assigned to an ungraded school in the mining town of Manning. That school, so like the one of my own during my childhood, served me in good stead in that I had to meet and handle new situations alone no one to advise me. What a rough place for a green boy, not yet nineteen! One of the Trustees got stabbed for stealing chickens; another, as janitor, stole the school's coal; and the third divorced his wife and left town. The children were rough and uncouth in their way, just as their teacher was dumb and uncouth in his way. Somehow, I got through that year and it goes down in history as my first and last school. It is with regret that I have to write this "my last school". I feel that teaching should have been my vocation. If only financial conditions had been such that I could have gone on, what might have been...

We sold our home in Lehi, or rather the equity we had in it. This home we were buying, we decided upon it after paying rent for a time on the first house we lived in. Our next move was to Salt Lake City where we hoped for better opportunities Franklin got a job in a grocery store, and when I came home from teaching, I got a job there, too, and stayed at it until the year I got married. It was then I got into the Western Leather Company, and I have been there ever since.

Franklin was sent on a mission to Norway, and while he was away, I was taken out from teaching Sunday School and, at age 23 years, made second counselor to Bishop Goddard. This was, indeed, a great training for me. I had to learn to mix with people, to counsel with them, and help solve their problems. For twelve years, I served in this capactiy, winning the love and respect of the ward people. Our bishop was called to a stake job and [he] took me along as a member of his board. Later I became a counselor to the Stake Sunday School Superintendent, and, in time, resigned to teach a group of boys in the Le Grand Ward. I have worked at this and kindred tasks up to now.

There are many things I could chronicle as good, and not so good, in my life; but I do not want this to become tedious. However, one very important matter should be here noted: I got married! I think for any man to get married comes as a real surprise to him. That any woman should care enough for a man to risk her life's future in his hands, well, it is a compliment greater than any male child deserves. And leaves him a bit muddled for the rest of his days (also spelled daze).

As this is written primarily for my children, four of whom have come to bless our union, I am not going to weary them with a recital of the adventure of marriage. They know, without my saying, that their mother is the finest of women. Evil has no place whatsoever in her heart. Her great pleasure in life is to be helpful to everyone. She dislikes strife and turmoil, as they have nothing in common with the peace of her inner self. That people should be hateful to each other, or spiteful, my wife just doesn't understand. That tears should be shed, her sympathetic nature fully realizes. A kind heart is never void of that understanding which mingles tears with the sorrowing ones. Wherever people love a lot, they just naturally suffer a lot. Deep love is easily wounded, and husbands and children add about as much to the wounding as to the joy of the pure heart of mother and wife. How the Lord must suffer for His thoughtless children!

We sent on our last-born to be our mediator in Heaven. She was such a choice spirit and needed but seven light years to do her mission, which is taking the rest of us a lot longer. Her absence will always stand out as a sacred, hallowed ordeal to our family group. We look at her little grave the inscription "Lucy Jean Madsen" on it -- and pray for the peace she enjoys to be a benediction to our lives, always.

No home life is every just what its members would desire. Individual differences cannot be ignored for the reason they just won't be. Life cannot be ordered to fit an individual taste, nor is that taste stable enough to be worthy of the thought. Our business is to order our lives to be in keeping with conditions as we meet them. If we can do this graciously, we want not for charm and personality with its attending friends, who come to do homage to the beautiful.

My conclusion, to my children, is to "Keep the Faith". Our Church is a program of exaltation, based on the hardest kind of work and striving. There could be no exaltation without them.

Your grandparents went through trials such as few people face, but never a word of reviling the Lord, always a prayer of thanks. As the second born of their family, I am ever grateful for the religious background they afforded me We had little of a house, but a lot of HOME. Heartaches, disappointments, want, and yet a strong faith in God's mercies. Mother lived to see her children grow to maturity and all married, with grandchildren to carry her name. The humblest of the humble, yet, in her passing, the President of our Church spoke to her funeral and, in tears, acknowledged her and the fact that her blood and his blood flowed in the veins of three of his grandchildren, as were her grandchildren. [Axel married President Grant's daughter Emily.]

Mother was never crushed in spirit, nor would she permit her children to call a halt in the face of trouble. I pass on to you this heritage. Keep on the Lord's side in a big way! Don't take the small way nor be cheap in righteousness. Pay your tithing as a privilege a debt of gratitude. Keep the Word of Wisdom as to tea, coffee, tobacco, etc., in the feeling that what the Lord advises is good enough for you, though all hell advise to the contrary. The Sabbath Day is for worship, not for play. The Lord doesn't need our worship, but we, being ladies and gentlemen, are not so small as to want to ignore his blessings and add insult by thoughtless conduct on His great day. To be rich, serve the Lord and seek to be actively engaged in His service all your days.

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