John L. Sorenson
the digital document vault
website launched » 10.11.12
[ this is a work in progress ]
copyright © 2013 worx.cc 
biography      art portfolio early memories aviation experiences high school my missions houses my work transport marrying helen retreats my father church service early experiences 1 my health early experiences 2 music transoceanic voyaging reminiscing random events

Early Memories

Some of what follows may duplicate previous items of reminiscence that I have written. If so then just be glad you have read the facts twice! When I was a child (about age 11, 1935), one of the fads of the time was “Big Little Books.” For several Christmas’s in a row I looked forward to getting at least one of these. (I can’t recall clearly the subject matter, but one, at least, may have been about Dick Tracy, detective.) The books each measured about 2 X 3 inches and an inch and one-half thick, the pages of newsprint (cost about 35 cents each). Text was on one side and a cartoonish picture was drawn on the other. Each picture was drawn as a slight variant of the one before, so that if one flipped through the pages by ruffling the page edges with your thumb, the pix appeared to be “animated.” The Deseret News (newspaper) at about the same time used to have a series of contests in which readers were challenged to “make as many words as you can” using the letters that appeared in a short statement. (Prize about $25.)We always tried, but the winners always came out with two or three time as many! Well, it was kind of fun and definitely educational. My mother tried to be a gardener/florist. I was engaged as chief weeder/hoer in cultivating the quite extensive area she planted. In May in preparation for “Decoration (Memorial) Day,” she would gather cut flowers to sell. Often these were white Shasta daisies cut and kept in our dark little “cellar” in buckets into which colored dyes were dissolved. In 48 hours the blossoms would take up the dye. Other flowers were peonies, delphiniums (blue spikes), and so on, although the weather was so variable that sales were as much a matter of luck as anything. I took special pride in the pink and the white peonies on the south side of our house; almost nobody else grew those colors. Around 1935 my big brother Curtis and my dad built a greenhouse (about 12 X 10 feet) with glass in half the roof and with a small wood/coal stove for heat. “The folks” used it to grow bedding plants (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) for sale. That too proved a very iffy matter as far as making money. I vividly recall my mother struggling to read The Flower Grower magazine in the winter for guidance (she only had about four years of schooling; reading was always a struggle for her). (Dad was a little better off; he could read the newspaper in fairly good order.) Randall (four years older) got caught up, with other boys, in making sets of skiis. At length he helped me make a set for me. Boards of the right size (about six feet long) were planed smooth and then were carved at the front to make a small projecting knob on each. The board was soaked in hot water, and those knobs were connected by a wire to the back end of the piece and tied tightly with a prop so that the tip ends were curved up slightly. The heating and tightening process was repeated over several days until the “toe” was curved upward about two inches and thoroughly dried. Voila! Skiis, once we rigged a crude leather foot bracket on each. We (neighborhood kids and I) had a spot up at the mouth of the canyon, about four blocks away, where we moved the rocks off a 20-foot hill and constructed a four-foot take-off to jump from. That was a lot of fun during the rare times when there was sufficient snow to cover the rocks! We had (successively) two notable dogs, Mac (a black and white mongrel), and Ring (a beefy German shepherd). Both were great friends to us boys. In those days there was great territoriality among the dogs in town. (Most home turfs were separated by a block or two.) Vicious dog fights were common. Upon hearing the sounds of a fight, men and boys would hurry to the spot to watch. Some cheered their favorite while some owners tried to stop the fight (with buckets of water thrown on the critters) out of fear that their hound would be killed (some were). Mac always managed to come out at least even, but the bigger German shepherd apparently was intimidating enough that he didn’t get in many fights. (He did tend to wander across town, surely to no good end, and eventually was struck and killed by a school bus. I had to haul him home in my trusty coaster wagon and bury him.) Hiking in the foothills was a favorite activity (whether on skiis or afoot). It was less than three blocks to the nearest “wild” (i.e. unfenced) property and only two miles to reach the last “ranch” at the mouth of the canyon beyond which was national forest. The lower foothills were places where we dug and sampled out of curiosity bulbs of the sego lily (Utah’s state flower, reputedly an Indian food) or picked wild currents. A special target for an afternoon excursion (a few times per year) was “the pyramids.” They were a series of five hills partly overlapping each other that were shaped very much like the pyramids of Egypt. Going up (400 feet?) onto the “first pyramid” was comparatively a piece of cake, but reaching the “fifth” one was more challenging. Way up beyond there was Round Top and then Square Top (the latter is virtually the emblem of Smithfield, forming the central horizon on the east of town). I never managed to reach them (mainly because I was defined throughout my childhood, and thus self-defined, as “sickly.”) During the Depression era (the 1930s) parties of men went “up the canyon” with teams of horses and buckboards (wagons) to “get out (fire)wood.” This was mostly maple, an excellent source of winter fuel. Down in town this was sawed up by hand or sometimes with improvised power saws (running off automobile engines). This wood all came from national forest land, but there was no permitting or supervision involved in procuring it, in fact I never even heard of anyone from the U.S. Forest Service so much as setting foot in “our canyon.” My dad did not have horses or wagon so we rarely got in on this action, unless, rarely, paying cash for a load. An inveterate pastime (Spring, Summer and Fall) for us neighborhood kids was touch football. If three or four of us showed up at our spot, pretty soon there would be up to a dozen. The usual spot for this was the portion of very wide Center street just west of 200 East. The center of the thoroughfare was paved (it was the road to the cemetery) but wide margins on either side were covered with (really) coarse gravel. Running and catching passes on that terrain took courage and sometimes led to substantial scrapes and scars. But what a blast! There was little car traffic to interrupt our games in that day (which reminds of the Sorenson boys’ games of their original creation, “Whompy,” in the street in front of our house in Springville). Much preferred for us as terrain was Hodges’ sizable pasture, a block and a half away. It was grassy, although tricky underfoot because of (more or less dried) cowpies! But we had to be implicitly “invited” to go there, usually only on Sunday afternoon if at all. It really only occurs to me now how much of my time was taken up by listening to the radio, chiefly in the evenings. I always heard “Bill, Mack and Jimmy,” an adventure program where the chief characters flew all over the place and usually were left in breathless suspense situations (“tune in tomorrow to see ….”!!). And there was “Little Orphan Annie’ (of which I recall nothing!) and “Renfrew of the Mounted” (about Canadian Mounties). I would come home (three blocks) from school at noon for lunch where I heard “Let’s Pretend” (a general educational show.) Sometimes I also heard H. V. Kaltenborn, a network general news and political commentator who was something of a broadcaster’s saint to ignorant listeners. Also a universal favorite were “the fights,” where Joe Louis, (black) heavyweight champion of the world, would beat up the German Max Baer or someone equally villainous or wretched. The next day at school, no one could talk of anything else, going over the scenario round by round. But my favorite of favorites, especially as I got into Junior High in the later 1930s was “Your Hit Parade.” This weekly countdown of hit popular songs was an absolute must-hear. No wonder I love now to hear Michael Feinstein’s “American Songbook” programs on television. There was of course no TV them, but remarkably one evening in about 1935/6 a fellow showed up at our house to see my brother Curtis. (C. didn’t live with us, but was a student in electrical engineering at the University of Utah. I can’t recall how this guy got onto Curtis.) He began spinning a yarn about this new invention called television that was being developed. He wanted Curtis to get into some school program (in the East?), “on the ground floor” of the new industry, so to speak. My folks were so taken with him that they fed him dinner while he spun his yarn. Of course it was really only after 1950 before commercial television became a reality on a small scale. (Curtis married Wanda Higginson about then, and eventually graduated from the U. He immediately was hired as an electrical engineer at Kennecott Copper, but died of burns a couple of months later as a result of a lightning strike that exploded an electrical transformer where he was on the job.) Another of Randall’s many projects was amateur radio. About 1938, when he was a student at the “A.C.” (Utah State Agricultural College) in Logan, he commuted daily to pursue a degree in “radio engineering.” He obtained an operator’s and station license for W7RNJ. Out of weekend earnings at the local grocery store, he saved to buy a decent radio receiver and minimal other equipment. He erected a tall wooden tower atop our house, and began operating from a desk in our joint “north bedroom.” I observed it all with a certain degree of wonder and admiration. Four years later, in early 1942, I got my own operator’s license, after following in R.’s footsteps at USAC. “Ham” radio was shut down through most of WWII, but in early 1946, when I was stationed in Fortaleza, Brazil, I was able to go on the air as “W7RNJ/portable” (R. was in the Army by then, in New Caledonia, unable to use his own call number) using Army Air Corps equipment, and shared some of Randall’s earlier excitement from the distant contacts made, such as one of mine on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. (Regular “hams” would confirm treasured contacts by the exchange of authenticating “DX postcards” by snail mail around the world.)
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson