John L. Sorenson
the digital document vault
website launched » 10.11.12
[ this is a work in progress ]
copyright © 2013 
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 biography      art portfolio reminiscing random events

Random Early Remembrances 1

"the Indians" used to come around to our house in  Smithfield when I was a child. They were Shoshones from Washakie, a settlement area in Box Elder County (as I remember; my friend, historian Tom Alexander tells me the place has been long-abandoned). As I recollect Chief Washakie was baptized as a Mormon in the 19th century, and in some manner he and a few others escaped being slain in the Bear River Massacre where U.S. troops destroyed most of his people. The survivors were given minimum of pretty barren, Church-owned land on which to live and continued under quasi-LDS protection thereafter. A couple of times each year their women would appear in our town (and presumably also other Cache Valley towns) on begging expeditions. I take it that bishops urged charity toward such efforts, at least they were always treated sympathetically in our neighborhood. Nothing was ever said to make me as a child feel uncomfortable when they arrived (they were considered benighted "Lamanites," not threatening), yet vaguely ("naturally?") I hid myself whenever they showed up. I don't recall what my mother would give them, but always something (I'd guess a little sugar or flour or bottled fruit). Eventually they stopped coming, probably about 1932 when the Depression hit hardest and the pickings were too slim to make it worthwhile for them to beg successfully While I was in elementary ("grade" school) at the comparatively new Summit School on west Center Street (1930-36) the ramshackle abandoned old school still stood next door (a photograph appears on page 404 of Smithfield … as a City on a Hill : A History of Smithfield, Utah, 1858-2001. (n.p.: Smithfield Historical Society.) We used a couple of bare, cavernous rooms on occasion (bad weather outside?) as a makeshift gymnasium to run around in at recess, especially to play basketball in. I don't know why they had not torn down the dangerous old relic. During the Depression era the WPA (Works Progress  Administration), a federal relief program that employed men (including my Dad) to do civic improvement projects (street paving, curb and gutter installation, facilities improvements, etc.; unemployment was running between 25 and 33%), funded a project on land on the " town square" area north of our school to construct a night-lighted softball field. A recreation league was formed of makeshift men's teams (all who wanted to play were invited, some pretty poor players included). Probably the lights were on three nights a week. At a time when there was no movie theater in town, and only the radio to listen to at home, lots of people came out to watch the games. I spent many an evening there in the summer. You didn't have to just watch, but could toss a ball around on grass behind the stands or just lie around and talk. It was "something to do." Civic pride was cultivated as far as possible. That included an annual clean-up day in the spring. Men with teams and wagons or trucks supported hand clean up of park areas as well as roadsides and ditch banks (few streets lacked a ditch that carried streams of irrigation water to garden plots behind most houses). About three-fourths of the day was spent working ("most" people came out to work; those who did not earned negative points in public esteem). Of course school was dismissed for the day; kids were expected to help as they were able. Late in the day something communally pleasant occurred (often a baseball game with the town team against the likes of one from Richmond, Hyrum or Honeyville), but there was no money for a communal food event. A generally similar happening was also carried out early in spring-ditch- cleaning-before "the water was turned in." The major ditches (there were many miles of these distribution channels) had to be cleaned out, immediate banks cleaned of sod that had grown in, and low banks reinforced. Men with shovels did this work, consisting of all those who  "had a (formal, legal) share" in the "Smithfield Irrigation Co. (to use the water, you had to buy a share or shares). At the very least, dry grass that lined the channels would be burned off (a great event for us kids!) But the great culmination of town pride was Health Day. Each town in the valley (at least most of them) had a celebration involving the town specialty. (For instance, Richmond had Black and White Day, honoring the Holstein {black-and-white} cattle that supported the milk-canning factory in the town.) Smithfield's Health Day (according to the town history) owed its origin to Dr. George Leroy Rees, the town's only physician, along with dentist Tom Jarvis (they shared the same receptionist for 30 years) and an activist school teacher. We school children were outfitted with some type of costume and marched  down the main street for about two miles (the only outfit I recall was painted cardboard shields, helmet and swords that we manufactured  for weeks before at school; we were "Crusaders" for health. A commercial carnival (rides) was set up two days before and was patronized by those who could afford it. I think I rode the merry-go-round two or three times, for a nickel a ride. There were more adventurous ride but they cost more. I must say a few words about "Dr. Rees."  A great man. Not only was he the sole M.D. covering four or five small towns nearby as well as Smithfield (including a lot of charity cases), he also served six years as mayor, was a bishop (and then stake president), founder of the local Kiwanis Club, a scouter for many years (receiving the honorary Silver Beaver award at the end of 25 years), and gave free pre-school exams to all first graders. (I think an office visit cost no more than $2 or $3.) And of course he made house calls too!
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson