John L. Sorenson
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For the most part of my life “getting around” has been afoot. Against that background a few automobiles have been somewhat memorable. This piece is about both. My father never learned to drive and of course never owned a car. The closest he ever came to mechanized movement (aside from driving a team of horses to town when he operated a farm for a couple of years (about 1904) in Kimball—an area near Blackfoot, Idaho) was riding a bicycle from Bear Lake to Sanpete Valley (central Utah, probably Manti) when he was a young man. There were no paved roads in those days! He had cousins (“Sorensons”—I never learned just who they were but have supposed they were from a brother of his father who immigrated from Denmark around the 1860s, when Dad’s father did). My son Joe tried some years ago to follow on bike at least some of the course of his grandfather’s journey. Aside from hearing a bit of the story (from my Mother), I never saw my father on a bicycle the rest of his days. If he felt the need to go somewhere in town, he walked, or out of town (very rarely), he rode the (Greyhound) bus or asked to ride with someone with a car. This is one of the reasons I have occasionally referred to his occupation as “peasant.” He was closely tied to his own bit of land and saw little need ever to be anywhere else. I never learned to drive as a teen-ager. No “driver training” was taught in the school in those days. You learned from your family or friends or not at all. Not until I was in the military service, at age 21, did I have the chance to learn driving, in my own personal Jeep (I had inherited several assignments on the base by then other than my nominal specialty, weather and communications—there were only 3 to 5 American officers left by then), at night on the dark airfield at Fortaleza, Brazil. I had no access to a vehicle after that until 1949 (age 25), after my mission, when I got a driver’s license and drove Grandma Maggie’s car occasionally after coming back from my mission. Life in school in Provo was all on foot. So was school at UCLA (1955-57). Being in Southern California without wheels was certainly challenging, but we had no money to pay for a car. Where we lived was five miles from the campus. I reached there, usually with a combination of bus and walking. There was no direct bus, so I usually had to get as close to home as possible on one bus system or another and then hoof it. Shopping was definitely trying. After scanning the grocery ads in the throw-away newspapers I would either walk to one or two of the stores up to half a mile away and carry the groceries (usually just the “specials”) back, or else I pulled the kids coaster wagon along when bulkier supplies were obtained. Kind members provided rides to Church. And fortunately there was pretty good bus service to places like a doctor’s office. Of course socializing with other grad students (normally an important art of one’s graduate education) was pretty much out of the question; I didn’t even try. I bought our first car in 1957 when we moved to American Fork to do my dissertation research. (My study actually compared changes that occurred in American Fork and in Santaquin, a much more rural place, as a result of the industrialization that followed the construction of the Geneva Steel plant, so I had to get regularly to Santaquin.) It was a used, blue Plymouth sedan bought from Paul Harmon’s new-car dealership in A. F. We always had a car thereafter, but I barely remember any of them, with the exception of a Volkswagen bus that Mom and Jeff drove the family in to Santa Barbara in 1964. I had driven a red VW Beetle back and forth to S.B. several times that summer as I began my job (once sleepily veering off the road, but without damage). I drove a small car to work in Goleta everyday (usually by way of Hope Ranch back roads), while Mom drove a big Chrysler or Buick where she wanted (and really enjoyed the feel of that big monster). At one point in S. B. we had a small Toyota pick-up that was not very comfortable for me to drive, but Mom love it too. In later years, in Utah Valley, as Mom’s diabetic condition (especially her eyes) worsened, she largely stopped driving. Travel to visit my sister Stella in Cedar City and St. George or longer jaunts to see Ivy (Holden’ ex-wife and children, in Arizona or Colorado, or Joe in Logan, became my exclusive chauffeuring chore. One memorable trip we took as a family included the drive in an old station wagon from Springville south through Moab and Blanding (where car trouble forced us to stop overnight, which allowed the older boys, at least, to go swimming in a natural pool or lake beneath red cliffs). Then on through Monument Valley to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We had our little dog Blackie Joe with us which caused some tension, but the more of a problem for me personally as driver was concern for our oldish vehicle. All the way home up Highway 89 I was sweating whether the drive train would stay together until we got home. Somewhat more pleasant was driving the little red pick up in Hawaii (borrowed from the Car—lsons??) whose house we had traded for ours in S, Barbara for a month (1968). Especially memory-making was a drive up the coast (Highway 1) of California on our way to Utah where we stopped off at a little cliff-enclosed cove, along about Santa Cruz. We then went on across the Sierra Nevada coming out at Carson City, near Aunt Ruby’s home in Fallon, NV, where we had a great breakfast. Then there were innumerable trips to Magna to visit Aunt Gloyde Dangerfield or Grandma Maggie (and the typical boyish chant, “Grandma lives in a turkey shed”). Not to be forgotten either were trips to our property on Thistle Creek above Indianola. But, fortunately, I cannot recall the succession of cars, always used and always with somewhat suspect mechanically. I bought one new car, a Mazda RX-7 with rotary engine. (I don’t know what got into me!) Before long it had engine problems, due, apparently, to water in the gasoline. I was pretty sure it was because Marty or one of the other little kids had been tempted to put the hose in the gas-intake hole and give it an extra fill-up! Anyhow it was a bust as an automobile thereafter. Quite remarkably I never had a serious accident while driving and as a recall neither did anyone else in the family, although there were some minor ones. Sometime in the 1980s I drove alone in our reliable minivan to the panhandle of Oklahoma to an archaeological site where I observed interesting astronomical phenomena that apparently demonstrated the placement of engraved stone art according to sunrise at a key sunrise date. Along with others I was convinced the astronomical knowledge shown was a result of the presence Old World travelers. Interesting, but maybe not worth the arduous drive, alone. Nowadays I have the same feeling about virtually any trip. In later years, after my marriage to Helen, we made another set of journeys with cars. But my memory, if anything, is even dimmer about most of those. A few years back we made a memorable trip to Yellowstone, and later visited my sister-in-law Wanda in Idaho before her death. Two years ago we went through Soda Springs, ID, and down through the Bear Lake country where my parents were reared--a very pleasant, relaxed trip. What should be most evident is that our trips are shorter nowadays. I have ceased to drive in my later 80s, and Helen is more limited too in how much she can drive. I guess my last sizable journey will be my chauffeured ride to the Smithfield cemetery!
Reminiscenses by John L. Sorenson