LIFE STORY OF MERLE ALICE REES CALL
DAUGHTER OF JOSEPH EDMUND AND ADA BLANCHE THACKERAY REES
Written by Merle
I was born in Coalville, Utah, Summit County, in a white house. The third daughter of Joseph and Blanche Rees. My two sisters before me were LaVon and Helen. The only thing I remember about the house was that in the middle of the pantry floor was a trap door that opened up into a dirt cellar where we kept bottled fruit, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables. The period of time was before there were refrigerators or even ice-boxes.
I do remember we got huge blocks of ice from an attic where it was stored after being cut into blocks from a river that had frozen solid. It was kept cool by covering it with sawdust. When I was about four we moved to Devils Slide, Utah, where our father worked in a general merchandise store. Later, I think he managed the store. The store sold everything or anything from horse collars to liniment and groceries, material and patterns. Everyone made their own clothes including underwear, some were even made from flour sacks.
All the houses at Devils Slide were alike, all made in blocks formed from cement. It was hard to tell one from another. One had to count from the corner. At the end of our street was a larger version of the same floor plan, only with more bedrooms. This house was used for the community hospital. Dr. Dorland was a loud-speaking rough acting colonel or captain from the army, but he really had a knowledge of the human anatomy and how to adequately treat suffering and disease. He delivered all 4 of my brothers at our home.
I was quite a tomboy and used to walk along the wooden fences that were in front of the school. I fell off and broke my arm, the elbow cap. It was my left arm. As soon as I could get my fingers loose from the cast, I continued to write with my left hand.
About this time we moved to the original Howard Thackeray home in Croydon. My father was running the grocery store there trading orders and delivering them to the Jap Village at Devils Slide. We had a wire panel truck with seats on the sides with which he took the grocery orders to people. We loved to go to Jap town as the Japanese that lived there were so neat and clean, but they almost always gave us Japanese candies or fortune cookies that were pretty special. We also used the panel truck to go to the weekly motion picture shows at Devils Slide.
They usually had a continued show that left someone falling out of a building, over a cliff or drowning – the suspense from week to week was hard to wait through. We could get into the movie with so many eggs for admission. We really searched for hidden nests to find extra eggs.
Sometimes in the winter when the snow was too deep or slippery, we took Old Pet, a big red horse, that pulled us behind on our hand sleighs. Most of the kids from the town went.
We always had cows to milk, a horse to ride, pigs to feed, and chickens to hatch. Every year the folks ordered 1000 baby chicks. There was an incubator, a big shield, with heaters under. Disaster struck often when the heat gave out. The chickens would huddle together and smother to death. Occasionally we had to rush them into the house and fill bottles with hot water. There was one occasion that the babies got in a pipe and piled one on top of another and smothered. The younger kids sometimes hit them with sticks. We raised the roosters to sell to people. I cleaned and picked so many chickens that I got fast at it. They were scalded then plucked.
The irrigation ditch ran through our place in front, when any of the farmers finished their watering turn we would follow the stream and in the puddles left we found and caught many fish, mostly trout.
Before my brothers got old enough I rode the horse to pull the hay up in the barn. They called the person doing the job the horse boy.
I started school at 5 years of age which took some special string pulling because I was the only one that age so they let me go. I had a special teacher, Miss Ethelyn Barns. She helped me a lot as I was very thin and sickly. I also had St. Vitus dance, a disease that made me twitch and jerk and I was unable to control where my hands, arms and feet would go. Later on as the school became full, parents protested and fought against having the school children bussed to Morgan, but the population of the school was diminishing. We were all in one room, one teacher, going from 1st grade through 2-3- 4 up to 8th grade. We were automatically bussed to Morgan High School.
I was chosen for one of the leads in the 8th grade operetta. A boy asked me, invited me, the only girl in the 8th grade that was asked to go to the Senior banquet and dance. I was so embarrassed and timid. I would run and hide whenever my date tried to talk to me. He used to leave notes and gifts in my desk at school. I was afraid to take them home. I was teased constantly, but the folks and my sister LaVon made me an elegant changeable taffeta dress with 30 yards of lace on it. I stayed at Aunt Laura’s in Morgan where my date picked me up for the grand occasion. Being under such strict scrutiny, I spilled on my new dress. I sang in the operetta each year, I loved to sing.
I graduated from Morgan High with a class of 13 people. I had dates but not many from school, mostly from Coalville and Henefer. I worked summers for my Uncle Royal Thackary on his ranch cooking for hay men. Sometimes we went to Cedar to put up special hay or grain to be thrashed. I learned to bake 8 loaves of bread and cakes and pies and enjoyed and prepared heart, liver, brains, as well as all kinds of home killed pork, beef, chickens, and fish. There were always peas, beans, beets, turnips, carrots and potatoes to be dug from our big garden, berries, gooseberries and rhubarb to pick to make pies. We had apple and plum trees that I loved to climb and I was always at the top of one or another. There was a high swing next to the porch.
As I grew older I spent summers in Coaville with Grandma Rees or in Morgan working at the pea factory. I made as high as $4 a week cooking at Uncle Royal’s. I saved it and was paid as summer ended. I entered college at the Agriculture College in Logan working for my board and room in a private home and also waiting tables at the dorm where I lived the last year I was there. I took as many classes in art as I could work in and enjoyed it thoroughly such as design, Interior decorating, and figure drawing. My teachers were Harvey Fletcher, Delbert Smedley and J. Reuben Reynolds. I took classes with Ev Thorpe, Howell Rosenvall, and Ronald Flamm who are now noted artists.
Knowing I couldn’t afford to be an artist without an income I decided to come to Salt Lake City and enter the Utah High School of Beauty Culture. I met many boys, I dated, still dating Ken Paskett whom I had gone with thru high school, summers, and college. Then one Halloween night, my sister, Helen and the two Tanner girls we lived with planned a costume party at the Baldwin radio factory on 33rd South. I met a fellow whom I danced with, next day he called me for a date. We saw a show El Brendel in “Just Imagine”.
Home life was full of pleasures. We all went to church, I was secretary, I taught and I was in plays, etc. the normal events of an L.D.S. abode. Dad sang and played his mouth organ and rocked us in his big leather easy chair. We pumped the player piano and sang often. We knelt in family prayer around the chairs at supper time and the leather bed sofa in the living room by the big coal stove that had a stove pipe that went up through the ceiling, thru the closet into the other bedroom. We slept 3 in a bed most of the time and mother sewed pillows together to make one long one. I loved to sleep in the middle and cuddle.
On February l0th,1932, Helaman Call and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple with George F. Richards marrying us. Mother Call prepared a luscious meal in Bountiful. We started a happy, contented married life. Being joined together in the height of the 1931-33 depression there were many ups and downs. Nevertheless, we proceeded to have a baby, Marlene was born April 18, 1933. Helaman was working for O. P. Skaggs or Safeway and the manager worked the men from 7 in the morning ’till 10 or 11 at night. So we decided to have the baby at the home of Mother Call so our daddy could see us at night.
The night Marlene was expected we started for Bountiful only to find our gas had been siphoned and there were no stations open at 3 o’clock in the morning. He left me with the car in North Salt Lake and he caught a ride into State Street to an all night gas station. He arrived back eventually and we again traveled to Bountiful. After calling the doctor and getting settled, Helaman started with a severe nose hemorrhage. The Dr. spent more time with him than with me, but our little daughter was born about 8 am.
There was no work and we had bought a home and moved to 1218 Wood Ave. Helaman spent 2 weeks in Nevada working in grocery stores. We stayed at Ivan and Marietta’s, Helaman’s brother.
I had a threatened miscarriage, so we returned to the farm, helping with the hay. There was much to do so tried to help with food, and by easing a sack from the truck I started with pains. We called a doctor, he said to go home. We went to Bountiful and called Dr. Trowbridge who said, “Stay down.” I did for one week, then on May 16th 1936 I went to the hospital where No. 2 child, Neil, was born weighing 2 lbs, 14 oz. He lost weight to 2 lbs 8 oz. then started to gain and continued. We brought him home at 4 lbs 13 oz. I had to take mothers milk to the hospital daily for him.
We were both active and busy in the church. Helaman was now working for Prudential Insurance Co He was invited to a sales convention in California when Linda was born May 8, 1940. She was such a beautiful baby weighing only 5 lbs ,but after her daddy returned and we got home she made up for lost time and grew and was so round and cute. We were living at 1218 Wood Ave. at this time and we were active in the church. I was in the presidency of the Relief Society with June Wright and Ruth Hammel. I also worked as teacher trainer in both Primary and Sunday School, and as a counselor in Primary with Margaret Kleinburg and Evelyn Naisbett.
(Alan was born 22 Nov 1942. We all loved him so.)
Helaman had been in the bishopric with Bishop Charles Sorensen and James Jack. He was Stake Mutual Superintendent, Sunday School Superintendent, then in the bishopric with Keith Casper, Neil Purdie and Lloyd Johnson.
When Helaman was in Sunday School, Pearl Harbor was bombed and it wasn’t long before our daddy was drafted into the Navy. We had gone to the Rees farm for Christmas and on our return to Salt Lake we learned that his draft notice was in the mailbox. Helaman at once got in touch with Earl J. Glade who was head of the local draft board. He said, “Just go and report and you will be free to go home.” Uncle Sam didn’t quite see it that way and he was sworn in and left for Farragut, Idaho, very soon. This was an extremely difficult time for our little family of 4 children. I was not very well and the constant worry and added burdens didn’t help. Our daddy was soon sent to San Diego and I had a week down there near him. Bless our dear mother who took care of the children.
It wasn’t long before he was to finish schooling at Point Loma in Radar. I returned home and he was transferred to San Francisco. A brother of Helaman’s (Bill) was living in San Mateo and offered us his home to be together, but he failed to realize we had four children and so he was not to receptive to them. He did try to be nice and tolerant, but he had a service station business and was afraid the little ones may get in the way.
We searched long and hard, but no one would rent to service men with or without children. We went to the military housing division and they told us about a project for war workers in Visitation Valley. It was big with row upon row of houses in one long group of apartments stuck together covering an entire hillside. When we moved in we had to denounce one of the children. Our children still wonder which one we disowned. They were so excited to see such a lovely house they ran in and hid in the closet and the door locked. We could not get in to them and we had to go back some distance to the offices to get a pass key. They were some scared, crying, youngsters by the time they were freed. We sent home for a few supplies, bedding, dishes, etc. We ate on paper plates largely and my, did the children have a big appetite.
We had to walk to the store and the only place that we had to keep perishable food was a corner cupboard with a screen to the outside so we shopped for practically each meal and stacked everything up. There was a nice playground and supervised, planned tours and games for everyday. One day we were quietly swinging when a soldier and his wife stopped. It was my brother Dee and his wife Maree who was stationed at Camp Ord and they had driven down to see us. We had such a delightful and quick visit.
Our summer was carefree and happy. We took trips into town with all the coats in a shopping bag, because no matter how warm and lovely the weather may have been it was always cold and very windy in the evenings. We had some nice visits with the Wardell’s who lived in San Jose. They were such dear friends throughout the years.
As September approached and rumors of our daddy being shipped out we had to make preparations to get us home to be there for school opening. Train travel was very uncertain. (She didn’t even mention the dress she made for Marlene all by hand.)
(Linda was hit by a car and our father’s destroyer ship, USS Zellers, was hit at the same time. They sent Helaman home to help with Linda. While home his father, Willard passed away.)
At the funeral of Father Call, June 18,1945, Parley was overseas as a flyer in the European theater and could not be present. Also Dora was unable to be there. We had a wonderful dinner and family reunion after the funeral at the home in Bountiful. The Calls were famous for their get-togethers and eats. Mother Call was a marvelous cook and could make a delicious, nourishing meal out of seemingly little. She did all kinds of fruits and vegetables in cans and always had a storehouse of them. Most of it was given to her for favors she had done, or the children gleaned the fields or trees after the harvest was over. Much was raised on her own lot. Her pies were the envy of all good cooks.
Helaman was finally mustered out of the navy after returning to California and giving insurance lectures to S. l’s. He was being dismissed as the war in Europe was over and close to the finish in Japan.
Merle was able to go to camp Pendelton, San Pedro where we had a lovely barracks apartment with a cafeteria to go to at any time of day or night. She put on much needed weight which was lost by worry over her husband and trials of having the full responsibility of 4 young children and not knowing if Helaman would return. He was in the thick of battle, the invasion of Okinawia, when their ship was hit after receiving mail from the ship, “Salt Lake City”.
We had one week vacation with Vee and Melba Call [brother and sister in-law] before returning home to Salt Lake at 1218 Wood Ave. near Sugar House.
Helaman was desperately ill for weeks and it was thought he had contracted a tropical amoeba from the islands of the sea. Shortly after this he would have spells of passing out, in the office, driving a car or sitting at home
On Dec. 6th 1947 on a Saturday night after, Helaman being in the bishopric it was necessary to raise a large sum of money for the building fund, or welfare farm, and we had been having three days of bazaar, carnival, all means of raising money. So on Saturday night we were weary and decided to have popcorn and have a family night with our children now numbering 5 as Sylvia was born July 7,1946. Helaman was called on the phone by a dear friend whose baby was born a mongoloid, to come and administer to the baby, having faith that this could make her right. We went to Bountiful leaving the children in the care of Marlene, our oldest daughter. On the way back, I remembered having left my purse at mother Calls, so we returned to get it.
Starting home again we met with a terrible automobile accident in front of the drinking and eating house near Cudahay Lane. A car filled with young fellows returning from a basketball practice, picked up their girls and were turning in to eat or drink. Anyway, their car turned directly in our path and we went half way through it. Three persons were killed, and we were more dead than alive. It so happened an undertaker, Merrill Holbrook, was returning from Provo after taking a body down and he stopped and took us to the hospital. No one even knew me as my face was literally cut to bits.
Dr. Trowbridge had been our family doctor before the war and had delivered 3 of our children. He had left a party at the country club in Salt Lake early and had just stopped by the hospital as we were brought in. He asked at the desk, “Are my accident victims in yet?” At that particular season of the year and the roads were perilous, he had had several accidents that he was caring for. She said, “No, doctor. Were you expecting some?” He said, “Well, I’ve been having them quite regularly lately.” He had gone to the 3rd floor to check on some of his patients when they called him over the loud speaker and said, “Dr., your patients are in now.” It was our accident. So he was right there at the exact time he was most needed which helped to save my life I’m sure.
It took all night and several doctors working to begin to stitch me back together. For 8 days was unconscious. Then Aunt Ellen Rees had a dream one night that if Bishop Charles Sorensen would administer to me I would recover. Many had been there to administer, but went away because of my serious condition and I looked so terrible they supposed I would not care to live. Nevertheless Bishop Sorensen called his counselor, Auburn Chipman, and Helaman’s brother, W. Vee Call. In the prayer, Bishop Sorensen demanded a sign if I would live or not. On completion of the blessing, I tapped on the window of the oxygen tent as recognition. From that moment I commenced to recover. All my teeth were gone, my pallet was torn loose, many stitches were required to sew the inside of my mouth. A dentist, Dr. Ezra Waddoups came to the hospital and made a plaster cast so that both my broken jaws would have some kind of brace. People were marvelous to us sending money, food, clothes and etc.
I had developed Spinal Meningitis, my lungs were filled up with pneumonia, dozens of complications had developed, but I asked my doctor if I could please go home to my dear little family for Christmas. Mother Leah Call and Young Leah had closed up their home in Bountiful and moved in to take care of our family. Helaman had a broken leg, facial lacerations, broken ribs and other injuries, but had returned the following Sunday to church on crutches, then came back to St. Marks Hospital. The Doctor said if I could touch my chin to my chest by the end of the week, I could go home for Christmas Eve, then return to the hospital the next day. I vowed If I got home wouldn’t go back – and I didn’t.
With mother Call’s tender care and cooking and the prayers of people all over the country, I commenced to mend.
My right leg was cut to the bone on the car’s heater. My hip or nerve running through the hip bone was almost severed and so I had to remain in bed, no walking! I was later pulled on a little rocker to the bathroom.
Christmas morning dawned on the most wonderful Christmas the children will ever know. People in the ward and relatives and friends from many towns and cities sent gifts for the family. I can recall the terrible weakness I felt as the children opened presents. I had to be taken back to bed before they finished because there were so many.
The first day out of bed for any length of time, I went shopping for new clothes. Gertrude James whose baby we went to bless came to see me and pressed $50 in my hand. Later she was taken to Provo, the strain of her baby’s condition and death was too exhausting for her nervous system and she had to have shock treatments at the mental hospital.
(Added by Marlene) Blaine was born Dec 12, 1951. Mother Call, my best friend died Oct. 1953. (Mother and Dad took Aunt Amy Romney to the temple each week. Mother took care of Aunt Ellen Greer Rees, dressing her and combing her hair. Mother’s wish was that she would not live to be a burden to anyone. She died midst the plans of Blaine and Joyce’s wedding, May 19,1975. Blaine and Joyce were married June 21, 1975.)