“Time is the raw material of life. Every day unwraps itself like a gift, bringing us the opportunity to spin a fabric of health, pleasure, and content and to evolve into something better than we are at its beginning. Every passing instant is a juncture of many roads open to our choice. Shall we do this or that? Go this way or that? We cannot stand still. Choosing between alternatives in the use of time is evidence of one of the noblest of God’s gifts – freedom of choice.” – Thomas S. Monson
When we gifted the whole family with matching sweatshirts sporting “GO & DO” down the left sleeve, we talked briefly about making the most of our time and opportunities we encounter. Some in the family are facing new opportunities in employment. Others are making positive inroads in healthy lifestyles. Grandchildren are focused on good friends and schoolwork. And we’re all interested in making the most of our leisure time!
But my reality is that in spite of all that cheerleading, I’ve had a hard time getting into a productive routine since we returned from our Christmas vacation. The January slump has reared its ugly and lethargic head. But no more! The other day when I put on my Butler family “Go & Do” sweatshirt, I thought, “Yeah! Just go and do – get a move on!” After all that was the point of choosing that family theme. . .
And so here I record a portion of my seemingly inexhaustible, but very enticing, to-do list for this new year:
Exciting projects to complete – that headboard I thrifted a couple of years ago is just calling for some chalkboard paint in an awesome color
Childhood memories to record – do you realize that in the 1960s it wasn’t against any law to put down the back seats of the station wagon, spread out some quilts, and line all 6 children up to sleep while driving non-stop from Michigan to Utah?
Skills to learn – just beginning to crack the ins and outs of blog publishing with blurb using Grandpa Lou’s World War II stories
Books to read – I’ve got a list going, but feel free to send me your suggestions of must reads
Responsibilities to fulfill – Primary music time is so much fun with well planned activities and visual aids. I’m compiling an arsenal of resources. Music memory game, anybody?
Family history to share – 10 years worth of letters we wrote while living overseas are still languishing in binders on the bookshelves downstairs
Creativity to embrace – will this be the year I complete even a small quilting project?
* * * * * * *
I’m ready to use my raw material and freedom of choice to create full and happy days.
The phone rang early on that Sunday morning in the Pratt home in Flint, Michigan with a long-distance call from Saginaw – about 40 miles away. When Gram answered, Dad simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day”. Her immediate response was, “What is it?” “It” was a long, skinny baby girl with dark hair who was soon named Lynnette.
At 9 pounds, 9 ounces and 21 1/2 inches long, I was big and healthy. However, during my first months of life, I was plagued with digestion problems and couldn’t tolerate regular formula. Following the doctor’s orders, my parents fed me a smorgasbord of concoctions in an attempt to find something that my system could “stomach”. In the mid 1950’s, commercially produced formula wasn’t widely available – even for babies without stomach problems. So whatever they tried didn’t come in a can, but was mixed by my mother in her own kitchen and then poured into sterilized glass bottles that she stored in the refrigerator. That must have been a chore for her. I have vague memories of Mom mixing formula for my younger siblings using evaporated milk, water and some corn syrup. Horrors!
Projectile vomiting was my routine after every feeding, and my parents soon learned to never burp me while I was facing them. After weeks or maybe months of trial and error during which time my dad regularly carried my stool sample to the hospital for evaluation (talk about a father’s love!), I think they finally found some soy formula that I could handle. After following that regimen for several months, the doctor was still somewhat concerned when I weighed only 17 pounds at 1 year. However, after a few more months of growth along with solid food I began to put on a little weight and before long was measuring in the “normal” range. Oh, to be plagued with an inability to gain weight now!
I was the third child in the family. David, born 20 September 1951, was not yet three and Yvonne, born 9 September, 1952, was not yet two. In September of that year when I was about four months old, Dad returned to Michigan State at Lansing to finish his Master’s Degree. So Mother was left alone (remember this house?) with three little children and no car during the week – Dad came home only on the weekends.
My mother was a strong woman. Thanks for the great example!
My first childhood memories are connected with our home at 1117 Phelon Street in Saginaw. In 1956 we moved to that home from our little country house and lived there until 1958. For most of us, any memories from our preschool years are vague, but a few things have stayed in my long term storage – perhaps only because I’ve heard my parents tell those stories.
I have a fuzzy memory of the front porch of this house. Did we play there? Sleep there in the summer? I can’t recall details, but it’s interesting that the porch is the only part of the house that I remember! Our landlords were Bea and Murray Muellerweiss who lived around the corner from us, and with whom my parents remained friends for many years after we moved away. I recall that they had a long, tall wooden stairway leading to the second story of their home. Maybe they rented the upstairs to another family?
My most significant memory of this house and neighborhood still has an impact on me today. One day while outside with my mom, a large – maybe German Shepherd – dog came bounding towards me. He was not vicious, just happy, friendly, and looking for a playmate. Because of his substantial size, my skinny little body was no match for his energy, and he knocked me to the ground in his excitement. His enthusiasm to play was obvious as he licked my face all the while jumping around and wagging his tail! I can only imagine my shrieks of terror, but Mother has described them as loud, long, and impressive. When she was finally able to get to my rescue, in probably only a matter of seconds, she pulled me to safety and assured me that I was fine. I suffered no cuts, bruises or scrapes – just a little dog slobber on my face! But to this day I have a “healthy respect” for large dogs and avoid them whenever possible!
As a child in the 1950’s, I spent many hours playing outside. Because of my naturally darker skin tone (and the lack of sunscreen), the summer sun tanned my skin to a deep shade of brown. My elbows and knees were particularly dark, and no amount of scrubbing with Comet cleanser would clean them up! Mother had to resign herself to the fact that I just looked a little unkempt during the summer. However, in the mid 1950’s segregation was still an issue, and one of the neighbor girls refused to play with me, because she didn’t want to play with “that little colored girl.”
This house now sits in a run-down and somewhat questionable neighborhood, but after 50+ years I guess that’s to be expected.
Remember those lovely letters requesting and granting her hand in marriage?
My continued sorting uncovered the sad news of a very short marriage.
The Northern Budget (newspaper)
Troy, Rensselaer, New York
23 September 1850
In this city [on 22 September], of the congestion of the lungs, Mrs. Caroline W. Pratt, wife of B.P. Pratt age 23 years. Her funeral will take place at 11 o’clock tomorrow the 24th from the residence of B.P. Pratt – 69 N. 2nd Street. Friends and acquaintances are invited to attend.
From this marriage came my great-great grandfather, Lansing Taylor Pratt,
born 21 June 1850 -just three months before his mother died.
When my mom turned 50 years old, we had a family party to celebrate the major milestone. One of the gifts we gave her was 50 shiny, new Anthony dollars. These coins had just been released in July of that year, and not only were they the first dollar coin to be released in a long time, but Susan B. Anthony was the first women to be honored by having her “picture” on a US coin.
Susan Brownell Anthony was an influential American civil rights leader who played a crucial role in the women’s rights movement in the 1800’s. She was arrested in 1872 for voting illegally, but her influence eventually led to the adoption of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution which gives women the right to vote.
However, in spite of all Miss Anthony’s accomplishments, the dollar was very unpopular because of its similarity to a quarter in both size and weight. In spite of the government’s best efforts in promoting the coin, it never really became mainstream and eventually was replaced with the golden dollar coin – so you probably haven’t see very many of them.
Interesting, but what does this have to do with me or you?
This past week while continuing my genealogy organizing project, I came across a piece of paper that caught my eye. My mother had in her files a letter from the Fort Edward, New York Historical Association which was a response to her request for information about the marriage of Benoni Pratt and Caroline Taylor – my 3rd great grandparents. Mr. Paul McCarty, director of that organization, wrote that he had been unable to find any information about the marriage, but did have some additional information on the Taylor family.
“However, I do wish to convey to you some additional information on the Taylors. Lansing Taylor built a large home on the corner of what is today US Route #4 and Patterson Road at Moseskill, which is very near Fort Miller. The house has since been destroyed by fire and the location is today occupied by another house.
“Susan B. Anthony was employed by Lansing B. Taylor for a period of two years after 1839, most likely Caroline was one of her students. Miss Anthony’s family lived in nearby Greenwich, New York.”
A little searching on the internet produced this information from Wikipedia:
“In 1837, Anthony was sent to Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary, a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia. She was not happy at Moulson’s, but she did not have to stay there long. She was forced to end her formal studies because her family, like many others, was financially ruined during the Panic of 1837. Their losses were so great that they attempted to sell everything in an auction, even their most personal belongings, which were saved at the last minute when Susan’s uncle, Joshua Read, stepped up and bid for them in order to restore them to the family.
“In 1839, the family moved to Hardscrabble, New York, in the wake of the panic and economic depression that followed. That same year, Anthony left home to teach and pay off her father’s debts.”
And that would have taken her to my great-great-great grandmother’s home!
My 3rd great grandfather, Benoni Preston Pratt, asking Lansing Gaylor Taylor for the hand of his daughter,
Caroline Wing Taylor, in marriage.
They were married 30 August 1849.
(On) July 14th 1849
L.G. Taylor Esq
I have the consent of the hand of your Daughter Caroline should it meet the approbation of the parents. Will they favor me with an early reply.
I await their pleasure
Fort Miller 14 July 1849
Mr. B.P. Pratt
Your note dated 14 July came to hand this day and in reply to the matters set forth in the same I would say that the parents of Caroline cheerfully consent and hope that the arrangement may prove ( ?) happiness to all the parties concerned it it.
From my dad’s personal history:
“In the spring of 1955 we moved [from 707 Michigan Avenue] to 5606 Swan Creek Road, which was a few miles out in the country. The rent was cheaper, and we thought we’d like to be out away from the city.”
It’s a small, white, cement block house sitting on a large lot. Even today, 55 years after we lived there it is still “out in the country,” and it almost looks like time has stopped. The surrounding trees that have grown and matured and the new[er] model car in the driveway are the only outward indications that many years have passed. To the curious passerby, the house looks very much the same today as it did when we lived there when I was a year old.
Having been raised on a farm in North Ogden, Utah, I am quite certain that Dad loved living in the wide open space out of town. But as I look at these pictures, I wonder if Mom loved living out there, or if it was a huge inconvenience. The surroundings were green and peaceful with no background noise from neighbors or traffic. I could see plenty of room for rowdy preschoolers to run around. And surely the pace of life was slower and more relaxed out there. But my mom has always been a city girl, and maybe she missed the noise and activity of a downtown neighborhood. Maybe she worried about her three little children running out to the road. Maybe she hated having to drive 5 or 6 miles to the grocery store. Or maybe it was a toss up . . .
Those three little children on the front porch look perfectly happy with their country home. (But why do I have on a snowsuit and my siblings are just in short sleeves?) Because I have no memory of our time there, I can simply wonder and imagine about that year. I picture it as cozy, comfortable, and a great place to chase after a young family. And I hope my mom did too!
As a little girl, I had an insatiable interest in playing the piano. My sisters and I loved to play Sunday School, and I was always the piano player. I don’t remember if that was okay with them, or if they would have liked a turn at the imaginary keyboard, but it didn’t matter – I was playing the piano. Our family did not have a piano at that time, and I was too young to know how to play one anyway. But whenever we played Sunday School, I took my place at the window sill, propped a book against the living room window and “played” the songs with great enthusiasm while the others sang along. I also played the table tops, the arm rests in the car, the kitchen counters, and any other available surface.
As a result of that kindergarten passion and eagerness to perform, when I was about 6 years old, my parents bought a used piano. My memory is that they paid $200 for that piano, but that seems like a huge amount of money for 1960. I started taking lessons shortly after that. Sharon Reeve, the oldest daughter of my parent’s good friends, was my first teacher. Sharon was young, cute, and fun, and I loved learning how to play a real piano with her on the bench beside me.
After a while with Sharon, I started taking lessons from Miss Clara Briggs – a professional piano teacher, I suppose. She was kind of a cranky old maid, and I was quite intimidated by her. A demanding teacher with very high expectations and little tolerance for children who didn’t practice, she taught in downtown Saginaw on the second floor of a building which was a couple of doors down from the movie theater on Court Street.
To get to her studio we entered the building through a glass door on the street, and then had to climb a long, steep stairway that always smelled kind of dusty and unused. On weeks when I knew I hadn’t practiced enough to get her approval, my feet dragged up each one of those steps dreading what was ahead. The studio door was wooden, with a big milky glass window in the middle on which gold lettering announced something like, “Clara Briggs – Piano”. On that same floor were several other offices, I suppose used by lawyers or other businesses. I was curious, but I don’t recall ever exploring the area beyond Miss Briggs’ domain. As an eight year old girl, I imagined the whole building as kind of an unknown land for grown ups, and I was a little nervous that I would encounter one of the other occupants and maybe get yelled at for being someplace I didn’t belong.
The piano studio was a large room with very high ceilings. It was sparsely furnished with a sofa and a couple of chairs for waiting pupils. Decorative crown molding bordered the top of the walls, and the hardwood floors echoed with our footsteps announcing our arrival. An alcove opened off the main room, and it was there that the the pianos were located – both of them! I was amazed and impressed that my teacher had two pianos. In my young mind that added to the seriousness of the whole piano lesson experience – two pianos were proof that she was obviously a very important teacher. The pianos were heavy, dark uprights and could be inviting or intimidating depending on how well prepared I was. Sometimes Yvonne and I played duets on those pianos, and sometimes Miss Briggs would play along on one as I played the other to show me how the piece was supposed to sound.
Miss Briggs was quick with her criticism and tight with her approval, so if she did praise me, I knew I had done well. Yvonne and I often argued over who had to have the first lesson. Some weeks I wanted to go first, anxious to demonstrate my amazing progress! And other weeks I thought making Yvonne go first would make up for my lack of practice, but of course it was just delaying the inevitable. It was while taking lessons with her that I started playing music from the well known composers such as Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven. After our piano recitals, each student was rewarded with a plaster bust of one of those composers, and Yvonne and I accumulated quite a collection. They decorated the top of the piano for several years, until after time they got broken, lost in moves, or discarded in a cleaning frenzy. I don’t remember that even then I saw much use for those small statues, but I knew they were important to my teacher and therefore they were important to me.
Although my memories of Miss Briggs are colored by her stern personality and her no nonsense approach to music lessons, she was an excellent teacher and gave me a very solid foundation for my subsequent piano training. After leaving her studio when we moved from Michigan, I was taught by a variety of other piano teachers until I stopped regular lessons at age 16. I have never aspired to be a performer, but my piano know-how has served me well. I’ve played for church services, weddings, funerals, and most importantly, for my own enjoyment. I’ve certainly gotten my parents’ money’s worth!
I still have that piano today. I think it became mine by default, because Michelle and Lorin didn’t want to move it to Salt Lake City when they left Greeley a number of years ago! Mom and Dad had it refinished in the early 1970’s, so it still looks pretty good. And now I’m teaching lessons on the same piano I learned on.
Teaching Little Fingers to Play – the title of one of my first piano books.