Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood?
Dana Miller, October 2015
The neighborhood surrounding Lyle and Joyce’s home at 38 West 2nd South was probably a lot like most neighborhoods in Hyrum during that era. It was a small town neighborhood, complete with all of the good and bad inherent in living “across the street” or “just through the fence.” Looking back with adult eyes, I recognize that every family was “working class” and struggled to make ends meet.
In those days, for some reason, you just knew a lot more about what was going on in the lives of those living nearby than we do in 2015. Maybe it was a by-product of “party” telephone lines. Maybe it was because we all spent more time outside where we could see each other. Perhaps belonging to the same LDS ward had something to do with it. We might even give the credit to the children who played together a lot in those days, inevitably leading to a common knowledge of what was up in each other’s lives. It could even be because fewer of the mothers worked full-time outside the home. Some, not me, might suggest that we had more than our share of “nosy” neighbors.
In providing a neighborhood “cast of characters”, I have to start with Wilma Noel, but first a little background on the family. The Noel family lived just west of Lyle and Joyce, through the pasture. The household consisted of parents Tom and Wilma, and their children: David, Shirley, Gary, Tauma and Barbara. David and Shirley were older but Gary was close to Marianne’s age. Tauma was my age and Barbara was a couple years older than Rinda. In short, our ages were close enough that we played together and were often in the same school and church classes.
Tom was a short, dark-haired man with, according to my memory, an equally short temper. I was afraid of his sharp tongue. He was the kind of guy who would yell at you to go home if it was time for his kids to come to dinner or if you strayed across his yard to chase an errant ball. He was a cook in various Logan restaurants for many years. I recall, even at an early age, being aware that he and Wilma didn’t get along very well.
Wilma, like Joyce, had a “larger than life” personality. She was outspoken and opinionated, prone to share pretty well whatever came to her mind. Wilma also loved to laugh and could fairly be characterized as “one crazy lady.” It’s readily apparent why Joyce and Wilma enjoyed a “love – hate” relationship for as long as I knew them. You just don’t put two very similar, strong-willed women in close proximity to each other without expecting the condition of their relationship to be dependent on whether or not they happened to agree on the latest shared issue or life event.
During my pre-teen years, we shared a “party” telephone line with the Noels. That meant that if someone in the Noel household was using the phone, we could listen in on the conversation if we picked up the phone in our house and vice versa, of course! Incoming calls were differentiated by unique ring patterns (2 short rings vs 1 long ring, for example). There was some small protection against eavesdropping built into the system. If someone else picked up the phone while you were already using it, there’d be a “click” but the sound wasn’t always clearly distinguishable. I remember several occasions when, engaged in what surely must have been a top-secret conversation (“You know Bobby, I hope Denise catches me the next time we play kissing tag”), I know I heard someone (other than Bobby) breathing on the other end of the line. Screaming “Hang up, Tauma, I know you’re listening” didn’t help. Hanging up would have made “the click”, providing irrefutable evidence that Tauma was, indeed, listening in. From experience, I know that when telephone snooping, it was always better just to cover the receiver with my hand and not to hang up until after they got off the line, no matter how long that took.
Anyway, Joyce suspected that Wilma had a little more information about what was going on in the Miller household than was available through the normal channels. Enough said.
Another factor contributing to Wilma’s intimate knowledge of the goings on at the Miller residence was the location of her kitchen sink. Situated on the east side of the kitchen and featuring a large, double window right behind it, standing at the sink afforded a nearly unobstructed view of our house and front yard. In fact, on more than one occasion, I remember Wilma calling to me through the window while I was in our yard.
One custom I deeply miss from my youth is routine borrowing from your neighbors. I can’t even begin to imagine how many times Joyce would be wrist deep into making pancakes only to discover that she didn’t have enough eggs, flour or milk. “Call Wilma and ask if you can borrow some” was always the remedy. If Wilma did have the needed ingredient, I’d grab a container or measuring cup of the appropriate size, dash out the front door, sprint through the tall grass along the fence (there was no sidewalk between our homes) and arrive, panting, at the Noel’s doorstep where Wilma would greet me with the ingredient in hand. The Noels were just as prone to frantically call us to borrow a critical ingredient.
Why it was called “borrowing”, I’m not quite sure. To my best recollection, we seldom returned a cup of flour to Noels, assuming, quite accurately, that our borrowing accounts would cancel each other out over time. The only time this informal and sometimes out-of-balance accounting system didn’t work was when Joyce and Wilma were having a tiff about something else. At those times, I was always amazed to learn that one or the other had kept meticulous, mental “borrowing” records and was using this opportunity to notify the debtor that immediate repayment was expected.
We played at the Noels a lot but mostly outside. Hide-and-seek at night was a favorite game, especially since there were dozens of great hiding places on the Noel’s property, including an old shed and a large chicken coupe near the back of their property. Another favorite form of outside play was limited to the fall when the huge trees surrounding the Noel’s home lost their leaves. We’d rake the crunchy leaves on the lawn in front of the house into a large pile, then run and jump headfirst into them. I clearly remember the time I misjudged my jump and landed face first on the far side of the pile, biting my tongue as I hit the ground. My tongue swelled to twice its normal size! Those same leaves were later raked into narrow rows, representing the walls of an imaginary house. All of the neighborhood kids would help design the house, with each of us having our own room. You can imagine us arguing over whose room was next to whose and trying to keep the bigger kids from knocking down the “walls.” I also remember how excited the neighborhood kids got when the Noels had their watering turn. Tom or Wilma would put a wooden head gate across the small irrigation ditch that ran in front of the homes along 200 South, diverting the water onto their front lawn. The water reached a depth of 6-8 inches, ideal for splashing, running through and floating zucchini squash boats. Unfortunately, the rising water also flooded the anthills in the lawn, so the water’s surface was thick with drowning, angry ants. I remember getting bitten inside my underwear on several occasions and running home where I could strip off my clothes to find the culprit.
Across the street and slightly to the west was the Allen family. (They moved to Brigham City in the mid-1960’s, after which the Waite/Barber family bought and moved into the home.) Clyde, the father, was a construction worker with expertise in electricity. He was also an alcoholic, a condition which eventually resulted in a divorce and his deteriorating health. Dawn, the mother, was a rather tall and very capable woman. They had four children: Roger, the oldest boy; Denise (a year or two older than Marianne); Bobby (a year older than Dana); and Sherry (Dana’s age). With Denise, Bobby and Sherry being so close to Marianne and Dana’s ages, it was only natural that we shared a lot of time together.
I don’t remember Clyde and Dawn doing much with Dad and Mom socially. I think Clyde’s drinking was a source of embarrassment for the entire family. Dawn was, however, a strong, independent woman and a good neighbor who tended to stay out of other people’s business but could be relied on when needed.
Bobby and I were close friends and neighborhood renegades in our younger years. Like most Hyrum boys, we loved to shoot BB guns and play with matches, two worthy hobbies resulting in considerable property damage and at least one visit from Hyrum’s volunteer fire department. I don’t know how many times Hyrum City had to replace the street light bulb across from our house and the fire truck did arrive late one morning to investigate smoke pouring from the front seat of an abandoned 1949 Dodge sedan parked in the Allen’s driveway. Hiding in the Noel’s attic, Bobby and I nervously agreed never to stick smoldering matches down tears in a car’s upholstery ever again.
As soon as I started to notice girls, in first or second grade, Denise caught and kept my attention. Sure, she was 3-4 years older than me but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have a secret “crush” on her! That infatuation largely accounts for how willingly I allowed her to catch me during games of “kissing tag” on Floyd and Pauline Christiansen’s sloping back yard.
The Waites and Barbers
We were sad to see Dawn and her kids pack up and move to Brigham City but were excited to welcome our new neighbors, the Waites and Barbers. Fenton and Mary Waite were retired. Their divorced daughter, MaryAnn, and her two children lived with them. I’m pretty sure MaryAnn was the only divorced mother I knew. Son Ronnie was several months older than me but still in the same grade. Sandy, his younger sister, was a year behind me in school. Ronnie and I played a lot together until he got his driver’s license.
MaryAnn Barber moved out of the house about the time her children graduated from high school. Fenton and Mary ended up living in the home until they passed away. Mary had a passion for quilting and, especially in her later years, for talking your leg off. I remember Joyce getting irritated over Mary’s tendency to brag about her grandchildren or the latest gift she’d received from one of her grandchildren. Still, they were good neighbors and Lyle seemed to take an interest in their welfare as the Waites grew older. In fact, I remember Joyce teasing Lyle about Mary having a crush on him and often suggesting that he walk across the street and talk to Mary…for a couple hours.
Charlie and Lula McBride lived on the corner to the east of Lyle and Joyce. Charlie was a kind, gentle farmer. They built the pinkish cinder block home sometime in the mid-1960s. They owned the large pasture east of Mom and Dad’s home. The pasture property included a classic-shaped barn and equipment sheds on the north edge of their property. Charlie had a couple John Deere tractors. I loved to watch him start the tractors because they’d always blow a few smoke rings out of the exhaust pipe before settling into that distinctive John Deere “put-put”. Charlie’s large garden was just north of our garden and was the quickest “through the block” shortcut to Lincoln School.
Lula had a reputation of being nosy but I don’t remember any specific incidents of her making a fuss about anything that went on in the Miller household. Perhaps, like Wilma Noel, the location of her kitchen sink, overlooking their pasture and the east side of the Miller house, made it feel like we were under constant surveillance.
Warren, the only child still living at home when the McBrides built their home, was Marianne’s age. He was a good, hard working kid, helping his dad with all of the farm-related chores but who, in his younger years, seemed more comfortable around animals than people. It’s surprising then that he teased one of Dad’s German shepherd dogs that was tied up along the fence near the McBride’s pasture. At least we thought that was the reason the dog bit Warren when he walked down the street in front of our house when the dog happened to be loose in the yard. I remember that the bite drew blood and it seems like we got rid of the dog soon thereafter.
Charlie’s barn was a neighborhood fixture and favorite playhouse for some of the kids. I had severe allergies to hay as a child, so wasn’t able to join in whatever fun occurred there. The barn’s primary use was for storing hay and I vividly remember the hay elevator’s distinct, rusty clanking sound as it conveyed hay bales from a trailer up through the large, square opening in the top of the barn’s south side. That barn was also the prime target when Gordon and I flung apples from the end of long sticks. Apples made a loud, banging noise when they bounced off the barn roof and rolled off the edge. It was usually Warren who got after us for the apple bombardment. It was a sad day when the barn burned to ground long after I’d left home.
The Christiansens and Christensens
Floyd and Pauline Christiansen lived in the orange-red brick home on the southwest corner of Center Street and 2nd South. Floyd was a gentle giant of a man who worked at E.A. Miller & Sons packing plant. Pauline, on the other hand, was a real fireball and another of those “larger than life” characters. Like Wilma, she was strong-willed, outspoken, loud and opinionated.
It’s entirely possible that Floyd and Pauline’s four children accounted for Pauline’s behavior. Oldest son Kirk (Marianne’s age) took after his father in the size department but was a real hellion, even as a child. Gay (as an adult, he changed his name to “Gary” after moving to California) was my age and absolutely one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He was so full of mischief and one of those boys with an innocent face who seldom got caught because teachers tended be fall for his over-the-top apologies and mock-sincere vows to never do it again. Lex was the third boy, about midway between Kirk and Gay in size, personality and temperament. Those three boys fought constantly, often actually injuring each other. Pauline was, unfortunately, the referee.
Two distinct memories about the Christiansens come to mind. Pauline had the most unique singing voice I’ve ever heard. Since we all attended Hyrum 1st Ward, we heard that booming voice every Sunday. I’m not sure what the proper musical term is but we all called it “kaboodlebass”. Her range was somewhere between alto and baritone but that description doesn’t do it justice. Her voice kind of reminds me of a line from James Arrington’s Farley Family Reunion: “When she sang a song, it stayed sung.”
The second memory is of a Sunday afternoon when we were sitting at the dinner table enjoying a meal. Suddenly, one of us noticed smoke billowing from the Christiansen’s haystack across the street and heard the volunteer fire department siren begin to blare. It was then that I realized that even though her three boys were always in trouble, denial allowed Pauline to think the best of them and defend them against all accusations of wrong doing. In fact, Pauline blamed me for starting the haystack fire even though Mom provided my alibi.
Floyd and Pauline built a new home at about 600 West 2nd South, leaving the neighborhood in the mid- to late 1960s. Woodrow and Alice Christensen bought their home. Like the Christiansens before them, they had three sons (Owen, Kevin and Lane) and, I believe, one daughter. Woodrow worked for the government as a surveyor. I think his education and secure government job elevated the Christensens socially a bit above the Millers, Noels, Allens and Barbers.
Kevin and Lane were just a year or two younger than me. Kevin was a good baseball player, accounting for the endless summer baseball games played in their cow pasture right across the street from Lyle and Joyce’s house.
Fon Ray and Joy Brown built or remodeled a home just west of the Noels. Fon Ray (I think he may have been Fon Ray Junior) was a brilliant engineer. Joy taught piano lessons in their home, which had shocking, brightly painted rooms. Joy loved bright colors and used lime green and purple decades before they were widely popular.
I don’t remember all of the Brown’s children but recall Troy, Jeff, Fon Ray (the third?) and at least one girl, Marcie. Since the Brown’s children were younger than me, I don’t remember a lot about them except that the three boys were genuine nerds. They were interested in all things scientific and electronic, a by-product of their father’s engineering curiosity.
Although I’ve shared a few memories about the neighbors I remember best, I’ve left off descriptions of the Albrechts, Zellers, Allens (Wendell), McRaes and several others. Hopefully, Marianne, Rinda and Matt can add more details to my vignettes plus provide some history of the other families who lived nearby.
I do look back fondly on life on 2nd South in Hyrum. It wasn’t Mayberry but it was close.