Velma Dickson’s 18th year

image0The whole world was changing in 1941. The Depression was loosening its grip, and hopes began to rise. The war in Europe was raging, and the United States was cautiously watching. That was the year Velma Dickson graduated from South Rich High School. She had done well in school. Her grades were excellent, and she had trained herself to work hard at every task. Many people thought she was the most beautiful and capable girl in town, tall and straight with dark curly hair, intelligent and focused. She had already managed a household for years because of the chronic illness of her mother. The future looked bright for a young woman who wanted to go to college and obviously had the talent to do so.

image1The summer of 1941 began as it always had. Velma cooked for the family and tried to keep up with laundry for a family of six, her older sisters having married by then. Her father Orlando Dickson had bought a gas washing machine which was on the porch. After hauling and heating the water, she washed ten to twelve batches on wash day, pulling the articles out of the water and feeding them one at a time through the wood and rubber rollers of the wringer. As each batch was wrung, she hauled it outside–summer and winter–and pinned each article to the clothesline with wooden clothes pins. After they dried, she brought them inside to begin the week-long process of ironing. Few nights passed when Velma was not hard at work heating the iron and bending over the ironing board for an hour or two.

image2Occasionally–and always during haying–Velma had to go out to the field to help her dad. He depended on Velma to drive the horses as they lifted the hay fork–the old way of building a hay stack. To Orlando Dickson, it was one job an intelligent girl could do, and she did it well. She hated the job, but true to her character, she did it anyway. Standing behind the huge work animals, she pulled the reigns and coaxed them to back up, lowering the hay rake. To get tangled up with one of those draft horses could be fatal, and she spent hours every day minding the eight huge feet stepping backward toward her.

Holding the horses still, she waited until the rake was again loaded; then slowly guided them forward, which lifted the rake high in the air where the hay would slide off on top of the hay stack. Usually her father was up there to re-distribute the load. Then the process began again–backing the horses and then urging them forward, hour after hour.

When the day’s work was done, Velma went to the house while the men took care of the animals. By the time they came inside an hour or two later, she had dinner under way. Cooking on an old coal stove which was heated with wood was a slow process, for many years unaided by running water. Their refrigerator was a tin tub of ice in the corner into which the milk and butter were placed. Their food consisted of the basic goods stored from the summer’s garden the year before–potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, and early summer peas in the spring. Meat was stored in the smokehouse outside; and, during summer, kept fresh with ice.

image3Orlando Dickson was a meat and potatoes man. Velma always had steak or roast ready with mashed potatoes and gravy. Meal planning wasn’t that difficult because he worked hard, and liked the same thing for breakfast too. She loved fresh vegetables, but there were few to be had in Woodruff, where one was lucky to grow barley, oats, potatoes, peas and cabbage. The high altitude didn’t permit much else.

When she was young and they lived out by the canal, Velma and her sisters loved to go out in the summer afternoons and play house where the water had receded from the bank. There in the cool, moist sand under a willow canopy, the girls would take broken pieces of pottery and glassware. Where the water had etched out the bank in spring runoff there was a shelf–exactly right for their broken bits of dishes and odd bent silverware. They could play for hours pretending to keep house and be all grown up.

But now Velma was all grown up. Her sisters had married young, and were gone. It remained for Velma to see what was needed when her mother became too ill to manage the household, and quietly to step into her mother’s place. Her high school years were happy–especially because she had friends and teachers to lighten a life of too much responsibility too soon. Yet that too became a disappointment when she would return home after a band trip Saturday night and remember the day would end with hard work late into the night because the house would be filthy and she knew she couldn’t face the Sabbath in a messy house.image4

All that summer of 1941 after graduation Velma did what she always had done. Sometimes the day would end with the realization she was that much closer to Fall Semester, but she was too busy to think about college. Summer passed as all summers had passed. Her family expected the house to stay clean, the laundry to be done, the meals to be prepared and the kitchen organized. Her father didn’t know how to put up hay without her, and since her younger brother and sister were only nine years old, they weren’t ready to help. There seemed to be no one to keep the family functional. The time to go to college passed. Velma had no money, no time, no opportunity, no one to help her.

image5Years later her regret at having no opportunity to get an education caused her sorrow. But Velma didn’t spend time feeling sorry for herself. She just got busy. Over the years she busied herself helping her husband and then her children get an education. Then she uprooted herself from Provo back to Salt Lake City so Bill could get an additional degree in 1967 from the University of Utah.

image6Funny how the facilitator was the only one without a college degree. No one even noticed her lack because she had educated herself. No one thought to imagine she had been deprived, because she was always as smart as the best and brightest. In fact, her knowledge of scripture surpassed almost everyone she knew. Only she felt the disparity–but to her it was real. There was no one to blame. It was just life. It was 1941 carried on for 64 more years. Always she made life good for everyone else and that was enough.

Hard workers have a special place in this world. The thinkers and the educated will have pure air to breath from their high vantage points, but the meek and the workers down below will inherit the Earth.