RECOLLECTIONS OF “EUGENE”
By Bert Wilson
Interview with William O. (Bert) Wilson, 12 February 2010, conducted by Charlotte England.
Charlotte: I’m here with Bert Wilson, a childhood friend of Gene’s and lifelong friend of Gene’s. But we’re going to talk about childhood in Downey, Idaho.
Bert: When I was going to write about my early friendship with Eugene—and I might still someday—I was going to start by saying that on my desk there is a black book, and as I open that book, Raymond Chandler’s Mystery Omnibus, on one of the flyleaf covers it says, “Merry Christmas, Bert. From Eugene. 1948.”
Charlotte: That’s his handwriting?
Bert: It must be. I didn’t write it.
Bert: Mine was not anywhere near that good. But then inside of the book there’s a card I stuck in here sometime. This is hard to read, and I don’t have my glasses.
Charlotte: Do you want me to read it?
Bert: Can you read it?
Charlotte: “Hi, Bert. On our way up to Canada on vacation with friends and family. Having a wonderful trip. Lot’s of swell scenery. Will be up for harvest in a couple of weeks. Your friend Gene.” This is July, 1950.
Bert: Yes. But what I wanted you to notice in that is in 1948 in the book he signs it “Eugene,” but in the card he signs it “Gene.” Two years’ difference. What you get in those two signatures is his earlier persona in Downey, where he was always “Eugene.” And then he left Downey at the end of the 6th grade.
Charlotte: What year was that?
Bert: I don’t know. We would have been in the first grade when we were 6 and then in the 6th grade would have been, I guess, 12. He moved at the end of his 6th grade year, to Salt Lake. They kept their farm for quite a while, and each year they came back to harvest. Well, they came back earlier in the year to plow the fields, just to weed, to sow the grain; and then the big event was the harvest. And so he wrote this card just telling me that he’ll be back in two weeks for the harvest, and he signed it “Gene,” which is the persona he was after he left Downey. But here in the book, he signed it “Eugene,” which we always called him there. During the Downey days it was his father who was Gene, and so people didn’t call the son Gene. They called him Eugene, at least our age people did. I don’t know what the rest of the community did. So he was always Eugene. And that’s why, until the end of his life, I called him Eugene, because that’s how we referred to him when we were young. We met when we were five. Where was Eugene born?
Charlotte: Logan. His dad was in school there.
Bert: Then where did they go after they lived in Logan? Did they go directly to Downey?
Charlotte: I think so, because I don’t have any other records of any place he went. The only things I remember him talking about were Logan, and then Downey, and then Salt Lake.
Bert: Well, he would have been living in Downey for a while when we moved there. I was 5 and he was 5 when we moved to Downey in March of 1939. And that fall of 1939, we started school. By then we were six, or at least Gene was 6. I wasn’t 6 until the 23rd of September. I started two weeks early—or I started school two weeks before I turned 6. But I didn’t know him too well right at first. I didn’t know anybody when we first moved to Downey. We lived in the opposite ends of town. We lived in a railroad house down by the railroad tracks. We had railroad tracks on one side and the highway on the other side. Just across the tracks was the grain elevator.
Eugene’s dad bought that because he didn’t like to pay the middleman’s price to take his grains in the big elevator, where all ranchers and farmers brought their grain and unloaded it there. They would weigh it so that they’d know how much it was. They’d grade it—they’d take a scoop of it out and look at it and see if it had a lot of weeds and other stuff in it, or if it was clean. They would keep a record there of each individual farmer’s harvest. But Eugene’s father didn’t like that. He knew that the cost he had to pay for that, he might as well keep for himself. So he bought this elevator that was right by the railroad tracks, or one of the spurs of the railroad track; and then he built another silo. He had two silos to start with, and he built a third one. That’s where he brought the grain from the harvest, stored it in those silos, and then when the price was what he wanted it to be, he sold it. He wasn’t dependent on the other elevators. There were three other elevators in town at that time. But the big one where most people went was the Downey Grain Growers, I guess it was.
Before school started there was a kind of—it wasn’t kindergarten, because it was almost the end of the school year when we moved there in March. During the summer they had some program, up at the elementary school, for young people. I guess I met him there. I only went there a couple of times. But then in September, we started school. They just built the new elementary school, so we were the first class to be the First Graders in that school, and we were the first class to go all the way through for 8 grades.
As I say, we lived on opposites sides of the tracks, but I gradually got to know the students in that first grade class and became friends with him. It wasn’t like it is today, where you have a changing population. You’ve seen some of those pictures from back at that time.
Bert: We had the same group in that class all the way through—in fact, all the way through high school, except that Gene abandoned us and left there at the end of elementary school.
Charlotte: Did Gene know why they were moving?
Bert: I think he knew. I think his dad, who was quite an entrepreneur, saw business opportunities for himself in the Salt Lake. You probably know that history better than I do. I just know that they pulled up stakes and moved, but they kept farming.
Charlotte: Did they keep the house?
Bert: No. They sold their house. When they’d come back in the summer they’d stay in strange places. There was one summer, I remember, where there was just a little house with two rooms, if it had that much; and they rented that and stayed in that.
Charlotte: Was it just Gene and his dad, or did Dora come too?
Bert: No, Dora came sometimes. I don’t remember well enough. I remember Dora being in that small little house. I guess Ann was there too. I remember other houses that they stayed in while they were there for the harvest. But I can’t remember all of them, by any means, and I don’t know when they quit doing the harvest and quit running the farm themselves. They eventually leased it or sold it.
Charlotte: I think they leased it.
Bert: But Eugene came there most of the time through my high school years.
Charlotte: So he came up there in the summertime then, so you saw them in the summertime when he came back?
Bert: Yes. And whether he came every year ’til I graduated from high school, I don’t know. I think not. But he came back, as we saw from that one card. His card said, “I’ll be back in a couple of weeks for the harvest.” These friends that he’d gone to Canada with were friends from Salt Lake, not from Downey, and so he was looking forward to coming back.
He ran that elevator. His dad would truck a load; there was a bin on the elevator and the driver would drive up. He’d get back there quite soon after he’d come down, and unloaded his last load of wheat. It was about three to four miles up to where the farm was. He would unload the bin on the harvester, the combine, and then wait there until he had cut another load. Then he would unload that, and then he would drive down to the elevator, down in Downey, Eugene’s dad’s elevator. Then he would dump that load. There was a pit in the bottom before he drove in, and he would dump the grain into that pit. Then there was an auger that ran from that pit over to the elevator, and that thing would churn around and carry the wheat over to the elevator. And then there was a conveyor belt, a long belt with cups on it, and that would scoop up the wheat that had been brought into that place by the conveyor belt and take it up to the top of the elevator, and then dump it in whichever one of those three silos they wanted to put it in. Once it got up to the top they could direct which way it would go. There was a spout up there and they could just turn it to one silo; and when that was full they would turn it to the other one. You didn’t have a lot of time then. And also, he discovered that he could leave that grain in the pit unloaded. It was a big enough pit that it would hold two loads of grain. And so Eugene would turn it off, and the guy who was driving the truck would come back and unload one load, and then he’d go back up in the hills where the farm was and get another load and bring it back. And so he could bring one load and put it in the pit, and Eugene would just leave it there; and then the guy would go get another load and bring it back. Then there were two loads in the pit, and it was time to get rid of them. So Eugene would then turn the elevator on and run it so that he put the grain in the silos. That left him quite a bit of time. I think his dad would have liked him to stay there for every load, but he often just actually did it every other load, because that meant he could then get together with me and the other kids down there and have wonderful rubber gun fights.
Charlotte: Where did you have those?
Bert: Well, we had them around his elevator, mostly.
Charlotte: He said something one time about you guys having a rubber gun fight inside the elevator.
Bert: That one silo, the one that Gene’s dad built after he bought it, there was a wooden door that you could open to get inside of it from the bottom before the grain came in. After it was full of grain you couldn’t do that, obviously. But we would often—we all had these rubber guns. Do you know what the rubber guns look like?
Charlotte: Oh, yes. Describe it, though. I remember playing with them.
Bert: We made, sometimes, pistols, and occasionally, actually, a rifle with a long barrel. But you really had to have a good rubber band to work there. So you cut it out like a pistol with a handle. Then you used a clothespin. You’d get these rubber bands from an inner tube. Back in those days, we didn’t have tubeless tires. All tires had tubes. So we’d get an old tube, cut it into bands. We could get a lot of bands from one tire. We used to tie a knot in the middle of it. Then you would take one rubber band and just hold that clothespin— the kind of clothespins we used back then—and wrap that around the pistol handle and around one side of the clothespin just to hold it there. Then you would get the other band, and this time you would really wrap it tightly so that you had to put some pressure on it to put your hand to squeeze it so that the rubber band would fly off. Then you put it with that clothespin adhering to the handle, and you’d get this band and you would stick one end in the clothespin and open the clothespin and stick that in. Then you would pull it out and put it on the other end of the pistol. And that’s why you had to have that clothespin firing side, I guess I would call it, very tight. Otherwise it wouldn’t hold the rubber band.
Anyway, we all had those. Then we’d get inside of that elevator. There’d be a different number of people there. A lot of the kids would come running in, riding in on their bicycles, for a good rubber gun fight, who didn’t live in that area at all. Then we would get inside of there and we would stand, some stand on one side of the silo and one on the other. Then they’d shut the door and we would reposition ourselves however we wanted. Someone would yell, “Fire,” and we would shoot our rubber bands through the dark over to the other side. I don’t know if everybody was honest or not and admit it when he was hit. But more often than doing that, we would just have a rubber gun fight all around the place. We would choose up sides and then you’d sneak around and try to sneak up on somebody and kill him by hitting him with one of these rubber bands from your rubber gun. When everybody was killed on one side, then we’d start a new game.
Charlotte: Was this sneaking around the houses or the barn?
Bert: Well, it was mostly around the elevator. We didn’t really go over to our house on the other side of the tracks.
Charlotte: Did you try to keep this from your parents, what you were doing?
Bert: No, they didn’t care that we were doing this. We wouldn’t hurt anything. I don’t know what his dad thought about it. I think he might have wondered if Eugene paid proper attention to the elevator instead of having rubber gun fights all of the time.
There was a road that came down through the main part of town to that elevator, and across that little road was an abandoned mill where they had milled flour at one time. I never saw it in action. It was an abandoned place long before I was there. But we’d play over there, too. We’d play hide and seek in there. There were wonderful places to hide in there. It’s funny; you’d get into some of these and you’d wonder if you’d ever get out of them.
Charlotte: Because of all the little crannies and corners?
Bert: Yes. And there were bins there, too, that held the wheat that they ran through a milling process.
Charlotte: How dangerous was it?
Bert: Well, there were holes in the floor. I was walking along with one of my friends there and we were side by side; and then he wasn’t with me anymore. He had stepped in one of those holes and crashed through to the floor below. I looked down through there and saw him picking himself up. I don’t know who it was. It seems to me, Max comes to mind, but I don’t know if it was Max. It was not Eugene. But we had a lot of fun playing over in the old abandoned mill. That’s long gone. In fact, I think now Eugene’s elevator is gone. Is it?
Charlotte: Oh, I don’t know.
Bert: I’ll have to look next time I’m up there.
Charlotte: What did he build it out? What was it made out of?
Charlotte: Well, it could be, then.
Bert: And then they had metal bands that went all the way around it, and each end screwed into a clamp there so you could tighten it up. If you got that thing made out of cinderblocks clear full of grain, the pressure from the weight of that grain would have pushed the walls out, so you’d have gotten your grain all over the ground. So they had these metal bands that went about every foot or two, all the way from the ground clear up to the top, to keep that thing from exploding and throwing grain all over the world. Sometimes to prove our bravery—where the two ends of the steel band came together—we would get on that and climb clear to the top of the bin just on the outside of it. It’s funny one of us didn’t fall off that and get killed.
Charlotte: How tall was that bin?
Bert: Oh, it would be pretty tall. Many times taller than we were.
Charlotte: 20 feet? 30 feet?
Bert: Oh, no. It would have been 30 or 40 feet tall.
Charlotte: You were kind of foolhardy there. There was something about his grandpa’s barn that got burned.
Bert: I don’t know about his barn. His Grandpa Hartvigsen—his mother’s father’s family—lived there. They had a big, nice home. In fact some people thought that Eugene got his start in life because he married Dora Hartvigsen, whose father had all that money.
Charlotte: His father’s story is quite different.
Bert: Well, I’m sure it is. He may have worked for his father-in-law for that farm that he got. But he got the farm from the father-in-law.
Charlotte: That’s right, he did.
Bert: And people in a small town like that will imagine all kinds of things.
Bert: Well, he must have finagled his father-in-law to give him that land, and then he got wealthy.
Charlotte: Anyway, that’s another story. So you were playing around in his grandpa’s barn—
Bert: No, I never played in his grandpa’s barn. The part of my life that I remember a lot with Eugene was when they had started in the morning, because Gene would show up at our house. He’d get bored over there in that place. And so he spent a lot of those days just with us, not in rubber gunfights, but just coming over. He’d practice the piano at our place. He’d be sitting there playing the piano before he went back over the elevator to run the last load of grain to the top of the silo.
Charlotte: Was he taking piano lessons, or was this by ear?
Bert: No, he was taking piano lessons. I don’t know how long he took them, but he would play the piano. He got to be pretty good on the piano. I don’t know if he kept that ability up—did he?
Charlotte: All I know is that every time he’d call for me on a date—my bedroom was in the basement in the home I grew up in—when Gene called me for a date he was playing The Third Man theme on the piano, every time. I don’t think he knew much else.
Bert: Well, he may have just learned a few pieces that he would play. And I’m sure he played that Third Man theme at our house, too.
Charlotte: So what about the Tarzan stuff?
Bert: Well, I think most of his Tarzan stuff was with Dee Christiansen, his friend who had lived there a lot before we moved to town. Eugene had friends, and Dee Christiansen was a kid our age in the same class. They lived very close to where the England home was, and so they spent a lot of time together. I told you that they formed a kind of secret society, just with the two of them, that they called the DD Daggers. I wish I had one of those; they had their notebooks at school and everything would have this dagger drawn on it with a D on each side of the dagger. You had a handle of the dagger and the dagger coming down to a tip. And then below the handle of the dagger there would be those two Ds. They’d take ink and put them on their arms, too. I didn’t try very hard to break into that tight relationship between Gene and Dee Christiansen, but gradually Gene and I became good friends too. I think Dee may have resented me for becoming part of it—I was never a member of the DD Daggers. But we were playing up there one time and they had a big garage behind their house where they would park the car. I don’t know why I was up on top of that garage; we were doing something and Dee threw a knife at me. It went sailing right across the top of my head. It missed me by just a couple of inches.
Charlotte: So it was Dee that you think resented you being in the club.
Charlotte: It wasn’t Gene?
Bert: It wasn’t Eugene, no, because Eugene would invite me up to his place. And then he spent a lot of time down to our house during the harvest. There was a canal, behind their home. Have you ever seen water skippers?
Bert: Well, we would lie on the banks of that canal and catch those water skippers and pull their legs off—not a very humane thing to do if you feel sorry for water skippers. But then in the winter when it would freeze, we would skate along that canal. I didn’t spend too much time up there. I spent a fair amount. We’d go hiking in the hills. Eugene’s mother, Dora, would make a sandwich for each of us, and we would take off for a hike someplace. Dora was very strict woman. She frightened me at first, but later I got to know that she had a lot softer heart than I thought originally. What did Eugene say about his mother? Was she as severe as she seemed to me? She always seemed severe to her husband, too, to me.
Charlotte: Yes, I think she was. I think she had standards that she wanted her husband and son to have. That’s one reason that Gene’s dad finished school before she’d marry him, finished high school.
Bert: Finished high school.
Charlotte: Yes. And then went on to college. I think her prodding probably made some difference in what he ended up doing.
Bert: Well, everybody up there knew that family, the England family. They were not a wealthy family.
Bert: They were very poor.
Bert: So it was after Gene married Dora Hartvigsen that he began to prosper, and that’s why a lot of the townspeople thought that he married into wealth and it paid off for him.
Charlotte: I don’t think it was quite that way.
Bert: I had no way of knowing. I just know what people thought.
Charlotte: I know he was working for his father-in-law, and I think that just kind of got to him too much. He worked hard to get that land bought off of him.
Bert: Well, it’s hard to work for your relatives, especially if one of them is your father-in-law. He’s your boss by day and your father-in-law the rest of the time.
Charlotte: That didn’t set well.
Bert: So your behavior, how you dress, how you look, all of those things—
Charlotte: Gene Sr. liked being his own boss.
Bert: And he did well. One of the reasons they made so much money was the war.
Charlotte: That’s right.
Bert: Grain prices weren’t very high during the Depression, but then the war started and grain prices shot up. I don’t know what they went up to, how much money or how much per bushel; but a lot higher than they had been. A lot of farmers who had been struggling for survival started making quite a bit of money from their farms as they sold that grain during the war. I think it was from that, more than anything from his father-in-law, that gave him wealth that he hadn’t had before. So when they moved to Salt Lake, he had some money to work with. He used that—I’m speculating here now, I don’t know for sure—but he got into real estate in Salt Lake and made good deals down there. I think he was an excellent businessman. I think he could drive a bargain in which he profited very well.
Charlotte: He was good. When he realized that he had that talent to do that, he decided to make sure that most of that went to the Church. I think he had a good sense of doing for others, and I think part of that may have been because he was without when he was a kid.
Bert: He would have been without. It was not one of the wealthy families that he came from. There was nobody very wealthy for those times, during the Depression years. We were lucky. My father was section foreman and he had a job all through the Depression; but a lot of people didn’t.
Charlotte: Well, photographs of Gene’s father and mother, even when he was a baby, they don’t look like farmers. She looks like she has a nice coat and a dress.
Bert: Well, she always dressed in a very sophisticated way, which made the women think that she was putting on airs. Most of them couldn’t afford to dress as well she did.
Charlotte: Did some of that have to do with her mother?
Bert: It could have. I didn’t know her mother. But she was very concerned that Gene always looked proper. As long as I remember, Dora, into Eugene’s adulthood, was after him to cut his hair. In fact, about the last time I ever saw Dora and Eugene together before she died, she was saying, “Get that hair cut!”
Charlotte: I just have to laugh about this, because that was one of the things that she just kept telling me: “Keep his hair off of his forehead,” and “Keep his jacket straight.” Oh, dear. Did you work with Gene on his farm?
Bert: Well, I worked one summer, after Eugene got old enough to drive the truck himself. That ended our rubber gun fighting at that time. He was the one, then, that drove up to the farm, loaded up the truck, and then brought it back and dumped it. I took over the job that Eugene had had, running the elevator. But I had a hard time, because especially if it was hot and I got sweaty, that wheat dust caused a terrible rash on my chest. I do remember that I read Gone with the Wind all the way through while I was working for them.
Charlotte: That’s a fair amount of waiting.
Bert: As those silos would fill, grain would fill at an angle. Here’s your spout, grain come in here, and then it would fill clear up. You had to be careful, because if there wasn’t room for the grain to go out of the spout, then it would go back up into the spout and it would plug everything up. Then you had quite a job shoveling it out. So as the grain got higher and higher up in the silo, then you’d have to gut it up. There was always an opening at the top of the silo. You’d go up there with a shovel and get inside with the shovel, and as the grain came through you shoveled it back, out of the route of the spout. That was not much fun. That was hard and hot, and that’s when my chest would just turn a blazing red—not as much from the grain, though, as it did from the wheat dust that was down in there. I was afraid that place would blow up, because sometimes that wheat dust can get explosive.
Charlotte: Oh really? I didn’t know that. What about the time that—didn’t you guys camp out?
Bert: Well, we did a lot of different things. One time, Eugene and I went up with our sleeping bags up to the farm. There had been an old house up there at that farm at one time, but we slept out. We had a fire there, and Eugene got too close to the fire and set his pant legs on fire. Fortunately there was this little stream that ran down through there, and he jumped in the stream and put out this fire in his pants. Before we got really to sleep we heard this roar behind us. It scared us both to death. It was his dad who’d come up there, sneaking up. I suppose he came up to see how we were doing, but he thought he might as well scare us to death in the process. So that was a fun night.
I always thought Eugene was one of the most naïve people I’ve ever known, in some ways. But Eugene was smart, always got good grades, except in comportment, they called it. How you behaved in school. I think that’s what they called it, comportment. One time, report cards came out—we were in the sixth grade at that time—and Eugene got straight A’s in every subject except behavior, comportment. He got a D in that one. That did not make Dora happy.
Charlotte: What did he do?
Bert: He was just a smart-alecky kid at times. He would say things and do things, just like typical sixth graders do when they misbehave. But, at that same time, I got all A’s, too, and I got a C in comportment. I wasn’t as bad as Eugene was. I told you also that when we were in the 4th grade with Miss Solvison [sp?] our teacher, anytime somebody misbehaved she would have them copy out a page from the history book. All of us sooner or later compiled quite a number of pages we had to copy. So Eugene and I each memorized the shortest page in the book. When we had spare time we wrote out a number of pages, so that when we misbehaved and got assigned so many pages we had them there, ready to hand in.
Charlotte: I’m seeing all these little things that you do as a kid, doing as an adult.
Bert: My mother taught the Sunday School class that he was in, and he was always a lively young man. She would try to ask him a hard question that he wouldn’t know the answer to, and she said she never succeeded. He knew the answer to every question that she asked.
Charlotte: So where was he learning all this?
Bert: I suppose at home. I don’t know what their regimen was at home, as far as reading and studying the scriptures. Eugene at a very early age knew them. Nobody else in the class ever would, but Eugene did. He was just smart, as he was all of his life. He probably got bored in school and got bored in his Sunday School class.
Charlotte: Needed more challenge?
Bert: Yes. Without a challenge to keep him going, then he would misbehave. My mom would ask him one of these questions and he would know the answer. His misbehavior was never bad. I don’t know if I should even tell you this story or not. Our sixth grade teacher was a beautiful young woman, and all the boys, I think, were in love with her. They’d stay around after the day was over and clean the boards, and so forth. I think one of the reasons he got a D in that class was that he was doing things to get the teacher to notice him. I never heard Eugene use vile language. One of the things you started to do as you moved into adolescence, to prove that you were a tough man now, your language changed, there would be a lot of vulgar expressions; but I never heard any of this from Eugene. He didn’t follow the pattern of the youths in a rural community; and they could be pretty raw, those youths could. But one time in the sixth grade we were there after school, a bunch of us—I still don’t know if I should tell you this or not. I doubt if you could use it. But somebody did something, and Eugene wanted to reprimand him, and so he said, “Oh, you cocksucker, you!”
Charlotte: Oh, Gene, said that?
Bert: Yes, and he had no idea what it meant. Everybody else there did. We all sort of looked in different directions, and the teacher looked out the window. Eugene had no idea what he had said!
Charlotte: Gosh. That’s a great one.
Bert: One time he invited me to his birthday party. I remember how you never knew when these people were going to show up at your house that he’d invited for dinner, and you didn’t know they were coming. That pattern continued, didn’t it?
Bert: But anyway, he’d invited me to his birthday party, and it was on a Sunday. They were going to go down and go swimming for his birthday, so they weren’t too fanatically religious at the time.
Charlotte: Where did they swim?
Bert: Just down at the swimming pool. It was three miles down the road from our house, up in Downey. It was a very popular recreational area where people came from all over to go swimming. So I told my parents, and then Mom talked to Dora about this, and then they discovered that there wasn’t any birthday party; it was just the family that was going down there. Dora was embarrassed, and my mother was embarrassed, and everybody was embarrassed but Eugene. So, he wasn’t always aware of some of the things that most people were aware of.
Charlotte: I know what you mean.
Bert: I think that carried somewhat into his adult life. Like the time when you invited George Lee up to your cabin, that was naïve, I think, to do that. I asked him, “Why in the world did you do that?” The man had just been excommunicated, and he heard about it in General Conference. He said, “Well I just thought that we ought to hear his side of the story.”
Charlotte: We heard it.
Bert: He was always anxious, all of his life, to hear everybody’s side of the story. On issues of some sensitivity or controversy, he wanted a discussion of them. That’s why he took as his motto “reconciling opposites.” I don’t know if he was doing that so much when we were young, but he continued to do that. But as I say about the naiveté, he would do things like having George Lee up there for that, unaware of what the consequences of that could be. That’s why I said to him, “You could have gotten us all in a lot of trouble.” And he just said, “Well, I just wanted to have a good discussion.” I said, “You certainly would have had one if the school authorities and the Brethren had found out about that.”
He was not a controversial figure at all when he was young. I learned more about this part of him later on, but he was a good kid. He didn’t do things that were wrong, unless he did them unaware, like swearing there in that class and embarrassing everybody in the class.
One day I was with him and his dad somewhere with their truck. His dad had just bought a very nice new .22 rifle. Eugene had it, and instead of just leaning it against the truck, he put that rifle down between the bumper of the truck and the rest of it—remember the trucks at that time had bumpers out there that were separate from the truck. Most people would have just set that rifle against the bumper. He put it between the bumper and the body of the truck. His dad didn’t know he had done that, and his dad got in to back up the truck, and split that .22 rifle right in two. His dad was not happy about that.
Charlotte: Did he have to replace it for him?
Bert: I don’t know. He wouldn’t have had much money to do it. He was still young at that time. Most of us would have known that you wouldn’t put a rifle there. You’d find another way to lean it against the truck.
Charlotte: He probably didn’t want it to fall over. Thought he was doing the right thing. That’s probably typical, doing the right thing and then ending up being wrong.
Bert: We spent a lot of time together while I was working at the elevator and during the summers when he would come back. We would share books, trade books. I think it is interesting that for Christmas he gave me a book, I guess it was in 1948. So we started talking about things. We started talking about books and issues of the day, much more than other kids did, I think. And I think that was one of the things that brought us together. We were both interested in similar things. We didn’t read, necessarily, the world’s greatest literature. This book is all right, but it’s not a very sophisticated piece of literature. But we talked and we shared. We traded comic books, too. We both read comic books. Everybody did.
Charlotte: What kind? Which ones?
Bert: Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel. Today, parents don’t want their kids reading comic books, but we didn’t have that.
Charlotte: What about radio? Did you listen to those serials on the radio?
Bert: Well we did, but not together. I think he listened, and I listened at home. I would come home from school in time to hear Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Then there were other programs that would scare you half to death, The Shadow and all those things. But I don’t know how much Eugene listened to those, because my listening was at home, away from other people. We didn’t have television to worry about.
Charlotte: What about the time you guys slept out? Wasn’t there something about looking up to the sky.
Bert: We slept out several times. He sometimes slept out at our house. We’d just throw sleeping bags out on the ground and just looked up at the star-filled Idaho skies. You can’t get that kind of view here because of the glow from the town and from the cities. You’d have to go up into the mountains to see. That’s why I like going up to our cabin, because you get such a wonderful view. I was driving home from the cabin one time. I’d been up there working by myself and it was dark when I left. I kept getting out of the truck, stopping the truck and getting out and just looking because it was such a dazzling display of the heavens that night. But we had that every night when we were living in Downey. I suppose the glow from your own house may have cut that down some, but we slept out on our lawn after everybody had gone to bed, and there were very few streetlights. We could see the stars. We would talk, and I can’t remember all of the things we talked about. I do know that he assured me that his parents had had sex only twice, when they conceived him first and then Ann.
Charlotte: That is so knowledgeable.
Bert: That’s why I say he was naïve.
Charlotte: Oh, gosh.
Bert: We were plenty old to know about conception and how it happened. Maybe Dora told him that. I don’t know.
Charlotte: There was something about you guys; you were out under the stars and there was something about the universe that was so overpowering. I’m mixing the story up a little bit. But do you remember anything about?
Bert: We may have gotten into that kind of something, because when we were out under the stars, you’d get a glimpse of the universe in a way you don’t here in Provo. You see the Milky Way if it’s a clear night and there’s no moon. We might have talked about the great expanses of the universe, because we did talk about those things, but I can’t remember any specific time when we did it. I think sleeping out together on the grass by our house looking up there, and then at his farm sleeping out all night we would have seen things. Sometimes you’d be sleeping there, and there would be a shooting star go across. And we would have seen things that kids living in the cities don’t see.
Charlotte: He refers to it a couple of times in our journal in Samoa, so I had wondered. That’s how it was there, too. We were on a top of the mountain, no lights at all. You’d look out almost level to the moon.
Bert: We had the mountains cutting off part of our view. I’m sure that impressed him, as it did me. I refer to it every now and then. And he referred to it in his—did he keep a diary there?
Charlotte: Yes, he kept it. We had a journal. We bought one journal between us, trying to save money. He’d write on one side and I’d write on the other side. His are much more intricate than mine. There’s one story he tells about he went up to his first loves—
Bert: Margene Ware.
Charlotte: That was it. That’s kind of a cute story.
Bert: I don’t think I knew very much about it at the time. I knew Margene Ware. Every time I look at my hand I remember Margene Ware.
Charlotte: What did she do?
Bert: See that black mark there?
Charlotte: Right here?
Bert: Right here.
Bert: That’s where Margene Ware stuck her pencil in my hand. And so it stayed with me forever as a reminder of Margene Ware.
Charlotte: Why did she do that?
Bert: She wasn’t mad. I don’t know what she was doing or how it happened. We were just playing around, and there it went. But I know that he was infatuated with Margene Ware.
Charlotte: They were going to off and live in a cave or something.
Bert: Did he decide that, or did they decide that together?
Charlotte: Oh, I have no idea. Anything else you can recall?
Bert: Well, just the kind of things that everybody did at that day when we were in the first years of elementary school. All the way up to the sixth grade, almost, we would play marbles at recess. You could hear each other walking around the classroom, hear the marbles dangling in everyone’s pockets. At every recess you got out there playing marbles. We played two kinds. We called them ringers and ligers. The ligers you would shoot at the marbles against the wall, trying to lay them close enough to your opponent’s marble that you could span it with your hand. If you could do that, then you got the marble. Then the other was to draw this ring and put marbles in the middle of it, and start shooting your marble at the others’. You could have quite a few people playing that. Any marble you shot out you got to keep. They had marbles that made good shooting. They had red steelies, which were little ball bearings.
You know, our lives in Downey were typical lives of rural communities all over the area. We weren’t so much different than any other place, I think. Eugene’s dad was in the bishopric. I don’t know if he was in the bishopric the whole time we were there. And then the bishop was Jones.
Charlotte: Norman Jones?
Bert: Norman was his son and he was a dentist. He’d get these Novocain tubes. They were just little glass tubes they threw out behind his house. We went out and we would get those tubes. There was a rubber stopper at each end of the tube. We got a stick and pushed the one stopper in as far as it would go, until the pressure built up enough that the other one popped out the other side and went flying across the room. And then some people put a pin in it, and that was not very safe. That would fly across the room and stick in somebody. I don’t know if Eugene did that or not. I can’t imagine that he was different from the rest of us in that. He played all the games that we played. He did the things that we’d do in a typical small town.
Charlotte: Did you ever dream that you’d be doing what you are doing now?
Bert: I don’t know. We didn’t talk too much about our dreams. I think Eugene wanted to be a scientist.
Charlotte: He studied math. He was a math major the first three years in college.
Charlotte: Why did he want to be a scientist?
Bert: I don’t know. I think my mother wanted me to be an engineer, because in her mind engineers made a lot of money and they had much more security. Living through the Depression as she did, she was so fearful of debt, of running out of money, or losing a job, because of her family. There was an agricultural depression before the regular Depression hit. So during the ’20s farmers were destitute, a lot of them. Her father lost his farm. They had been homesteaders in Idaho and they just couldn’t make it. He had to borrow money to get machinery to run the farm, and he just couldn’t keep up the payments. At one time they tried to get ahead. They bought some Holstein cows and they wanted to sell the milk. And they did, but they didn’t ever make enough money to pay off that loan to buy those cows, and so the bank came and repossessed the cows. Mom tells how they stood on the porch watching those cows go down the road. They were about the only way they had to make any money, was through those cows. We didn’t have all of the kinds of things that kids had later on. We made our own toys.
Charlotte: So what difference does it make that you guys grew up at that time with just a few things, and made your own entertainment?
Bert: It makes me sort of disgusted at the kids today who always have got to be entertained. We built, out by the side of our house, corrals. We’d get two sticks and stick them in the ground; two more over here, and then get a longer stick and put it between. Make a rail fence. We built big corrals out there. Our cattle were rocks. We had a lot of fun playing. Now, you’ve got to go to the store and buy one of these farms for your children. I don’t think they have any more fun than we had with our rocks and our stick corrals.
Charlotte: I try to do the things with my grandkids where they do make things, construct stuff out of just stuff and have fun.