Friday, May 24, 2013

Mina Ericksen Pritchett Stories

Great-Grandmother Mina Ericksen Pritchett tended me after my mother's death and my father's entrance into the war. Her daughter, my Grandmother Vivian Christene Pritchett Smith, needed to teach school. She had come to stay with us right away but fell down the school house steps, those inside the building, and broke her hip.

Grandmother Smith was the teacher/principal at the Wattis School in Carbon County. It was located in the mining community and had two stories. Great-Grandmother had been going down those steps with me, I was only a year old at the time. Somehow she slipped and fell. I still remember the event. I know, I know, you think I was too young to remember. However, when I later recalled the events and the fact that the lower wall was painted gray and the upper wall was a different color and that there was a definite line between the two, since it was painted that way on purpose, I convinced my grandmother that I did know that much at least. I never went back to that school after we moved to Price and moved in with Aunt Renee, my mother's only sibling, and Uncle Max for the first while. I was in need of care and my grandmother was in need of a teaching job to pay the bills.

At any rate, that day that she broke her hip, Great-Grandmother lay on the steps and whimpered only a little. She was concerned about me and worried that I might be traumatized by her fall. She had not dropped me and I was not injured. I remember stroking her hand and patting her while a first aid crew was summoned. She ended up staying in Salt Lake City with Great-Aunt Jessie and Great-Uncle Gilbert while she healed. Aunt Renee ended up being my care-giver during the day.

It was Aunt Renee who potty-trained me. She managed to train me in just a day or two. It was an "ah-ha" moment for me. She was a good and loving woman who had  patience but could also be firm. She just explained everything to me as though I could understand. And I did. I still remember the delight that I had in wearing "big" girl underwear. She was the oldest sister of my deceased mother but had married a few months after her. She did not have a child as yet. Still she had all that was necessary to train me--love, patience, firmness. (My mother, married young and died young. My cousin, Garth, oldest of Renee's children, was three years younger than I was.) 

When I was four or five, Great-Grandmother came back to stay with us. At some point, we moved to a tiny house not far from Aunt Renee and Uncle Max and I still spent a great deal of time with my cousin Garth, who was more "little brother" than cousin. (I thought he was the most beautiful baby ever and I thought I should be given the opportunity to "mother" him.) Great-Grandmother never did heal well. She used a cane for the rest of her life and I called her, "Grandma-with-the-Cane." She would drop the cane and say, "Down went McGinty to the bottom of the sea. . ." I would pick it up and give it back to her. I later found out that was part of a song that had some popularity when she was young. "Down Went McGinty" was copyrighted in1889, by Spaulding & Kornder.

The cane didn't really slow her down, however. The only weakness I ever noted was that she was not as quick to get to her feet. One time, after the war, when we lived on South Carbon Ave., I invited a hobo (there were a lot of them who road the rails and since we were just a few blocks from the railroad tracks, would stop and ask if there was work to do in exchange for a meal) into the house without giving her a chance to get up. He was a good man and simply stood inside the door, rather uncomfortably, until she was able to talk to him. Of course, there was always wood to chop in exchange for a meal and she was a good cook. All of us had compassion on the once-soldiers who returned to the states to find a glut of other men like themselves all wanting work. I still got the lecture of my life, to that point, and never, ever invited anyone into our home even when she was at the door. Grown-ups could make that decision but children could not.

She did have a sense of humor. She liked jokes and loved to tease. One day before we moved to Carbon Avenue and when I was four or five, I told her that I wanted to catch a bird. "If you can sprinkle salt on a bird's tail, you can catch it," she said. She bundled me up, it was cold, and sent me out into our fenced back yard with a salt shaker. I spent the morning happily trying to sneak up on birds so I could sprinkle salt on their tails and catch them. I never did get either the joke or a bird. When Grandmother came home she said, "Oh, Mother, you didn't!" She then sat me down and explained that, of course, if you could get close enough to a bird to sprinkle salt on its tail, you could, just as easily, catch it without the salt. No one that she knew of had ever caught a bird by just grabbing it with their bare hands. Birds, after all, could fly.

One thing that always impressed me about Great-Grandmother, was that she was the daughter of the second wife in a polygamous marriage. I remember many of the stories she told me about being a young girl who grew up in Sanpete County. Her parents were Danish converts and spoke Danish, along with English which they thought was wise since they now lived in America. The children were encouraged to speak English at home. Great-Grandmother could tell me nursery rhymes in Danish. One of my favorites was the name of the different fingers said in Danish. Years later, when I went with my husband to Denmark for the Danish Temple dedication, I asked our hostess about the little ditty I had learned. Children still hear the same little nursery rhyme. 

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