(This photo is the closest image I could find depicting how I remember Hurricane High School when I attended 6th-8th grades there, between 1957–1960.)
A Memoir Story by Beulah Stephany Spencer de LeBaron
It was the 1959–1960 school year in the small town of Hurricane, Utah. Everybody in my eighth-grade English class hated our teacher, Miss Naegle – everybody but me. They complained about her incessantly, saying, “Miss Naegle talks too much and she gives hard homework. And she isn’t fair!”
But I was taking her class for the second year in a row because I had learned so much in her 7th-grade English class. And I found her lessons and methodology exciting and challenging.
For one thing, she used the old-fashioned method of seating wherein every class member sat in his or her desk as they snaked around the edge of the walls of the room according to each students’ grades.
The “A” students sat at “the top” of the class. The “B” students came next in succession. Then the “C”s followed as the students in their desks continued to snake on down to the bottom of the room where the “D” students sat and then the “F’s.”
These latter students were the ones who hated Miss Naegle the most. They acted out every chance they got because they couldn’t sink any lower. Sadly, the only attention these possibly dyslexic children ever got was when they acted like smart alecks and class clowns.
But the competition among the students at the top of the class was exciting and rife. We got plenty of attention. I was usually sitting in one of the first three top seats. But I never thought of myself as better or smarter than anyone else. I just expected myself to sit in the top section because that was where I fell, grade wise. I’d gotten used to enjoying this coveted position in the room. And used to thinking of myself as one of the “A” students. So did everyone else in class.
But I was very shy, highly sensitive, and would cry if the teacher even looked at me with a sternly raised eyebrow. Otherwise, I was generally having a lot of fun sitting somewhere within the top seats in class competing with the other top students who were also enjoying vying with me to stay in or get back in the top seat. Since it came easily for me to stay up there, it added to the reasons I had liked Miss Naegle’s class so much.
But one day I rushed into her room to get permission from this “Old Maid,” as we sometimes referred to her, to be excused to go to the restroom. She was only thirty years old, not married, and looked really old to us thirteen-year-olds. Anyway, I whispered urgently to Miss Naegle:
“I have an emergency! My monthly just started. I barely noticed it just now when the bell rang to leave Band Class to come to your class. May I have your permission to go to the restroom before the stain begins to show more on the back of my skirt?” (Luckily I had on a red-and-green-pleated plaid woolen skirt, so the blood stain wasn’t too obvious yet.)
“Why sure,” Miss Naegle crooned, “You’re excused to use the restroom.” But when I got back to class, everybody yelled, “Beulah’s late!! She has to go to the bottom of the class!” And Miss Naegle did it with class:
“Beulah, you’re late!” she chastised me. “You know the rules! Now go sit down at the bottom of the class!” She pretended she hadn’t excused my entering “late.” But I had not come to class late! I was there early and got permission to go to the restroom! So I was not only humiliated but devastated and betrayed by my favorite teacher.
I knew grades were due to be made out arbitrarily any minute in Miss Naegle’s room in that religiously fanatic red-necked, red brick schoolhouse where all the “Latter Day Saints” were acceptable and all the “Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints” were not.
Here I must digress to give some backstory: “LDS” stands for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s commonly called “The Mormon Church.” “FLDS” stands for The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “The Fundamentalist Mormon Church.” In other words, I was an “FLDS,” so was not of the right sect to be living in that little redneck mainstream Mormon town.
No, we were NOT wanted there. Our family had moved to Hurricane “temporarily,” three years before, after leaving the nearby Fundamentalist Mormon town of Short Creek. My parents left this Short Creek group because they had become disillusioned with many teachings and actions of that town and its self-proclaimed prophet, Leroy Johnson. But more on that later.
Short Creek is now called Colorado City (on the map) to take attention off this infamous polygamist town after it hit big-time news due to its “BIG LOVE” activity, etc. That “activity” lead to a raid on this renegade polygamist town:
In 1953 Utah and Arizona joined forces in an all-out attempt to eradicate this polygamist cult infestation that was growing, lawlessly, on their twin borders. Unfortunately, their modus operandi failed, just as the Texas Raid on El Dorado failed. The 1953 raid is now referred to as “The Short Creek Raid.” This is a sizable story, in and of itself. So I will tell it later in its own blog.
Even so, I want to say that what I find most fascinating and propitious is after the raid on this polygamist town, Short Creek, our government next put an Interstate Highway right through the middle of this secretive, secluded, law-unto-itself little cult hideaway. I couldn’t have come up with a better idea myself!
But the infestation and insurrections still persist, though quelled somewhat now, thanks to the state of Texas that had the guts to stick to its guns and put Warren Jeffs behind bars for life — plus the teeth to jail a few other main leaders of this cult, as well. Thank goodness at least for that!
And recently the state of Arizona has issued mandates to Colorado City (as of around July 2017) to divide up the land into Deeds of Trust that can be owned individually. Wow! Some progress at long last.
But being a survivor of the 1953 Short Creek Raid, I was not pleased with Texas’ decision to return the 464 children back to their lawbreaking polygamist-cult parents. After it raided El Dorado a few years ago, I prayed fervently that Texas would not send those abused and trapped kids back to their brainwashed, cult parents.
I wish I had been put in a good foster home instead of being sent back to live in Short Creek again and to continue to be raised in a polygamist cult with brainwashed and fanatic, laws-unto-themselves parents who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground!
But Texas succumbed: Backed up against the wall by naïve public sentiment and entities such as news-media smoke screening, it ended up sending those misfortunate kids back to the environment of White slavery, etc., they were unfortunately born into.
It’s a lifestyle that ensures they will not be protected under the rights other American citizens take for granted. But again, this is another long story I will tell down the line. I’ll suffice it to say, the pressure and ignorance of the public that forced the Texas Government to return the kids back to their polygamist cult meant my prayers weren’t fulfilled.
We left off in Part One of, “I Won and I Lost,” where I was giving some backstory as to a bit of Mormon Fundamentalist history, and as to what my Mormon Fundamentalist family was doing in 1956 in the small mainstream Mormon town of Hurricane, Utah — a town where Mormon Fundamentalists were an enigma.
That is an understatement: We were a thorn in their sides — a reminder of when many of their ancestors lived polygamy until it was outlawed in the United States in 1862, forcing the LDS Mormon Church to officially discontinue it as a church doctrine in 1890. They did so in a written statement referred to as “The Manifesto,” written by the church’s then presiding Prophet, Wilford Woodruff.
Wilford Woodruff was driven to this decision to prevent the LDS Mormons from being thrown off their land once again. The US government was going to take all their money and property, among other things, if the Mormons did not abide by this law and ban polygamy. Furthermore, Utah could not become a state in The Union till they did away with polygamy.
Fast forwarding to 1956, by this time, Mormon fundamentalists in mainstream Mormon eyes were seen as undesirables, apostates, renegades, and lawbreakers. Besides that, “Fundamentalists” or “The FLDS,” et Al., were regularly headlined negatively in the news, embarrassing mainline Mormons struggling to live by the laws of the land as well as live down their past stigmatization.
This pattern continues today: Mormon Fundamentalists give mainstream Mormons a bad rap among non-Mormon societies who confuse them with the Mormon Fundamentalists.
Now getting back to more of my story’s backstory: Hurricane, Utah and other Mormon towns around it are stop-off places or even new homes for many refugees from the polygamist townships nearby.
Mormon Fundamentalists who leave or escape polygamy, the FLDS dogma, and the control of Short Creek/Colorado City, Hilldale, Centennial Park, and other polygamist towns nearby, hope to make a new life for themselves and their families “Out in the world” –- in other words, outside these renegade and extremist Mormon Fundamentalist strongholds.
So my family was one of the Mormon Fundamentalist families who fled the secluded and strangulating Mormon fundamentalist Short Creek cult and used nearby Hurricane, Utah as a stopping-off point in 1956.
It was a place to get our bearings after going through our governments’ traumatic two-and-a-half-year *Short Creek Raid of 1953. When the fiasco was over, the state of Arizona released Daddy from jail parole, along with all the other men who chose to go to jail rather than agree to quit living or believing in polygamy, the most important tenant of their religion.
My father and the rest of the Mormon Fundamentalist men in Short Creek knew that their prophet, Joseph Smith, taught that God gave him a revelation commanding “The Saints”/Mormons to live plural marriage or be damned to Hell for all eternity.”
So they’d be damned (pun intended) if they would be caught dead not having more than one wife and all the kids they could produce through this principle! In other words, they chose jail over Hell — or Hell in this life rather than eternal damnation in the hereafter.
Getting back to my story before I digressed, my parents’ plans were to stay in Hurricane ’till Daddy earned enough money to move us to the new Fundamentalist Mormon group they had joined: The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times. It was headquartered in *Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico.
Two of my mother’s seven brothers, Uncles Joel and Ervil LeBaron, spawned this new extremist Mormon Fundamentalist sect/cult in 1955. I say they both started it for the following reasons:
My Uncle Joel was the self-proclaimed Prophet, claiming to have gotten “the mantle” or “Scepter of Power”/ “priesthood keys to the kingdom” from his dying father — who claimed to have gotten it from his grandfather, Benjamin F. Johnson — who, Uncle Joel claimed, got it from his “father,” Joseph Smith before he died!
Joel also claimed to have gotten revelations from God and angels who told him he was the Prophet who held the scepter of power to set the Mormon church *back in order. After that vision or dream, Uncle Joel decided to set up his own church and his brothers Wesley and Floren then helped him register it legally.
But his somewhat intellectual and scholarly though not-well-educated brother Ervil (He had obtained around a ninth grade Colonia Juarez, Mexico education before he dropped out of school.) was the one who found most, if not all of the Scriptures that would support Joel’s claims to be “The One Mighty and Strong.” (The coming of such a Prophet is spoken of by Joseph Smith in Mormon Scriptures.)
Ervil was also his brother Joel’s mouthpiece and did the main missionary work that got the cult off the ground. But his biggest contribution was some very persuasive doctrinal pamphlets he scribed, especially his “Priesthood Expounded.”
That’s the piece of Mormon fundamentalist literature the French missionaries got hold of in around 1958 — the pamphlet that converted them to Uncle Joel’s cult, “The Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times.”
This group of seven bright, young, enthusiastic Mormon missionaries joined the indigent, scrabble-like Lebaron cult in Mexico and thus got Joel’s and Ervil’s cult off the ground and onto the map. But especially responsible for this cult’s take-off was my/”our” dreamer-of-a husband, the leading and misleading charismatic French missionary Con, William Preston Tucker. (More about this later on.)
But especially responsible for this cult’s take-off was my/”our” dreamer-of-a husband, the leading and misleading charismatic French missionary Con, William Preston Tucker. (More about this later on.)
In other words, my Uncle Ervil was the golden goose that laid the golden egg that hatched Uncle Joel LeBaron’s “Church” that hatched into a small, goose-like success; i.e., it spawned a flock of gosling followers because those golden-goose eggs got into the hands of the right geese … or better still, the wrong geese — those seven exuberant French missionaries!
But just as unbelievable and ironic is that my Uncle Ervil LeBaron turned into the biggest goose of all — actually the biggest gander of all: He was the egg or egghead who also, later on, vengefully brought Joel’s “church” down! Broke it all to pieces!
He cracked the LeBaron Mormon fundamentalist goose egg wide open, such that Humpty Dumpty’s egg fell off the wall, and could never to be put back together at all!*
But out of that broken egg hatched small LeBaron gosling offshoots. And even some Colonia LeBaron “golden eggs,” say some fans of the Mexico LeBaron branch! But for sure, it’s a LeBaron history still in the making, still in the taking, still making news-breaking history — and still being written, rewritten, and written again.
But just as uncanny, unbelievable, and cracked as some of that history has been is the fact that Mother’s seven brothers, as well as her father (my maternal grandfather) the crackpot Dayer LeBaron, each claimed to be “The One Mighty and Strong Prophet/ The Firstborn sent to prepare the world for the return of Christ.”
Actually, supposedly my Uncle Verlan never claimed to be a prophet. However, I talked to two of his daughters years ago who truly believed he was “The One Mighty and Strong” who succeeded Uncle Joel when his brother Ervil had him murdered! So there are as many stories as there are people who tell them when it comes to the LeBaron story.
However, other than Joel and Ervil’s cults, none of these other LeBaron cults made it off the ground! Instead, each “goose” (as in the case of Ervil and Joel’s “goose eggs”) did the total opposite of preparing the world for Christ’s return. They brought people into a life of hell more than anything, was my experience.
*You may use your search engine to obtain more information on this Short Creek Raid, for I won’t be getting into it until later on in my Memoir blogs.
*Colonia LeBaron, itself, was founded in Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico by my maternal grandfather Alma Dayer LeBaron, in 1944, on land my father left my maternal grandparents when he returned to live in the United States. You may check Wikipedia and others sites for more history, details, pictures, etc., to do with this topic.)
* Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/ LDS Church became “out of order,” according to Mormon fundamentalists, when President Wilford Woodruff signed The Manifesto in 1890 to do away with Joseph Smith’s revelation that said the Saints must live polygamy or be damned.
* See: “Prophet of Blood,” by Ben Bradlee and Dale Van Atta, “The 4 O’clock Murders,” by Scott Anderson; and “Cult Insanity,” by Irene Spencer.
Also check my Website’s Menu for “Media on My Extended Family, Friends, and Mormon Fundamentalist Cults;” and My other Media post: “Famous ‘n’ Infamous Relatives.”
I left off in Part Two of “I Won and I Lost,” where my parents had moved their family from the fundamentalist Mormon town of Short Creek to the nearby little mainstream Mormon agricultural town of Hurricane, Utah. I was ten years old then.
They planned to stay there only until Daddy retired at age sixty-five when he could begin collecting Social Security and his Veteran’s Pension, and could also otherwise earn enough money to move us to Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico where my maternal grandmother, uncle’s, and other relatives lived. (Mother, herself, was born in Mexico in 1921 in the mountainous Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua — a Mormon colony.)
It took Daddy four-and-a-half years to earn enough money to move us to Colonia LeBaron. But that’s another story for another time. My story, for now, is about why our family wasn’t welcome in Hurricane. For one thing, Mormon Fundamentalist “Short Creeker’s” were close neighbors to the mainstream Mormon “Hurricanites” — too close! So they often frequented Hurricane to shop, go to school, live, work, and so on.
And Mormon Fundamentalists almost always stuck out due to the females wearing the-same-mold, crown-like “Plyg-do’s,”/hairdo’s and attire. In other words, most of them made no effort to fit in. Rather, they took pride in standing out because they believed they were OUTSTANDING and “a peculiar people” (as spoken of in the Scriptures) superior to the mainstream Mormons who had given up “The fullness of the gospel.”
In my class of 1960, out of eighty-four students, David Lloyd and I (both Plygs) were the most outstanding students in Hurricane, Utah and its surrounding small towns bussed to Hurricane for schooling. And my sister Judith Spencer, I, and another polygamist from Short Creek, Fawn Stubbs, had been the best artists that Hurricane’s Elementary, Junior High, and High School had seen in many years!
Mainstream Mormons didn’t like polygamists out-doing “the Saints.” It made the Mormon Fundamentalists an extra-unnerving and unwanted infestation for this small agrarian scrabble town of LDS Mormons whose own ancestors gave up polygamy in 1890, under government duress and fear of losing all their lands and homes, again, if they did not abide by US laws so as to become a state in the Union.
Therefore, they followed the mandates of their church leaders to give up “plural marriage” despite their Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment to live polygamy.
But now, here were these perennial thorn-in-their-side fundamentalist Mormons, like my family, who thumbed their nose at mainline Mormons who gave up polygamy instead of choosing to follow the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation to live polygamy — live it despite what the laws of the land said and in spite of persecution or prosecution.
In fact, my father would tell mainstream Mormons they were going to hell because they gave up the law of plural marriage! My “true believing,” fanatic, antagonistic parents further riled the LDS Mormon townspeople by telling me and my siblings to preach polygamy and the “fullness of the gospel,” to our schoolmates and friends — should we ever acquire friends, given our isolated and ostracized position in the town!
We were literally to inform our peers and Mormon acquaintances that they and their parents and family were going to be condemned to hell for having given up the most important commandment and revelation the Prophet Joseph Smith ever gave!
Where did my parents and other Mormon fundamentalists come off thinking they knew more than anybody else and were the only ones with the true religion — the only ones going to heaven? Such provincial thinking! Plus, they forgot that “Pride cometh before a fall.” So you can imagine how unwelcome our family was among these mainstream Mormons.
With this history under your belt, let’s return to the little 1960 red-necked, red-brick schoolhouse where Miss Naegle unfairly but conveniently allowed the little Rednecks to dump me from my seat at the top of the class right down to the bottom of our class/ the “F” section — while at the same time allowing them to clap and cheer loudly at my misfortune. (I’ve referred to them as “Rednecks,” but honestly, my family and I were far more red-necked than they!)
However, as God and luck often intervened on my behalf, homework was checked aloud in class each morning following roll call. Because I had no mistakes in my homework, that got me immediately back up into the B+ section! So my peers and teacher didn’t get very far sending me to the bottom of the class. It lasted the sum of fifteen minutes. But listen to what happened next:
Seeing how I had so rapidly ascended right back into almost the “A” section, suddenly and without warning, Miss Naegle snatched her BIG BLACK GRADE BOOK and told us it was time for her to give out our final grade for the semester. As I said before, she determined it arbitrarily and by wherever we happened to be sitting right that minute in her class whenever she chose to give out the final grades for our Report Card.
In other words, my 8th-Grade English teacher was going to make sure I did not again get straight “A’s” on my Report Card — the way I had my first semester at Hurricane Jr. High School when the faculty did not yet know I, the attractive, outstanding, talented new 7th-Grader, was a “Plyg” from Short Creek!
But every semester, after the first Report Card I got at Hurricane High School (where my Jr. High School classes were held), my teachers found ways to unfairly give me a lower grade to keep me from making front-page news again the way I had the year before, in 1959, when I first started Seventh Grade there. That year, my first semester in seventh grade, I had been headlined in the town’s newspaper as the only student from 7th to 11th grade to have made straight “A’s.”
The LDS church and other Mormons refer to themselves as “The Saints,” or “Latter Day Saints” — or “LDS.” This LDS faculty who gave me my grades in 1959 had not yet learned by the end of my first semester in 7th Grade that my family was from Short Creek. In other words, they hadn’t found out we were “FLDS.” That is, we were “Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints,” not “LDS.” And the Latter-day Saint faculty of Hurricane High School needed to know this! They kept tabs on who the Plygs were in their classes.
As soon as the Hurricane High School/ Jr. High faculty and the town found out that I and my family were Mormon fundamentalists, they let their students know. And immediately thereafter, the kids began calling my siblings and me names like “Licey,” “Stinky,” and “Short Cricker.” But their favorite slur was “Plyg.” How it chafed, hurt, and humiliated me when my fellow classmates pointed fingers at me, called me names, and made fun of highly-sensitive me.
To add to the painful persecution and marginalization, if I should sit near one of them in class, they would quickly get up and shout, “Ooooo!! Licey! Beulah has lice!” Then they would shun me by moving to a different seat where they pretended to blow the lice off them. But many of these little “saints/ devils,” were descendants of polygamists themselves.
It was very painful going to school in that small Mormon town, even though I was Mormon, too — just not “LDS” Mormon. It would have been less painful had my family tried to fit in. And had they also accepted the community. Instead, they continued to act as though they were better than the mainstream Mormons around them — to the point they condemned LDS Mormons to their faces, at times!!
My parents made it very hard on their little children who had to bear the brunt of such behavior and of being different. Our family’s not trying to fit in and not “doing as Rome did when in Rome” only added to our being spurned, resented, persecuted, and despised at school by our peers and teachers.
It would have been better for us Mormon Fundamentalist children participating in the LDS Mormon public schools if our parents had let us be a part of them. Instead, they made no effort to teach us how to get along with them — nor anyone else not of our faith.
How un-Christian, right?! But my fundamentalist parents believed it was their way or the highway. They thought it their God-ordained duty to call to repentance mainline Mormons who didn’t believe like they did. And they taught me and my siblings that we were above and beyond the mainstream Mormons because they were not living “the fullness of the gospel,” as the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it.
Now, at the end of every school semester, the Hurricane newspaper printed the names of the straight “A” students from Hurricane High/Jr. High School. Their one embarrassing oversight on my behalf, when I was in 7th grade, was enough to put the whole Hurricane High School Mormon faculty on alert to not let that happen again!
In other words, make sure “Plyg” Beulah Spencer did not end up frontline news in the town’s newspapers again as the only student from 7th to 11th grade who got straight “A’s!”
Many parents and leaders in the town were furious that semester when a “Polygamist” got the top ranking in town for the best grades; ie, had out-ranked/ outflanked all the little “Saints.” So now you understand why Miss Naegle unfairly got out her Grade Book at the very moment I was able to again move up to almost the “A” section in her class.
We left off in Part 3 where I had almost gotten back up into the “A” section of our class. Then my eighth-grade English teacher Miss Naegle suddenly and unexpectedly had snatched up her BIG BLACK GRADE BOOK, saying:
“I told you I would surprise you as to when I would give out your final grades for this first semester’s Report Card. Well, now is that moment! SURPRISE!!”
As I said before, she determined our grades willy-nilly: i.e., by whatever section of her class we were sitting in whenever she chose to give out the Final Grade for our Report Card — be it the “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F” section — whether we really deserved that grade or not. It was all subjective, so she could basically assign grades in any way, shape, or form that suited her purposes.
In other words, she had it set up so she could manipulate our grades — so “Plygs” wouldn’t get the top grades … and so she could please parents who complained that her grading system wasn’t fair so their “poor” child never got an “A,” or such.
To be exact, this LDS teacher was making sure I did not get on the Honor Roll again as an “A” student, and thus be once more headlined, like the year before, in the Mormon town’s newspaper. The Mormon faculty now knew well who I, the high achieving, beautiful, gifted, new student was: I was “Miss Plyggy from gol derned Short Cricky;” i.e., someone small-town Hurricane did not want to be making big-time news.
As I had said in my last blog, there was an uproar in Hurricane, Utah in 1958 when the little town newspaper printed my picture along with a piece about me being “The Top Student,” and the only one to obtain straight “A’s” out of all of the students from 7th through 11th grades.
The town and teacher-faculty uproar came after the news got out that the “Straight-A 7th Grader” the newspaper article talked about was me, a Mormon fundamentalist! I was a leper in that little town, so how was it I could be showing up all the rest of the little clowns from good LDS families? It WASN’T FUNNY! People get jealous when they are out-done by the very one or ones they thought were scum, “untouchables,” and scapegoats.
So now you understand why my teacher got out that Grade Book before I could move back up into the “A” section. And why she once again betrayed me – and in so doing, continued to show the class how to treat the “Plygs.” Actually, it was war against the polygamists — LDS Mormons against the FLDS Mormons!
My classmates sat and watched Miss Naegle unfairly give me my first B+ in class, down from the A+ I’d had the whole semester and year before – till that opportunistic moment in her grading system where she was able to give out our final Report Card grades for the semester simply based on where we were sitting the moment she maneuvered our sitting arrangement so as to give me the grade she wanted to give me — not the grade I deserved.
But hey! It appears that this action kept her in good favor with Sammy, Jr.’s family too. His father had just been in to see Miss Naegle saying, ” Sammy tries so hard to get an “A,” but no matter what he does, he can never get into the top section so as to come home with an “A” in English like his older brother in High School always does!”
(You should know that Sammy, Jr.’s father was Sammy, Sr., better known as “Bishop Sam Johnson” (I don’t recall his real name) — the most important position of power in a small Mormon town.)
Our teacher could only give so many “A’s,” “Bs”, and so forth, or our school would lose its accreditation. So little C-average-Sam got his first “A” that semester, or probably ever — and was so happy – and I got my first B+ – and was so unhappy – and Miss Naegle stayed in good with all the Saints in the little Mormon town.
It was not a good example to let us “polygamists,” or so-called “apostate Mormons,” outdo “the Saints’” kids. So the rest of the LDS faculty did their utmost, also, after finding out who I was, to keep me from shining. Meanwhile, they also did their best to try to put “the Saints’” kids above me, whenever possible. (Having Mormon fundamentalists’ children as shining examples did not set a desirable president for the “little LDS Saints.”)
A few months later, as luck would have it, the second semester was looming to a close and Miss Naegle’s final Report Card grades were due to be given out again at any moment … when suddenly she gave us the most formidable homework assignment I have ever experienced or could ever hope to experience again in my born days:
While peering over the horned rims of her 1950’s cat-eyed, rose-colored glasses, she stared sternly down at us, the way she always did when she wanted to punctuate her words extra strongly. Then, that little blond haired, red faced, red-necked spinster in the little red-brick schoolhouse assigned to us the whole 105 Prepositions of the English language, while stipulating:
“These words are to be memorized in alphabetical order by Friday’s class!!” And knowing that our last day of 8th grade was only four days away, she boomed,“And whosoever doesn’t memorize the list gets an “F” as their final grade for the year!!”
I had already committed to memory her list of the Helping Verbs: Is, are, was, were, has, have, had, does, do, did, am, be, been, being, may, must, might, can, could, shall, should, will, would.
And I had memorized other lists of words she had assigned us to learn, such as all the Conjunctions, Subordinate and Coordinate Conjunctions. And rules like: “Adverbs tell how, when, where, why, affirm, deny.” And: “Adjectives tell what kind, which one, how many, whose.”
So as I hung out the wash that Monday evening, I began the daunting task of trying to memorize, in four short evenings, the whole monotonous mass of a hundred five Prepositions — on top of doing all the other homework from my other six classes!
An hour had passed as I painstakingly pinned wet clothes on the line at the same time I concentrated on trying to commit to memory that meaningless line of nonsense words. But by then I was crying big raindrops and about to be hung out to dry myself.
Having only memorized the first forty words, or the Prepositions beginning with “A” and “B,” I found myself wishing language had never been invented. Even worse, my mind took a downturn as I decided this was actually going to be the first assignment in my life I couldn’t learn.
Which meant I was finally going to fail: The “F” word, mind you! The thought curdled my brain! I could picture being spurned again as Miss Naegle and the class cried, “Beulah, go to the bottom of the class!” — a hard thing for an “A” student to have to do.
So heading for the house before I had a full-blown nervous breakdown, I cried, “Mama! I can’t do this! I can’t memorize this boring, totally monotonous, meaningless homework list!! I can’t stand even trying to!!! It’s driving me nuts!!”
Mama saved the day. In her wise-beyond-years demeanor, she smiled and said,“Why don’t you put it to music?”
“Yeah, but what song shall I use?!” I wailed.
“Oh, just any song that fits. You could even make up a tune if you wanted to.” (Being a trained concert pianist, Mother knew about memorizing very long things! And she knew I could make up tunes. So we were on a roll.)
Believing her advice would work, I followed it and it did work! I was back out there with a bang, clothes flying out of my hands onto the line as fast as I banged out whatever tunes seemed to fit the particular line of boring Prepositions I was working on:
“At, about, above, aboard, across, according to, along, alongside, against — And so on and so forth. I’ve long since forgotten the tunes I came up with back then to digest each section in the list. But like muscle memory, the words have stuck!
Come Friday morning, I was ready — except for burnout. Seems I almost met my Maker and it was a most daunting experience. Even so, I was wondering if Billy Nickerson, my secret sweetheart, would do better than I.
Billy Nickerson was a gorgeous thirteen-year-old, highly-gifted Hispanic-American whose father worked as a Physicist on the Hurricane Mesa. (“Mesa” means “table”/a flat surface” in Spanish.) On this Mountain tabletop near Hurricane, Utah, a large part of the scientific work and testing of the first Sputnik was being done. Testing to improve the H-bomb was also going on there, as well as other top-secret defense mechanisms involved in our country’s race with Russia to win the Cold War.)
Well, as it turns out, “bright Billy thought the homework silly”… and unreasonable. So did his parents. Therefore, he memorized the first two groups of prepositions: The A’s and the B’s. Then went outside to participate in his favorite sport: Winning all the boys twice his age and size in tether-ball — the way he usually did after school.
I often stayed after school to watch these boys’ intense, exciting “matches” between the short 8th Grader, Billy, and the tall 9th through 12th Grade boys. For Billy would beat them every time — one right after the other! Such energy, strength, endurance, and genius I have never since seen in sports — though I seldom watch Sports, really! My love for Billy was my motivation to watch this after-school competitive sportsmanship and game.
My preferred “games” mostly involved things to do with words, music, and other intellectual or artistic and creative pursuits. Therefore, when Friday came, our last day of school for that year, Billy was at the top of the class, so was first to recite what he had memorized of the 105 prepositions, which was about forty of them. So let the games begin! Now I knew I would win!
It being my turn next, the words popped out of me like clothespins pinned to a clothesline at break-neck speed! I only stumbled a few times, mostly out of nervousness, anxiety, and an exhausted, frustrated, and fried brain.
I was literally brain-dead, pale, and worn out, that last day of school, after four intense days of angst and effort put into memorizing this horrendous list of 105 meaningless, disconnected, nonsense words — along with doing all the rest of my homework to get ready for my final grades and tests that came in four days — the last day of school. But I was forced to memorize these prepositions or get an “F” as my final grade on my year-end Report Card.
This Report Card was the most important of the year, for, among other things, it would delineate the top grades and students for the year at the little red-brick schoolhouse that housed the Hurricane Jr. High/High School students. And this would be big news in the town’s newspaper.
That would explain Miss Naegle’s controlling, power-pushing, all-out attempt to come up with something so bizarre, atrocious and audacious as to assign her poor, helpless 8th Graders (her captive audience), at the very end of the year, the whole 105 English prepositions to be memorized within too short a time period!
This assignment would have been bad at any time. But it was sadistically treacherous to assign it when we had but four evenings of homework days left before the last day of school when our Final Grades were due and were so important to us!!!
But it was the witch-bitch’s effort to move me out of the “A” section that made her act so outrageously! LOL! But no, it really was not a laughing matter. I almost had a nervous breakdown under the stress and unfairness of this senseless homework assignment!
But Miss Naegle’s karmic act backfired on her. For not only did I recite from memory the whole hundred five Prepositions, exchanging places with Billy Nickerson to sit at the top of the class and get my “A+,” but nobody else in the whole class of forty-four – or even Miss Naegle’s other 8th Grade class of forty students –- had been able to comply with this over-the-top homework task.
So Miss Naegle had to give “Miss Plyggy” her A+ … But she didn’t have to make a big deal of it –- And she didn’t! She totally ignored my feat and my exceptional workmanship and memory, as though I were insignificant or didn’t exist — and as though what I did wasn’t amazing and worth acknowledgment.
Actually, she was perturbed and angry that I had surmounted her impossible homework assignment. And she couldn’t believe I had memorized all those ridiculous words in order within four short evenings of homework-time before the end of the year.
And even more unbelievable and unforgivable is this Mormon teacher never gave me ANY encouragement or recognition in anything I EVER did, whatsoever, despite my outstanding achievements for the past two years in hers and every other teachers’ classes at Hurricane Junior High.
Instead, as did all but one of my seven other Mormon teachers, Miss Naegle treated me like I was invisible. Then she pretended to never have threatened anyone with an “F” on their final Report Card should they not memorize that whole list in order and without errors!
In fact, the controlling creep simply dropped the whole frickin’ nightmare, as if she had never heard of it or assigned it. Because both her 8th Grade classes failed the assignment miserably — Everyone, that is, but me!
You would think she would have at least complimented me on my feat in private if she couldn’t do it in front of the class — or better still, in front of the whole school! But she never even showed me one ounce of acknowledgment or appreciation for my success and amazing achievement, especially given how poorly the rest of her eighty-four students did!
So what else could she do when all the Saints were brilliant and all the rest were outcasts — and I had failed to fail her manipulative assignment? She intended this homework assignment to be her winning hand. It was targeted for the last day of school and she thought for sure I’d be had and she would get to give me an “F,” or at least get me out of the “A” section.
And with it being the last day of school, she thought I wouldn’t have time to work my way back up and back into the “A” section again before she pulled out her big black Grade Book to assign our Final Grades for the year. But as it turned out, she “got had” instead:
Sammy, Jr.’s dad, the Bishop, had called her — as had other parents — to inquire about this horrendous homework task that was leading to mental breakdowns among the Saints’ kids!
So once again, I, the leperous Mormon fundamentalist “Short Cricker,” was the talk of the town and the school! Word went out all over about how I had managed to memorize the whole 105 prepositions in only a short time while doing all my other year-end school homework, too! A monumental feat!
None of Miss Naegle’s other eighty-four students were able to memorize much more than fifteen or twenty of the monotonous, brain-frying, outlandishly-long list of boring words — except for Billy Nickerson who memorized forty in order and without much faltering.
Therefore, the rest of Miss Naegle’s eighty-four 8th Graders totally failed the assignment. None of them had memorized even close to the forty Prepositions Billy had memorized, let alone the whole hundred-five Prepositions I had memorized in order and without any mistakes!
I later checked with my classmates, after they got their Report Cards: NOT ONE of them had gotten an “F” on their report card, despite all Miss Naegle’s threats!! But why am I so sure she would’ve followed through with her threats and given ME an “F” as my year-end and final Report Card grade, had I not memorized the whole list in order and without any mistakes?
And why did I feel I had won but had also somehow lost as I sat in that envied seat at the top of the class sobbing a silent sigh of relief that I had “made the grade”? I had not only avoided the “F” meant for me but beat out all the other eighty-three 8th Graders besides — Thanks to my musically-trained, gifted mother who had saved me from a mental breakdown by suggesting I use music to help me memorize this bizarre homework assignment.
To this day, about all this list of memorized prepositions has been good for, besides inadvertently winning Miss Naegle at her own game, is to entertain a captive audience till their eyes bug out — so here goes: Are you ready? (This is what I tell audiences when I am going to entertain them by reciting the whole hundred-five prepositions aloud by memory — which I still do from time to time — to this day.)
Following is the list of prepositions I memorized in order:
At, about, above, aboard, across, according to, along, alongside, against, among, amongst, amid, amidst, around, after;
Before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, betwixt, beyond, but, because of, by, by way of, by means of, by reason of, by virtue of;
Concerning, considering; down, during, despite, due to; “ere, except, excepting;
For, from; in, into, instead of, in care of; in case of, in front of, in place of, in spite of, in accordance with, in reference to, in preference to, in regard to, in regards to, in respect to, in addition to; like; ‘mid, ‘midst; near,’neath, notwithstanding;
Of, off, on, onto, on account of, on top of, over, o’er, out, outside; past;
’round, respecting, regarding; since, save, sans; to, towards, through, throughout,’till; unless, until; up, upon, unto, underneath; via, versus, Vs.;
With, within, without, with respect to or for, without respect to or for, with reference to, without reference to, with preference to, without preference for.”
Having committed all these 105 Prepositions to memory, at least I know to never say, “Between you and I” — But it still slips out now and again! However, I even heard President Bill Clinton say that once! But for all I know, to say “between you and I,” instead of “between you and me,” is now considered correct … and to say “between you and me” is now considered archaic — as in the case of saying, “It is I.”
Hmmmm! That’s the way things are when it comes to language. It’s all very subjective. So, as in science, we have to unlearn things, at times, that we were taught were correct and the only way to say, see, be, or do things.
One thing Miss Naegle taught us back in her 8th Grade English class is that language is born, grows up, gets old and dies — just as people do. Yes, I learned a lot from her!
But for now, this concludes the news from the 1960’s little red-brick schoolhouse where all the Saints’ kids were above average, all their parents were proud members of the only true church on earth — and all the rest were going to hell, or the terrestrial kingdom –– as opposed to the celestial glory or the highest degree of Heaven … Oh, glory be!
The following is an encouraging and most appreciated comment from a Facebook friend. I hope she doesn’t mind I copied and pasted it here where it won’t be lost. And, instead, it can continue to encourage and uplift me in my efforts to relive my past so as to write my present story. Thanks, Moira!
Steph, you write so well of lives full of challenges, heartache-break, overcoming … your story must be told … Thank you.
I think I left you a message on your Web page but let me say it again.
That story you wrote about memorizing all those prepositions was damn near perfect.
I think it is the kind of story your readers will treasure.
It showed your personality and your mother’s personality. It was a great example of mother-daughter bonding.
It illustrated how the FLDS were badly mistreated by members of the so-called mainstream church.
And once again, I am blown away by your amazing memory.
Events of 50 years ago are like yesterday to you.
Keep writing, Girl!
P.S. I don’t know if you have read any of the works of Samuel Taylor, son of the Mormon Apostle John W. Taylor and grandson of Mormon president John Taylor.
He tells a similar story of being mistreated by a Kindergarten teacher simply because his father practiced and preached polygamy.