My Mama, Esther LeBaron Spencer de McDonald
“The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.”
Harriet Ward Beecher
We left off last week where I was questioning Mama about her childhood. Let’s continue with her telling me the following unbelievable coincidence:
“Because I had so much fun with my seven brothers when I was growin’ up,” she exclaimed, “I wanted to have seven boys in a row when I got married. Instead, I got seven girls in a row! [Doris, Beulah/Stephany, Sharon, Judith, Mary, Pauline, ‘n’ Nola]. That just shows ‘to-go-you’: Be careful what you wish for!”
Then she continued, “Aunt Onie [Mama’s father’s plural wife] ‘n’ her daughters ‘n’ my two older sisters, Irene ‘n’ Lucinda, did most of the upkeep of the home ‘n’ the care of the kids, while your Grandma was busy spoilin’ me … ‘n’ teachin’ piano lessons to help your Grandpa feed ‘n’ support his two wives ‘n’ all his kids.
“Besides teachin’ piano lessons there in Colonia Juarez where I was raised,” Mama continued, “Mama/ your grandma was oft’ times gone one or two days at a time, twice a week (up to five days a week sometimes!) teachin’ piano lessons in the nearby Mormon colonies.
“Even so, she let me out of all the housework ‘n’ other chores ‘n’ responsibilities about the home ‘n’ yard — long as I studied hard to get top grades, went to my piano lessons, ‘n’ practiced the piano long hours — so I could perform outstanding piano solos in public, to impress our Mormon oppressors, ‘n’ make our family look better in the eyes of the town’s people who always gossiped about us ‘n’ put us down.
“Consequently, “Mama laughed, “much to your Pa’s aggravation ‘n’ disappointment, once he married me, he discovered I didn’t know how to be a homemaker!
All I knew how to do was be a pianist ‘n’ scholar … and artist, ‘n’ poet, ‘n ‘writer. At twenty-two, when I married your Pa, I could barely make a bed, let alone bake bread!
“When your Pa complained to your grandma that I didn’t know how to boil water, let alone bake beans, she merely retorted, ‘Ah, well … She’s got plenty of years ahead to learn them things!’ “
But the upside is Mama was the top student in her small, mostly Mormon 8th-grade graduating class. Thus she got to give the Valedictory Address!
“And, as part of our graduating program, I also played a difficult piano solo, “The Fawns,” Mama proudly informed me. “Plus I harmonized in a duet I sang with another student — while my mama accompanied us on the piano … I was only thirteen years old!
“But my gettin’ so many important parts in our graduation program, ‘n’ outdoin’ all the other Mormon kids that were supposed to be so much better than me and my polygamist family, created envy ‘n’ aggravation amongst the Mormon colonists who’d been so busy runnin’ us LeBarons down all them years.
“But at least they saw Dayer’s family had excelled in spite of bein’ made the scapegoats of the town … ‘n’ treated so low down … like untouchables … though my older siblings (Irene, Ben, Lucinda, Wesley, ‘n’ Alma) got it lots worse than I did,” she ruefully reiterated.
“By the time I reached my teens (as I told you before, I was the seventh child) the Mormons had decided to start treatin’ ‘apostate’ Dayer LeBaron’s family better.
“They finally begun lettin’ us participate in their Mormon Social’s, for example — especially after they saw what the persecution had done to my older siblings:
“For example, Ben ‘n’ Lucinda had nervous breakdowns in their late teens. Then eventually went completely crazy … never to recover! Spent most of their life in a mental institution,” she said, tearfully wiping her eyes.
Then Mama continued, “Since it was a Mormon colony, all the school ‘n’ church socials were always combined. That meant we were always left out of everything — especially my first six older siblings!! It was devastatin’ … so hard on my talented ‘n’ gifted older brothers ‘n’ sisters … So very painful for them ‘n’ my whole family!!”