My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer, Pt 9 — And the Perils of Polygamy

ma in pink skirt, 1
My mama, Esther LeBaron-McDonald de Spencer

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical,
and in a sense, tragic.
It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side,
yet this very love must help the child
grow away from the mother,
and to become fully independent.”
Erich Fromm

Mother never told me much about how she was affected growing up in the polygamous love-triangle that existed between her parents and her father’s plural wife, Onie.

She was two years old when her parents, who had already been married fourteen years, brought naïve and trusting, pretty,  sexy, eighteen-year-old Onie (thirteen years younger than Mama’s mother, and twenty years younger than her father) into their already well-established family.

Then they lived in the same house altogether (happily ever after?) the first seven years after her pa took his beloved, gorgeous, nubile Onie as a plural wife!

Having, myself, been given away, at age sixteen, as a child bride in a prearranged polygamous marriage to a man ten years my senior, his first wife fifteen years my senior … and so on … I have a very good idea what bedlam innocent Onie found herself in!

No fairy tales or beans about it: You can imagine there were plenty of troubles and extenuating circumstances that reigned in Mama’s immediate polygamous family-of-origin — a salt-of-the-earth family of scrabble farmers, house-painting handymen — and a piano-teaching Mommie (who was pregnant and bearing babies, besides, a good part of the time she was off teaching piano lessons).

Especially must this polygamous arrangement have been difficult, given the triangulated (strangulated?) love affair of three adults all housed together under one crowded roof … a roof falling in on them … figuratively speaking, if not literally.

Add to this hillbilly, barbarous, and backward combination the herd of babies, adolescents, and cantankerous teenagers — And one “priesthood-holding patriarch” — who reigned religiously, ruling the roost with a Mormon fundamentalist’s fanatic, foot-washing, and zealous iron hand:

In orthodox Mormonism, the man has the first, last, and every word in between. So you can imagine, then, there was probably turmoil the likes of which you don’t want to imagine! (I’m just imagining!)

I’m certain it was especially burdensome and difficult when, periodically, Mother’s father, Dayer, returned home after working in the United States for months on end.

His frequent absenteeisms naturally heightened pressures between the two lonely, overworked housewives who had to share him. But it also made it difficult for Grandpa Dayer to discipline his children who regarded their father as somewhat a stranger and only a visitor.

Add to this hot-to-trot pot the deprivation and strain dire poverty presents in the lives of polygamous households and their large, deprived families of children — usually born within a year or two of each other.

In such a situation, you have a volcanic and miserable stew abrew whose loose lid could blow off at any moment. And sometimes it did.

So it had to be a pressure relief — and a welcome relief –– for Grandpa to be gone. At least, he wasn’t torn between trying to spread himself around amongst two wives and his umpteen children — each vying for a part of this X factor’s energies, time, help, money, and affection. (“Everything you own owns a part of you!”)

In the polygamy brew, let’s not overlook, too, polygamist husbands are free to court and hang out with more than a few “Broads” — while away from their lonely wives … And one reason men seek sex is to relieve pressure.

This philandering lifestyle is participated in by polygamist men with gusto and a narcissistic sense of entitlement — all the while their abandoned, put-upon, lonely, loving wives are home alone struggling to keep a meal on the table and clothes on the kids!

Not only that: Polygamous wives are left to be mother and father of their womanizing husband’s broods of babies — children basically abandoned by their father and left to the equally abandoned wives to singlehandedly, dedicatedly, and religiously raise … And most likely in deprivation and poverty! It’s truly slave labor — even if a labor of love. And all in the name of religion (or slavery?)!

Continued in: “My Memoir: My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer, Pt 10 — And the Perils of Polygamy”





8 thoughts on “~ Pt 9: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and the Perils of Polygamy

  1. I have always wanted to know more about Esther Lebaron. I knew she was beautiful, talented, theatrical and flamboyant. I often wondered how such an attention-seeking woman managed to be mother of many children.

    I also knew Esther was devoted to her brothers Joel and Ervil. So how did she cope when she found out that Ervil had a mad, violent streak that was taking over his personality?

    How could she continue to hero-worship Ervil after that?

    I am looking forward to learning more about Esther.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I think I am remembering comments about her from the Ben Bradlee book.

          He mentioned that she had a flair for the dramatic, and that she hero worshipped her brother Ervil.

          I can’t find the book so I can re-read it.

          Esther is mentioned in Scott Anderson’s book, and I believe also in Susan Schmidt’s book.

          She is mentioned as someone who cared about the cultural life of the community, and who was always organizing plays, and musical events. This took a lot of effort and caring on her part.

          She was mentioned in several LeBaron books, but nothing in depth.

          It made me want to know more about her.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks so much for the feedback. I own and read those books. I did not recall the word “flamboyant,” but it fits her somewhat — depending on what that word means to a person.

            Yes, creatives love to create, and to share their joy of music and art with others. I believe it gave Mother a sense of fulfillment and a purpose, as well as a feeling of importance. … And took her mind off the terrible problems and conflicts going on in her life.

            And what artist does not like to share their creative works with especially their own kin? On top of that, it was about the only big thing going on, especially in the entertainment field, in the LeBaron colony.


            1. Did your mother remarry after her first husband died?

              Who was her second husband?

              I am re-reading the Scott Anderson book, and I think THAT is where I got the idea that Esther was flamboyant (dramatic, whatever you want to call it) but the woman was no doubt beautiful and talented.

              I am amazed at the great job Anderson did.

              Was your mother still alive when he wrote his book?

              Was he able to interview her?

              Liked by 1 person

              1. She did remarry, but it only lasted a short while. I will be telling about it when I write the rest of the story about her and about me.

                I am still wondering exactly what you meant when you said to avoid the asides, etc. I can guess what you mean but could use further consciousness-raising.

                Thanks and take care, Stephany


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