My Daddy, Floyd Otto Spencer
My Daddy, Floyd Otto Spencer, age 19
BY THEODORE ROETHKE
All rights reserved.
My Memoir Backstory “My Daddy” takes up where I left off writing “My Memoir Introduction: I Was Born a “Saint.” After I wrote this blog, I realized I’d put the cart before the horse — started my Memoir bass-ackwards: I got myself born before I told you anything about how I got here.
Since we all come from the past, my readers ought to know what it is that went into my making. So I’ve decided to present a bunch of backstory, beginning with my father, Floyd Otto Spencer. Ending with my mother, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer and her LeBaron backstory.
After this backstory, I’ll continue with my Memoir. It will include more tales about Mother and Father as they intertwine throughout my life.
Now for a bit of how I got here from the past. And some of what went into my making.
My Daddy, Part 1
My handsome five-foot-10.5-inch, black-haired, black-eyed, dark-skinned (when tanned) father was a hot-tempered, strict, shy, witty, sharp-tongued, short-fused, highly gifted man. “Daddy,” as we called him, was also a sensitive Artist and Creative.
Born July 27, 1895, in Marion, Michigan. He died on my birthday, April 18, 1965, in Colonia LeBaron, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico. I had just turned 19 years old that day. His death was the outcome of a freak “accident.” I believe my Mother, Esther LeBaron Spencer, and her brother, my Uncle Ervil LeBaron, had a hand in it. (I will relate this whole incident in my upcoming Memoir.)
Born in a backwoods frontier town, Daddy was very much of pioneer stock. His parents were mostly of English descent, he believed. He was unable to track his full genealogy. But knew his mother was one-half Indigenous American — Mohawk Indian to be exact.
One Sunday afternoon, in our small living room, lit only by light from the windows and fireplace, Mother was giving Daddy his monthly, expert-looking haircut, when we children, catching Daddy captive, saw a good chance to gather around his knees and pepper him with questions about his parents, grandparents, and past.
He was usually busy working. And even now he was hesitant to answer all our forward questions. But when asked about his bloodline, he sheepishly responded:
“My grandmother on my mother’s side was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian squaw. I used to visit her in her Hogan from time to time.” He was embarrassed to admit this. But then he added:
“She was a typical Indian … Sweet, poor, and no furniture to speak of. I can still see her squatting on the floor as she did her routine work in her dark little Hogan that had only one window and a fire burning in the middle of the room — smoke rising up and out through a hole in the ceiling.”
This helps to explain why Daddy used to chide Mother when he saw her squatting on the floor sorting beans or such. He’d cry: “You look like an old Indian squaw! Get up and sit on a chair at the table to sort your beans — like a civilized person!!”
However, after joining the LeBaron cult and learning from my uncles the Mormon beliefs Joseph Smith taught about the American Indians — that they “were part of the lost ten tribes of Israel, and were going to play a very important role in the last days,” Daddy made an effort to get in touch with the indigenous American Indian side of himself.
He even began to exhibit pride in being at least one-quarter American Indian. I say “at least” because he was not sure of his full heritage — only that his mother was half American Indian.
But one day he took a trip to visit the Hopi and Navajo Indian villages in Arizona and New Mexico, returning home feeling very exhilarated, uplifted, and more proud than ever of his Indian heritage. It rubbed off on me: I’m at least one-eighth American Indian, and proud of it.
My Daddy (around ages 19 & 53 consecutively)
“Show me someone who
believes you can’t change history,
and I’ll show you someone who
hasn’t tried to write their memoirs.”
My Daddy, Part 2
Daddy was his parents’ only child. They divorced when he was three years old. When he was 14 years old, his mother bore a daughter, Doris, by her second marriage. Sadly, when he was 27, she died of rheumatic fever, leaving Daddy his mother’s only child again — though he had half-sisters from his father’s second marriage that he eventually got to meet and spend some time with.
He was raised Methodist and held White Anglo-Saxon Protestant values, including their strong work ethic. Daddy was always a hard worker. You might even say he was a workaholic. That figures: His father was a “raging alcoholic.” Going to extremes in any area is indicative of addiction. God is a drug for religious addicts –– religious fanatics. Daddy gave up alcohol and tobacco when he joined the Mormon church at around age 28. Religion then became his drug of choice.)
“Twelve-Steppers,” especially ACA’S/ Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families — a 12-step program — know what I’m talking about. If these terms are new to you, it might be worth looking up 12-step organizations in your area. They were very valuable in my development, given the dysfunctional family I was brought-up in — I mean brought-down in!
Now back to more bio about Dad: “At around age four,” Daddy told me, “my mother gave me away to her sisters to raise. Years later, Mother wanted me back. But I refused to go back because I was so hurt and angry at her for what she’d done!! I was happier living with my aunts and cousins, anyway,” remarked my father.
Then he continued, “I often had to dig tunnels in the snow during winter time to get to school because the snow piled up so high. Sometimes it was up higher than the schoolhouse door. My school consisted of one room and one teacher teaching all the grades from 1st through 12th.
“I didn’t do very well in her classroom— Didn’t get along with that didactic, strict, bossy teacher. She regularly humiliated me in front of the class … often made me sit in the corner with a dunce cap on … partly because I was the clown of the class — always making the students laugh due to my witty wisecracks and cutting up.
“In fifth grade, I couldn’t take any more of this mean, punishing teacher. (I’d had her since first grade.) So I dropped out — refused to go to her one-room school anymore — though it was the only school around. I just couldn’t learn under her tutelage.
“However, from then on, I felt I was a failure, in many ways — not to mention that my parents divorced, then Mother gave me away when I was so little. That affected my self-worth. But due to my one and only elementary school teacher, I further questioned my self-worth, because I kind of believed it was due to my lack of brains that I wasn’t getting better grades in this teacher’s class.”
That bad impression of himself as a student and person went with him throughout his life. It affected his self-confidence and self-esteem, further adding to his shyness, and his oftentimes not feeling very good about himself … in some ways.
But lack of a good supporting education, in and of itself, is enough to affect anyone’s self-confidence and achievement in life. They see many people able to accomplish things they cannot accomplish, often not realizing their only drawback was they had no competitive foundation — as in Daddy’s case where he had only a poor, one-room classroom education typical of the early 1900’s in backwoods pioneer towns. Education was not mandatory in those days. It was a privilege to go to any school. Families worse off than my fathers’ didn’t go to school at all.
It wasn’t till after 1918 and World War I had ended that our country realized public education must be made free, mandatory — and paid for by our tax dollars. It would not only prepare better future soldiers for our country’s defense system, but The Industrial Revolution, then in full swing, also required that people be able to read, write, do math, follow the Employer’s directions, show up for work on time, and be dependable. Mandatory education developed these skills and habits in an otherwise unruly, unschooled person.
But, despite a poor preparatory education, Daddy accomplished much more in life than many people with far better education and advantages. He was a proud and confident man in various ways, therefore. His being gifted, talented, and successful at things he attempted in life helped build his self-esteem, despite the negative aspects of his early education and childhood. This confidence exudes in his photos.
His teacher and that old-fashioned, backward school system had branded him as “Not Smart, a bad person, and a poor student — a DUNCE!” How sad, because he was a bright, gifted boy. I, having taught school for thirty years, should know what I am talking about!
It grieves me that there are teachers who can be so judgmental they brand children for life, thinking they know what they’re doing. They don’t! I’ve experienced this branding firsthand. It only shows the ignorance of the teachers who would do such a thing to any student.
Their ignorance, arrogance, ego, and the need to control gets the best of them. If they looked at and treated every student as if that child were the son or daughter of the school Superintendent, Principal, or President of the United States, I guarantee you that would take any judgmental Educator down a notch or two — and their students up a notch or two!
* I only recently I learned that Daddy had half-siblings, the products of his parents’ second marriages. I never heard about any of this when I was growing up. However, my point in this blog is to tell a little of my backstory. My purpose isn’t to tell my father’s full story. This is my memoir, not Daddy’s biography. I may write that somewhere down the line if I’m able to get all the information needed.
“Whatever you can do,
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, magic,
and power in it.
Begin it now.”
The year was 1958. The setting: Our home in Hurricane, Utah. The place: Around our average-sized family-room fireplace:
While the flames flickered and leapt, warmed and lit our cozy little living room, we Spencer kids (there were eleven of us then) sat huddled around our parents on the colorful rag rug Mother crocheted.
I was twelve, second to the oldest, and seventeen months younger than my oldest sibling, Doris — one of my rivals! While sixty-three-year-old Daddy sat situated on a high stool with a towel wrapped around his neck and shoulders, my talented, artistic thirty-seven-year-old Mother was at her routine task of trimming his white hair with the hair clippers he’d bought for this purpose.
As was often the case during such times, we kids were once again peppering Papa with personal questions about his intriguing boyhood, family, life … and white hair!
” I discovered my first gray hair when I was only fourteen years old!” Daddy explained. “Gray hairs really stand out when your hair is pitch black like mine used to be!”
My siblings and I were further enlightened when Mother got out Daddy’s scrapbook and a photo album so he could explain the pictures and keepsakes in them. There was a picture of my paternal grandmother dressed to the “T” in the high fashions of the early 1900s:
“My mother was a socialite,” he opined disapprovingly. “She was more concerned about her appearance and joining social circles than she was about staying home and being a good homemaker and mother. She always decked herself out in the latest grand styles of the day — as you can see in this picture,” continued Daddy, pointing to a photo of his attractive mother in a hat.
I never got to meet my paternal grandparents nor Daddy’s aunts who raised him. Daddy was about fifty-two when I was born. I was around five years old when, in her nineties, his last aunt died. At that time, she lived in Michigan and we lived in St. George, Utah. Lack of time and money precluded Daddy’s going to her funeral, though he had wanted to attend.
Before she died, I recall how elated he would be whenever a letter arrived from this aunt. Sometimes she would include a photo of herself, so I at least got to see what she looked like as a ninety-year-old woman … And I recall, too, the tears in Daddy’s eyes (a man who seldom showed any sign of tears) when he read the letter that said she died.
One of the many disadvantages of having a father old enough to be your grandfather is his parents die before you’re old enough to meet them — that is, if he even kept in contact with his parents at all — which he did very little of.
Continuing with Daddy’s pictures: In another photo, his handsome “half-breed” entrepreneur mother stood on the porch in front of a wooden building. Daddy recounted: “My mother owned a hotel or boarding house. I helped her with the work there, oftentimes … sweeping the big porches, fixing things, and helping at the front desk.
“In my free time, I loved to create things that really worked … like miniature model windmills I carved and devised myself, where the blades of the windmill could actually turn if you blew on them … or when there was wind.”
He was very proud of his ingenuity and creativity — the things he was amazingly able to come up with and make, though only a young boy — a child … things nobody else around him devised, not even adults. He loved to draw, too — funny caricatures and so forth.
“I also loved to design and create things like little wagons and cars with wheels that could roll — and even little houses and buildings. And I loved to carve whistles, wooden ducks, dogs, and other toys that had wheels on them so they could be pulled around with us wherever we went — which was how we made our toys move, back in those days.
“My dream was to be an Engineer — How I longed to be in the driver’s seat of a train and to work on trains. Trains were the big thing then — an invention just coming into existence when I was a young boy. It was back when most people did not own a car, and Model T Fords were barely becoming the big rage among the rich.
“One of the first cars accessible to the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. I was thirteen years old when that car came out. Henry Ford was my idol! I loved that he was an Inventor. I wanted to be an Inventor, myself — to design and create things like Ford and other Creators of my day.
“If I could’ve had my way and I’d had the advantage of money ‘n’ a good education, I would’ve been an Engineer. But instead of goin’ back to school ‘n’ workin’ for years to get the education I needed so as to go to college ‘n’ get an Engineering Degree, I married ‘n’ had a bunch of kids — to help build up God’s kingdom. Then spent my time workin’ to raise ‘n’ support my families — My first family with Eva. And now this one with yer ma.” Then Daddy changed the subject:
“As a youth, I never liked to sit around wastin’ time, nor to play silly games like the rest of the kids … Liked to put my time to good use … to create things. Silly, noisy kids got on my nerves.* But being an only child was a very lonely life. That’s one reason I chose to have lots of kids when I got married.”
*Explanation: Daddy was an Introvert — a creative like me. If you do not know the characteristics of the different and unique special Introvert brain and personality, there are a number of good books on the market that explain this valuable and wondrous trait.
If you are related to Floyd Otto Spencer, chances are you and some of your children and posterity are also Introverts. Most Creatives, such as artists and writers, are Introverts or at least Ambiverts, as opposed to Extroverts. The world needs all these personality types.
The following are titles of three excellent books on this subject that you may be interested in reading or at least skimming. If you can’t find some of these in your library or online, there are other books on the subject.
1- “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World,” by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.
2- “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto,” by Anneli Rufus
3- “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” by Elaine N. Aaron, Ph.D.
“You own everything that happened to you.
Tell your stories. If people wanted you
to write warmly about them,
they should have behaved better.”
~ Anne Lamott
Going back to where we left off with Daddy saying he wanted to have a large family of children, let me tell you that this is one dream he fulfilled. He had eleven beautiful children with his first wife Eva Bowman Spencer. And fourteen more beautiful children with his second wife, my mother Esther LeBaron Spencer. Thus, he was not only guaranteed to never be lonely again but to never have a moment’s peace or quietude, either.
More often than not, there was even a new baby crying, keeping him up at night. But he finally learned how to pretty much fix that: He would waterboard them (not that uncommon, at least among the Mormon fundamentalists). At times, he would even beat the tiny new babies incessantly for crying. (Tears!!)
But mainly, he mostly held his big strong hand over their mouth and nose till they were suffocating, all the while yelling at them:
“Shut up the goddamned crying!! Do you hear?! Shut up, I said, or you’ll get more to cry about!!”
After he did that consistently a number of times, it generally taught most of his babies not to be caught dead crying — if they could possibly help it. (Then you wonder why Morman fundamentalist children are so well-behaved?!)
He, like many fundamentalists, believed the Bible’s “Spare the rod and spoil the child” meant to literally beat the devil out of the kids so as to make them submissive to adults and thus to God. They believed the sooner they were made submissive, the better.
But I have since learned that some spiritual leaders believe “the rod” is only a metaphor for “the gospel.” In other words, if you don’t teach your children the gospel, they will grow up spoiled, wayward, and rebellious.
I believe force and brutality toward children — or anyone … or any animal — does just the opposite of beating the devil out of them: It beats the devil into them; i.e., can make them angry, hateful, emotionally disturbed, mean, and devilish. It also can cause them to split from themselves, and to lose their will, give up, and become zombies or such. It breaks their spirit.
In fact, one of the best ways to hypnotize a hyperactive, incorrigible, misbehaving child is to plant yourself right in his/her space and yell vociferously in the child’s face: “Behave!!!! Stop that!!!” Or whatever else it is you wish of the child. The child will do what you tell him/her after that … at least for a while.
I wonder what kind of abuse my father suffered at the hands of adults when he was growing up since violent and abusive ways of parenting are generally passed down from one generation to the next.
Unless one is able to recognize, then intercept and stop this abusive cycle and pattern learned from one’s upbringing and teachings, it will be passed on to one’s own offspring ad infinitum!
But thank God/Goodness, there are now laws in our country that carry stiff penalties for abusing children — as well as women, animals — or anyone … thanks to coalitions of good people who have worked diligently together throughout our society and other civilized parts of the earth to make this world a better and safer place for everyone.
However, reclusive families, such as in cults, often remain backward when it comes to improvements in behavior norms. Believing they are the only ones with “the truth,” and lead by poorly educated, narrow-minded leaders, they learn nothing much from “the world” that, nonetheless, continues to change and improve as it strives to learn how to make a better world for all through education, college, books, publications, educational T.V., films, computers, social media, and so forth.
That said, one reason Daddy and Mother were so anxious to move to the LeBaron colony in Old Mexico in 1960 was that shortly before their decision to move, a Federal law was passed against Child Abuse. It stipulated dire legal penalties for parents who hit, beat, or otherwise physically abused their children. Daddy proclaimed vehemently, in regards to that law:
“What the hell right has the government to step in and tell me how to raise my children?! I am the Priesthood head of my family! The Bible says, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ In other words, parents are to ‘bend the twig’ correctly. We do that by beating the devil out of our children while they are still young enough to be taught how to behave and grow up as straight vines, not twisted, warped ones.
“Once a seedling is warped, you can’t change it. You can observe an example of that in plants and trees that weren’t supported and staked properly so they would grow straight rather than deformed. I can’t wait to get out of this wicked country and gather with the Saints in Zion, there in Colonia LeBaron where I’m free to exercise old, time-honored Biblical laws when it comes to raising my family!”
“A good memoir is born from that uniquely
important place in your personal history.”
“Writing Your Hot-Topic Memoir”
Daddy was an autodidact. In other words, he was self-taught in many areas. He would get books on auto mechanics, carpentry, building construction, watch and clock repair, farming, health — you name it — and learn how to do these things … How to eat healthfully, for example. Sometimes he took Night School classes too.
By the late 1940s or early 1950s, he was a Singer Sewing Machine salesman and repairman. He went from home to home selling and setting up this newfangled, popular electric sewing machine that had quickly outdated the old treadle sewing machines.
He taught the proud owners how to use their new modern electric Singer sewing machine and its many attachments — such as the attachment for making buttonholes. And he maintained the machines, should they need servicing.
Later on, he morphed into a self-employed entrepreneur — a General Contractor, capable of building homes and commercial buildings from the ground up, including creating the blueprints.
People hired him because he could save them money, time, and trouble by doing everything himself: He could do the blueprint, foundation, building’s frame, cement work, flooring, roofing, electrical, plumbing, brick and rock work, landscape, carpentry, painting, and whatever else the new building required.
Provided they had time to wait for a one-man job to be finished, he was your man. Hiring a bunch of contractors and construction workers to do the job all at once was much more expensive and time-consuming, but would get the job done a lot faster if that was what one needed to do.
Because he was an introvert (or ambivert?) he preferred to work by himself. It’s a good thing because he didn’t get along well with most people. He had an artistic, fastidious, and perfectionistic personality, topped off with religious fanaticism, a high-strung, short-fused temper, and a sharp tongue. What’s worse, he regularly called to repentance people in his presence he saw doing things that were against his religion!
For example, he would tell mainstream Mormons they were headed for hell because they had given up plural marriage, practiced birth control, and had “mutilated” the holy temple garments Joseph Smith “ordained of God” and said should never be cut nor otherwise changed. This foot washing fundamentalist father of mine took his religion very seriously!
That said, he would regularly worry, harass, and chastise women in the Mormon fundamentalist groups, too, for doing things like cutting their hair, sporting “worldly hairdos and makeup” — and for wearing their hemlines too high and their necklines too low! (Hemlines were supposed to be about down to the ankle, and necklines about up to the collarbone.)
“That tight sweater and skirt you’ve got on is exactly what leads men to rape women! You look like a goddamned Delilah!!” he swore at me one day when I was thirteen years old and dressed to go to school. That sure “learnt” me a lesson!
Though I took off the sweater and skirt, so popular in the 1950s, and never wore such clothing again (during my life in the fundamentalist cult) I now know there is no excuse for men to rape women under any condition!
If how women look or dress determines whether they get raped or not, then what about Aborigines and other Indigenous societies who go/went around, as a way of life, stark naked, half-naked — and “half-baked“? (Pun intended.)
It’s all a matter of culture, style, and one’s values, really. Women are not to blame if some all-brawn-no-brains men choose to dominate and use women to their own advantage.
A man’s being more muscular than women doesn’t make him superior to women. It certainly doesn’t give him the right to brutalize them or run them. Only backward people adhere to that old-world way of thinking.
In general, men aren’t superior to women, other than muscularly. (When I was young and in shape, I was able to win more than one out-of-shape man in an arm wrestle, LOL!) Women are not objects, either, as some men seem to think. Men don’t own them — nor do they have the right to strong-arm nor otherwise control women — despite what some fundamentalist Mormons, et Al, believe.
But getting back to Daddy, his regularly chastising others and setting them straight led me to believe he, himself, was pretty perfect. He must be, it seemed, if he could call others on the carpet for not adhering to our extremist sect’s strict dress code or other such. If he could call others to repentance, he must be doing everything right himself, yes?
However, in hindsight (always the best sight) I see he needed to lighten up, simmer down, mind his own business — and quit projecting his own fears and faults onto others. In other words, like so many of us, he needed more patience and persistence, and less pestering of others; i.e., He needed to exhibit more charity. He just didn’t know it yet.
NOTE: continued in “Pt 6-9, My Father Floyd Spencer, Fundamentalist Mormon LeBaron Cult Member.” Also, this series is posted in full on my website: “Pt 1-9, My Father Floyd Spencer, Fundamentalist Mormon LeBaron Cult Member”