Pt 29: My Two Ma’s: Esther LeBaron Spencer and Grandma Maud LeBaron
“The hand that rocks the cradle
rules the nation and its destiny.”
South African Proverb
I wonder: Did my attractive mama Esther LeBaron marry a father figure—my papa Floyd Spencer was 26 years older than she. Could part of my gifted, outstanding 22-year-old mother’s attraction to my not-well-educated autodidact 48-year-old father have been a subconscious need to make up for her father’s frequent absenteeism much of the time she was growing up?
At the time my talented, beautiful, bright mother met and married my over-the-hill father, she was in college. She was not without prospects. To say she had also been around the block a few times by then is putting it lightly. She had even dated the gifted and powerful Mormon fundamentalist cult leader Rulon Jeffs, father of the infamous, incarcerated-for-life, self-proclaimed “profit”/ Prophet-of-evil Warren Jeffs.*
Therefore, it’s almost inconceivable choosy, particular Mormon Mama would enter into marriage with a married man—handsome, talented, and charming though he was—with one foot already in the grave (as Mama’s ma Maud, liked to put it).
While Mama was growing up, even when her father Alma Dayer LeBaron was home, he was so busy working, catching up on repairs around the old home and property, and otherwise dividing his time between two wives and a huge herd of kids. Ultimately, between Grandma Maud and Onie he begat nineteen of them. So he scarcely had time to say “Boo!” to his amazing but rather neglected middle child Esther, fourth daughter of his first wife Maud—not to mention his four other gorgeous daughters by second wife Onie, and Onie and Maud’s nine all-important Mormon-priesthood-holding boys.**
Naturally, these special siblings ran amazing Mother competition for their father’s few moments of attention and even fewer favors. Top that off by his being gone so many months at a time working in the United States that when he came home he was like a stranger. Some of his children didn’t know him! It added to the trouble he had getting them to mind and respect him.
Being a Mormon polygamist with two wives and a ton of children to support and feed is an impossible feat to pull off gracefully and successfully no matter where or when you live. But Grandfather Dayer and his humongous family, as of 1921, were living in old Mexico, a country where Americans were/are not allowed to earn a living; therefore the necessity of Dayer LeBaron’s working in the United States to make a living while homesteading his wives and children in Mexico safe from America’s laws that were then being strictly enforced, when it came to polygamy.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, in 1929 the US Stock Market crashed, leading to the Great Depression wherein jobs, money, and wages were nearly impossible to come by. This economic depression lasted until World War II ended in 1946. Many times Grandpa Dayer LeBaron’s family and children went without food and other necessities of life.
But Mama adored her Papa Alma Dayer — or A.D. LeBaron, as he was often called. Likewise, she adored her husband—my father F.O. Spencer … totally idealized him. Obsessing over HOW WONERFUL he was, she often told us children what a perfect Saint our daddy was. Said he was the greatest man in the world! His holding the Mormon priesthood further heightened Mama’s pride in HER “Daddy” — the moniker she usually used when referring to my Daddy.
As the world turns, around 1965, Aunt Onie, my grandpa Dayer’s plural wife/ex-plural wife (she divorced him many years before — after bearing him six children) paid the LeBaron colony her one and only visit, that I know of, since she had taken her kids and fled in disgrace, grief, and disillusionment many years before. I lived in the LeBaron Colony, was married, and around nineteen years old when Aunt Onie visited.
The last time I had seen her, we were still living in Hurricane, Utah, within walking distance of her home. In August 1960, we had visited Aunt Onie one last time to say goodbye just before we moved to Colonia LeBaron, Mexico.
So, needless to say, this many years later Mama was overjoyed to have “Aunt” Onie, her “second mom,” visit her in her new homestead in LeBaron. But after a day or two had passed and my Grandmama Maud still had not visited with Aunt Onie, I asked Gramma if she was going to see Onie:
Caught off guard, she hissed a superlative under her breath I didn’t quite catch, then, through clenched teeth spat out:
“I’ve seen enough of that woman to last me a lifetime!!”
Regaining control—embarrassed by her slip—she told me SURE she’d be seeing Onie “soon,” no doubt. But honesty had prevailed. To keep face, Grandma was forced to see her ex-sister-wife, eventually, while she was visiting the LeBaron colony.
Note: Polygamist women ever try to set a good example by pretending they “do” plural marriage WELL. My grandma, Matriarch of Colonia LeBaron, mother of the self-proclaimed prophet Joel LeBaron, was no exception. Above all others in the clan, she was expected to be perfect when it came to living polygamy—especially since she unswervingly preached and proclaimed the righteousness of sharing one’s husband with his other wives—including the getting along with them as though polygamy were heavenly—HEAVEN on earth … and the only path to celestial glory!
Grandma was also trying to set … expected to set a perfect example for us Mormon Plygs so we would want to go into or continue “practicing plural marriage—the law of Sarah.” Furthermore, a female Mormon fundamentalist “Saint” is looked upon as a bad, unspiritual, fallen woman if she can’t pull off polygamy perfectly and with a bang!
Well, Gramma did eventually visit with “Aunt” Onie (We called Onie “Aunt” to show respect.) while she was still there in the LeBaron colony. She had to. Her “face” was hanging on it! (:<} ~I’m told they had a “nice get-together.” I hope so! Only know I didn’t envy Gramma. It had to be a tough situation to be put in.
Aunt Onie had long since rejoined the mainline Mormon church and remarried, so it was extra big of her to make the effort to go to Old Mexico to visit the fundamentalist Mormon colony that still homesteaded many of Grandpa and Grandma LeBaron’s children, including Mama — one of Maud and Dayer’s many children Onie helped raise along with her own six little ones.
NOTE: Years later, Aunt Onie again visited Grandma Maud who was then living in San Diego, California with her youngest son Verlan LeBaron and his first wife Charlotte and their flock of kids.
Once more, that was very big of Onie. And big of Grandma — because I’m certain she did her best to act like she had been a good, God-fearing “sister wife,” as she hugged Onie and put on an act of sheer enjoyment that she was seeing her dead husband’s ex-plural wife/ her ex-sister wife again after many years apart and tons of tears, blood, and water beneath the bridge.
After all, keeping up appearances is much of what Mormon fundamentalism IS all about — especially for the woman in a polygamous marriage and an impossible-to-follow religious philosophy! You have to “keep sweet” … have to appear to be that ideal saint Mormon fundamentalist wives and women are expected and biased to be!
*Note:Though incarcerated for life, Warren Jeffs is,(the last I knew) nonetheless, still leading and controlling from his jail cell his secluded Mormon fundamentalist cult in Short Creek/ AKA: Colorado City, Arizona!!
**(Grandpa Dayer LeBaron also had a son by his first wife Barbara Bailey. But she divorced him before he ever met and married my Grandmother Maud and then many years later Onie,too.)
(Continued December 10, 2018, in Pt 30: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer and Grandma Maud)