(NOTE: Not Hurricane High School: But this photo is the best depiction I could find of how I recall Hurricane High back when I attended 6th-8th grades there, between 1957–1960.)
A Memoir Story
by Beulah Stephany Spencer-LeBaron
It was the 1959–1960 school year in small-town Hurricane, Utah. And 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, isn’t fair, and she gives way-too-hard homework!
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 an old-fashioned method of seating wherein every class member sat in his/her desk that snaked around the edge of the room according to his/her 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 finally the “F’s.”
The “F” students were the ones who hated Miss Naegle the most. They acted out every chance they got. What did they have to lose? They were already as low as they could go. Sadly, the only attention these possibly dyslexic, ADHD, or otherwise learning-disabled children 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 the class.
But I was very shy and highly sensitive. Would cry if the teacher looked at me with a sternly raised eyebrow. Otherwise, I was generally having tremendous fun sitting somewhere within the top seats in class competing with the other top students in my English-class who were enjoying vying with me to stay in or get back up 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 enough to choose her as my English teacher a second year in a row.
But one day, just as band class was over, I got up to go to my English class only to notice a dark, wet blotch on the behind of my red plaid skirt. Mortified, I held my clarinet case behind me to cover my butt and rushed to “The Old Maid”–as we commonly called Miss Naegle (she was thirty, unmarried, and looked really old to us thirteen-year-olds):
“Miss Naegle,” I embarrassingly whispered, “I have an emergency! My monthly just started and it’s showing on the back of my skirt. May I be excused to go to the restroom?”
“Why SURE,” Miss Naegle crooned.
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,” though I had actually come to class early and gotten her permission to go use the restroom! So I was not only humiliated but devastated and betrayed by my favorite teacher. (But she was only one of my teachers who showed “the little Saints” how to ostracize and persecute us Mormon fundamentalists in their midst.)
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”/LDS were acceptable and all the “Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints”/ FLDS were not.
“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.”
The “FLDS,” were not accepted–NOT wanted in that little redneck mainstream Mormon town. Our family had moved to Hurricane “temporarily,” three years before, after leaving the nearby Fundamentalist Mormon town of Short Creek.
I was going on ten years old when my parents left the Short Creek group because they had become disillusioned with many teachings and actions of that town and its self-proclaimed prophet, Leroy Johnson.
Short Creek is now called Colorado City (on the map) to take attention off this infamous polygamist town after it hit big-time news in 1953 due to its “BIG LOVE” activity and other lawlessness.
In 1953, Arizona (backed by Utahan authorities) sent an organized humanitarian police-and-rescue force into this renegade polygamist town in an all-out attempt to eradicate the lawless polygamist cult infestation that was growing exponentially on the twin borders of Utah and Arizona.
Unfortunately, the modus operandi failed (the same way The 2008 Texas Raid on El Dorado and the YFZ Ranch failed!). The 1953 humanitarian law-and-order rescue-attempt is now referred to as “The Short Creek Raid.”
Although the Short Creek Raid basically failed, our government reached SOME success when around 1958, not long after the 1953 “raid” ended, an Interstate Highway was built that wound its way right through the middle of this secretive enclave!! This backward, secluded, law-unto-itself cult hideaway could never again remain entirely hidden!
But (as of the time this story was written) in 2017–the infestation and insurrection still persists, 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. Thank goodness at least for that!
Recently, the state of Arizona 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” that took place when I was seven years old, I was not pleased with Texas’ decision to return the 464 children back to their lawbreaking, human-rights-abusive polygamist cult leaders and parents.
During that El Dorado YFZ Raid, I had prayed fervently that Texas would NOT send those abused, trapped kids back to their brainwashed cult parents. For one thing, children born into Mormon fundamentalism are not protected under the rights other American citizens take for granted.
But Texas succumbed: Backed up against the wall by naïve public sentiment and news-media smoke screens, it ended up sending those misfortunate kids back into the environment of White slavery they were unfortunately born into!
Due to the pressure and ignorance of the public that forced the Texas Government to return the YFZ kids to the abuse of their extremist and secluded polygamist cult, my prayers weren’t fulfilled. Suffice it to say, I wish I had been put in a good foster home instead of sent back to live with my Mormon fundamentalist parents once The 1953 “Raid” ended.
Instead, I was sent back to the Mormon fundamentalist Short Creek colony to continue a backward lifestyle in a law-breaking, abusive, secluded enclave where I would be raised a polygamist by brainwashed, fanatic, laws-unto-themselves parents who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, lived only for the hereafter, and thought the sky was falling!
NOTE: The following is a picture of me with my classmates when I was in first grade in Short Creek — It’s a mixed-grade small class where Mrs. Verda Lartsen taught grades 1st-through 5th!
Sing your song,
Dance your dance,
Tell your tale.
Author of best-selling classics:
Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man
They Changed the Name of Our Hometown*
1— They changed the name
Of our hometown the other day,
But in the hearts of some Short Creek
Will always stay;
The cliffs so high,
The valleys filled with memories —
How can they change a hometown’s name
Or verse to trees?
2— Oh, I’ve been asked
A thousand times or more, I guess,
If from the town Short Creek I came;
I answer, “Yes;”
With head erect, I proudly
Say my hometown’s name;
But, since the change to “Colorado City,”
It ain’t the same.
3— When I was ten, my family
Left my dear hometown;
For Colonia LeBaron, Mexico,
We were bound.
But Hurricane, Utah became our
Five-year camping ground;
Still, throughout the years,
I can’t forget Short Creek, I’ve found.
I’ve been asked a thousand times or more,
If from Short Creek I came;
With head held high, I answer “Yes,”
So proud to say the name;
But since the change to Colorado City,
It’s not the same;
So in my heart, the name “Short Creek”
Will still remain.
And in my heart, they’ll never change
My hometown’s name!
*NOTE: Original lyrics by David Stubbs.
~Verse 3, plus line & word changes by Stephany Spencer. Melody borrowed from Joe & Audrey Allison’s Classic Country song: “He’ll Have to Go” — First line:
“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.”
*In the following video, recorded March 3, 2018, I’m performing the above song, “They Changed the Name of Our Hometown,” at the California Writer’s Club. Between nerves and lack of practice, I’ll be the first to say the rendition could use some work. I plan to eventually re-record and repost it. But this video gives an idea of how the melody goes.
We left off in Part One of, “I Won and I Lost,” where I was giving some backstory on a bit of Mormon Fundamentalist history and 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 intended to take all the Mormon church’s money and property, among other things, if the Mormons did not abide by the law and ban the backward and barbaric practice of polygamy. Furthermore, Utah could not become a state in The Union till it did away with polygamy.
By 1956 and sixty-six years since the Mormon church had banned polygamy, 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, and, at long last, fit in — and respect the Rule of Law. This pattern continues today: Mormon Fundamentalists give mainstream Mormons a bad rap among non-Mormon societies who confuse mainline Mormons with the fanatic Mormon Fundamentalists.
Hurricane, Utah and other Mormon towns around Hurricane are stop-off places or 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.
My family was one of the families who fled the secluded, strangulating, renegade Mormon fundamentalist Short Creek cult, using nearby Hurricane, Utah as a stop-off place in 1956–It was a place to get our bearings after going through the traumatic two-and-a-half-year *Short Creek Raid.
When that fiasco was over, the state of Arizona released Daddy from jail/parole, along with all the other men of Short Creek who chose jail over agreeing to quit living or believing in polygamy, the most important tenet of their religion.
My father and the rest of the Mormon Fundamentalist men in Short Creek knew the self-proclaimed Prophet Joseph Smith said God gave him a revelation commanding “The Saints”/ i.e., 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 next life.
My parents’ plans were to stay in Hurricane ’till Daddy earned enough money to move us to the new Fundamentalist Mormon cult they had joined, The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times, 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 in 1955. I say they both started it for the following reasons:
My Uncle Joel was a self-proclaimed, agrarian, hay-seed Prophet who convinced some of his family he had gotten “the mantle” or “Scepter of Power”– the “Priesthood keys to the kingdom”– from his dying father, Alma Dayer LeBaron — who claimed to have gotten these “keys” from his grandfather, Benjamin F. Johnson. And, according to Uncle Joel, Benjamin F. Johnson got “the keys to the kingdom” from his “spiritual father,” Joseph Smith before he died!
At the same time, this scrabble-farming, peddler, painter, polygamist, self-proclaimed “profit,” my Uncle Joel, also claimed to have gotten revelations or a vision from God and angels who visited him in person and told him he was the Prophet who held the scepter of power to set the Mormon church *back in order. After this manifestation, Uncle Joel decided to set up his own church. His brothers Wesley and Floren helped him register it legally, in Salt Lake City, Utah in the mid-1950s.
But Joel’s somewhat intellectual and scholarly, though not-well-educated eighteen-months-younger brother Ervil (who had obtained a small-town Mexican-Mormon-colony education before dropping out of school at age fifteen) found the Scriptures to support his much-less-scholarly brother Joel’s claims to be “The One Mighty and Strong.” (Their Prophet Joseph Smith foretells of this Prophet’s coming to prepare the saints for the second coming of Christ.)
Ervil was also his brother Joel’s mouthpiece, doing most of the missionary work and pulpit-preaching that got the groveling cult off the ground. Ervil’s biggest contribution was some doctrinal pamphlets he scribed, especially his “Priesthood Expounded”–persuasive among a few mainstream Mormons.
“Priesthood Expounded” is the Mormon fundamentalist Lit some young, impressionable, wayward Mormon missionaries in the French mission field got hold of around 1958. The pamphlet’s contents converted around thirteen of these idealistic visionaries to Uncle Joel’s cult, “The Church of the First Born of the Fullness of Times.”
Seven of these rather bright, young, enthusiastic Mormon French missionaries soon thereafter joined the indigent LeBaron scrabble-cult in Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico.
It was the shot-in-the-arm that got my Uncle Joel and Ervil’s cult off the ground onto the map. Especially responsible for this cult’s take-off was my now-deceased dreamer-of-a-husband– the leading (and misleading) charismatic French missionary conman, William Preston Tucker.
So my Mother’s brother Ervil was the “golden goose” who laid the golden egg that hatched his brother Joel’s “Church” — which 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, misled Mormon French missionaries!
But just as unbelievably ironic is that Uncle Ervil, around twenty years later, turned into the biggest goose of all — actually the biggest gander! He, Ervil-the-egghead, in 1972, vengefully brought his brother Joel’s “church” (“the embryonic egg”) right back down to ground-zero by rivalrously cracking it apart!
How? He had his henchmen KILL his brother Joel! Thus, murderous and maniacal Cain-like Ervil broke The Golden Egg “Able” right in two: It rolled off the table and died a most-messy death … gooey egg yolk and albumin all over the place! Lots of grieving people were left wiping tears of anguish and loss from their face at the prophet Joel’s funeral service.
Yeah, evil-Ervil cracked that LeBaron goose egg “Able,” wide open. Metaphorically speaking, Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, never to be put together again at all!*
But out of the cracked “Humpty Dumpty” hatched LeBaron gosling offshoots—even some Colonia LeBaron “Golden Eggs” (say 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 and rewritten.
Just as uncanny, unbelievable, cracked, and bizarre as the above LeBaron history is that of how Mother’s seven brothers, as well as her father, the crackpot Dayer LeBaron, each claimed, at one time or another, to be “The One Mighty and Strong Prophet/OM&S — “The Firstborn sent to prepare the world for the return of Christ.”
Some say 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” –their father having succeeded Joel when Ervil murdered him! There are as many stories as there are people who tell them when it comes to “The LeBaron Story.”)
However, other than Uncle Joel and Uncle Ervil’s “Fundy” Mormon cults, none of these other eccentric millennial LeBaron upstarts made it off the ground onto the map! Instead (as in the case of Uncles Ervil’s and Joel’s “goose eggs”), each of them was nothing but a miserable, inflated flock of wayward, doomsday “geese.”
In other words, each of my other uncles’ cults, like Joel and Ervil’s cults, was but a bag of wind that barely made it off the ground before it flew over the cuckoo’s nest, took a nosedive, did a complete tailspin, and topped it off by turning upside down the world for Christ’s return. That is, each of my uncles’ cult’s succeeded only in toppling into a world of hell people seeking heaven … a story my Memoir tells.
*You may use your search engine to obtain more information on this 1953 Short Creek Raid. 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 and mother left my maternal grandparents when they, my parents, returned to live in the United States.
You may check Wikipedia and other sites for more history, details, pictures, etc., to do with these topics.)
* 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 small agrarian mainstream Mormon townsite, Hurricane, Utah. I was ten years old then.
My parents planned to stay in Hurricane only four-and-a-half years while Daddy worked till he turned sixty-five and could begin collecting Social Security and his Veteran’s Pension. Then their plan was to move to Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico where my uncle Joel had started a new Mormon fundamentalist sect. My maternal grandmother, five uncle’s, and other relatives lived there. And Mother, herself, was born in Mexico in 1921 in the mountainous Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua — a Mormon colony.
But whatever my family’s plans, we were not welcome in Hurricane. For one thing, the Mormon Fundamentalist “Short Cricker’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.
Mormon Fundamentalists (FLDS) almost always stuck out due to the females wearing the same-mold, crown-like “Plyg-dos,”(hairdos) and attire. In other words, most FLDS 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. They believed they were God’s chosen hand-full; i.e., 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/polygamists back then — were the top students in our Hurricane, Utah Jr. High class. My sister Judith Spencer, I, and another “Fundy” from Short Creek, Fawn Stubbs, had been the best artists that Hurricane’s Elementary, Junior High, and High School had seen in years!
Mainstream Mormons/ LDS Mormons didn’t like the polygamists’ kids out-doing “the Saints.” The Mormon fundmentalists/ FLDS out-doing in any way the mainstream Mormons only made the Mormon Fundies an extra-unnerving and unwanted infestation for this small agrarian town of LDS Mormons whose own ancestors gave up polygamy in 1890, under government duress and fear of losing their lands and homes, again, if they did not abide by US laws so as to become a state in the Union.
LDS Mormons followed the mandates of their church leaders to give up “plural marriage” despite their Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment to live polygamy or be damned. But, now, here were these perennial thorn-in-their-side FLDS Mormons, like my family, who thumbed their noses at mainline Mormons who gave up polygamy instead of following the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation to live polygamy — live it despite what the laws of the land said and in spite of persecution and prosecution.
In fact, my father would tell the LDS they were going to hell because they gave up “the law of plural marriage”! My true-believing, fanatic, antagonistic parents further riled the LDS 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 in the hereafter 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 goeth before a fall.” So you can imagine how unwelcome our family was among these mainstream Mormons.
With this history under our belt, let’s return to the little 1960’s red-necked, red-brick schoolhouse where Miss Naegle unfairly, yet too conveniently allowed the little Rednecks to topple me from my coveted seat at the top of the class and dump me down at the very bottom of our class — into the “F” section.
Making this abuse and betrayal even more embarrassing and painful was her joining in with my little redneck-rivals as they clapped and cheered loudly at my misfortune—as though we were at a ballgame and the mainstream Mormons were winning. (I’ve referred to them as “Rednecks” for effect. But, honestly, my family and I were MORE red-necked than most of them!)
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, I immediately got 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 all of fifteen minutes. But listen to what happened next:
Seeing how I had so rapidly ascended back into almost the “A” section, suddenly, without warning, Miss Naegle snatched her BIG BLACK GRADE BOOK, exclaiming, “It’s time for me to give out your final grade for the semester!”
(As I said before, she determined it arbitrarily, by wherever we happened to be sitting 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 making 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/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–the FLDS 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 themselves. 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 all the mainstream Mormons around them — to the point they condemned them 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. My 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 the mainstream Mormons. Instead, they made no effort to teach us how to get along with them — nor anyone else not of our Mormon fundamentalist faith!!
How un-Christian, right?! But my control-freak, 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 incessantly taught me and my siblings that we were above and beyond the mainstream Mormons because they were not living “the fullness of the gospel” the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught.
Be that what it was, 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 NEVER 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,” from 7th to 11th grade.
So now you understand why Miss Naegle unfairly got out her BLACK Grade Book at the very moment I was almost backup into the “A” section.
We left off in Part 3 where I had almost gotten back up into the “A” section of Miss Naegle’s 8th-grade English class when Miss Naegle suddenly and unexpectedly snatched up her BIG BLACK GRADE BOOK and cried:
“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. That is, she determined them 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 assign grades in any way, shape, or form that suited her purpose. 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.”
To be exact, this LDS-biased teacher was making sure I did NOT get on the Honor Roll again as an “A” student and thus be once more headlined in the town’s newspaper. The Mormon faculty now knew who I, the high-achieving, beautiful new student was: I was “Miss Plyggie from goldern Short-Cricky” — someone small-town Hurricane did not want making big-time news!
As I said in the 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 student from 7th through 11th grade to obtain a “Straight-A” GPA!
A teacher-faculty uproar followed after they found out the Straight-A 7th Grader the newspaper article talked about was me, a Mormon Fundy! Mormon fundamentalists were lepers in that small town. So how was it I could be showing up all the little “Saints” from LDS families?
It WASN’T FUNNY!
People get envious and come undone
When outdone by the very one
They thought was down-under-’em …
Their untouchable, scapegoat scum.
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 “Plygs.” (In actuality, it was an all-out Cold War — the LDS against the FLDS!
So my classmates sat and watched Miss Naegle unfairly give me my first “B+,” 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 she could give me the grade she wanted to give me — not the grade I earned.
But hey! It appears this action not only kept her in good favor with the Mormon town and teaching faculty but with Sammy, Jr.’s (not his real name) family too. His father had recently been in to see Miss Naegle saying:
“Sammy tries so hard to get an “A,” but no matter what he does, he never gets into the top section so as to come home with an “A” in English like his older brother in High School always does!”
(Sammy, Jr.’s father was Sammy, Sr., better known as “Bishop Sam Johnson” (Not his real name) — the most important position in a small Mormon town.)
Our teacher could only give so many “A’s,” “B’s,” and so forth, or our school would lose its accreditation. So little C-average-Sam got his first damn “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 “Little Mormon Town.”
NOTE: It was not a good example to let “polygamists,” or so-called “apostate Mormons” outdo “the Saints.” So the rest of the LDS faculty (after finding out who I was) ALSO did THEIR utmost to keep me from shining– did their best to put the Saints’ kids above me, whenever possible. To be sure, allowing Mormon fundamentalist children to be shining examples did not set a desirable president for the “little 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’ve 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 glared sternly down at us 8th graders, the way she always did when she wanted to punctuate her words. Then, that little blond haired, red-necked, red-faced spinster in the little red-brick schoolhouse assigned us the whole 105 Prepositions of the English language, vociferously stipulating:
“These words are to be memorized in alphabetical order by Friday!” Knowing that our last day of 8th Grade was only four days away, she boomed,“And whoever doesn’t memorize the whole list in order gets an “F” as their final grade!!”
I had already committed to memory her list of 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 and 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.”
As I hung out the wash that Monday evening, I began the daunting task of memorizing the whole monotonous mass of 105 Prepositions — on top of doing all the other homework from my other classes!
An hour passed as I painstakingly pinned wet clothes on the lines while concentrating on trying to commit to memory those meaningless long lines of nonsense words.
Big raindrops began to roll from my eyes. I was about to be hung out to dry myself. For having only memorized the first forty words, the Prepositions beginning with “A” and “B,” I found myself wishing language had never been born. And my mind took a downturn as I decided this was going to be the first assignment in my life I wouldn’t complete.
Which meant I was finally going to FAIL! The “F” word, mind you! The thought curdled my mind! 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! It’s driving me insane!! “I can’t memorize this inane, boring list of propositions! I can’t stand even trying to!!!”
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.”
Having memorized the most difficult Piano Concertos, Mother knew about memorizing! And she surmised I could create tunes. So we were on a roll. What’s more, her advice worked! I was back out there with a bang, clothes flying out of my hands onto the clotheslines faster than I banged out tunes fitting particular lines of the preposterous Preposition homework:
“At, about, above, aboard, across, according to, along, alongside, against — And so on and so forth. I’ve long since forgotten the tunes I used and abused to help me memorize each section of the alphabetical list. But like muscle memory, the hundred-five Prepositions have stuck forever and for good!
Come Friday morning, I was ready — except for BURNOUT. Seems I almost met my Maker! And it was a 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.”) On this Mountain tabletop in 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. So were other top-secret defense projects to do with our country’s race with Russia to win the Cold War and be first to send a man to the moon.)
As it turns out, bright Billy thought the homework silly. So did his parents. Therefore, he memorized the first two groups of prepositions: The A’s and B’s. Then went outside to participate in his favorite sport: Winning all the High School boys 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! My love for Billy was my motivation to watch this after-school competitive 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 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 — out of nervousness, anxiety, and an exhausted mind.
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 mass of monotonous, meaningless nonsense words — along with doing my after-school housework chores and the homework for my other five classes to get ready for my final grades and tests that came in four days — the last day of school.
I still can’t believe mean Miss Naegle forced me, a “Straight-A” student, to memorize all those pretty-petty Prepositions in order to avoid taking home an “F” as the Final Grade on my year-end Report Card!
This Report Card was the most important of the year for it would delineate the top students that year at the little red-brick schoolhouse that housed the Hurricane Jr. High and High School students. These top students would be big news in the town’s newspaper.
That would explain Miss Naegle’s all-out attempt to come up with something to help the LDS Saints win the Cold War against the FLDS Saints — something so atrocious and audacious as to assign her captive 8th-Graders to memorize, in the last four days of school, the whole 105 English prepositions!
This assignment would have been bad at any time. But it was sadistically treacherous to assign it the last week of school when we had but four evenings of homework time left before our Final Grades were due — grades so important to us — to ME!!!
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 wicked act backfired on her. Not only did I recite from memory the whole one-hundred-five prepositions, exchanging places with Billy Nickerson to sit at the top of the class and get my “A+,” but none of Miss Naegle’s other eighty-three eighth-grade students had succeeded at all in completing this over-the-top homework task.
So Miss Naegle had to give me, “Miss Plyggie,” her “A” … But she didn’t have to make a big deal of it –- And she didn’t! She totally ignored my feat — my exceptional workmanship and memory, as though I were insignificant … didn’t exist. And as though what I did wasn’t amazing and worth acknowledging — even to me in private!
She was perturbed and angry that I had surmounted her impossible homework assignment, using it to rise to the top again. The schoolmarm couldn’t believe I had memorized all those ridiculous words, and in order, too, within four short evenings of homework-time before the school year ended.
But even more unbelievable and unforgivable is this Latter-Day-Saint Mormon teacher never gave me ANY encouragement or recognition in anything I EVER did, despite my outstanding achievements for the past two years in her’s and every other teachers’ classes at Hurricane Jr. High.
It’s an oxymoron and a conundrum that LDS Mormons do so much missionary work to gain converts, yet fail to see how they could win many Mormon fundamentalists over to their sect were they to treat them humanely and without singling them out for ostracism and ruination.
My memory of my four-and-a-half years (1956-1960) in the agrarian, two-faced Mormon town of Hurricane, Utah was enough to turn me away from ever wishing to become a part of mainstream Mormonism. I would vomit first. I lost respect for them due to the smallness and ungodliness of the majority of them. Atheism was preferable.
In all my years in Hurricane, I definitely encountered a few saints, however. And I had a few wonderful life-giving experiences in Hurricane. But only TWO of my many Mormon teachers EVER treated me fairly and with respect. The same goes for my classmates and the rest of the people in Hurricane, in general.*
Many of my teachers treated me the same way Miss Naegle had: Entirely unfairly and like I was invisible, though I was not only an innocent and highly sensitive, gifted child, but also diligent, conscientious, and hard-working.
For example, at the end of the Preposition recitations, Naegle pretended to never have threatened anyone with an “F” as their final Report-Card Grade should they not memorize that whole list — IN order and without errors!
In fact, the measly monster simply dropped the whole frickin’ nightmare as if she’d never heard of it. Because both her 8th-Grade classes failed the assignment miserably — Everyone, that is, but me, “Miss Plyggie”! You would think she would at least have complimented me in private on my feat if she couldn’t do it in front of the class — or better still, in front of the whole school!
But she never showed me one ounce of acknowledgment or appreciation for my success, my amazing achievement–especially given how the rest of her eighty-four students stumbled, then thumbed their nose at her assignment!
But 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. She thought for sure I’d be HAD and she’d get to give me an “F.” Or at least get me out of the “A” section.
It being the last day of school, she thought I wouldn’t have time to work my way back up — back into the “A” section again before she pulled out her BIG black grade book to assign our final grades. But it turned out SHE “got had” BAD instead:
Sammy, Jr.’s DAD, the Bishop, had called her — as had other parents — to inquire about the horrendous homework task that was leading to mental breakdowns among the Saints’ kids!
So once again, I, the leperous Mormon Fundy (“Short Cricker”) was the talk of the town and the school! Word went out and around 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 and after-school housework chores!
Being the second to the oldest of eleven children by then, I had big chores for sure. This added to my feat’s monumentalness! Most of the kids came from very small families, had TV, Radio, phonographs, magazines, and other modern inventions, and conveniences–as well as a chance to read, a better education, and so forth.
But my family was still using an outhouse, pots to piss ‘n’ crap in at night, a galvanized tub to bathe in — using water we heated on a wood stove! Yes, I was a poor and deprived child with many disadvantages — such as lost schooling and being brought up in a cult. Yet, I was somehow one of the outstanding students in the 8th grade, in that little agrarian town.
For example, most of Miss Naegle’s other eighty-four students weren’t able to memorize much more than fifteen or twenty of the monotonous, brain-frying, outlandishly-long list of boring words. Therefore, these eighty-four 8th Graders totally FAILED the assignment!
But, when 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 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-four 8th-Graders besides — Thanks to my musically-trained, gifted mother who saved me from a mental breakdown by suggesting I use music to help me memorize that torturous, maniacal homework assignment.
To this day, about all that 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’m 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.)
Here 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.”
That’s the way things are when it comes to language: It’s subjective. We may have to unlearn things we thought were correct because new customs determine them incorrect. Language is a living thing. It is born, grows up, gets old, and dies — just like people.
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!
Says Caroline Lane:
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.
The blog “I Won and I Lost” was written about three years ago. Some things have changed since then and the writing of this portion of my memoir.
A week ago, out of the blue, I got a call from Ross Gregerson, one of my former Hurricane Jr. High classmates.
3 thoughts on “Memoir: I won and I Lost … Or How More Is Less”
I LOVED your story. It says so much about you, about your mother and about how the FLDS were and are treated by their LDS cousins.
Your story about how YOU were mistreated reminded me of stories about how Maude’s children were mistreated at the Juarez Academy.
From now on, when I want to memorize anything, I will sing it to music.
Come to think of it, I learned the books of the New Testament by singing them to the tune of Scotland the Brave, a/k/a Praise to the man.
Stories like these are what I LOVE about your blog.
And I continue to be amazed by your amazing memory.
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Wow, you read this “I Won and I Lost” blog that I have been editing and adding to most of the day! That’s how it goes: People read my blogs before I upgrade them, and may never read the finished version.
On the other hand, every time I read my posts, I find more things to edit or add or subtract. This particular post especially needed re-editing, etc. But I can hardly reread a story without wanting to rewrite bits and pieces of it — to the point I wonder how I’ll ever have time to get my book written if I keep editing and improving what I’ve already posted, as badly as it needs the rewrites, corrections, et cetera.