My Memoir Backstory: My Mother, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer —
And Mormon Polygamist Cults Unmasked — Parts 1–18
(*Note: In the following blogs, I’ve compiled Parts 1-18 of “My Mama”
and 1–9 of “My Daddy.”)
My Memoir Backstory, “My Mama,” takes up where I left off writing “My Memoir Introduction: I Was Born a “Saint.” After I wrote that blog, I realized I had put the cart before the horse; i.e., I started my Memoir bass-ackwards by getting 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 about my father Floyd Otto Spencer and my mother Esther LeBaron de McDonald and her LeBaron backstory.
After these blogs, I continue with more of my own Memoir, but it includes more tales about Mother and Father as their lives intertwine throughout my life’s story.
Now for a bit of how I got here from the past. And some of what went into my making. I hope you enjoy reading “My Mama” and “My Daddy,” as much as I enjoyed writing about them. Writing about my parents was sort of like having them around again!
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
My Maternal Grandparents:
Maud Lucinda McDonald & Alma Dayer LeBaron
“Mother! For love of thee it was begun;
In thy most honored name today ’tis done.
And though all earthly cares must cease
In that fair land of everlasting peace,
Love aye is one, and they who love are one;
Time cannot end what God in time begun;
And thou wilt joy e’en in thine endless rest,
To know thy child obeys thy last behest”
A Nameless Nobleman
(A Historical Novel written in 1881 by my distant cousin Jane G. Austin, great-granddaughter (some places removed) of Dr. Francis LeBaron)
The world called her “Plyg.” We called her “Mother” and “Mama.” Daddy called her Esther, Honey, Mother, or Ma — as in “Go ask yer Ma.”
My mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer, was born August 1, 1921, in Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua, a small Mormon colony in Old Mexico. She died in 2013, at age 92, in Cancun, Mexico — I believe.
She was the middle child of thirteen children born to Mormon fundamentalist Americans Maud Lucinda McDonald and Alma Dayer LeBaron — my maternal grandparents.
Colonia Pacheco was colonized around the turn of the 20th century by American Mormon polygynists/ polygamists who crossed over the United States’ border to Mexico seeking refuge from prosecution when in 1862 the US government passed a law against polygamy.
When Brigham Young said, “This is the place,” the land of Utah belonged to Mexico. Polygamy was not prosecuted there unless the first wife filed a complaint.
But the Mormons’ new “safe haven” didn’t last long: The United States went to war with Mexico in 1846, won the battle in 1848, and the Utah Territory was ceded to the US in 1850 as part of the spoils.
This meant Brigham Young’s polygamist Mormon church, much to their dismay, was once again under US law! So once again under fire to discard the practice of polygamy. In fact, by this date, the US Government was set to confiscate the Mormon church’s lands, property, money, and even their right to be called a church if they didn’t remove from their religious tenets this illegal, barbaric institution!
So Wilford Woodruff, the presiding President/Prophet of the The Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/ LDS church, was finally forced to draw up “The Manifesto of 1890,” a mandate and “revelation from God” outlawing polygamy in the Mormon church.
This explains why, before Mother was born, her parents/ my grandparents had left the United States to raise their family in Mexico: They intended to live “the law of plural marriage.” So, for their safety, they left the Victorian Americans and joined other Mormon fundamentalists in Old Mexico.
My grandparents would not discontinue the practice of polygamy, despite the “Manifesto of 1890,” because they believed it was wrong for the Mormon church to have outlawed polygamy, no matter what, given their Prophet Joseph Smith had said that it must be lived to attain the highest degree of glory in the hereafter.
With this stance, Mother’s parents became outlaws/laws unto themselves because they, along with a few other zealot Mormons, thought the Mormon church had fallen away from Joseph Smith’s true teachings.
Therefore, they didn’t intend to go along with the new “revelation” and mandates regarding plural marriage set in 1890 by the presiding Mormon church Prophet, Wilford Woodruff, and his Quarm of Twelve Apostles.
NOTE: The following lyrics consist of a tongue-in-cheek song I wrote. It is posted on my Website, but I’ve included it in this blog because it has a couple of stanzas about Mama and Daddy:
Pretty City Chick
Dearest friends and fans, Please note: This tongue-in-cheek song I wrote Is half-finished so I don’t gloat, But pray my poem won’t get your goat;
It’s late — blog’s due “mañana;” Check the song later on … uh … You’ll find it’s been “re-wrote”… “Needs work” is my last quote. But please enjoy what I wrote; Now I humorously emote:
Pretty City Chick
Hey! I’m a Hack Who’s written this hit Called “Pretty City Chick”– A Hee-ha Comedy Song — A bit o’ Bio in Verse, For Better or Worse, With Truth ‘n’ Exaggeration Interspersed:
Hey, they’ve called me “Pretty City Chick,” But Hillbilly music is my shtick; My Hillbilly ways are here to stick, So you may as well git over it — Join in ’n’ sing a bit With “City Chick” —
Born in Mexican sticks in 1966. I’ve dual citizenship — What a trip! Now Shit-kickin’ music is my shtick.
I’m an all-American-mongrel, Apple-pie girl — A Hines-57 mixed-up mutt With apple pie stickin’ to my butt ’n’ gut — But Red-necked reactionaries ain’t my thing; I’m here fer music and to sing!
Yeah, I’m an All-American-Mexican, Scotts-Irish “Mick,” With Welch ’n’ English, So, sure, I’m a Brit … With French, German, Mohawk Indian a bit. If there’s no Tom Slick Hidin’ in the pit, Far as I know, that’s about it — That‘s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!
My father was a proud Veteran of World War I. Those Vets were well-appreciated For what they’d done! Pa was an artist, creative — Jack-of-all-trades; Master of a few — Good at many things — What couldn’t he do?
Ma was a Creative — Artist thru ’n’ thru; Poet, Pianist, Painter — Whew! Loved talking religion, old or new — Long as it agreed with what she already “knew.” She graduated with a BA in Journalism too; Quite an accomplishment — Ma was sixty-two!
She was runnin’ me competition then, For I was still in College too. But her motto was: “Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you!” (And she meant it too!)
Refrain: Hey, they call me “Pretty City Chick,” But Hillbilly music is my “shtick,” My Hillbilly ways are here to stick! So you may as well “git” over it; Join in ‘n’ sing a bit With “City Chick,” ‘Shit-kickin’ music is my shtick. Well, that’s my story And I’m “shtickin’ ” to it: “I’m Pretty City Chick!” (By Stephany Spencer)
NOTE: The following is an iPhone video of me at the California Writers Club, March 2017, performing the above song I wrote, “Pretty City Chick” (before I recently “re-writ” parts of it!):
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
“My mother was the source
from which I derived
the guiding principles of my life.”
I left off in Part One where Mama’s parents, Alma Dayer and Maud Lucinda McDonald LeBaron, didn’t agree with the mainline Mormon church’s new mandate regarding religious polygamy; i.e., being forced to live polygamy under the threat of going to hell if you don’t! Why? Because the Prophet Joseph Smith had given a commandment from God (stated in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132: Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132], Page 1 – The Joseph Smith Papers ) that the Saints must live Plural Marriage or be damned. In other words, Joseph Smith had set his followers up to suffer a life of hell — which, for most people, is all living polygamy is: A living hell.
Said Mama, in reference to my grandparents’ stance on the Mormon Manifestos of 1890 and 1904:
“Ma ‘n’ Pa didn’t believe it was right for the Mormon church to outlaw polygamy, given the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied it must be lived to attain the highest degree of glory in the Hereafter! So they joined ranks with a fledgling Mormon fundamentalist movement that insisted on followin’ the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation commanding they live polygamy or be damned.
“They’d follow this commandment even if it meant they and the rest of their Mormon brethren would once more be driven from their homes and lands, tarred ‘n’ feathered, stripped of their financial assets, and thrown out of the country, jailed, or killed. You see, Ma ‘n’ Pa were stalwarts who’d lay down their lives for ‘the gospel’ … as would I,” proclaimed Mama.
As I said in last week’s blog, I only wish my self-righteous, stoic grandparents, parents, and the rest of the rebel Mormons who chose (and still choose) to continue living polygamy would’ve been/ would be half as strict about living Christian and other Scriptural doctrines taught by their self-proclaimed Prophet Joseph Smith as they were/are about living polygamy!
It makes me wonder what it was about the original many thousands of Mormon people who chose to follow such as Joseph Smith! In that same vein, I also wonder what it was/is about the zealot Mormon fundamentalists who believe they are “God’s chosen handful” and who were/are so determined, still, to continue to have more than one wife, come hell or high water!
Because most Mormons saw the wisdom and practicality of giving up plural marriage and abiding by US law. And they also saw the practicality of following their Prophet Wilford Woodruff’s new “revelation” that discontinued polygamy in the LDS church … for the time being, that is … unfortunately, however, not for the hereafter!!
Getting back to the main story, Mama told me: “My parents, left the US and moved to the Mormon colonies in Old Mexico before I was born ’cause they intended to live ‘the Holy and God-ordained law of Plural Marriage’.
“However, after I was born, in 1921, due to financial circumstances, they had to move back to ‘The States.’ There, Pa bought us a home in the small, southern, agrarian Mormon town of La Verkin, Utah, — one where we could plant our own orchard ‘n’ garden … and keep a goat too. I was still a baby then.
“While there, Pa found the plural wife he’d been lookin’ for — pretty eighteen-year-old Onie Jones. He married her soon after he convinced Ma of the righteousness of taking Onie as his plural wife. Though the three of them did their best to keep this plural marriage a secret, word soon got out in that small Utah town.
“Not long after that, a friend informed my father a Mormon mob was gatherin’ to lynch him! So he, Ma, ‘n’ Onie grabbed us kids in the dead of night ‘n’ fled back over the Mexican border to live in the Mormon colonies in Old Mexico again.
“It was 1923 by then. If my parents hadn’t fled when they did, it’s said the mainline Mormons would’ve done them in … because they felt my parents had done THEM in by ignorin’ their church’s mandate against polygamy.
“You see, in 1904, to please the US government and its citizens, and to show they respected the laws of the land, the LDS church had finally instigated a second Manifesto outlawing polygamy in their church: From ‘The Manifesto of 1890’ to ‘The Manifesto of 1904,’ there’d been a moratorium on polygamy in the LDS church, which allowed Mormons to get used to the new anti-polygamy regulations.
“But,” continued Mama, “by 1904, those still livin’ polygamy had to either get rid of their plural wives or get out of the country; i.e., move to Old Mexico. Anyone takin’ a plural wife after 1904 would not only be excommunicated from the LDS church ‘n’ considered an apostate, but they’d also be jailed.
” My father was one of the first men to disregard the Mormon church’s new Manifesto of 1904: He took a plural wife in 1923 (because he believed God’s laws came ahead of the laws of the land). So, Ma and Pa were excommunicated and disfellowshipped from their beloved church.”
You see, by 1923, polygamy was more than ever frowned upon among the mainstream Mormons: It threatened the safety and solitude they had finally gained, among other things.
Therefore, they wanted Dayer LeBaron and his two wives OUT of their midst — if only to show other Mormons what would happen, should they choose to follow Dayer’s example — The insurrection wherein he continued to take plural wives despite the Mormon church’s modern, updated doctrinal revelation and mandate regarding Joseph Smith’s “Holy Principle of Plural Marriage.”
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
“Mother is the bank where we deposit
all our hurts and worries.”
mentioned in Part Two of “My Mama,” by the advent of the 1900s, the US government had resorted to extreme pressure to get the Mormon church to discontinue its institution of polygamy — a relic of barbarism and a threat to our country that was unfortunately and inadvertently introduced by Joseph Smith in the mid 1800s, as delineated in the “Doctrine and Covenants,” Section 132 (Mormon Scriptures: Revelation, 12 July 1843 [D&C 132], Page 1 – The Joseph Smith Papers)
In reference to this, Mama, years ago, explained to me: “To avert further travails, the LDS church had begun implementin’ stringent measures to wipe out plural marriage within its membership so as to protect its people, church, and Mormon church properties.
“Passin’ of the second Mormon Manifesto in 1904 meant Pa, ‘n’ his two wives, ‘n’ children, were no longer welcome in the Mormon colonies where my family had fled for refuge in 1923 — after barely outsmarting a mainstream Mormon mob, arrest, ‘n’ bein’ thrown into a Utah jail for havin’ entered into polygamy.
“My Ma, Pa, ‘n’ family had lived in various Mormon colonies in Mexico previously, goin’ back ‘n’ forth between them and the US a number of times, over the years.
“But this time, when we come back, my parents had gone against the Mormon Manifestos of both 1890 and 1904: They’d taken a plural wife, ‘n’ thereby were considered by the church to be ‘In a state of apostasy.’
“That meant our family was now considered apostates. So we was disfellowshipped from our Church ‘n’ social activities in the Mormon colonies,” continued Mama.”
“Instead of bein’ accepted with open arms, as he was in the past when he was with his grandfather Benjamin F. Johnson [who was a key figure in developing the Mormon colonies in Mexico], Pa was now an enigma.
“So our family became persecuted ‘n’ ostracized — The church’s way of discouraging other men from followin’ my father’s example of takin’ multiple wives.”
“In other words, since the Mormon moratorium on polygamy was o’er by 1904, my parents’ havin’ gone against the LDS church’s updated marriage law now meant their raisin’ us kids in a terrible atmosphere of mainstream Mormon scapegoatin’ ‘n’ rejection — wherever they chose to settle in ‘Mormonland.’
“It was during the Great Depression ‘n’ World War II era. Them two calamities affected our family, ‘n’ also Pa’s ability to get enough well-payin’ work in “The States.”
“So our family was endurin’ extreme poverty, ” Mama opined. “Ma ‘n’ Pa couldn’t afford to move their large family somewhere else, even if they’d decided to remove us kids from the terrible ostracism ‘n’ persecution they found the small Mormon colonies now meted out on ‘specially my eldest siblings!”
So the Mormon colonies that had once been a place of refuge for Mormon polygamists had, by 1923, become the opposite: A place of persecution and ostracization for polygamists — if they had entered into polygamy after 1904, that is.
“Those who already had more than one wife BEFORE the Manifesto of 1904, were NOT rejected ‘n’ persecuted as my Pa, Dayer LeBaron, ‘n’ his family was!” Mother explained.
“We were ostracized ’cause my father was the only man in the Mormon colonies,” she continued, “who went ahead ‘n’ took a plural wife after 1904, despite the church’s mandates.”
So that was the situation my grandparents found themselves in when they took their family back to Colonia Juarez, Mexico, thinking they were settling in the best place possible to raise their kids. As it turned out, it was the worst place possible!!
But at least, having moved to Old Mexico, their polygamous family was protected by tolerant Mexican marriage laws, when it came to polygamy — just not by intolerant LDS Mormon marriage laws.
That said, being “Plygs,” my grandparents simply should not have been bringing up their children in a mainstream Mormon colony where polygamy was no longer tolerated — if they knew what was best for them! But they didn’t.
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
“God could not be everywhere,
so he made mothers.”
(old Jewish proverb)
As I related in the previous blog, Mama’s family returned to settle in the Mormon colonies in Mexico in 1924. Mama was around two-and-a-half years old at the time my grandparents and Grandpa’s plural wife “Aunt” Onie fled the United States, barely outsmarting a main-line Mormon mob, arrest, and being thrown into a Utah jail for having broken the law by entering into polygamy.
“My family had lived in various Mormon colonies in Mexico previously,” Mama told me, “goin’ back and forth between them and the United States a number of times over the years.
“By our return in 1924, Pa had been able to buy a large fixer-upper home in the poorest section of Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. It was one of the homes abandoned by Mormon colonists who fled back to the United States to avoid the catastrophes of the Mexican Revolutionary War of 1910.
“Bein’ a pretty good handyman, Papa, along with the help of my three young brothers, Ben, Wesley, and Alma, and some cheap Mexican laborers, was able to soon fix the home up enough to live in.
“We were lucky we could afford even that piece of property to house Papa’s two wives and soon-to-be ten children — for yer Grandma was expectin’ her ninth child, Ervil … and Aunt Onie (called “aunt” out of respect) was pregnant too.
“In 1929, five years after our family moved to Colonia Juarez, the United States’ Stock Market crashed. Many people lost all their money, and huge numbers of people were out of work. It was hard for Pa to find any payin’ jobs in the terrible economic depression that had set in.
“So our family was stuck livin’ in the Mormon colonies where we were excoriated and rejected. Every day, on the way home from school, mainstream Mormon kids would call us Mormon fundamentalist kids horrible names, throw rocks and sticks at us, and chase us home, tryin’ to beat us up.
We didn’t understand why they would do this, because some of them, though not excommunicated from the Mormon church, were kids of polygamists, themselves! Or their grandparents had been polygamists — before The Manifesto of 1890 outlawed polygamy in the Mormon church.
“Most adults in town just looked the other way and let it happen … Let their kids beat us up and call us horrible names. Some adults even encouraged the children to harass and molest us.
But, despite all this, Mama and Papa had hoped their children would eventually be accepted back into the social setting in Colonia Juarez, thinkin’ it was still the best place to raise their kids.
“Unfortunately, not till I was in eighth grade did the Mormon colonies let up on some of their ostracization toward the LeBaron family … Partly ’cause they’d seen what this terrible persecution had done to my older siblings.
“But by then, my elder siblings had suffered from seven to eleven years of heavy rejection and intolerance — the treatment given the worst outcasts and scapegoats in Mormondom,” Mama moaned.
Really sad, I say! One of those things that should never happen to any child! And unfortunately, it only added to what Mother and her siblings already had suffered growing up in their stoic, fanatically religious Mormon orthodox family — with a crackpot father at the helm, besides.
But to top it all off, Grandpa Dayer was often absent months at a time, struggling to make a living working in the United States doing odd jobs, and painting houses — or whatever else he could do to bring in money. (As I mentioned before, Mexican law does not allow Americans to earn a wage in Mexico, even though they have children born there!)
It was extremely hard for Grandpa Alma Dayer LeBaron to support his two huge, constantly expanding and growing young families, especially between the years of 1929 and 1946 — the years of the Great Depression in the United States and World War II.
Needless to say, what happens in the US also affects its neighbors south of the border. And so, against this backdrop of dire economic straitjacketing, Grandpa, his two wives, and their swarm of young children and teenagers were all living under the same roof for seven years.
I don’t know how many children the two wives ultimately had, during the seven years they lived in “the big house.” I only know that Grandmother already had eight children and another soon to be on the way when Grandfather married Onie as his plural wife in 1923.
Among Mormon fundamentalists, the practice of birth control was a mortal sin. So altogether, Grandma bore Grandpa thirteen children, and Aunt Onie bore him six — before she left him. (More on that later.)
I’ll leave you to a guesstimate of how many adults, children, and babies in diapers were housed altogether, under one roof, before Grandfather could finally afford to buy a separate “roof” for his second family!
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
Juarez Stake Academy
(Jr. High/High School of Colonia Juarez, México)
“My mama is so good to me,
She works for me each day,
So She can buy me food and clothes,
And many toys for play.
I love my mama,
Yes, I do, my mama good and kind;
And if I looked and looked,
No better mama could I find.”
(Author unknown — Children’s song)
As a kid, I used to ask Mama what her life was like when she was a kid. Fundamentalist Mormon “Saints” believe they are perfect/are supposed to be perfect. So Mama mostly only told me about the many good things in her life as she was growing up. But she sometimes would admit to some bad things that happened too.
For example: In answer to my questions about her childhood, Mama exclaimed: “I loved my life! It couldn’t have been more perfect! The persecution my older brothers ‘n’ sisters had to suffer had let up a lot by the time I was of school-age. And Pa only gave me one spankin’ in all my life — which I deserved! [She wouldn’t tell me what she did to deserve it.]
“However, I still experienced feelings of low self-worth ‘n’ excruciating shame … which I always worked hard to try to overcome. Even though my siblings ‘n’ I were top students at Juarez Stake Academy [Her Junior High/ High School’s name], it still really affected my self-esteem ’cause I grew up with my family bein’ looked down upon ‘n’ not bein’ accepted.
“The LDS Stake President ‘n’ Superintendent of our school system said my brother Ben was the brightest student ever to have gone through the Juarez Stake Academy!” [It was a very small-town High School, to be sure, in the early to mid-1900s, when Mother and her siblings attended this Mormon colony’s public schools. So not too much competition.]
Mother often talked about “The-best this” and “The-best that!” (This is how I was raised!) The jury is still out on whether Uncle Ben still holds the title of “Best student” — if he ever held it at all! But I always heard about how brilliant he was — before he had the mental breakdown, and schizophrenia/bipolar disease set in.
Mama continued: “So despite how well us LeBaron kids did in school, my parents were called ‘apostates.’ And people in the Mormon colonies were told to not associate with us–other than for doin’ business.
“Ma ‘n’ Pa didn’t, therefore, go to church, though they believed in Mormonism. Even so, us kids went to the mainline Mormon colony’s only Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, we were taught the revisionist Mormon doctrines: That polygamy was now a sin, for example … ‘n’ they taught me my parents were sinners.
“Yet, since my parents were Mormon fundamentalists, at home we were taught the orthodox Mormon doctrines — The Mormon beliefs lived before the Manifesto of 1890.
“It was confusing to have my ma ‘n’ pa pointin’ out how the Mormon church was now out of order … all the while at the LDS church I was goin’ to, my siblings ‘n’ I were taught our parents were out of order ‘n’ on the wrong path — ‘n’ therefore goin’ against God ‘n’ God’s leaders — so headed for hell!
“But even though Pa had more than one wife, ‘n’ people of my same faith were makin’ fun of our family ‘n’ my father, they respected Mother’s piano teachin’ ‘n’ playin’ … And my own piano expertise, too … ’cause Ma was the best piano teacher … ‘n’ I was the best pianist in the colonies!”
[There was at least one other outstanding pianist back then in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico: The one who taught Mother to play Piano Concertos, etc. (Ione Fenn?) — so Mother could accompany a Symphony Orchestra performing Piano Concertos. I don’t recall hearing much about this expert pianist and piano teacher … or whether she was really “the best”!]
But let’s let Mama continue: *”So I grew up with mixed feelings: On the one hand, I knew I was the best ‘n’ most outstanding girl in town — And for that matter, in all of Mormondom.
*”How could I be sure of this? ‘Cause whenever church Apostles ‘n’ other church leaders visited our colony, they would tell us the Mormons of Colonia Juarez were the very best ‘n’ purest of all the Mormons they met in any other Mormon town or city.
“And I knew I was the best ‘n’ purest of all the girls ‘n’ women in Colonia Juarez. So that’s how I knew I was the best ‘n’ most perfect woman in the whole world — given that Mormon women are better, to begin with, than women of the world …
“So, as I said before, I knew I was the best ‘n’ purest of all them Mormon women. [I will enlarge upon this in a later blog. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on it. LOL!]
“But on the other hand, I came to feel like my family ‘n’ I were the lowest people in town — due to how so many people talked ’bout us, and shamed ‘n’ shunned us.
“Still, when my two older siblings, Ben ‘n’ Lucinda, went crazy, that added more ridicule, ostracization, ‘n’ shame to our family. [In those backward days, especially in small towns, the mentally ill weren’t looked upon kindly.]
“Even so, and in spite of all our sorrows ‘n’ religious confusion, how I loved playin’ with ‘n’ doin’ things with my half-sisters, Aunt Onie’s children — Barbara, Clara, Verla, and Ilene. And how I loved bein’ the only girl in the middle of my own seven brothers: Ben, Wesley, Alma, Joel, Ervil, Floren, and Verlan.
Please note: When I’m quoting things Mother said, way back when, please don’t think, by any means, that I agree with all her ideas or ways of thinking.
That’s but the way I was raised. However, it was a long time ago, and I have changed a lot since then (Let’s hope!) — not only in my values, but in my lack of prejudice, and in my education, rationality, and understanding also.
I’m sure Mother changed some in her outlook, beliefs, and values, too, over the years. Since I left her cult and moved away, I wasn’t around her a lot in her last forty-six years.
But the few times I had spoken to or seen her during that time of estrangement, I could only wonder how she never saw through the numerous fallacies she preached and believed in so zealously: Things such as polygamy, for example — even though she was too jealous to live polygamy, herself (according to Daddy).
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
“People are what their mothers make them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
left off in last week’s blog where Mama had exclaimed how, despite persecution and her own religious confusion, she had wonderful times doing things with her half-sisters, Aunt Onie’s children. And had also loved being not only the middle child but the only girl in the middle of seven brothers: Ben, Wesley, and Alma were born before Mama. After her came Joel, Ervil, Floren, and Verlan.
Mama explained to me, as I continued to question her about her life growing up:
“Ma had four girls. But my sister Jenny died at age six from eatin’ poison mistletoe berries. I’d just turned four. After we arrived home from Jenny’s burial site, some Mormon neighbors met us with food ‘n’ flowers. I told them, ‘We left Jenny up there on the hill!!’ “
“Ma couldn’t bear to discipline me after losin’ Jenny so I was spoiled rotten. Then I was pampered even more after Ma had twins, David ‘n’ Mary — who also died. I was eleven by then. They were the last kids she bore … but they were ‘Blue babies:’ The cord was wrapped ’round their necks, so they strangled to death.
“Irene, my parents’ oldest child,” continued Mama, somberly: “was nine years my senior. She grew up ‘n’ left home by the time I was ten. And Lucinda, five years my senior, had a nervous breakdown at age seventeen. She was in a mental institution, off ‘n’ on, after that — till years later she had to be institutionalized for the remainder of her life. When I asked Mama why she went crazy, she was in one of her rare moments of utter honesty as she responded to my query:
“I was twelve when my gifted, artistic, ‘n’ highly sensitive sister Lucinda had her first mental breakdown. What broke her was hearin’ one of her Mormon teachers (who was also the Mormon Stake President of Colonia Juarez) runnin’ her father down to her High School class.
“He didn’t know she was in the back of the room. Among other things, he told the class: ‘Lucinda’s father, Dayer LeBaron’s a crazy crackpot … a bad man … an apostate! He’s goin’ to hell … ‘n’ may even be a son of perdition.’ [The worst thing you can be in Mormondom!]
“But what also lead to yer Aunt Lucinda’s emotional breakdown,” Mama added, “was she’d gone into the bathroom medicine cabinet ‘n’ secretly taken a bunch of pills to try to start her period. The pills made her deathly sick!
“Eventually, Ma ‘n’ Pa found she was pregnant. So Pa beat the livin’ daylights out of her. Why? Because she’d lost her virginity … and was now gunna have a bastard baby who was not only part Mexican, but its father wasn’t even Mormon! So Lucinda had brought even more shame on our despised ‘n’ denigrated family!
“After Lucinda went crazy, Pa beat her relentlessly … tryin’ to beat the devil out of her. Evil spirits had taken her over: She’d been turned over to ‘the buffetings of Satan,’ due to her transgressions ‘n’ fornication.”
Mama never told me the rest of the story — Just one more story that was covered up so the iconoclastic “Mexico LeBarons” would look like “A godly family with a saintly mission.”
“Needless to say,” Mama continued, “When Lucinda went crazy, your grandma spoiled me even more. The loss of Jenny, then my oldest sister leavin’ home … ‘n’ now Lucinda goin’ out of her mind, caused Ma to treat me with kid gloves ‘n’ coddle me like a treasure beyond measure!
“Besides, I was her only daughter left at home. Gettin’ top grades at school, along with my looks ‘n’ charms … ‘n’ playin’ difficult Piano Concertos like Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor,” was helpin’ to make our family look better. Ma valued me for that too.
“I was like the Savior of the family, so to speak. So, though I was the middle child, I wasn’t insignificant the way a middle child often is … especially since I was the only girl ‘mongst all them boys!”
* Please note: When I quote/ paraphrase things Mother said, way back when, please don’t think I agree, by any means, with all her ideas or ways of thinking and doing.
That’s the way I was raised. But that was a long time ago. Since then, I have routed out a lot of these backward beliefs, and ways of thinking, and behaving — Let’s hope! — Not only in my values but in my lack of prejudice, as well as in my rationality and understanding.
Perhaps Mama even changed a bit, in her outlook and values, too, before she died at age ninety-two. I wasn’t around to see.
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer
“The mother’s heart is the child’s schoolroom.”
Harriet Ward Beecher
We left off last week where I was questioning Mama about her childhood. Let’s continue with her telling me the following unbelievable coincidence:
“Because I had so much fun with my seven brothers when I was growin’ up,” she exclaimed, “I wanted to have seven boys in a row when I got married. Instead, I got seven girls in a row! [Doris, Beulah/Stephany, Sharon, Judith, Mary, Pauline, ‘n’ Nola]. That just shows ‘to-go-you’: Be careful what you wish for!”
Then she continued, “Aunt Onie [Mama’s father’s plural wife] ‘n’ her daughters ‘n’ my two older sisters, Irene ‘n’ Lucinda, did most of the upkeep of the home ‘n’ the care of the kids, while your Grandma was busy spoilin’ me … ‘n’ teachin’ piano lessons to help your Grandpa feed ‘n’ support his two wives ‘n’ all his kids.
“Besides teachin’ piano lessons there in Colonia Juarez where I was raised,” Mama continued, “Mama/ your grandma was oft’ times gone one or two days at a time, twice a week (up to five days a week sometimes!) teachin’ piano lessons in the nearby Mormon colonies.
“Even so, she let me out of all the housework ‘n’ other chores ‘n’ responsibilities about the home ‘n’ yard — long as I studied hard to get top grades, went to my piano lessons, ‘n’ practiced the piano long hours — so I could perform outstanding piano solos in public, to impress our Mormon oppressors –‘n’ make our family look better in the eyes of the town’s people who always gossiped about us ‘n’ put us down.
“Consequently, “Mama laughed, “much to yer Pa’s aggravation ‘n’ disappointment, once he married me, he discovered I didn’t know how to be a homemaker!
All I knew how to do was be a pianist ‘n’ scholar … and artist, ‘n’ poet, ‘n ‘writer. At twenty-two, when I married your Pa, I could barely make a bed, let alone bake bread!
“When yer Pa complained to yer grandma that I didn’t know how to boil water, let alone bake beans, she merely retorted, ‘Ah, well … She’s got plenty of years ahead to learn them things!’ “
But the upside is Mama was the top student in her small, mostly Mormon 8th-grade graduating class. Thus she got to give the Valedictory Address!
“And, as part of our graduating program, I also played a difficult piano solo, “The Fawns,” Mama proudly informed me. “Plus I harmonized in a duet I sang with another student — while my mama accompanied us on the piano. I was only thirteen years old!
“But my gettin’ so many important parts in our graduation program, ‘n’ outdoin’ all the other Mormon kids that were supposed to be so much better than me and my polygamist family, created envy ‘n’ aggravation amongst the Mormon colonists who’d been so busy runnin’ us LeBarons down all them years.
“But at least they saw Dayer’s family had excelled in spite of bein’ made the scapegoats of the town … ‘n’ treated so low down … like untouchables … though my older siblings (Irene, Ben, Lucinda, Wesley, ‘n’ Alma) got it lots worse than I did,” she ruefully reiterated.
“By the time I reached my teens (as I told you before, I was the seventh child) the Mormons had decided to start treatin’ ‘apostate’ Dayer LeBaron’s family better.
“They finally begun lettin’ us participate in their Mormon Social’s, for example — especially after they saw what the persecution and ostracism had done to my older siblings:
“For example, Ben ‘n’ Lucinda had nervous breakdowns in their late teens. Then eventually went completely crazy … never to recover! Spent most of their life in a mental institution,” she said, tearfully wiping her eyes.
Then Mama continued, “Since it was a Mormon colony, all the school ‘n’ church socials were always combined. That meant we were always left out of everything — especially my first six older siblings!! It was devastatin’ … so hard on my talented ‘n’ gifted older brothers ‘n’ sisters … So very painful for them ‘n’ my whole family!!”
My Mama: Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer … And the Perils of Polygamy
“It is not our exalted feelings,
it is our sentiments that build the necessary home.”
We left off where I was querying Mama about her past, present, parents … and the perils of polygamy:
“Sadly,” Mama told me, “Pa ‘n’ Ma failed miserably in their all-out efforts to follow Joseph Smith’s commandment to live polygamy or be damned to hell. Aunt Onie* ultimately left Papa, taking with her, her six children she’d borne him.
Actually, what happened is, while Grandpa Dayer was away on one of his long trips painting houses in the United States, Aunt Onie fell for and had an affair with a handsome and charming young Mexican man. When she became pregnant with his child, her affair was discovered. So Grandpa “put her aside.“
But, personally, I don’t blame Aunt Onie for being attracted to another man: She was around thirty years old. Her fifty-year-old husband was gone much of the time. And when home, Onie had to share him with Grandmother Maud (thirteen years Onie’s senior), and a household full of children and chores … plus all the jobs her husband had to do around home, yard, and town.
But even if none of that mattered, it’s hard to resist temptation when you’re young, attractive, lonely, lovelorn, forlorn … and your husband is generally off sowin’ his wild “corn”/oats. And what’s worse, when he is home, sex is only for having children:[Grandpa Believed and held to the Mormon fundamentalist doctrine,” The Law of Chastity,” that proclaimed, among other things, that sex was only for procreation. So once the wife was pregnant (and also while she was nursing) he was to leave her alone and have no more sex with her!
But note the oxymoron: Aunt Onie’s husband could have a plural wife, but God forbid Aunt Onie had a plural husband — though if anyone ever needed a plural husband, it was she!
Aunt Onie finally solved her love-n-loneliness dilemmas by leaving Grandfather Dayer and polygamy altogether. She simply went to visit her family of origin in Hurricane, Utah, settled near them — and never returned.
Poor, grief-stricken, and emotionally abandoned Aunt Onie was shunned till she was forced, though totally heart-broken about it, to adopt out her beautiful illegitimate brown baby: Adultery and bearing a baby out of wedlock — especially a half-breed — was simply unacceptable among 1930’s Mormons!
But Aunt Onie lived near and visited regularly her darling “bastard baby,” as they were called back then. How do I know all this? Because Mama told me. And because, between the years of 1955 and 1960, my family lived near Aunt Onie in Hurricane, Utah.
One day Aunt Onie actually came to my school and gave a speech to our Jr. High/High School student body, as part of a Community Outreach Program. The theme of her speech centered on how she, as a young adult, had made some egregious errors she hoped we would not fall into, ourselves.
Among the many things she told us was: “I ignored my parents’ ‘n’ the church’s advice, ‘n’ married into polygamy. My rebellion ‘n’ goin’ against the leaders of the church led me into a life of sin, misery, ‘n’ shame.
“After unbearable sufferin’ and loneliness — which sin always leads to — I eventually saw the error of my ways, repented of my sins, ‘n’ returned to the LDS Church. Then I got rebaptized for the remission of my sins.”
Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she related her painful misgivings, mistakes, and miserable story. What an amazingly strong woman she was to open up and share, honestly, her experiences and lessons with us young people. I was and still am impressed with her show of humility and integrity. Aunt Onie was a wonderful example to us students, that day … and a wonderful public speaker!
Now let’s get back to where Mama was telling me about when she and her siblings lost Aunt Onie and their half-siblings who had been so much a part of their life for around fourteen years — including the two years or so when Onie babysat them and helped care for them before she married Grandpa Dayer as his plural wife:
“Words cannot express the sorrow I felt … our whole family felt,” reminisced Mama –– “upon losing Aunt Onie ‘n’ our playmates — our six half-brothers ‘n’ sisters we’d grown up with.
“We’d shared the same house with them for seven years. And Aunt Onie had taken care of us like a second mother, while Mama was often gone — busy teachin’ piano lessons to help support the family.”
Mother and her siblings never got over having lost their “other mother,” and six half-siblings. But during the years my family lived in Hurricane, Utah, Mama and Aunt Onie visited regularly. This helped Ma not miss so much her mother and family in Mexico.
*Note: They called Grandpa’s plural/second wife, “Aunt,” as a show of affection and kinship. Though in some polygamous families, the plural wife might have been called “Mama Onie,” or other such.
Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer…
And the Perils of Polygamy
“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.”
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 the 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, 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?)!
Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer…
And The Perils of Polygamy
Out of all the Mothers in the world,
So thanks, Mom!
No better mama could I find!
and Stephany Spencer-LeBaron
Continuing where I left off in the previous blog discussing “The Perils of Polygamy,” let’s add to this perilous Mormon-fundamentalist doctrine discussion one of its greatest oxymorons:
Child brides and young women are thrown into idealistic polygamous relationships without the least training or preparation for such difficult liaisons! This is one of the worst ingredients in this stressful and volatile plural-marriage-mess-up.
And once thrown to the pernicious “polygamy wolves,” it’s “Stink, sink, or swim:” They’re eaten alive, then expected to automatically know how to spit up and live polygamy like a saint … though it’s an altogether unfair and unnatural way to live.
Now add to this pernicious, perilous, presumptuous, and preposterous plural-marriage pot the ever-abiding and overriding following foul-smelling, fallacious, and insidious ingredient: These unfortunate “plygs” believe they are Saints –– but they’re not. Now stir!
A mature couple in a monogamous marriage generally has enough trouble making a go of it. When you throw into a nubile polygamous marriage all the ingredients included in the plural-marriage kit (a kit filled with kinks and sticks that wedge themselves into the spokes of the vehicle’s fine tuning) it’s a wonder the volatile wheel can turn at all!
And a wonder the fire of love isn’t put out altogether. Sometimes it is. But often times there was no love, to begin with — just an arranged marriage participated in out of obligation and belief that that’s what God wants.
Add to this boiling brew that Mormon fundamentalists consider themselves “God’s chosen handful.” So they take for granted they should automatically know how to cook it all up — the polygamous soup recipe, that is — perfectly — even though they got no training in the matter of how to cook it — and ain’t no saints!
Now add to this stew that there are no manuals — no recipes written on the subject of how to live the dastardly, difficult life of polygamy — let alone a Dr. Phil to contact for counseling and guidance — no matter how badly a wife, husband, child, and family needs help and advice.
The end result? You have a cesspool of living hell — not harmony. People have to shut off their emotions to survive! To be sure, it’s a life only true Saints could endure or traverse. Yet, fools wade in where angels fear to tread. I know! I’ve been there, done that … and never want to do it again!
So, I feel for my zealous grandmother, grandfather, and his plural wife, Aunt Onie (discussed in previous blogs). They tried so hard to live their Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment: “Live polygamy or be damned to hell.“
Hell?! They were already in hell! They just didn’t know it! Or couldn’t admit it … because it ran against the grain of their religion to think, let alone dare believe such stuff.
Poor miserable Mama! But as in all things in this world, amidst the bad, there’s always some good. And she attests that her childhood “had many wonderful times.” Nonetheless, she grew up in the polygamists’ barbarous, backward lifestyle laden with deprivation and unnecessary dilemmas.
Monogamous mothers and fathers don’t have enough time, money, and attention to give to their children when they have from five to twenty-five babies — or more! — all born within a year or two of each other — as in the case of Mormon fundamentalist families.
So you know the polygamist father of a huge herd of kids ain’t got the wherewithal to give to his flock — including all his wives. Therefore, Mama and her nineteen siblings and half-siblings, plus her mother, father, and his plural wife suffered a lot of needless hell … and they didn’t have to wait “till death do us part.”
Only it’s considered blasphemous, among Mormon fundamentalists, to think this way. They generally wouldn’t dream of thinking the way I now think — though, let me tell you, it’s far from the way I was brought up to think!
Mormon fundamentalists believe they are doing a glorious and blessed thing when they bring all the children they possibly can into “good Mormon fundamentalist families — and harems.” (I mean, it’s literally quantity, not quality!)
After they’ve produced all the kids and wives they possibly can, they all then swim in their surreal soup, surviving only by living in a dream world where they’re cut off from their real feelings and individuality.
This surreal, sanctimonious soup they manage to sip only by keeping a smile on their face, a prayer in their heart … and a tale in their head that they’re “very, very happy, mightily blessed ... and better/ better off than everyone else.”
It’s a rather ridiculous but rewarding tale; one that assures them they’re going to the highest degree of glory, once they die (the women on their husband’s shirt tails, no less!) … because they lived polygamy and also had all the kids they possibly could.” (All that matters to most Mormon fundamentalists is how many wives and children they have!)
They’re so misled … and reason even less. The truth is pretty much the opposite of what they believe. But they’re taught to follow their patriarchal leaders … not to use their head or heart.
They’re commonly told: “When your leader speaks, your thinking has been done.” And they’re admonished to sacrifice in this life … and live for the hereafter. (Life’s too miserable to live for the here-‘n’-now!)
Living in this illusion — this delusion — they have no idea what real attention and love is. Nor are they prepared to do as well nor have as good a life as they might have had were they raised normally; i.e., if they were raised to fit into our modern world … not a fastidious foot-washing fantasy.
Sadly, in their religious fanaticism, they pass their masochistic, ignorant, depraved and deprived lifestyle on, generation after generation — a secluded, backward, and lawless lifestyle that perpetrates and perpetuates polygamy and huge progenies of neglected and abused children.
What’s worse, in the name of religious freedom, these children born in the United States to one man and his multiple wives are children born without the protection and rights the rest of America’s children are born with. (That’s another story, but I’ve discussed it, somewhat, in earlier blogs.)
Suffice it to say, “Plural marriage” is nothing but an illegal, insensitive, narcissistic, and irresponsible lifestyle generated by Joe Smith, an uneducated, sense-of-entitlement, self-proclaimed prophet … a “prophet” there for the “profit,” power, and prestige!
My Mama, Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer:
Ma Meets Pa … Or Was It the Other Way Around?
History will be kind to me
for I intend to write it.
Winston Spencer Churchill
“It was love at first sight!” exclaimed Mama. “When I first met your Pa, he was up on the roof, in sunny Mesa, Arizona, helpin’ my brother Alma reroof my brother Ben’s house. The year was 1943, I was about twenty-three, ‘n’ in my second year at Tempe University — And quite sure I didn’t want to live polygamy. But all that changed when I met yer pa: I knew, the minute I saw him, he was the man I was supposed to marry!”
So it didn’t matter that my future Daddy was twenty-six years her senior, already married to a beautiful woman, Eva Bowman, and together those two had ten gorgeous children — Plus another on the way. None of that mattered because Mama was a Mormon fundamentalist.
What did matter in Mormon fundamentalist eyes is Ma was “an old maid” at the time she met future Pa. Now, how had she, an attractive, gifted, and accomplished young woman, existed so long under the radar without being “married up”? For “Plygs” are generally married off as children — because, to them, marriage and having all the kids one can have is what life is all about; i.e., All that matters to Mormon fundamentalists, in general, is having all the kids and wives they can have — so as to bring all the little spirits they possibly can into good Mormon fundamentalist homes.
These homes are the best homes in the world, they believe. They simply sacrifice their ALL to serve God by bringing as many as they can of these little “foreordained” spirits down into “good Mormon homes;” i.e., homes that live the “fullness of the gospel,” as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught it — Homes where not one jot nor tittle of these early prophets’ words and teachings have been changed! (Is that obsessive-compulsive or what?! Well, they don’t think so.)
But getting back to where I got sidetracked, I’ll tell you what Mother was doing still single at twenty-two: This “catch” was “a Mexico LeBaron.” Now if you’re a Mormon fundamentalist, you know what that means: There was mental illness in Ma’s Family; i.e., “The Mexico-LeBaron Family.”
Let me give you some backstory — if I have the story right. (LeBaron stories are/ were wont to change from time to time): Ma’s big brother, my Uncle Ben, was not only bipolar/schizophrenic, but had recently let the various Mormon fundamentalist groups know they were to follow him as their “Priesthood Head,” because he was the “One Mighty ‘n’ Strong.” Uncle Ben further quipped: “I get revelations from God regularly … thus sayeth the Lord! “
He claimed his father had given him a special priesthood mantle — the “Scepter of Power,” or “The Right of the Firstborn.” It was claimed my uncle Ben’s father Dayer LeBaron received this special priesthood mantle from his grandfather Benjamin F. Johnson — who got it from the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Crazy? And how!)
In today’s blog, it’s not my intent to go into Mormon fundamentalist and LeBaron doctrines, other than to say all this above crazy business meant Uncle Ben claimed to hold the priesthood keys to the kingdom of God on earth. So he was, therefore, “The one Mighty ‘n’ strong, come in the last days to set the house of God in order” — as prophesied in Mormon scriptures.
The Mormon fundamentalists believe “The house of God” (i.e., the mainstream Mormon church) had gotten out of order and lost the keys to the priesthood and, thus, favor with God when they signed away plural marriage in the Manifesto of 1890. (For polygamy was the highest commandment their Prophet Joseph Smith had given them.)
Trust me, that’s all we have time to tell about these fundamentalist doctrines and beliefs, at the moment. We’ve already gotten far off the subject of “Ma Meets Pa.” But at least now you know why Ma did not feel she was a home-breaker … Instead, believed she was a “home-maker.”
My parents, Esther LeBaron Mcdonald and Floyd Otto Spencer
Home Sweet Home
Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home —
There’s no place like home
‘Mid pleasures and palaces,
Though I may roam,
Be it ever so humble,
There’s no place like home.
A charm from the sky
Seems to hallow us there,
Which seek thro’ the world,
Is ne’er met with elsewhere
To thee, I’ll return,
Overburdened with care;
The heart’s dearest solace
Will smile on me there
No more from that cottage
Again I will roam;
Be it ever so humble,
There’s no place like home.
NOTE: “Home Sweet Home” was one of Daddy’s favorite songs. (When I was ten years old, he taught me to play it on the harmonica).
This classic folksong and hymn was written by American lyricist John Howard Payne and English composer Sir Henry Bishop for an opera that was first produced in London in 1823. The song became hugely popular throughout the United States, and was a favorite of both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.)
Let’s continue where we left off in Part 11 of “My Mama,” where she was saying: “I didn’t feel I was a home-breaker … The thought never entered my mind. I believed I was a ‘home-maker’ because I brought your Pa into ‘the glorious Principle of Plural Marriage.’
“I knew his living this holy principle, as laid down by Joseph Smith, would ensure he would not only have a chance to obtain a home in heaven with God — but he’d also be able to become a God, himself, in the hereafter … and create worlds of his own … and, thus, many homes throughout eternity. Therefore, I was not a ‘homebreaker’ … I was a ‘homemaker.’ ”
So here we have fervent Mormon fundamentalist homewrecker, lovestruck Ma, instead of perched upon a chair doing her college homework, perched upon the housetop doing “homemaker homework” … flirting in a “pretty-please” position irresistible to future Pa — the guy Mama’s ma said, “had one-foot-in-the-grave.” (He was forty-eight years old — twenty-six years older than Mama.)
Now, while beautiful future Mother was ardently gazing into gorgeous future Father’s eyes, Mother’s brothers were arduously and assiduously helping lay new shingles as fastidiously as they were waxing unwise in converting future brother-in-law to polygamy, Mormon orthodoxy … and all its lies!
The re-roofing while preaching gave gorgeous Ma multiple moments to be with handsome Pa … Moments in which they got to know each other — up on the rooftop in sunny Arizona.
All during this time, Uncle Ben wasted no time showing my future father, mainstream Mormon Floyd Spencer, scriptures that would convince him the Mormon church was out of order.
However, he was unable to convince future Father that he, Benjamin Teasdale LeBaron, was the one mighty ’n’ strong — come to set the the Mormon church/ the house of God back in order — despite Uncle Ben’s constantly hearing voices from within while relating to future Father his “Thus sayeth the Lord!” revelations. “The word of God” came to my schizophrenic uncle on a regular basis (as usual) … And on a stepped-up basis while working with and trying to convert future Father to his, Uncle Ben’s, new church.
Floyd Otto Spencer and Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer,
“Home is the place where,
when you have to go there,
they have to take you in.”
We left off where Uncle Ben wasn’t able to convince future Pa, Floyd Spencer, that he, Benjamin Teasdale LeBaron, was The One Mighty ‘n’ Strong come to set the house of God in order. However, Uncle Ben did convince Floyd Spencer the only way he could be saved was to enter into Plural Marriage; i.e., polygamy/ polygyny/ bigamy.
In fact, betwixt Ma and her brothers Ben and Alma, my handsome mainstream Mormon pa, Floyd Spencer, was quickly converted to “Plural Marriage” and “the fullness of the gospel” — Mormon fundamentalist gospel.
It wasn’t hard: My young sexy “future Ma” was regularly looking, with eyes aglow, into the eyes of my middle-aged “future Pa” — and the countenance of the man she “knew” she was to marry — And “Pa” had a reputation for being a womanizer (said a half-brother of mine I met years ago — one of Daddy’s sons by his first wife Eva).
But what finally cinched Floyd’s conversion to polygamy was Uncle Ben’s reading him the 132nd sec. of The Doctrine and Covenants — the Mormon Scriptural revelation wherein J. Smith commands his followers to live Plural Marriage or be damned to hell.
After future Pa’s conversion to Mormon fundamentalism, it wasn’t long thereafter before he and future Ma were lovers; and even sooner, snuggled up in the bed of Pa’s pick-up truck, with Uncle Ben — or Uncle Alma? — in the cab at the wheel, hitting the unpaved rocky rutted road at top speed, while the vehicle bounced-and-bumped up-and-down (and-humped-and-pumped?) as they sped along towards the Mormon town, Colonia Juarez, Mexico — so Pa could get permission from Ma’s pa to marry Ma — while they were still hopefully chaste?! Hmmm! (I would’ve loved to have gone along for the ride!)
But Daddy didn’t get much permission from his legal wife Eva to take a ride — let alone a second wife. She could “take a hike,” as far as he was concerned because Joseph Smith’s commandment to “live polygamy or be damned” came ahead of everything else — and he’d be damned if he’d be damned!
So Eva, his wife of 23 years and mother of their 10 children — and one on the way — agreed to go along with Joseph Smith’s teachings that required a man live polygamy. But I’m getting ahead of the story when I tell you that after six-suffering months with her handsome, hardworking husband, she couldn’t take it anymore.
Feeling betrayed, and unable to bear any longer the heartbreak, jealousy, and loneliness brought on by her husband bedding and abetting his nubile twenty-two-year-old polygamist bride, Eva divorced him on the basis of such things as Adultery, Assault and Battery, Abandonment, Emotional Abuse, and Incompatibility.
While at it, she obtained a Restraining Order … barring him from their kids.(Tears!) So Daddy never saw his youngest children again till they were in their mid to late teens.
I was fourteen at the time and present when he met his two youngest for the first time since they were babies. Daddy had to pull a lot of strings behind Eva’s back to see them. And felt lucky they got to meet at all! They had been so turned against him, it wasn’t a warm welcome, only a short reunion … but better than no reunion.
“That which does not kill you
will make you stronger.”
Let’s go back to before I got ahead of the story–back to Part 13 where my “future ma and pa” lay … or sat? … on a makeshift bed of blankets in the back of “future Papa’s” pickup truck. The blankets padded their backs and butts as they bounced and bumped along in a rough ‘n’ rickety ride over 1940s rutted roads in their 1940s vehicle that soon left Mesa, Arizona far behind, as they bounded for the Mexican border making lickety-split time!
Like bandits, they had to get out of Dodge to dodge the law that would like to put Pa in jail for practicing polygamy. Being fundamentalist Mormon laws-unto- themselves, my uncles Ben and Alma participated in the excitement of dodging the justice system as they sat in the truck’s cab taking turns at the wheel, conversing excitedly about their soon-to-be brother-in-law’s recent conversion to Plural Marriage and “the fullness of the gospel,” and the upcoming secret marriage ceremony of their “old maid” sister.
My young uncles were proud of themselves and their ability to preach the gospel; i.e., their ability to be good missionaries … felt they had done “a good day’s work” by bringing another soul into “The Work” — That is, “The work of God, in God’s only true Church upon the face of the earth.”
This “accomplishment” heightened their sense of self-esteem and self-worth — puffed them up a bit as they continued making a beeline for their hometown — the Mexican Mormon colony, Colonia Juarez … so their sister, Esther, could get their papa’s permission to wed — ASAP!
But they had another important reason for going there: There was a certain so-‘n’-so (Was his name Nathan Clark?* His name was kept secret so he wouldn’t get in trouble with the church or law) — a priesthood member in high standing in the LDS church who lived in that colony. He held the keys to “temple sealings/ celestial marriage.”
Though a member in good standing in the LDS church, he continued to perform Plural Marriages in secret — even though, ever since The Manifesto of 1890, Plural Marriage had been condemned and outlawed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
To make a long story shorter, my future parents, Esther and Floyd, easily obtained permission from Mother’s father to marry, though her parents weren’t happy she was marrying a man 26 years her senior — who already had “one foot in the grave,” as my maternal grandma Maud put it.
Nevertheless, “future Mama’s” Mormon fundamentalist parents were relieved their middle child/ youngest living daughter, Esther LeBaron de McDonald, had finally “come to her senses” … Had, in the end, chosen to marry into polygamy.
I confess, they had been very worried about her salvation and her entering the highest degree of glory, once in heaven, because, for some years, Esther had professed (to their dismay) not to believe in nor want to live Plural Marriage:
“Part of what changed my mind ‘n’ convinced me to accept ‘the holy and righteous Principle of Plural Marriage,’ Mama said, “is I had a marvelously inspired revelation — a dream that showed me plural marriage was right — It even outlined exactly how it should be lived … And how glorious it could be … if participated in correctly.”
Daddy, likewise, believed he had done the right thing to take a plural wife. But sometimes I wonder if he wondered if he’d chosen wrongly. For, not long after he’d married Mom, to his dismay, his hair suddenly turned from Salt-‘n’-Pepper gray to pure white … and thinned … as he turned “blue” and thinner under the unexpected stresses, losses, devastation, and sorrows that followed his new Mormon fundamentalist faith and lifestyle.
Especially devastating to him was losing his eleven beautiful children — not to mention his beloved wife, Eva. Then, on top of all this … and for all his sacrifices and attempts to live “The Holy Principle of Matrimony — Plural Marriage,” within six months, he was, again, a monogamist anyway! And remained that way till the day he died — was never able to take on another plural wife so as to live “The fullness of the gospel.”
“Your ma was too jealous to let him take a plural wife,” he told me. But I suspect Daddy’s age and his temperament also made it difficult for him to attract a plural wife. Furthermore, for a good many years, our family did not live in an area where there were Mormon fundamentalist women available for plural marriages.
Ah, what travesties and travails life doth present us … And how much of our pain and sorrow do we bringeth upon ourselves because, though we may think we are doing what is right, we are, in reality, keeping our fingers on a hot stove; i.e., We’re doing what is wrong.
Getting back to Daddy’s first wife and his first attempt to “live the fullness of the gospel, Daddy concluded: “I couldn’t allow Eva to wear the pants in the family, pussy whip me, and carry me down to hell with her ‘cause she wouldn’t abide by the higher laws of God.
“Eva was spiritually too weak to follow me, her husband and priesthood head — too rebellious to live the fullness of the gospel. So, instead of doing what was right, by following God’s command to live plural marriage, she chose to do wrong — to get revenge … causing me no end of trouble with the law and the Mormon church. Even kept me from ever seeing my kids again!*
Nonetheless, I had to put God’s Commandments first … That is, to give my life for God and the truth. I knew I could not let her stop me from doing what I believed was right; I had to continue to follow the Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment to live ‘The Holy Principle of Plural Marriage’ … or die trying … or I’d be damned.” (And he’d be damned if he’d be damned!)
*Was his name is Nathan Clark? Or was it a different person who sealed my parents in marriage? To anyone reading my blog who knows the answer to this, I would really appreciate it if you would let me know … in my “Comments” box.
* Bear in mind that I’m trying to present Daddy’s point of view. To be sure, it didn’t include such things as his violence – his physical and mental abuse towards Eva. I suspect this was sufficient reason to provoke betrayed Eva to obtain a Restraining Order against him to keep him away from her and her kids … and off her property.
He was of the old-country thinking: Thought it his position and right, as man of the house, to beat his wife into submission; i.e., to control her by “whipping her into shape.” Mama was of this mindset, also! (She bent to her husband’s/ her priesthood head’s will, as good Mormon fundamentalist wives do … so she wouldn’t “deserve” his wrath.)
And, of course, when it comes to his first wife, Eva, Daddy didn’t admit to his betrayal of her, nor the hurt he caused her and her/his family when he took on another wife and family, because, unfortunately, Mormon fundamentalists follow their early founders to the hilt – leaders who told them living plural marriage was God’s highest and most holy law.
Being stoics, they believed they had to put aside their own feelings and needs … as well as the feelings and needs of all others involved … in order to live polygamy! Ridiculous? And how! But that’s how they believed.
Esther LeBaron McDonald de Spencer–
Ma Meets Pa … Part 15
“Home isn’t home anymore.”
(from Olivia Newton John’s song)
We left off in last week’s blog where Daddy said:
“I couldn’t allow Eva to wear the pants in the family, pussy-whip me, and carry me down to hell with her ‘cause she wouldn’t abide by the higher laws of God and Joseph Smith. She was rebellious … not spiritual enough to follow her priesthood head, do what was right, and live the fullness of the gospel.
“Instead, she turned my kids against me! Even took out a Restraining Order to keep me from seeing them ever again.* But I HAD to make whatever sacrifices necessary to follow God’s commandments given through the Prophet Joseph Smith — and that included the commandment to live ‘The Principle of Plural Marriage’ or be damned.
“Before I married yer ma, Eva had agreed to go along with Joseph Smith’s God-given God-given Commandment that I take a plural wife. But, six months after I married yer ma she changed her mind, betrayed me … and went to the law to get me in trouble.
“Because of her treachery, I had to sell out and flee the country. And set up a totally new homestead in Old Mexico — though I knew no Spanish! And as an American, wasn’t allowed to get a job and make a living there, either!
“Eva even had the Mormon church cut me off as an apostate! That was vengeful … traitorous! To add to that, she couldn’t wait to get me into all kinds of legal fixes. She ruined my estate. Due to her actions, I lost a lot of money. Had to sell, in too big a hurry, my home and almost everything I owned, to go into hiding in Old Mexico.
“Putting it succinctly, she was a revengeful ingrate. Her treachery and rebellion knew no bounds. It was unforgivable! She was, for so many years, my wonderful wife and helpmate — only to turn against me and do me in!”
Under these conditions, Daddy chose to stay with his new, twenty-years-younger-than-Eva wife, my Mama, Esther LeBaron de McDonald.
Mom said, “After he married me, he had far fewer migraines than he’d had livin’ with Eva. She was a perfectionist, an immaculate housekeeper … always pressured him too much. Yer pa could never please her enough. Her continuous and unending demands on him to make more money so they could live a better lifestyle stressed him out.”
Well, Papa got quite the opposite with Mama! She was a lay-back, easy-going creative and dreamer — never was much concerned about what others thought of her housekeeping.
She lived in a dream world — believed she was high class and the greatest woman alive … among other things. And above cleaning house and menial chores.
Daddy must have missed Eva’s, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” for, in that way, Daddy was like Eva: He kept his shop organized and immaculate. Born with the gene that enables people to organize things, each one of Daddy’s tools hung proudly and neatly on the wall in its own place when he wasn’t using it. Not only that, his artistic placement of them formed a beautiful design, relaxing to the eye and pleasing to behold.
It was such a change from Mama’s disorganized, dirty home — which got increasingly worse over the years as she became more and more inundated and overwhelmed with the responsibility of too many children — and all else that goes into managing a well-run household.
But to add to her distress and tiring, unending chores was, true to stoic Mormon fundamentalist ways, she was in a constant cycle of being either pregnant, nursing, or becoming pregnant again. And to be sure, women’s work never ends! And Daddy never helped out in the house. That was “women’s work,” he believed!
What’s worse, no matter how Mother’s state of health and energies declined, she and Daddy believed it their fervent, foot-washing duty to God to put childbearing first. Their family’s and their own needs and comforts were secondary when it came to bringing another little “fore-ordained special spirit” into their “righteous Mormon home.” Mother and Daddy would give their life for any one of their yet unborn babies. That was Mormon fundamentalist doctrine.
I just wish they would’ve “given their life” to give more attention, love, care, and money to the kids they already had. But Mama loved to tell people her dream was to have twenty-six kids or die trying! Instead, Daddy died … at age 70. (His youngest child, of his 14 children with my mother, was only around eight months old when he died.)
But Mother remained ever the artist, as long as she lived … never much of a homemaker — though she designed beautiful clothes for us kids, curtains for the house, rugs for the floors — that sort of thing. And I understand she took up oil painting and such in her latter years. She should’ve had servants, but we could not afford them. Her children were her servants, actually, till they all got married and left home.
After moving to Mexico in 1960, where labor was cheap, she would hire a cleaning lady, when the place got too dirty, the dishes, ironing, and laundry piled too high — and she couldn’t get one of her kids to do the menial maintenance work because they had grown up and flown the coop.
As for Daddy’s migraines, they generally let up, anyway, as people age. However, I’ve always wondered why Mother’s generally messy home didn’t give him a full-blown migraine every time he walked in the door. Actually, Mums would hustle us all into the house to quickly clean up messes, as much as possible, before Dad got home from work.
That helped keep him from flying into a rage because the place was a mess and his meal was not on the table when he got home after a hard day’s labor in the fields, or doing carpentry and other construction work, or handyman work, clock and watch repair — or myriads of other chores and jobs.
But what helped keep peace in the home most was Daddy knew Mummy was in love with him. And so proud of him and all his accomplishments, talents, and abilities. He could not have been more appreciated and valued.
And, since Mama believed she was the greatest woman on earth, it went without saying she believed he was the greatest man on earth — next to the Prophet! Papa liked that feeling of importance … of being cared for and honored — Priesthood-Pappy … King of the roost.
On top of that, Mumsy felt rich due to how well Daddy/ Floyd O. Spencer supported her and her family. But “Rich” is relative. I guess she was rich, in comparison to the dire poverty she and her indigent, scrabble-farming family grew up with, in Old Mexico — Not to mention, the pitiful want and starvation she saw all around her among many of the poor Mexican peoples. (Some only ate once every three days, and even then the meal was but corn or beans or both.) So I’d like to say Ma and Pa lived happily ever after … but did they?
* Bear in mind that I’m trying to present Daddy’s point of view. To be sure, that point of view didn’t include such things as his violence – his physical and mental abuse towards Eva and their kids.
Violent, tyrannical Dad believed it his right to dominate and administer physical abuse when his wife or kids were in rebellion, made a mistake — or irked him.
But sadly, Daddy was probably following the example he was raised with, didn’t know any better, and was really only venting his anger, frustration, pain.
This was certainly more than sufficient reason to provoke betrayed Eva to obtain a Restraining Order against him to keep him away from her and her kids … and off her property.
He was of the-old-country thinking: Thought it his position and right, as man of the house, to beat his wife into submission; i.e., to control her by “whipping her into shape.”
Mama was of this mindset, also! (She bent to her husband’s/ her priesthood head’s will, as good Mormon fundamentalist wives are taught to do … so she wouldn’t “deserve” his wrath.)
Daddy didn’t much admit to his betrayal of Eva, nor the hurt he caused her and her family when he fell in love with and took on another wife and family. He and my mother didn’t believe it was betrayal: Following God’s Commandments was all that mattered. If anything, they believed Eva was betraying God by not living polygamy and by leaving Daddy when he tried to fulfill this “highest law.”
Unfortunately, Mormon fundamentalists follow their early founders to the hilt – leaders who told them living plural marriage was God’s highest and most holy law.
Being Stoics, they believed they had to put aside their own feelings and needs … as well as the feelings and needs of all others involved … in order to live polygamy! Ridiculous? And how! But that’s how they believed.
*The following is a message I recently wrote to a relative to help further clarify the activity of my father and mother.
Good morning, dear niece:
I commend and respect you for wanting to engage and know more about your extended family, “free of judgement,” because, and I quote you, “To forgive others is freeing of self.”
People don’t know what they don’t know — and they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know! Likewise, people see what they want to see till they want to see.
It seems to me you came in with an agenda when you read my blogs, and left with what you were looking for.
It also seems to me that you did not read many of my blogs, and misread part of what you did read. It would be great if you would read thoroughly all my blogs. It would save me having to repeat many valuable pieces of information I have already taken the time to write. Even so, there are many misconceptions and preconceived notions you picked up through hearsay that could be much better discussed and clarified on the phone.
You have given me valuable feedback, and I hope to continue to engage with you and to receive more of such input. You were brave and courageous to contact me. It seems a good start toward family healing that has needed such for over 75 years now.
Your grandfather and my mother did what they did out of deep conviction, being fervent followers of their Prophet Joseph Smith. Neither of them wanted to live plural marriage, but they believed Joseph Smith when he said they would be condemned to hell if they did not.
They did their best to follow their prophet’s doctrine which turned out to be often bogus and inhumane, to say the least–a lifestyle impossible to fully abide by.
Read Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and see for yourself why my uncles were able to convert your grandfather to “the fullness of the gospel”/ Mormon fundamentalism.
Your gifted grandfather was born in 1895, had very little formal education, and was a stalwart and fervent follower of Mormonism once he was converted to that religion at age 28. My mother’s brothers converted conscientious Daddy to Mormon orthodoxy because they were able to show him early Mormon teachings he had not learned up until then.
Daddy married my mother with Eva’s consent. She changed her mind six months after my parents were married. You are lucky she chose to raise her children in the mainstream Mormon church, not in a Mormon fundamentalist cult.
However, she also chose to turn her children against their own father, and to also get revenge in other ways, all of which almost killed my sensitive and artistic-natured father. For example, she did not allow him to ever see his children again, among other things. Sadly, the animosity she instilled in her youngest children still remains–from all I’ve been able to gather.
We all know there are two sides to every story. I’m not sure Daddy would have chosen to “Live the fullness of the gospel” had he any idea he would not only lose Eva but his children–especially the youngest ones who never knew him.
I’m only sure that Daddy would not give up his salvation and go against his beliefs simply because “a woman was trying to wear the pants.” That was one of his pet peeves.
I also feel that if your grandma truly cared about your grandpa enough to respect his needs and beliefs, she would not have restrained him from seeing his children ever again. However, I do understand the problems involved in parental visitations once a bitter divorce has taken place.
And I understand the animosity and hurt that takes place when a woman’s husband falls for another woman. But it is also said that if things are right between a man and his wife, no other woman can come in between them. (In my opinion, the jury is still out on that one, though!)
Mother never wanted to live polygamy. Her upbringing brainwashed her to believe she had to. Enough said.
Let’s keep our avenues of communication open. There is much left to be examined, evaluated, and discussed.
Respectfully and with love,
Your Aunt Stephany/ AKA Beulah
“Men never do evil so completely
and cheerfully as when they do it
from religious conviction.”
Picking up where we left off last week, I find it reprehensible Mormon fundamentalist dogma encourages women to intrude upon established marriages, break them up (as Mother did when she went after Father, who was already married and had nine or ten children at the time — and another soon on the way) — all in the name of polygamy; i.e., “living a higher law.”
In other words, it encourages adultery: It “legalizes” a woman’s going after a man she’s attracted to, though he is another woman’s “Contracted property.”
It’s altogether barbaric, ludicrous, deplorable, and inexcusable that a religion could teach doctrines that break up marriages and families. Laws that leave the wife broken-hearted, betrayed, her home downtrodden, and her life and that of her kids smashed to smithereens.
Often, thanks to problems with trying to live polygamy, children are left to grow up fatherless. And the now-single wife is forced to be mother and father to her large family of small children – A sure way to invite misery, poverty, deprivation; i.e., under-class living.
That’s exactly what happened in my father’s case. His Junior-High-age kids even had to quit school and work to help support the large, abandoned family! My father’s betrayed wife Eva, now a sad, grieving, and lonely mother of eleven fatherless children, had to leave the home and go to work too.
So who was left to tend home and babies? Obviously, the older children had to play mama. And become premature homemakers besides.
That’s what happened! Unfortunately, all the above is a typical scenario that broken families endure, thanks to evils like Mormon polygamous doctrines that put “celestial marriage” ahead of everything else.
I’m not proud of the part Mum played in the dire suffering and hell Daddy’s first wife and children endured, even if it was part of Mummy’s fundamentalist Mormon religion to break up marriages.
I only know she could never stand to have done to her what she did to others: She never practiced what she preached, when it came to polygamy. She was too jealous to allow Daddy a plural wife.
And Daddy wasn’t about to add on a second wife unless Mom was in full agreement. He’d already suffered, almost beyond endurance, after losing his first wife and eleven children.
Having learned his lesson the hard way, Dad wasn’t about to stumble, bumble, or ramble into another briar patch — to gamble again on whether taking a plural wife would or wouldn’t work out — womanizer or no womanizer.
In other words, he wasn’t wandering down any more poison ivy-bedecked garden paths — without his legal wife’s full agreement and encouragement. Even then, he might hesitate.
For Eva had been in agreement, to begin with, when it came to her husband taking a second wife — to fulfill Joseph Smith’s commandment to live plural marriage or be damned.
But within six months of Daddy’s having wedded Mummy; i.e., bedded Mommy, Eva could bear no more. She packed up kids and all and divorced him.
Though Mother didn’t mind or didn’t know what she was doing, at age twenty-two or twenty-three, when she went after somebody else’s attractive father and husband “in order to live plural marriage” — that is, have the man she wanted — in the end, she herself was unable to share her handsome husband, once Eva had left him.
She never encouraged Father to take another wife — never lived polygamy … Just talked about it. Just as she talked about herself being the most perfect, holy, and righteous woman on earth — the most-Godly example of how to live “the gospel;” i.e., Mormon fundamentalism. But again, it was all talk.
Ma even wrote and disseminated articles on the subject of how to live plural marriage — and the importance of this “holy law of matrimony”!
Followers follow, so the Mormon fundamentalists she put pressure on and talked into going into plural marriage, never took into account Mama had never lived it, herself, to speak of.
Anyway, Mother had, as the power behind her “punch,” the Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment to live “the holy law of matrimony” or be damned to hell. So her followers drank the “punch” — and were damned to hell … till death do us part?? I damn well think so!
Even so, Mum had a following … admirers … true-believing people who idolized and lauded her — because she told them she knew she had her “calling and election made sure!”
If asked how she was so sure she was going to the highest degree of glory in heaven, when she died, she invariably vouched: “My Patriarchal Blessing told me so!” … as though she were so much more special than the rest of us?
“A wise man learns from other man’s experience.
A fool cannot learn even from his own.”
Taking up from last week’s blog: Since Mother did not/would not/could not live polygamy when it came to sharing Daddy with another woman, I resent that she maneuvered and manipulated me, an innocent adolescent, into a harem — a life she could not live herself.
But what’s new?! Ma operated on double standards: What was not good enough for her was good enough for her daughter. Or she and Daddy were hoping I would be able to live the “highest law of God,” even though “Perfect” Mother was not able to.
I’m sure she wasn’t duplicitous on purpose, but her actions showed a lack of integrity and forethought, not to mention, empathy for me. But what can you expect from a true-believing “Saint” trapped mentally, spiritually, and physically in a world of evil, lies, perversion, fraud, and fantasy — and unable to find a way out?
Perhaps, her lack of feelings and integrity was at least partially brought on by her splitting from herself due to not only subconscious guilt because she was not able to live all the gospel precepts she taught and believed in, but also because her artistic and other deep human needs were not being met.
All these needs conflicted terribly with her crazy extremist Mormon beliefs she’d been so indoctrinated and brainwashed with since birth — such as having to have all the kids she could have, one after another, no matter what the condition of her health was! And having to live “The law of chastity” (I’ll explain this in a future blog) — just two examples of the strict fanatic fundamentalist beliefs her “profits”/Prophets had instilled in her.
She dared not always do what was best for her or her family. She was taught that she had to do only what was best for “God” and “His gospel.” But when you remove the glittering generalities, you realize “God and the gospel” really referred to the “Profit” of the cult — he was “God and the gospel.” He was the one who benefitted from all the cult indoctrination he instilled in his followers.
Since Mummy dared not think for herself nor question “the truth,” she wasn’t aware of her two-facedness — if only because she couldn’t admit to herself she was “not good enough” to be able to live up to what she considered “the highest laws of God” … she who lived in a dream world and told everybody she was the greatest, most righteous woman upon the face of the earth.*
Though Mum raised me to believe I would go to hell if I didn’t live polygamy, she never lived it during her twenty-two-year marriage with Father — that is, after his first wife divorced him within six months of his marrying Mama as his polygamist wife. But, hey, fourteen children and one wife were more than enough for one old man (or young man).
It was a blessing in disguise, I realize, now that I have escaped the polygamist cult, that Daddy didn’t have more wives and kids for our family to contend with and have to share our parents’ attention, energies, and already meager income with.
As for attention, what was that? About the only attention I ever got was when I got in trouble or they were piling on me more slave labor. But, actually, as a Mormon fundamentalist, I didn’t think in terms of attention, being a slave, etc. That would’ve been “selfish and evil.”
We were happy orthodox Mormon masochists in our misery as we denied ourselves in order to make “necessary” sacrifices to bring more little spirits into “good Mormon fundamentalist homes “– such as ours. (LOL!)
We believed we were serving God by doing this. (We told ourselves a lot of stories!) But now that I look back on it, in reality, we were serving the self-proclaimed prophet/ profit, not God/Goodness:
The more kids we produced, and the more sacrifices we made, the more power and profit for the Prophet — and the more little girls available for him and his favorite priesthood members. As I’ve said before, it was all about quantity, not quality.
- The cult leaders taught if we even dared question what they told us and whether polygamy and “the gospel” was correct, we would be turned over to the buffetings of Satan. That meant we would lose our mind and soul– a very real concern for my Mother and me.
*Please keep in mind: Throughout my blogs and Memoirs, I am talking only about the years I knew Mother. Everybody changes as they age.
I had no contact with her the last few years of her life before she became riddled with dementia, then died at ninety-two.
So I’ll cut her some slack and say that she must’ve been doing something right, or she wouldn’t have had so many people who loved her till the end and still have fond memories of her.
“One’s a plenty, two’s a crowd,
Three on the sidewalk
Is not allowed.”
(But have you noticed in “Big Love”
They may be doing it behind your back …
As in behind closed doors?
Step on a crack
And try to keep track!)
As mentioned in previous blogs, Ma raised me to believe I would go to hell if I didn’t live polygamy. Yet, she didn’t/ couldn’t practice what she preached — or at least she kept putting off having to share her husbands with another woman: Ultimately, she never lived Plural Marriage during her twenty-two years with Father.*
I resent this duplicity: How she incessantly preached “The Principle” and maneuvered others into it/polygamy as if she were a saint, a Priestess, and the greatest example and authority on the subject — Though living “The Sacred Principle” was something she could not do herself — At least not while she was married to her own man.*
Maybe she felt she could vindicate herself for not having lived it – not having shared Daddy – by getting everybody else, instead, to share their husbands or/and live polygamy/”The Celestial Principle/Law of Plural Marriage.”
But how I remember her ranting on about this “Principle” all the while I was growing up! And talking about how great “The Law of Celestial Marriage” was. Then she’d go on about the dream she had wherein God showed her how “wonderful and glorious” plural marriage is “when lived correctly.” I believe she got off on the power of pushing “The Principle.”
Pushing Plural Marriage as though she were the prime epitome of how to live it, is only one example of how she wasn’t honest with herself as to who she was and what she was doing by meddling in others’ marriages; i.e., directing others to live P.M., under the threat of going to hell if they did not, as if she, herself, were living polygamy!
That, perhaps, was her greatest downfall – not being strong enough to be honest with herself and others about who she really was, rather than sinking into a “wannabe” fantasy and Con world where she believed her own lies — that she was something she was not and so perfect she had her “Calling and Election” made sure.
In other words, Mother was basically telling people she was going to the highest degree of glory without having lived “The Law of Plural Marriage” during her twenty-two years with Father before he died. Truth be told, she never could share him with another woman–except in the first six months of marriage when she went in as Daddy’s plural or second wife.
The high road would have been to have accepted herself as she was and for who and what she was, warts, worms, and all, instead of trying to fool others and herself by putting on that she was perfect and the supreme example of how to live — And blessed above all others. I guess she did not feel secure enough to live without pretense.*
Apparently, not understanding she needed to accept and portray herself as she was, lack of integrity became “the best policy — that is, pathological lying — she apparently believed her own stories.
Perhaps, believing she wouldn’t have nearly the influence and glory she had when carrying on as if she was God’s greatest daughter, she claimed to be above all others — “The Best,” Number One,” and “The most perfect woman in the world. God’s favorite female.”
In other words, she chose to live in a dream world of delusional thinking rather than be herself, a LeBaron whom many despised. But maybe one of the reasons the Dayer LeBaron family was largely despised, among other reasons, was because they were lacking in integrity — not to mention they didn’t fit in.
All the while I was growing up, being a “mundane commoner” was an anathema in Mother’s language. The last thing she wanted was to fit in and be average. She felt she was above others. And thrived on the attention and respect she got by going about like she was royalty and “The only one.”
But, at the same time, she would remind me, “Where much is given, much is expected.” And she meant it: She was good at doing community service and charity.
She once told me, “I never turn down a beggar — a “wayfarin’ stranger.” It could be God in disguise testing to see whether I follow His admonitions to feed the poor and needy.” So delusions of grandeur reigned hand-in-hand with dualism, duplicity — and fear of God’s retribution.
*Note: Please keep in mind: Throughout my blogs and Memoirs, I am talking only about the years I knew Mother. Everybody changes as they age. I had no contact with her the last few years of her life before she became riddled with dementia, then died at ninety-two.
So I’ll cut her some slack and say that she must’ve been doing something right, or she wouldn’t have had so many people who loved her till the end and still have fond memories of her.
*I know of at least six different times wherein Mother courted married men she was interested in. One of those men was Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’ father — before she met, courted, then chose to marry Daddy.
My Daddy, Floyd Otto Spencer
My Daddy, Floyd Otto Spencer, age 19
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.
My Daddy, Floyd Otto Spencer
“Like all the arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis
is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study,
nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain
the highest possible perfection in it.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
Shortly before Daddy died, I saw a change in him. His visage fairly glowed, and he had become much more loving, relaxed, patient, kind, and happy — such that I no longer feared so much being in his presence. He had become more pleasurable to be around.
It was as though he’d undergone an epiphany — a life-changing experience, though I was not around him enough nor on comfortable enough terms with him to inquire as to any such experiences he might have had. Furthermore, I was married then, and very busy taking care of my six-month-old baby at the time he was nearing death … then died.
During his lifetime he had always done a lot to help others. Being an all-around handyman and Jack-of-all-trades and Master of a few, people often came to him for advice or called on him to help them fix something.
He never turned them down, that I know of, much to Mother’s frustration and dismay. More than once I heard her complain, “Daddy, why don’t you turn some of these people down?! There are things piling up around here to be done while others impinge on you to work for them for free!” (Mother generally called him “Daddy” just as we kids did.)
Yes, he had plenty of his own work around the house waiting to be done. But people appreciated and respected Daddy for his knowledge and know-how when it came to being “Mister-Fix-it-Man,” and he enjoyed his revered reputation, too. He was no Scriptorian, though … unlike my mother’s brother, Ervil LeBaron, who often called on Daddy to fix things for him.
Uncle Ervil, who many of my readers may know of or will soon hear about, was just the opposite of Daddy. He spent most of his time studying Scriptures and Mormon religious works, writing some — and preaching a lot. I don’t recall him ever doing any manual labor. He managed to get my father and others to serve him, instead.
I don’t know how much money religiously-stalwart Daddy also put toward supporting Uncle Ervil and all Ervil’s many wives and children, as well as my other uncles and their families, at times, when they were hard up for money and food.
I only know he certainly paid much more than his 10% in tithing, despite the large family he, himself, maintained. And he did this right up until the day he died at about seventy years of age! There was never any retirement for him — my hard-working papa!
Like everyone else, dedicated and diligent, conscientious Daddy liked feeling special and needed. And he enjoyed serving God, all the while being able to put to use his skills and ingenuity as he helped repair others’ broken equipment, or advised them on how to build something — or taught them how to do some of these things for themselves. Thus, he employed many of the things he had learned how to do … right up until the day he died.
So where he lost favor with people due to his judgmental temperament and sharp tongue, he gained respect and popularity by being otherwise naturally unassuming and willing to lend a humble, helping hand. And he benefitted from that respect, acceptance, and connection. It was a wonderful interchange of mutual love and appreciation.
*Other facts about Daddy that I didn’t bring up earlier:
*He was very sensitive, astute, and strong-willed. Therefore, as a young man, he abandoned his parents in Michigan, due to fallings-out with them — never again to contact them nor to return home for a visit.
His aunt had raised him since he was around four or five, I believe, as I related in an earlier blog. I’m not sure how young he was when he left his aunt’s home and took off to make it on his own. I’m only sure he was a true survivor. And what didn’t kill him made him stronger!
*Once he proudly told me:
“At age twenty-eight, I gave up smoking and drinking when I joined the Mormon church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). I was able to quit “cold turkey!” I simply decided to quit. And I never smoked again!”
And Daddy said, of his past smoking habit:
“People who will smoke will drink, and people who will drink will chase women.”
He also informed me:
“I gave up square dancing, too, because I found that it led to fornication when men and women danced with other than their own spouse or partner.”
*Once, when I was twelve years old, he caught me looking up the word “sex” in the dictionary. He reproachfully admonished me, proclaiming: “The words “sex” and “fun” should be cut out of the dictionary!! Sex is only for procreation! And people shouldn’t be wasting their time playing/ having fun. The Lord’s Kingdom won’t get built up that way!”
I disagree with him in some of his misconceived conceptions. But we all are in a process of learning and growing during our lifetimes. I bring up these above points to simply show what a stoic life he, I, and other true-believing fundamentalists lived.
But other points in his favor are that while Daddy was living in Arizona, and raising a large family with his first wife Eva, he was a Boy Scout Master, which position he enjoyed and was very proud of.
And he was even Mayor of a small city for some time, I was told. But I’m not sure what city that was, let alone the dates. My daughter checked and couldn’t find his name listed as having been Mayor of the city where I thought my parents said he’d been Mayor. So who knows! More family lore?
The Writer’s Prayer:
“Make this tale live for us
in all its many bearings, oh Muse.”
The War of Art
While married to his first wife Eva,* for some time Daddy owned a small Mercantile shop. Then World War II removed his main source of income, rubber tires:
“The war efforts needed all the rubber to build war equipment. Selling tires for the Model T Ford, and other such, was how I covered my overhead. So I was run out of business when I couldn’t sell rubber tires anymore,” he explained.
“While I still owned my store, a woman would come in daily and hit on me. I finally told her, ‘I haven’t got caught up to home yet!’ That sure put a damper on things!”
Daddy loved to tell that joke. One great thing about him is he was good at ad-libbing jokes and getting a laugh — a natural comedian, he had a wonderful sense of humor. Sadly, he tried to curb this special talent once the LeBaron cult started cracking down on light-mindedness — considered a sin. (They didn’t know “Laughter is the best medicine.”)
I never spent much time around Daddy. Highly sensitive me avoided being in the same space with him whenever possible.When I had to be around him, I hid in the shadows. When I could do so without being noticed, I would escape to my attic room, especially after I became a teenager because his anger and abuse doubled toward me by then.
I already mentioned a little about this in previous blogs: He had a terrible temper that I got the brunt of more than all the rest of his children put together. I was the scapegoat of the family, so was glad he was usually away from the house working all day. That lessened the stress I endured because of him — and because of Mother. She would get me in trouble with him every chance she got — like every day, once I became a teenager!
But on Sundays, he did not work — which meant he was always home keeping the Sabbath. After our daily morning prayers were said in the big family circle, breakfast, and our family Sunday School service was over, Daddy would sit in his overstuffed armchair in the living room and read the newspaper and comic strips in front of the fireplace he had built and decorated with petrifiedwood rock work.
Hidden out of his view and reach, I loved watching how he would sometimes laugh till he teared up reading the Little Orphan Annie comic series. As a child, I especially loved it when he would throw me the “Funny Papers” after he got through reading them.
Then I would lie on my stomach on the carpet, a distance from him, and try to read and understand The Funnies. But try as I may, as a kid, I never could figure out what Daddy found so funny about his favorite comic strip, Little Orphan Annie.
I lacked the maturity and experience to comprehend such things. Daddy was twenty-six years older than Mother, and about fifty-two years older than I — old enough to be my grandfather.
But other than being around him on Sunday mornings so I could get the funnies once he was through with them, mostly I avoided being in the same room with him. I was afraid of him.
By the time I was 14, almost every day he would lash out at me, both physically and verbally. And, often, he would make fun of me and put me down in front of my family or friends … or whoever else happened to be around when he found a reason to ridicule me and “put me in my place.”
Because of this, I developed a confused love-hate feeling for him, though I never realized it till much later. Mother always told us what a saint Daddy was and that he was the very best man in the whole wide world! Needless to say, I never got to learn a whole lot about my father, due to it being so miserable for me … so threatening to be around him.
But I remember, when I was four years old, he took an oil painting class. I recall him sitting out under the backyard trees with his easel and paints, copying some nature scenes that included our house he had bought around two years before when it was not much more than a shack.
He was remodeling it to make it a livable home. He would buy a run-down ramshackle of a place, fix it up into a fairly decent abode, then, before we had much time to enjoy the better living conditions, we’d end up moving, for one reason or another, to a new ramshackle abode. And the whole damn scene would start all over again — we Spencers living in a mud adobe abode or whatever, till he fixed it up into a half-decent place to live — and then we would move. “Why couldn’t we ever stay in the home once it got fixed up and had running water, a shower, electricity, and a flushing toilet?” I used to wish and wonder.
We moved around twelve times from the time I was born in a mud adobe abode in Mexico till I turned fourteen! Then we moved back again, “fool” circle, to another mud adobe abode in the Mormon fundamentalist cult where I first started out: Colonia LeBaron, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico!
Then, wouldn’t you know, no sooner did Daddy do a complete makeover of our new mud adobe abode in Colonia LeBaron, but what I was married off at age sixteen in an arranged polygamous marriage! And that entailed moving again, this time to my own home … and another mud adobe abode!)
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Plato … quoting Socrates
In the Previous blog, I mentioned that when I was around four years old, Artist Daddy, with easel and oils, used to sit beneath the big green shade tree in our front yard and paint the nature scenes around about him. Often he used our home as a backdrop for his paintings. Mother kept these “Masterpieces” hanging on the wall in our home, proudly showing them off to visitors.
But, sadly, Daddy didn’t continue for long with his oil painting hobby and venture. Though oil painting had been a lifelong dream and yearning of his, he was in his late fifties when he’d finally had the where-with-all to try his hand at it. But, sadly, he soon discovered oil painting or water coloring pictures — or even sketching — took a lot more time and money than he could devote to his beloved hobby, Artist though he was … better still, “frustrated Artist”!
What it boiled down to was he had to give up his artistic drive and dream because it conflicted with what he believed was his higher calling: To bring little spirits up in heaven down into good Mormon fundamentalists homes; i.e., to have all the kids he could have! He was devout, to be sure. Whatever his faults, there was a lot of good and good intentions in this man.
After he sacrificed his painting hobby, due to conflicts of interests — God, his family, and religious beliefs came first — Mother gave him piano lessons because around about that time he had finally bought trained–concert-pianist Mama a piano!
But when he saw four-year-old me could sit down and play by ear whatever I heard him practicing as he struggled to learn to play by note, he was humiliated and felt cheated that it should come so easily to me, a little kid, what he had to work so hard for as an old man.
So, just like my older sister … and for the same reasons, I suspect … they both soon gave up for good and forever any attempt to learn to play the piano. But Daddy qualified it with some truths when he said:
“Bein’ an artist and playin’ musical instruments is for rich people. It takes an awful lot of time. And I have to spend my time and energy makin’ a living to support my family.” Then he added, as an afterthought,“Rich people get rich off the backs of the poor.”
However, I would qualify it with:
“The Haves” and “The Have-nots”
can usually be traced back to
“The Did’s” and “The Did-nots.”
For example, the “Haves” did not have a lot of kids and wives! They chose “Quality over Quantity.”
Even so, Daddy had learned to play the harmonica as a young man. When I was 10, he taught me how to play “Home, Sweet Home” on it. From there, I was off and running, easily picking out by ear other tunes on the harmonica.
But something I could never do was whistle, though Daddy could whistle like a Pro — the only one in our family that could ever do that, far as I know. Though we all really tried hard to learn how to whistle.
In fact, when I was nine years old, it was quite a funny sounding scene around our home and yard, there for a while: All of us kids and even Mother went about trying to “whistle a happy tune,” when, at best, we weren’t blowing much more than our lips, hot air, and a lot of strange sounds!
But whenever Dad was at home and working around the place, he was his own radio — and ours too! His whistling could be heard throughout the home and yard. And I loved it — loved his beautiful whistling of tunes that were always right on pitch.
In fact, one breezy spring morning in Hurricane, Utah, when I was around eleven, I was blown away when I heard Daddy out in the barn milking Bossy, our auburn Jersey cow, exquisitely whistling the hit tune from the 1950s Musical Oklahoma!: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!”
Mother was a trained concert pianist. But Daddy’s musicianship was that of a gifted, born Whistler! I never realized, back then, what an asset and talent it truly is to be able to whistle — whistle any melody beautifully! Oh, how I would love to be able to do that myself.
“In the course of my life,
I have often had to eat my words,
and I must confess that I have
always found it a wholesome diet.”
Winston Spencer Churchhill
In the previous blog, we were talking about some more of my father’s accomplishments and sacrifices. Among other such memorabilia is the following: He was a proud Veteran of World War I. He fought with the 308th Engineers from Ohio to the Rhine. There are videos of his Platoon on YouTube, showing them constructing a bridge, among other things.
While with his Platoon in France, during his WWI Service, Daddy got to meet Winston Spencer Churchhill! So he had double the reason, on January 24, 1965, for taking three days off work to keep his ear tuned to the radio all day and into the night when Churchhill died.
Yes, for three days he listened to the constant end-to-end radio broadcasts about world-famous leader Winston Spencer Churchhill as Radio Broadcasters expounded upon the many great accomplishments and services this icon had performed for society. Daddy could especially relate to Churchill’s accomplishments when it came to World War I and World War II. Sadly, I didn’t even know who Winston Spencer Churchill was!
It figures, as, at the time Churchill died, I was eighteen years old, had been married off in an arranged marriage at age sixteen, and held captive in the LeBaron doomsday cult in Mexico since August 1960.
August 1960 was the unfortunate date my parents uprooted our family, locks, stocks, shocks, and barrels, to move to Zion “to gather and mingle with the Saints and avoid the calamities that were coming very soon to wipe out the wicked. (Colonia LeBaron was “Zion.”) In hindsight, I see it was really quite the other way around: Gathering to Zion was nothing but a calamity!
I had barely graduated from eighth grade, in Hurricane, Utah, before we left for this “Zion.” My parents walked us right into a ready-made viper’s den and cult calamity, thinking they were doing just the opposite — preparing for the end of the world that was due any week … if not sooner.
Well, it WAS the end of my world! Their man-made CALAMITY wiped out and ruined my hopes for “The good life.” I have been trying to do catch-up ever since.
As cult-fate would have it, there was plenty of wickedness going on in so-called Zion “to mingle with.” It turned out to be quite a little colony of “Saints” — or a “Little House of Horrors”!
I’m just glad it wasn’t another Jonestown! At least my self-proclaimed Prophet Uncle Joel never asked us to drink the Kool-Aid. However, self-proclaimed Prophet Uncle Ervil was quite another story.
As my Memoir unfolds, you shall hear what I mean. Because I intend to unmask the Colonia LeBaron Mormon fundamentalist cult life I endured while stuck living eight years in Mexico down past the Rio Grande — a life I barely survived to blog about. It was about fifty-eight years ago, as of March 2018, that my family “gathered to Zion.” I have been trying to get over it ever since.
Their prophet, my Uncle Joel LeBaron, had prophesied: “The destructions foreseen in the Book of Revelations are coming any day now to rain down upon the United States! Mexico is the land of refuge for the Saints.” Mother claimed she, too, had seen this “end of days” in a dream!
Go figure: The sky was falling … another Chicken-Little story … or LeBaron story? If you want to get power, claim you’ve had a revelation, a dream that shows the world is coming to an end. You’ll most likely get some followers.
The truth is, yours and my world IS coming to an end: We never know the hour of our death … the end of our OWN world. (Maybe that’s what scares people to death so much!) But the world, itself, and new life will continue on, as it has for thousands of millenniums.
If you claim “the sky is falling/ the world is coming to an end, some Millennial’s (i.e., Messianic apocalyptic dooms-dayers who believe the end of the world and “the Millennium” is imminent) will likely believe and follow you. Chicken Little sure got his following … if you recall that children’s fairytale.
But now back to reality: After being pulled out of school and moved to that secluded and barren, Chihuahuan Desert wilderness, I had no chance for further education.
That was a calamity in itself! Quite the end of my world — at least as I had known it. I, a Bookworm, wasn’t even allowed to read, let alone have any contact with the outside world, in any way, shape, or form. So, no: I wouldn’t know who Churchhill was.
Before I was married, while living in LeBaron’s “Zion,” all my family-of-origin had, as far as connections with the outside world were concerned, was Daddy’s little battery-run radio — which only he was allowed to use!
Even worse, all we ever heard about from Mother was mostly cult dogma and propaganda. And how great she and her family heritage was: Her father, mother, brothers — especially her brothers, Joel and Ervil, the “prophets” of the cult! Mother had to be number one. So, sadly, I never got to know how special my father’s Spencer heritage was. For some reason, Daddy never mentioned it either. Or maybe he did but I wasn’t around to hear.
NOTE: Though there is more to relate, as to my father’s history, I will relate it in the context of my own continuing Memoirs.
I love to write. But it’s “icing on the blog” when I have readers who devour it, on top of my cooking it up!
In future blogs, I’ll tell you a little about my maternal grandparents and Mother — How she and Daddy met, some of their adventures together, etc. —
That is, I may tell you about the beginning of my father’s Mormon fundamentalist cult saga that culminated with his bringing me into the world — along with many other kids and events — which culminated in my creating this Blog. Chain reactions? That’s life!