The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
MEMORIES OF MY MOTHER—CLARA SIMS MCBRIDE
Born March 22, 1880, in Brigham City, Arizona, Mother, imbued with the pioneer spirit, lived to the age of eighty-two. (Brigham City now is non-existent. It had struggled for survival near Joe City, close to Show Low, Arizona, on the banks of the Little Colorado River.) Mother was so much a part of my life as an infant, toddler and child that memories of my childhood hardly picture anyone else. As good a mother as ever raised a family, she was noble and special. She gave birth to nine of us, and whether or not we were planned or just happened, I never knew, for she never proffered an explanation. But, I do know we’ve all been grateful for life itself—for the life she struggled so successfully to provide us—and grateful especially for her love. She carried on with most of the task of bringing us up without the help of a husband, for she was only 38 when Dad was killed.
Overall, she did not have an easy life, even though in the beginning she grew to young womanhood as a daughter in a family with extra means. Her Father, my Granddad Sims, successful in various enterprises, in time, would own his own furniture store in Pima. Skilled as a carpenter and cabinetmaker he made much of the furniture himself. He continued in other ventures too, especially as a builder of homes and commercial buildings in Globe and Miami as well as in the Valley. He did finished carpentry as well as rough, and owned one of the biggest and finest homes in Pima. Active politically, the mayor of the town for several years, and a devout active member of the Church, he provided his family with much more than just the necessities of life.
The family boasted seven daughters and four sons, and like today, clothes were very important, especially in the lives of those girls. Grandmother Sims provided her girls with dresses, dresses sewn with many more yards of material than those of today. She often employed a seamstress to make them for her daughters. No doubt, she sewed marvelously well herself.
Often asked by his friends which one of the Sims girls he married, Dad always replied the same, “Why the prettiest one, of course.” Thinking back as a youngster and having studied all the old photographs, I believe him absolutely correct: she was the most beautiful; though all the girls were endowed with much more than just beauty. The sisters were all petite, and my mother, not over five-feet one-inch in height, was indeed an exceptionally beautiful woman.
Though a non-abrasive personality, she definitely possessed a mind of her own, and seldom expressed opinions unless they were complimentary. Shy, reserved and quiet, she preferred to be the listener—much to the convenience of her talkative friends. She was an artful listener too, always graciously responding in a way to encourage a person to continue about themselves. Although quiet, she had a fine sense of humor and a sparkly personality. Well liked in her circle of acquaintances, Mother proved that her quiet reserve detracted not one iota from her popularity.
Jo attests to this as she remembers the wonderful times spent around our family dinner table before our marriage: “How fun it was to be with them on those occasions, telling stories, jokes, funning and laughing, while Clara showed her cute ways in the midst of it all.”
I remember Mother held the position of organist in the Relief Society, in Pima and in Thatcher, for several years in each place. I often heard her complimented for her excellence in playing and her extraordinary faithfulness in her calling.
The position of organist may have been the only job she ever held in the Relief Society organization. One of the few who played the piano in those days, she was always in demand to use her talent.
When about five years old I remember hearing her talk with Dad about how much she wished for a piano. I didn’t know Dad had promised her one. But one day a sturdy rack (wagon) drawn by a team of horses pulled up in front of the house. A piano had been delivered to the Pima Depot by train, picked up and hauled 3 miles to our home in Glenbar. I remember thinking, “How monstrous it is!” And, I noticed the heavy thick ropes holding it securely in place.
Four men began the strenuous effort of engineering the unloading using just one very big plank. As they slid it down the plank, I watched in horror as the middle of it sagged into a dangerous bend, and the piano began to sway precariously. The two men on the leaning side fought desperately to keep it from toppling. Mother stood watching in utter horror knowing full well it would be ruined, and worse, probably injure the men. Then, the unbelievable! With a desperate, superhuman effort, they miraculously righted it and slid it on down to safety. It seemed to me that I had beheld a real miracle.
Dad had a fine voice and mother a nice one, but she was very shy about using it. They would sit on the bench together while mother played and Dad sang. I well remember several of the songs we kids wanted to hear over and over. Especially, “Timothy Kelley,” even to the word.
Timothy Kelly who owned a big store
Wanted his name painted over the door.
One day Pat Clancy the painter man came,
Tried to be fancy, and misspelled the name.
Instead of Kelley with double L Y
He painted Kelley but one L was shy.
Pat said it looked right but wanted no pay.
He had figured it out in his own little way.
Knock an L from Kallarny,
Still Kallarny it always would be,
Sure a single L Y or double L Y
Would look just the same to an Irishman’s eye.
But if I knocked the L out of Kelley,
He’ll be sure to knock the L out of me.
How we kids loved and laughed at that song, and they would accommodate us, singing it and our other favorites such as: “Turkey in the straw,” “Beautiful Katie,” “His Buttons were Marked U.S,” and “That Spells U.S. I Guess” (about a father who had to go to war) and “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine. Time and time again they sang them. (Maybe that was the beginning of my infatuation with a Josephine.)
Growing up in Glenbar during Christmas we usually had a Christmas tree in one corner. I also remember a special decoration that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the living room at Christmas time. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like it, and I believed it something Dad had built himself. It consisted of four hoops tied to each other, the top hoop being the smallest—about one foot in diameter. The next hoop, about two feet across was suspended from it, as were the third and fourth hoops respectively, with each hoop about a foot larger than the one above it, the lower hoop suspended about six feet from the floor.
When decorated with homemade paper chains, crepe paper, popcorn strings, tinsel strips and whatnots, it did, after a fashion, resemble a Christmas tree. The customary Christmas stockings were hung on the lower hoop while small gifts were hung where space allowed. This was the kind of tree that could be taken down and stored away for another year, maybe the world’s first artificial Christmas tree.
One incident sticks in my mind concerning that tree. I can still see Dad’s sock with an unusual gift protruding from the top, hanging far below my own sock. Christmas Eve I had heard my parents arguing about a certain custom common among farm families in our area. If a child had been unruly too close to Santa’s arrival, the old Elf might leave a switch in his stocking instead of the usual nuts, fruit and candy. Mother thought it a stupid practice and asked Dad to please not put a switch in Leonard’s sock. Well, he did anyway though he did fill the sock with plenty of goodies. Miffed about it, Mother left the switch alone and waited until Dad fell asleep; she then took a stick from the wood-box and slipped it into Dad’s sock. Come morning she exulted in her boldness and the hilarious laughter from the family. The older kids each took a turn asking their chagrined father what he had done—to earn the spanking each insisted on giving him.
Mother was a taffy maker extraordinaire. Except for one granddaughter, Leva Gene Stewart Kempton, as hard as they tried, daughters, daughters in law and grand-daughters, all with the same precise recipe, even with her at their side, the same results proved impossible. It wasn't the color, taste or aroma that eluded them, but the lightness because of the extent of its porosity. The taffy after the pulling (the most important process) was made into elongated strips three-quarters inch wide each with hundreds of bubbles, maybe thousands, stretched into tiny tubules, leaving it feather-light, porous and brittle after it sets. moreover, the sensation of eating it carries a delightful surprise. Justice to it defies description. The taffy simply melts away in your mouth, not as fast as cotton candy, but there is a similarity. Only one word can describe the sensation—celestial.
Mother dressed immaculately—fastidious and tidy in all facets of her life. Even after the children were gone, alone at home, she carried on the same: she continued to set her table with the same care as though expecting Sunday dinner company. She ate balanced nutritious meals, much from her own garden, cooked it in nice cooking ware and served it in lovely dishes. She continued dressing and tending to the house as though she expected company's arrival at any moment. Over the years, Jo gave Mother many permanents. Though her hair had lost its fullness, Jo was successful in always pleasing her, and she never failed to express appreciation.
Mother was 38 years old when she lost Dad at 43. She was carrying unborn Frankie; two more months passed before her precious darling was born. Now, nurturing and supporting eight children became an ominous, relentless task. Many years ebbed slowly by before the sudden burden so abruptly thrust upon her began to ease.
Despite a small settlement of five thousand dollars awarded her by the State, life's vicissitudes were many and difficult. With three thousand dollars of the settlement, the state's stipulations allowed her to contract her father and brothers, licensed builders, to build three rental houses in Safford. The principle of the remaining two thousand or any profit derived from the sale of the rentals was disallowed her until Frankie reached twenty one. So, with the income from the three rentals, some interest earned on the $2,000, the meager earnings of us kids, and taking advantage of harvest bargains, her frugal, provident management enabled us to more than eke out an existence. Floyd and Gladys, sixteen and eighteen, managed to provide good help until they married. Gladys worked as a bookkeeper and Floyd moved to Miami to work in the mines.
<>I remember well, going at least a full school year without shoes—and I mean bare-footed. How can I forget those freezing mornings taking special care where I stepped, watching for the sharp rocks, and for the thin sharp pieces of ice at the edge of frozen puddles. All summer, I stepped on so many Bull-Horn stickers that I almost became>
<>immune to them. But my feet toughened, and feeling humiliated or thinking of myself as suffering failed to enter my mind. Callused and impervious to it all, I carried on with what I thought was a normal life.>
An unusual person, Mother accomplished things during our lives while we lived at home that few remotely dreamed possible. With wave after wave of challenges and tests, she managed finances and home, and at the same time raised us to be honorable citizens and to be active in our wonderful religion, and to be courteous toward mankind and lenders of service to the less fortunate.
I misbehaved once in a while, and I expected and got the business end of a switch or paddle. Usually the punishment amounted to no more than being ushered into the kitchen, directed to sit on the wood-box in the corner where she gave stern counsel that always seemed clear, fair and reasonable. So with feelings of guilt and relief I escaped as soon as possible resolving to do better—or at least not to get caught again.
Mother loved movies. After I married, we often invited her to go with us. When Jo and I found one we wanted to see, we called Mother to tell her the time to be ready. We chuckle now at the answer she always gave if she thought it late notice. She'd say, "Well Darvil, sure I want to go, but you know I can't get ready in a whiff. But each time, regardless of how short the notice, she would be ready.
Bruce, the youngest of her five boys, was enthralled with movies almost to the point of addiction; he hardly missed a change of menu at the movie house. Besides, he worked for the theater part of his young life. Endowed with fine memory and verbal skills, he would return from a movie anxiously looking for anyone with ears that he could share it with. Mother was always ready to listen as he recounted with unerring accuracy the whole story: complete with plot, explanations of circumstances, and settings. She enjoyed it and listen to all from start to finish. Her never-ending work went on while Bruce followed her around like a friendly puppy, never skipping a thing, giving her the movie’s every choice detail.
Years after we were married and had returned to live in Thatcher, we purchased Jo's mother's home, which was next door to my Mother's home. When Mother came over to visit—we knew it was only the beginning of her departure. At best, she stayed a few minutes each time. We chuckled inwardly as she began with the explanation she invariably used to excuse herself. She would say, "Well, I've got to get back; I left the lights on over there." Try as I might I never convinced her that that excuse didn't hold water. But each time, just for fun, I asked her, "Do you plan on turning them off when you get home?" She always said, "Well, no." So I would reason with her, explaining that it really didn't matter if they were on, since she would only leave them on when she got there: always a fruitless attempt to convince her to stay longer. I always sensed though, that she determined my logic to be pure nonsense. She would always leave to take care of her lights—they stayed on.
Mother loved her garden. Each spring she planted the vegetables she enjoyed, including plenty of Swiss chard. Chard and chard in excess, she shared it happily with her many friends. Each occasion she came over to eat dinner with us, she never failed to bring a generous gift of it, washed and ready to cook.
Her pleasant thoughtfulness came out in many acts of kindness. Once while on one of her short, as usual, visits, she asked Jo if there were socks to be darned. (A now extinct task, but not in those days, for cash was scarce and socks were of poorer quality.) Jo said, "Oh heavens yes, lots of them!" So Mother tucked them all into a grocery sack, carried them home, and sooner than expected, much to Jo's delight, returned them all mended ready to wear.
A quilter all her life, Mother loved it, for it was for the purpose of giving them as presents to friends for their special occasions. Jo and I received gifts of a dozen or more, and each of our children received one as wedding gifts. The many grandchildren—did they receive one too? No doubt. How many quilts she helped with; we'll never know. Perhaps a thousand or more. How many did she make on her own? Perhaps three hundred or more.
When she passed away we found at least twenty, brand new ones, carefully folded and tucked away in the upper cupboards throughout her home. Some were used for company; the other's destinations she surely had planned as gifts to friends and to progeny’s special occasions to come.
I remember a few times of her pointing out the difference in her quilting compared to certain others. Even to the untrained eye of a mere boy, the difference was obvious between the nicely done and the very finest—such beautiful even stitches. Even now, I picture her in my mind's eye sitting in the second bedroom—long since dedicated as her quilting parlor—in her later years leaning over the quilting frame, busy creating another masterpiece. She often worked alone content and warm in her private thoughts and memories. In her day, one could not go to the store and buy a patterned quilt top. Patterns were created with blocks that required much more stitching.
A pleasant custom of the Relief Society throughout the Church in those years brought pride and happiness to many good souls. This included some, who for years might have felt neglected and unappreciated. The women's organization would honor individuals for noteworthy achievements. Jo and I helped the Relief Society with one of those exceptional meetings by preparing the refreshments.
On the surface, the women's meeting on that day appeared routine for those "not in-the-know." Jo present for regular preliminaries, watched as the leaders announced the surprise of that out of the ordinary meeting. The refreshments and other niceties complete with an appropriate gift of appreciation were suddenly displayed. To Mother's astonishment the meeting had been prepared to honor her. Jo remembers, how “dear, sweet and thrilled” she was while being honored on her eightieth birthday for all the compassionate service and kindnesses she'd rendered throughout the decades to hundreds of others.” On dozens of occasions just like her special one, she had been in-the-know, preparing to surprise others before her.
She lived life wisely, with order. Quick to recognize and use every opportunity, helped us to more than just survive. All kinds of fruit and vegetables, each in their season from early spring to late fall, ripened in turn for harvest. She depended on her children to do their part too. She reminded us to be alert for every kind of produce from the tree, the vine or the field that might be available to us. We searched out the abandoned or neglected trees and fields looking for any small benefit. Often, nice friends shared their surplus with us: perfect or culls, we could use them all. And with all her other chores, Mother kept busy as much as humanly possible, preserving what we gathered—minus what was eaten fresh.
A huge apricot tree graced a part of our property with fruit laden branches. Two enormous fig trees stood in front of the house. The apricots, large and tasty, and the figs petite and sweet, grew in an abundance that boggled imagination, and nothing went to waste. So, with a garden, fruit trees, others' surplus, and all that we scouted out—though it meant more work for us kids—our lives were worthwhile and fulfilled. That freshly picked fruit, the jams, jellies, preserves and all those cobblers and pies, how they ruined our appetites as we stuffed ourselves meal after wonderful meal!
Peaches, apricots, plums, apples, berries, tomatoes, and an array of others, she steadily laid up on pantry shelves. Soon, the shelf boards would sag under the increasing weight. We all helped pick, gather, wash, peal, pit, and slice, each of us according to our age and ability until harvest and preserving time came to a close.
Yes, we were successful, and cash so needed for other things was saved through industry. I suspect the rest of the kids, just like me, who had labored too, would open the pantry door to gaze at the portrait on which appeared all our signatures. For the splendor of the many colors of our bottled fruit were as lovely for us to behold as the majesty of a brief, summer storm rainbow.
Feeling the effects of increasing age, Mother placed herself under the care of a doctor. Taking the prescribed medications for a heart beginning to wear out, she kept regular appointments for the next two years. Some days she felt worse than on others, but Jo and I right next door, watched her and responded to the few phone calls she made.
In the afternoon of November 29, 1961, I stepped over to visit with her as she tended a flowerbed at the side of her house. She told me she hadn't been feeling well for most of the day. I told her she should stop the puttering among the flowers and go in the house, I would be over later to stay the night with her. She objected strenuously, insisting that it just wasn't necessary. Honoring her decisiveness, I deferred to objection.
Sometime after midnight she phoned the house. Experiencing terrible chest pains, she asked me to call her doctor and take her to the hospital. In minutes, Jo and I were on our way to Safford, three miles distant. We had found her completely helpless at home and, during the ride to Safford. I carried her in my arms into the hospital through the emergency entrance into the room of the waiting doctor. Just minutes after I laid her on the emergency table, she stiffened as her heart went into arrest. The doctor promptly administered emergency chest thrusts and renewed partial heart function. She regained consciousness again, and the doctor said, "I'm going to give her a direct injection of epinephrine into the heart." Afterwards, Jo at one side of the table and I on the other, held her hands. She said she was feeling a little better, but as she spoke, she began to feel increasing, excessive distress. I spoke, reassuring her that all would be all right.
Then fright and pain registered on her face as she tensed. She turned her head to me. "Darvil, I'm dying," she said, as she searched my eyes. I laid my hands upon her head and petitioned of God a blessing for her welfare. I turned to the doctor and said, "Come on Doctor, you're going to lose your patient." Very nervous, he looked at me helplessly and did nothing; in truth, there was nothing left to do but pray.
The pain and fright faded from her face as her body relaxed. A look of serenity drifted slowly into a slight, pleasant smile of up-turned corners of her mouth. It appeared to us as though she may have recognized the approach of a loved-one. She gently closed her eyes.
The day was Friday, November 30, 1961. She had celebrated her 81st birthday on the previous March 22. Services were held on Tuesday, December 4, in the Thatcher Ward building, and our valiant little mother was laid to rest at the Pima cemetery in the McBride plot next to Dad and little Stanley. We were privileged with her precious company for 81 years 7 months. She had been without Dad for 43 years.