The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
ILLNESSES AND NEAR DISASTERS)
Once a year our schools scheduled a special clean-up day on a holiday called Arbor Day. (a day set aside in many states for planting trees) The students came to school in their grubby clothes, because the work entailed raking, gathering and hauling trash; most of which we simply burned on the spot. Some were also busy scrubbing, painting, organizing storage areas and other such things.
Outside the boys workshop shed, an old car chassis lay rusting. It still had some parts attached—including the gas tank. My five best friends and I were paying little attention to the chores at hand as we played on the old car’s framework. Most of us had matches in our pockets to light trash piles; Dubie Mickelson held one up in her hand. She shouted that she was going to blow us all up. As though in a melodrama, I acted the part of the fragile but courageous starlet trying to rescue us from sure disaster. Dubie acted out her part too, dramatically striking a match, which she swung over the tank opening.
With tremendous violence the ear-splitting explosion disintegrated the tank before our very eyes. High-velocity fragments flew at bullet speed in every direction littering the school grounds and landing in peculiar far-off places. Hiram (Highly) Mortensen later said that he saw a razor-sharp piece fly out away from me, he greatly feared it had cut my leg as it sliced by. He watched it arc up sailing over head, lodging in a distant tree.
Though unscathed by flying shrapnel, the fiery blast instantly scorched away my eye brows and lashes, burning my face badly and setting my lower clothing on fire. Instinctively I ran, escaping Mr. Mortensen as he tried to grab me. Instantly flashing through my mind came the warning of a former teacher; I threw myself to the ground and started rolling over and over. Meanwhile, the good teacher scrambling after me knelt beside me and beat the flames out with his bare hands. Had it not been for Highly Mortensen’s courage, burning himself to save me, one can only imagine how much more terrible the injuries could have been. I've been forever grateful to him.
Dubie's eye brows and lashes were well singed and dozens of tiny specks of rusty metal imbedded into the skin of her face. As the only one in dire straits, my helpers rushed me three blocks to the drug store. Just across the street from the drug store, my parents, tending their own store, came rushing to my side. There, we waited for Dr. Platt. My face and one thigh were burned severely, and to this day I hide facial scars with make-up. I still carry visible scars on my thigh, and for years scars were apparent on one calf. Though I missed several days of school, two months passed before the discomfort of the burns completely left me.
At seventeen years of age, abdominal pains began piercing my right side. The doctor arrived and warned me of foods to avoid. The pain persisted becoming intolerable over the next two days. Fortunately, a marvelous surgeon compelled to move to the dry Arizona climate for his health had recently established a practice in Safford. Dr. Squib had acquired vast experience: in diagnosing, and performing surgery during his years at the Rochester, New York, Mayo Clinic. Rushed to the hospital, he quickly isolated the problem as gangrenous, ruptured appendix rapidly pushing me towards death’s door. The surgeon operated immediately. I was so ill I could have cared less whether I lived or died. Had the surgeon not been so experienced and knowledgeable, it would have ended my life.
Weakened by deteriorating health, the fatigue from the extended surgery overwhelmed the doctor forcing him to abandon me in the middle of suturing. His wife, the attending nurse, had no alternative but to finish for him. Mama always felt that the wife's lesser understanding of internal suturing eventually caused me complications that years later brought on the need for corrective surgery.
The attack happened in February. Drainage tubes were in place, and I remained hospitalized for three weeks. The awful stench caused by the puss laden exudate collecting in a container pervaded the room such that others could hardly bring themselves to enter. Poor Mama, pregnant with Jean, reeled under the merciless assault on her already queasy stomach. Finally home from the hospital, out of curiosity I peeked under the loose bandage discovering to my dismay a tube sticking out of my side. I had been too ill; not entirely conscious of all that had happened. Frightened by the sight, I forced myself to ask about it. It remained there hanging from my side for another week.
More than three weeks of convalescence at home followed before I returned to school. Though I felt dreadfully weak at first, I gradually regained strength during the next three months. I played catch-up with studies for a while and successfully completed the school year.
The stress had been so great from the life-threatening infection and high fever that my hair began to fall out. It continued for a year, to the point that it was so thin, no matter what I tried, the scalp was clearly visible through the remaining strands. Mama bought some mange medication commonly used on dogs and weekly rubbed it into my scalp. To hide my baldness, she also bought me a classy, small, darkish-gray hat, with a narrowed brim that had a navy blue band. Since the colors were neutral, I could wear it with anything. During the next two years my hair grew in completely. Not of the former texture and make-up, its quality was wonderful. Of a tight, wavy fullness, I could get up in the morning, or at any time when it was disheveled, and shape it by hand with hardly the use of brush and comb, and it would shape to perfect form.
In 1940, while living in the cute little house Darvil had built in Solomonville, I had a peculiar experience worth sharing: Darvil was working up the street helping with a major clean-up at the church house, while I was home alone with the kids. I heard frenzied, squawking out back in the chicken run. The hens carried on with so much noise, flapping and crashing around, that I ran out to investigate. Hurriedly looking about, I saw the chickens grouped at one end of the enclosure. At the opposite end on top of a high fence post perched a chicken hawk (a large female coopers hawk) leering down at my frazzled flock. On the double, back in the house I grabbed Darvil's 22-revolver and returned to deal with the threatening killer.
Without hesitation, though trembling terribly with buck fever, I raised the pistol, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The shot rang out and the wounded pillager fell to the ground inside the fence with the chickens. I entered the pen and cornered the predator. I shot at it several times trying to kill it, but to no avail. (At point-blank range, how could my aim be so much poorer?) Growing afraid because of its fearsome, red-eyed stare, I retreated, called Darvil and waited for him to finish the job.
After we moved our family to Southern California, while living in Westminster, another terrible pain pierced my side. Of course, I imagined appendicitis again; but how could that be? The doctors diagnosed it as a hernia. After the appendix episode, a gradual swelling had begun to develop in my side at the site of the former suturing. If Mama was right, faulty internal stitching could have been the problem that let the stitches give way causing the hernia. Regardless, the seemingly successful surgical repair took place at the Memorial Hospital in Long Beach without apparent complications. However, a few years later living in Wilmington, as luck would have it, that repair failed too. Under surgery again, the internal sutures were done with wire; it would eventually fail too, and I would undergo surgery again.
One Sunday evening I went alone to sacrament meeting at the Wilmington Ward leaving Darvil at home tending our sick kids. Returning home, I had to drive through a financially depressed section of town, a large part of it predominantly Blacks. The car had been acting up and decided it would go no further at the very time I reached the center of that large neighborhood. I was terrified. (I had never before lived close to or associated with any black people.)
Knowing how to solve the mechanical failure, for I had done it before, I quickly got out and lifted the hood. I knew if I taped on the battery cable connections, it would then start and be all right—at least for a while. With hammer in hand to begin the task, a black man came over to the car and politely asked, "Can I help you mam?" I wanted to do it myself, but he insisted on helping me and took the hammer. As I explained what to do he began tapping. I watched with fright as another black man approached, then, with growing terror I could see another and another and still others coming over until I found myself in the middle of seven, big, frightening fellows. Petrified, I waited for the outcome. They were nice and treating me with respect as gentlemen should, I began to feel somewhat relieved. Nevertheless, I was trembling inside and nearly hysterical. When they finished, I thanked them, got in the car, started it and drove away. Never had I been so relieved and happy to finally return to the warmth and safety of my home.
We lived in Grand Junction Colorado for several weeks during Darvil's employment with Woodbury Business College. We drove from there to Thatcher for Jean's wedding in July of 1949. Returning to Grand Junction we drove on, into the middle of the night. I took a turn driving to give Darvil a rest. We were towing a small, low-profile trailer.
Somewhere in the middle of the sprawling Navajo Reservation of Northern Arizona, the car in front of us slammed to a sudden “screaching” halt. I hit the brakes hard sending my car skidding. The three children were asleep in the back: one up under the back window, another on the seat and the third on the floor. The abrupt braking tumbled the upper two sleepers down onto the third. Meanwhile, the tormented tires howled in distress, skidding onward ever closer, on a collision course toward the car ahead. Our car continued in what seemed an endless slide, but finally, it skidded off to the side onto the gravel shoulder stopping just a few feet short of the other car.
Our car and the trailer, though sideways, miraculously were undamaged. The kids, and Darvil and I, got out to find that the driver of the car ahead had collided with a horse. The real problem we soon discovered—an Indian had been in the saddle.
Steam hissed into the cool night air, and water drizzled to the pavement from a ruptured radiator. With its lights on bright the crippled car revealed a scene of a terrified horse with a wobbly, drunk Lamanite doing his best to quiet it. With reins in one hand and the other on the bridle, the drama played on, in the middle of the road. He managed to steady his wild-eyed stead, and after calming the horse somewhat, still staggering, he swung aboard the poor beast. He spurred him a good one and road off swaying in the saddle as he faded into the darkness of night.
We stood there together with the owner of the wreck, gazing after the two in disbelief. Feeling deserted, we turned to survey the midnight damage sustained by the horseless carriage.
In 1953, our oldest boy, Mac, a senior in high school and an adventurous soul to say the least, heard of the whereabouts of nearly a full case of dynamite. He and two friends, one risking his pickup, made the run up Swift Trail, the winding road into the Graham Mountains. Stashed away for years in a dilapidated, leaning outhouse on the property of my second cousin's dairy, lay the sticks in their decaying wooden case. Along with two five-pound packs of TNT they sneaked the dynamite up through the pines to the waiting pickup on the road. Headed down the winding road, a car came up behind them as though to give chase. Falsely thinking someone was trying to catch them, they accelerated, careening down the road at break-neck speed at the risk of life.
The next day at noon Mac came home from school for lunch. Finished eating, he lounged back on the couch in the living room. To his utter horror, he saw the father of one of his compadres-in-crime come up the walk, up the steps onto the porch and to the screen door where he knocked. With his heart in his mouth, Mac answered the door. The man asked to speak with his dad.
Mac's friend, of broken oath, had told his younger brother of the adventure the day before. After divulging the whole secret, the two brothers got into a fight. For revenge the younger brother tattled the story to his father.
Darvil listened to the story, then, confirmed the awful truth with Mac. He phoned my cousin to find out how to make things right. He asked him if he wanted it back and he answered, “Hell no! I've been trying to get someone to haul that dam stuff away from here for years."
Unknown to me, plans had been made to detonate it out in a field belonging to the other boy's father. After school, Darvil and the two other dads with the three boys took the explosives to the field. Mac says that the dads made the boys carry the stuff—way out ahead of them—while they trailed safely behind. It was placed down in a deep irrigation ditch. One father had a dynamite cap and some fuse, after seeing all prepared, he left the scene leaving Mac with the match. At the signal, Mac lit the fuse and ran to safety.
The explosion, though well out of town and deep in a ditch, rocked the entire community. Residents of the neighboring town three miles away heard it and felt it too. For days after, it was the talk of the town. (Mac still carries the nick-name “Dynamite" remembered by some of his old, long-memoried friends).
But, when I heard the blast, felt its reverberations shake the earth and rattle the windows of every house in town, in hysterics, I imagined the worst: Disaster had killed them all. My fears were such, because I thought the men intended to deliver the explosives somewhere—not to detonate them.
Unbelievably, they returned and had the gall to walk right in the house still alive, then, I was mad. Nearly out of my mind and still half hysterical, I didn't waste any time venting pent-up fear fast turning to rage. But thank heavens they were OK. Never in all my life had I experienced such relief.
Darvil insists he remembers my every word I said, which Mac confirms. Both maintain that I said: “Damn you
Darvil! I’ve been worried out of my mind. All I could think of when I heard the explosion was that it was
Friday, and you had your pay check in your pocket, and all of you, along with the pay check were blown to