Afton Harris Felt
Afton Felt: Interview by Ron
When I was nine months old my family moved from Texas to the home that they had left behind in Idaho. However, finding that everything there had been destroyed, they decided to move to the home that my great grandparents built on 2nd South and 3rd West in Provo. This house was known as the “Harris House.”
Dad worked at a nearby dairy and later was employed by the Startup Candy Company, selling candy to grocers throughout Utah and Wyoming. These were the depression years and time’s were hard for our family. Mom would send us down to Startup’s to collect Dad’s paycheck and we often returned empty handed, reporting that circumstances had not allowed the Company to issue checks that week. Other times Dad’s paycheck would be returned by the bank as having been drawn against insufficient funds.
In the end, I think the Company made good on the wages owed but during these periods of shortage Mom would marshal her resources to make the financial struggles completely transparent to all of us children. She kept boarders in the house whose rent helped with groceries or with the house payment. She also made arrangements with Frank’s Grocery down 3rd West between 2nd and 3rd South and another small store on the north side of Center Street at 4th West where we could buy groceries on credit until Dad’s check came through.
Thinking now of the economic difficulties that prevailed across the country during this era, I marvel really, at the abundance of milk and eggs that were always on hand in our home and I feel grateful for these good grocers who traded with us in good faith. When I brought the items that Mother sent me for to the counter at Frank’s, he would make note of each item on a corner piece of his brown wrapping paper and tearing it off, would save this as the record of what was owed. Living through these years I never once had the impression that we were poor or in anyway deprived of any needful thing.
A Business Partnership is Forged
I loved going to collect the food items Mother needed from Frank’s as we were rewarded by being allowed a two cent block of chocolate from the store. Needless to say she didn’t have any trouble getting me to run down to the store!
Once when Dad came back from his travels for Startup, he surprised me with a small pinball machine that would operate only after a penny was dropped in the slot. Frank agreed to allow me to place this in his store and at the end of each month I would collect the money from the machine, leaving half of it with Frank as payment for the space. I remember taking up to fifteen cents one month from this venture.
Building Fires to Cook Breakfast
By the time I was three-and-a-half we had moved to the present Harris House that still remains in our family. I fondly remember the unspoken tradition in our home–an agreement among all the children–that the first one up in the morning would build a fire in the coal stove and put the water on for the cereal. The home had a central heater in the basement that warmed the main floor of the house but by morning time the warmth would be dissipated and the house would be chilly and cold. During my elementary school years, I loved waking up early, shivering with the chill of the morning, determined to be the first down to light the fire in the stove. Of course I received great praise from my older siblings each time I did this, owing to the trouble that I spared them, but their enthusiasm kept me at it.
I soon learned the art of stirring the graham flour into the water to make a smooth cereal. If it wasn’t done with care, the cereal would be left with lumps and then I had to watch in disappointment as it would be left uneaten. Imagine how delicious this warm cereal was on cold mornings when Mother would take the cream off the top of the milk that was delivered and spread a portion on our cereal, topping it with a slice of butter that would melt as it waited to be stirred in!
I attended Maesar school which still stands on 5th East between 1st and 2nd South, named in honor of Karl G. Maesar. On the blackboards in the classrooms, a top corner was reserved for a note handwritten by Maesar himself.
Taking Care that the Curls Don’t Fall Out
When I was in the fourth grade mother let me go to Alhanders beauty shop for my first perm. My cousin, Fern Duffin, and I had often boiled flaxseed together to make a setting lotion for our hair and with this concoction we would take turns rolling each others hair up in strips of cotton cloth. This would leave our hair full of frizz the next day but it would soon fall out so this trip to the beauty shop promised relative permanence. It was a long process of rolling the curl and then connecting each curl to a large electric machine by means of a clamp. The operators stayed close with a hair dryer to blow cool air to protect against burns. That evening I went home and took great care to sleep the entire night up on my arms for I was afraid that if I laid on the curls they would not stay in.
Rich Relations with a Favorite Aunt and Uncle
Aunt Alice, my mothers oldest sister, would often tell me “you are really my little girl.” This together with the fond attention she paid to me caused me to believe for some time that she was indeed my mother. I enjoyed a special bonding with Aunt Alice and loved her dearly. She wasn’t able to carry a baby to term and had so wanted a child that our family became hers. When mother was expecting me, Aunt Alice came to Texas to help and as I was very late in arriving she was nearly forced to return home before I was born.
Alice and Uncle Ed owned a farm in Spanish Fork and Dad would drive us all out there on Sunday afternoons to visit. Each summer Lola and I would look forward with great anticipation to the week that we would spend on their farm. During these days we would bask in the kind and loving attention of woman who truly loved and cared for us. What young girl is there that does not relish the devoted attention of an Aunt Alice, one who sees in the daughters of a beloved sister an opportunity to enrich their lives and to build a sense of value and worth? She was all patience and kindness. She invested hours in teaching us to sew, taking scraps of tricot material to show us how to sew them into pillow covers, assuring us that they were beautiful when in fact I cannot even remember finishing one.
Meanwhile Uncle Ed would toil on his land, taking us by the hand into the barn to watch as he milked the cows. He delighted in giving Lola and I a drink of warm, freshly drawn milk. Money was scarce and Uncle Ed worked land that, unfortunately, was not very productive as the alkaline soil could scarcely support the crops he planted.
Initials Carved in the Trees
Today as I drive along old highway 89 that connects Provo and Spanish Fork and see their old home, my mind is flooded with these happy memories. I see the trees that have all grown so tall and I think how I would like to stop and climb up among the strong limbs that supported us little girls during endless summer hours and see if our initials, carved so many years ago, can still be found. I note that a big shopping center has been built on the bottom section of their farm and I regret that they did not realize any financial gain from all of their hard work.
Mother cared for Aunt Alice when she fell ill with stomach cancer. After her passing, Uncle Ed’s brother came to live with him. Tragically this brother treated Ed very severely and abusively, something that he never confessed to Mom and Dad despite the close contact and familial relations that they maintained. It was only when Mom and Dad rushed to his aid upon learning from the neighbors that he had broken his leg that the awful truth became known. This injury and many others before were a result of his brother’s abuse. Heartsick, Mom and Dad cared for him while he remained in the hospital but he never recovered. For years, they felt great regret over the suffering that Uncle Ed endured during his last years.
When we would visit the cemetery together as a family to pay our respect to loved ones, Aunt Alice would exclaim, “When I die I don’t believe that anyone will put flowers on my grave!” I hope that somehow she knows that whenever any of us visit the cemetery, we carry flowers to their gravesites. We cherish their memory to this day.