Bonnie D. Eldredge - Autobiography

Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you. Ah, I know at last the secret of it all.”

I remember singing these words with a school choir in Percival, Iowa, when I was about 10 years old. If I could only know the secret, I thought. There were so many mysteries in my life, so many questions without answers.

Why were we living near this shriveled town not far from the muddy Missouri River? Why did we move so often? Why did we live in such poverty? Why did my parents seem to hate each other? Why was our life so miserable? I could find nothing about my life that was ok. My self image was as muddy as the Missouri River.

Percival is not important in the total story of my life. We lived there only a short time. It was just the location of one of our many temporary homes. This was during the Great Depression and there were few wealthy people. But we were the poorest of the poor. We moved often when there were hopes of jobs and dwellings.

Whatever the reasons for our poverty, I believe they were related to the hostility in our home. Why did people who were supposed to love each other act the way my parents did?

My mother, Lula Edith Decker, worked very hard, but was often ill and depressed. Much of her sickness. I believe, was caused by worry and stress. I constantly feared she would die. When she wasn’t sick she was away from home working for a lady who owned the house where we lived on the outskirts of Percival. This lady, Mrs. Kellogg, was a Christian Scientist. My


mother told me that Mrs. Kellogg taught her to repeat over and over that “God is Love.” This should make her troubles go away. I know my mother tried, but nothing changed. She struggled to practice the power of positive thinking most of her life, but rarely could she shut out the stark realities of her existence.

My father, Lawrence Everett Decker, was a very angry man. We were all afraid of him because we never knew what would trigger a violent outburst that would last for hours, sometimes days. We didn’t dare have our friends visit because this was one sure way to aggravate him. Because of his rage, we always wanted to be away from whatever place we called home.

I now believe that he had been terribly abused as a child and had personality problems as a result. As an adult I have tried to forgive and forget, knowing that his cruel actions were beyond his control.

My brother Lynn escaped from Percival first. He would be in his last year of high school and wanted to graduate from the school in Tabor that we had attended for the major time of our schooling. His final year was anything but pleasant. He obtained a job working for a farmer on the outskirts of Tabor, in exchange for his board and room. The farmer was a slave driver and expected him to work from before dawn to after dark. He stuck it out and graduated. He was always skinny, but he looked almost like a skeleton by graduation time.


Even under the most adverse conditions, Lynn always had many friends. He went out of his way to be the opposite of what he observed during his growing-up years. He had wonderful qualities that I cannot to this day understand. The girls adored him. All his life he stayed close to his boyhood pals and made more friends wherever he lived. He was everyone’s best friend.

The following summer we all moved back to Tabor. We rented a two-story house that wasn’t too bad compared to other places we had lived. My mother often returned to Percival to work for Mrs. Kellogg for one or two weeks at a time. She cleaned and cooked while sewing draperies and upholstering furniture, all for the great sum of ten dollars for a seven-day week. I suspect that Mrs. Kellogg didn’t believe in giving God a helping hand in making my mother’s troubles go away.

The summer after he graduated, Lynn got a job traveling from town to town with a group selling magazine subscriptions. This was another horrible experience for him, but he didn’t complain. Later he confided that he nearly starved to death when business was really slow. I’m sure that living at home would have seemed a worse fate.

In the autumn of 1940 he joined the Coast Guard. My mother’s consent was required because he was under 18. After Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 his assignments were quite secretive, but we could tell by his letters that he was excited about the opportunities to learn special skills.


In 1942 my mother answered an advertisement for Defense workers. . She was accepted for an assignment that required a few months of training for sheet metal work, to be followed by a job at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah. She was thrilled to have a real job. She could now leave her unhappy marriage. A few years later my parents’ divorce was finalized. It should have happened much earlier.

During my senior year in high school at Tabor, I lived with good friend Lyla Timpson and her family. This was perhaps the happiest time of my school life. Her sister, Jane, became my sister-in-law a few years later when she and Lynn were married. During the year I lived with Lyla and her family, Jane was working away from home.

When I graduated from high school I didn’t expect to have any family present. To my great surprise, mom’s sister, who was my Aunt Edna, along with Uncle Al, cousin Gail and his wife Grace were in the audience. After the ceremony they took me to an ice cream parlor and we had a wonderful time. They were good people and during my younger years I had visited them often at their farm near Griswold, Iowa. I realize now what a great effort it was for them to finish chores early enough to drive more than an hour to reach Tabor.

Aunt Edna was an amusing character. When I spent summers with her, she would always concoct some ridiculous situation for me. Once when her daughter Betty was planning to visit her


boyfriend, Aunt Edna sneaked me in the trunk of the car. I was expected to report back any

activity I observed. Not far down the road the car stopped and Betty opened the trunk and ordered me out. “I saw her put you in there,” she said. That ruined my first spy job.

Uncle Al was extremely sharp in the farming business. He started with nothing and worked and saved until he acquired a large farm. He developed a prosperous operation and the one luxury he allowed himself was a brand new cadillac every two years. He and Aunt Edna were able to retire in Florida. She died at age 75 and he lived with his second wife, Frances, until he was in his 90's.

Soon after graduating high school I traveled by train to Ogden to live with mom.

We lived in a small apartment until she found a little house to buy for about $3,000. It could have been comfortable, but she continually remodeled it. She tried to make it into something that it never could be. As a result she wasted much of her life living in a mess of torn-up rooms. It was a duplex, and renters constantly destroyed what she tried to fix up.

I enrolled in Weber Junior College in 1943. The two years I spent there were partly happy and I made several friends. Barbara Singleton, Bonnie Clay and Shirley Mills were my best friends. We hung out together often.

One night Bonnie and Shirley and I were in our kitchen fooling around and I decided to try smoking a cigarette. My mother was in the next room and came charging in like a bull and started beating me. Bonnie and Shirley were scared and disappeared in a hurry. I was angry and humiliated at the time. I’ve often thought that it’s a good thing my smoking was discouraged but wonder if it couldn’t have been done in a more civilized way. It was a good–but painful--lesson and I never started smoking.


Shirley got a job as a stewardess for United Airlines, stationed in San Francisco. She talked me into going there and sharing an apartment with her and two other stewardesses. I found a job at a Lerner’s clothing store. I planned to work there only a short time and thought nothing about joining the union until one day I was ordered to report to the head of the local organization.. He had an office in what seemed a jungle of warehouses in an area of San Francisco that I was not at all familiar with. He told me point blank that I would either join the union or quit my job. I chose to quit because it was time to go back to Ogden and decide what to do with my life.

While I was trying to decide what to do, I worked as a cashier at the Payless Drug store. That’s where I was working when I met Wayne. He was a friend of Shirley’s boyfriend, Jay Hancey, so Wayne asked me for a date. I was afraid he had been pressured by them so I said no. Later when he asked me again I said yes. One of our first dates was a picnic at Monte Cristo with his cousin, Duane. We had a lot of good times during the following years. We were married April 4, 1947. It was snowing as we drove to Salt Lake City for our honeymoon, and we had a difficult time finding a motel since that was the weekend of the LDS conference.

Our first son, David, was born on April 1, 1948. ( He always hated the date of his birthday because it was April Fool’s Day.) We didn’t have a car, so Wayne drove me to the hospital in a Navy truck. The baby was ready to be born, but Dr. Kearns didn’t arrive. Wayne’s Dad was there and called the doctor and told him to get himself there immediately. When Wayne’s Dad talked, people listened. Dr. Kearns was there almost before the phone was hung up.


We were delighted with our new baby, but didn’t know much about being parents. In spite of us, Dave was a healthy little boy. When he was about 10 months old, we moved into our house at 3023 Circle Way. He was already beginning to say a few words and starting to walk. Wayne put rocking horse wallpaper in his room. He was soon able to rock his crib across the room and take all the nuts and bolts out of it.

During those years we saw a lot of Barbara and Keith Hawkes. Their first son, Robbie, was born about a week after Dave. Then Keith served time in the Navy during the Korean War. They moved to Bountiful, then to Arizona and we lost track of them for many years. In the fall of 2000, Keith and his daughter, Debbie, came to our house hoping to find us. It was great to see him, but the news that Barbara had died the previous year was very sad. She had always been such a healthy, wholesome person that it was difficult to think about her dying a slow and painful death from schleroderma.(sp.)

The following file was found and is evidently the first start of her autobiography.

Today is March 26, 2001, and I, Bonnie Decker Eldredge, am 75 years old. On August 1, I will be 76. That sounds very old–as our granddaughter Alina would say–but I really don’t feel old. In my mind I could be 40 years or more younger.

My family has been urging me to write the history of my life. Since I have no idea where to begin, I’ll start where I am now. This morning I tended two of my darling great granddaughters–Emily and Megan. Their parents are grandson Russ and his dear wife, Kim. Emily is three years old, going on 30, and Megan is 18 months and loves to be cuddled. And I like to cuddle her.

A short time ago Wayne, my husband of 53 years, and I came in from working in the yard. We complained about our aches and pains, but we feel fortunate to be able to work at our ages.

Wayne turned 80 last December 24 and he is doing very well. We have both gained too much weight during the winter, but we hope to slim down now that the weather is warm and we can go for long walks.

Yesterday our granddaughter Crissy, her husband Shane, and their daughters Shelley (3)

and baby Sarah (6 months) came for dinner. They are thrilled with their new house in West Haven and are making landscaping plans. They have a full acre lot and their house is palatial in size.

Russ and Kim have also moved into their new house in Ogden. After renting apartments for 6 years they are happy to be in a place of their own. Kim loves to grow flowers and vegetables so she is eager to get things ready for planting.

When I dig in the dirt and plant flowers, I often think of my mother, Lula Decker Pierson.

We lived in a variety of houses when I was growing up, but regardless how humble, they were always surrounded by beautiful flowers that she planted from seeds. She also had nice vegetable gardens, My mother worked hard; she rarely rested. During the last months of her life she stopped gardening, and I should have known then how sick she was.

For as long as possible, I denied that she was going to die. I expected her to live forever.

But she had the big C, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and at that time medicine had not been developed for its treatment. If it happened now, there would be procedures to cure her. But today she would be 102 years old, according to her birth certificate. On her headstone her birthday is listed as July 4, 1904, because that is what she changed her records to. Her retirement was all fouled up and she had to wait to receive her payments. She died in January 1970, the saddest day of my life.

When my brother, Lynn, saw later what the date of birth was, he laughed and said, “Well she had the final word.” Lynn was a wonderful part of my younger life. I remember us wandering along a creek and finding wild flowers among the trees in the Springtime. He worked at various jobs on nearby farms when he was young. He saved his money and always bought something for me when he went on trips with the Tabor High School band where he played a tuba. If he had a quarter when he started the trip, he would spend at least ten cents on things for me, such as a jumping rope or jacks. I didn’t realize at the time how generous he was.


When we were very young, we lived in an isolated, god forsaken lumber camp. School was conducted in something like a trailer. I was too young to attend, but occasionally I was permitted to go with Lynn. One day I caused too much distraction so the teacher invited me to not come back. I was devastated because it was so lonely when he was in school.

Another time our mother gave us both a spanking because of something naughty we had done. We screamed so loud that a neighbor heard us and came to investigate. To be martyrs we hid up in a large tree all afternoon until our mother coaxed us to come down and have supper.