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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Best Mousetraps

I reworked an old blog post for my Chronicle article this week.  Supposedly recycling is a good thing.... I hope someone else thinks so.

On a gusty day in March 1969, my dad was moving his giant stack of cement forms from one place on our property to another. Jim and I were helping, though I imagine a seven- and four-year-old were more of a hindrance than a help. Our brainless Chocolate Labrador, Tinker, was running around the fields biting at air and gleefully dashing through clumps of dead weeds. Our dad had set up a new location for the forms to be elevated off the ground six or seven inches and we were shifting the large, heavy, cement-encrusted and oil-drenched boards from the old pile to the new.  The very vivid part of this memory occurs when dad pried up the corner of the very last board in the old stack and a mouse streaked away into the weeds. As he continued to  lift the form, the sound of high-pitched baby animal cries came to my ears. Dad yanked the board onto its edge and revealed a large nest in the ground with about 10 tiny, nearly-naked mice in it. I was horrified and jumped away at first, but then I bent in to look at them closer. They were encased is a nest lined with all kinds of soft bits and pieces of dried grass, feathers, and old fabric fibers. The babies all had their little heads raised and must have been blinded by the sunlight streaming in on them. I had just caught my breath and started to comment about how cute they were when my dad called to Tinker and she bounded over to us, caught sight of the nest and gulped the baby mice down it two or three swallows. My revulsion was beyond bearing. I fled into the house howling at the top of my lungs. My mother rushed to my room to decipher what could cause such a commotion. Between sobs I told her the whole, ugly story. It was one of the few times I remember my mom scolding my dad about something he had done. She gave him an earful about his ruthless behavior and how it would 'scar me for life'.

The mental pictures from that day are indelibly stamped on my brain, but I feel nearly as linked to another mouse event which I didn’t witness, only heard about.

My mother-in-law, 'Mimi', had been widowed and living alone for about 6 years when she had an infestation of mice at her house. Being innovative and never wanting to ask for help, she fashioned a homemade trap by lining up peanuts on a shelf in her storage room and then putting a handful of peanuts in a deep, narrow garbage can. The next morning she had seven (YES, 7!) mice caught in her trap. She said they were a writhing mass climbing over each other attempting to claw their way up the sides of the can without success. Her dilemma became: “what do I do now?”

Mimi decided to get the can outside and dump the mice into her big, lidded garbage can. She carefully carried the can up the stairs, but as she shifted it to open her sliding glass door onto her deck, she must have tilted it enough for one mouse to claw up to the top of the can, onto her hand, up her arm, where it leapt from her shoulder onto the decking and dashed away. At that point she changed her plans for the remaining six mice. She covered the open end of the can with a heavy garbage bag, tipped the mass into the bag, tied the top, and used her gardening hoe to chop them up before dropping the bag into her bin.

Mimi was 83 years old when she became the 'exterminator'. She related the event to us as she showed us the shelf, the can, walked us out onto the deck and held up the little, short-handled hoe saying, “This is the murder weapon.” I have gone back and forth between shivers and giggles over little Mimi as the vicious mouse murderer.

I read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm to my children years ago when they were small. It gave me a different perspective about mice and rats, but I will still never stop recoiling at the thought a dog eating baby mice OR having one climb up my arm. I guess Mimi and I both relate to the cartoon character, Felix the cat, when he said, "I hate them meeces to pieces!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Story of a Different Type

I'm not sure if I have mentioned that writing for the Millard County Chronicle is paying off for me.  Not only do I get a free subscription (both digital and hard copies!), but it is functioning as an internship for me at Utah State University.  I needed one more credit to finish my associate's degree this semester.  I'm actually earning 1.5 credits for my work at the Chronicle--BONUS!!  Anyway, because of the internship thing, I am asking for input and suggestions from the paper's owner/editor, Shellie.  Shellie has been really laid-back and hands off about my writing.  To this point, she has just published whatever I have submitted, but last week she made a suggestion (the first one).  So for this week's paper, instead of a Rambling Through Time memory, I interviewed someone and wrote an actual news story for the paper!  I know, right?!

So here is my first attempt at an interview-based column.  I submitted it to Shellie last night, but I don't know if it is what she had in mind or if she will actually run it in the paper, but I'm printing it here anyway.  Thanks for reading!

             A couple of years ago, Kevin Caldwell was living in Davis County and working in the real estate business.   He and his wife, Brittany, had purchased, remodeled, lived in, and then sold a series of homes.  Brittany, tired of the process gave Kevin the ultimatum of choosing one last project or else... What a project he picked!  As of a year and a half ago, the Caldwells are the owners of the old Millard County Academy.   Kevin and Brittany Caldwell and their four children--Colton 22, Shyann 15, Maverick 9, and Savanna 6--have lived in several Utah towns over the years, but have decided to make Hinckley their permanent residence. 
            Kevin originally saw the old Millard Academy building on the MLS (multiple listing service).  The family stopped by to see the building and grounds on their way to Las Vegas for a weekend, they submitted a bid when they returned home, and were closing on the sale a few days later.  It was a quick decision, but one the Caldwells are not regretting.
            Since moving to Hinckley, Kevin and Brittany have enrolled Shyann, Maverick and Savanna in the local schools; have hauled away over 150 loads of garbage and debris from the premises; replaced the entire roof decking; covered it with tar paper; and installed nearly half of the 90 windows in the building.  Kevin says in the next couple of weeks they will start shingling the roof and will continue to install windows so the structure will finally be weatherproof. 
            During the warmer months, the Caldwells reside in the old gymnasium just south of the school building.  Kevin says to imagine living in an RC Willey store.  Furniture arrangements define the boundaries of living areas within the large, airy space.  During the winter, it is too difficult and costly to heat the whole gym, so they live in a 5th wheeler parked between the school and the gym buildings.  That must offer quite a contrast, far beyond the temperatures, between the winter and summer months for the Caldwell family.
            Kevin says their ultimate goal is to make the Millard Academy their home.  Their plans for the old Hinckley High Gymnasium include refinishing the hardwood floor, re-installing the basketball hoops, adding exercise equipment, and offering it as community sports facility.  As for the school itself, he hopes to restore it to its former glory.  Kevin and Brittany Caldwell love the history of the area and specifically this building.  Many people have stopped by in the last 18 months to see how the work is progressing.  Caldwells often offer a tour of the work site and have visitors sign a guestbook.  They have appreciated the visits and hearing the stories of hundreds of former students who attended school in the structure.  The Caldwell family says this venture is a 10-year project, but look forward to eventually opening the renovated building  for tours and hosting an alumni dinner to celebrate the restoration of the magnificent old edifice. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Last of the Series of Tours (Millard Academy)

This was an absolute labor of love for me to reminisce as I walked readers through my old Elementary School.  There were periods of tears flowing down my cheeks, there were  smiles and out-loud guffaws as I strolled through some of these old memories.  I hope you won't find them too tedious.  Thank you for your patience and for wandering with me through an important part of my childhood.

Hinckley Elementary School--Part III, Upstairs

          Welcome back to the Millard Academy.  How generous of you to come and finish the tour of this splendid, old building.

            Let's head up the north staircase with its carved oak banister and balusters, past the girl's restroom on the landing and up the next stairway to the second floor.  We'll step off the stairs into the interior corridor, walk forward and turn right to the only door on the north end.  This leads into Mrs. Tolbert's second/third grade classroom.  The most vivid memory I have of third grade and this room was Mrs. Tolbert's piano and singing folk songs about Billy Boy (who liked a young thing who could not leave her mother), On top of Old Smokey (all covered with snow), Down in the Valley (where you hang your head low); and so many others.

            Coming out of Mrs. Tolbert's room, as we head south along the carpeted corridor we come to the double swinging doors centered on the west wall.  I was fascinated by this room with its heavy, old, walnut tables and walls of books.  Because of this space, I have always wanted a library in my home.  I'd like to replicate this room exactly with its rich, dark wood furniture, moldings, and doors; bookshelves from floor to ceiling on three walls; and huge framed windows overlooking the school yard and town.

            Straight across the corridor from the swinging library doors, was a set of four steps going up to the back entrance onto the stage in the auditorium.  There was a set of coatrooms on either side of that door.  I think I might have to devote another column to these coatrooms and the antics that went on there.  A monster lived in one which devoured school papers, mittens, sweaters and other miscellaneous items and got me into big trouble once.

            Back down these steps, we will turn left and walk to the only door on the south wall. This was Mrs. Hardy's fourth/fifth classroom.  Within this room I learned Utah history, discovered my love for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and developed friendships that have lasted through the decades.  It is a place I connect to pure joy and great sadness.  Mavis Hardy was a sparkling personality and a delight to be around.  Every student loved her and I was thrilled, after spending my fourth grade year in her class, to find my name on her door on the first day of fifth grade.  Unfortunately shortly after that school year began, Mrs. Hardy became ill and starting missing days, then weeks at a time, and finally she didn't return.  Mrs. Hardy passed away in 1973.  School was closed for her funeral and the church was filled far beyond capacity with family, friends, and students paying respect to this marvelous lady.  It was the first tragedy of my life.

I spent my last elementary year in Mr. Farnsworth’s fifth/sixth classroom in the southwest corner of the top floor of the school. Mr. Farnsworth spent the entire year telling us he was preparing us for junior high, but I think he prepared us for life.  He effectively taught all the academic subjects, but in addition our class produced the school newspaper; we decorated the bulletin boards each month; and we adapted several books into plays.  Blue Willow and Robin Hood hold a special place in my heart because of my roles in those productions.

From Mr. Farnsworth's classroom, we'll stroll across the wide corridor and then along a narrower walkway to enter the auditorium that takes up the entire east side of the top floor.  This room was the crowning jewel of the Millard Academy.  It had a beautiful hardwood floor; a raised stage with a heavy, royal blue, velvet curtain; and great arched ceilings which made the acoustics so superior, a sound system wasn't needed.  I remember years of dancing, school programs, class photos, plays, and sixth grade graduations that took place in the auditorium.  I'm pretty sure if you look there now, you would find a piece of my heart tucked away in a corner because I left it there when I graduated from Hinckley Elementary School in May of 1974. 
An old photo of the stage at  the Millard Academy--1920
  Until two years ago, I worked for the Arts in Education Division of the Utah Arts Council, during that time I was invited to many private and public institutions to help establish arts programs. I have also had the chance to visit schools of several states and even other countries. I discovered there are wealthy schools and there are underprivileged schools, there are facilities parents pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for their children to attend.  I always find myself comparing my own education to what these schools offer and I have come to the conclusion that I had one of the richest learning opportunities available anywhere in a beautiful, old, historic building located in Hinckley, Utah.
This is how the auditorium looks now with the plaster torn down and
wood flooring pulled up.  I have great hopes that it will be restored
to its former majesty and that I can visit it without crying someday.

Send your comments concerning this or any other topic to Georgia by phone or email--801-737-4787 or 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Millard Academy Part II

This is the column for this coming week's Millard County Chronicle.  In my defense I typed it at 11:00 p.m. last night, so I was getting rather ridiculous.  My proof readers, Dani and Bryan, didn't veto it though, so it was sent to press. 
Hinckley Elementary School--Part II, Downstairs
This is a photo from the back of the school taken in 1912.
It is such a beautiful building.

This is the front entrance of the Millard Academy
with its first graduating class in 1914
            It has been 38 years since I attended Hinckley Elementary School, yet I still frequently find myself within those walls in my dreams.  The place seems to hold some kind of spell on my imagination, because I wake up some mornings with the vague feeling of having walked the halls and stairways; performed on the stage of the auditorium; played games in the gym; or studied in a classroom or the library the previous night.  Perhaps it has something to do with the many happy childhood hours I spent in that edifice.

            Over the seven years I attended HES, there were  never enough students to warrant having a teacher for every grade so the second graders were split between the first and third grade classrooms and the fifth graders were split between fourth and sixth.  Even with combining the grades this way,18 students was my largest elementary class size.  Most teachers now would think it was pure heaven to have that kind of student-to-teacher ratio.

            Relying on 38-year-old memories and more-recent sleep images, I invite you to walk with me through Hinckley Elementary:  Upon entering the giant, arched front doors of the school, we find ourselves in a large inside lobby.  The classrooms are on the outer walls with the windows, so this foyer is a great echoing space with doorways exiting off from it.

            The building is completely symmetrical with each side a mirror image of the other. If you turn to the right upon entering the front door, the main office is the first room you encounter.  I seriously have no memory of ever being in this office.  I guess that means either I never got into trouble or I just never got caught. Beyond the office there are two doorways on adjacent walls at the inside corner, the first door leads to an empty classroom, but the next one is Mrs. Hales' first/second grade classroom.  I spent two fun-filled years in that room learning to read and write and singing songs about little white ducks and lily pads.  Continuing past Mrs. Hales' room, we come to the wide, green-carpeted stairways--one going up, with the boy's blue-tiled restroom on the landing--and a flight going down to the gymnasium on the lowest level.

            Back at the front doors, if we turn left, we will pass the nurses office (right across from the principal's office), then the two doors at the northwest corner that lead into the Kindergarten rooms.  The wall between the two rooms was taken out so there was a classroom section and a playroom section in the large space.  My memories about this area of the school all revolve around graham crackers and milk, a big toy train, blocks, poster paints, and sleeping mats rolled up and stored on the back counter.  One time in 1974 when my mom was PTA president and I was watching my baby brother during an after-school meeting, I took little Mark into the kindergarten room to play and ended up losing the end of my finger to a vicious guinea pig who lived in a cage where the sleeping mats had previously been stored.   Now that recollection merges with my actual kindergarten memories.
            Past the kindergarten complex was the other set of stairways; going up to the landing, here is the pink-tiled girl's restroom with three stalls, two sinks and a large rack filled with wire baskets for the girls' gym clothes. I remember the gritty soap in the dispensers and the toilet paper holders meting out little folded squares, but mostly I remember the way the room smelled of floor wax, bowl cleaner, and sweaty gym clothes.  When I read Harry Potter to my children several years ago, I pictured this restroom when I read about Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. 

            Taking the stairway down leads us to the gymnasium, just like the stairs on the south side of the building.  The gym was a place of wonder and magic.  Weekly each class had an appointed time in the gym.  We played basketball, dodge ball, ran laps, climbed the rope or did chin-ups on the bars.   There was a set of stairs leading to a catwalk that encircled the ceiling of the room. During gym period, the teacher would send a student up there to untie the climbing rope and toss the end down below. I recall the thrill of climbing that massive rope from the floor all the way to the top and putting my hand on the ceiling; I remember throwing a ball so hard, I got boys 'out' while playing dodge ball; and I recollect the powerful feeling of pulling myself up on the chinning bar.

            Oh, wait... maybe those last few memories were just dreams…

We will tour the upstairs of Hinckley Elementary next week.  Please call or email your memories (and dreams) to Georgia at 801-737-4787 or