Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Growing Up In Himni, Utah - Episodes 1 & 2

Note: My alter-ego A. Jenkins Parker has written a series of stories about a fictitious town in Utah called Himni. I'll be making it a regular Tuesday practice of sharing some of those stories with you. Jinx as he his known to his friends, doesn't approve of this, but what he doesn't know won't hurt him. Enjoy!

My How The Place Has Changed, by A. Jenkins Parker

I wasn’t born in Himni. It had plenty of history, by the time I got here. I’ve learned some of the past, but mostly, I’m just going to tell you about the stuff I’ve seen in this little town since my family arrived. Even so, you ought to know a little about Himni for reference purposes.

Situated in a lonely valley in Eastern Utah, Himni has always been a bit out of the way. When Brigham Young was sending folks into the far reaches of the Intermountain West, this must have been one of the last places he thought of. Himni was hard to reach, dry and pretty much inhospitable. We’ve always wondered if the first pioneers who came here weren’t chased rather than directed to come to such a place. The old folks somehow scratched out a living, but by the looks of things when I arrived, just barely. Then the gentiles started showing up. They were chasing minerals and oil and didn’t care much for cows and sheep. They prospered and the rest of the community began looking in their direction.

There never has been much of a quarrel between the Mormons and the gentiles out here, but the mixture has been interesting to see. That’s about all you need to know.

I arrived in 1962 and entered the seventh grade at Omner Valley Jr. High. That was about the time of Himni’s transition and I thought I might like to share some of those days with you. It was a different time. One today’s youngsters may even find hard to believe. I had just turned 12 and was pretty confused about life and living. I had lived in Salt Lake and Provo during my formative years. Not exactly big cities, but really something compared to Duchesne where I’d spent the past two. Now we had uprooted once again and moved to Himni, at least four times the size of Duchesne. The streets were paved. The library didn’t have wheels. They had a swimming pool.

Once when my kids were little they wondered how come I knew so much about the 50’s when I would have been too small to remember much. It was simple. The 50’s didn’t get to Himni ’til the 60’s. In many ways, thank goodness, the 60’s never did get here. There was that couple of weeks the Hippies were passing through town…which makes a great jumping off spot for a first story.

Of Hippies, Produce and Making a Living, by A. Jenkins Parker

One summer in the mid-sixties the Hippies had a rendezvous in Boulder, Colorado. Most of them hitchhiked through Himni on their way from California. There wasn’t a male in town who had hair over his ears so to us they were quite a sight. Most folks just gawked, a few mothers kept their kids indoors, but life didn’t change all that much.

Butch Farley and his buddies rolled a few of them, or so we heard. They claimed to have even taken a load of Hippies into the back of Butch’s pickup truck ostensibly to convey them on towards Colorado. Instead they took them up on Pine Top and impolitely dropped them off in the middle of nowhere. Butch loved the reputation, but I don’t really know if he ever did half the stuff his minions bragged about. I was working at the local IGA that summer. My first town job. We had the usual crew; a few sweet old ladies in the bakery, a trio of young mothers running the check stands, a bunch of high school kids bagging groceries and stocking shelves. We had an ambitious out-of-towner for a manager who’s name was Lester Moore. A smooth ladies man in the meat department called Tuff. And we had a scrawney little manager wannabe running the produce department. His name was Mark Wilson. Mark was also from out of town.

Mark was always having problems. I think his ambition far outstripped his brains, but he was a nice kid and we all liked him. One day, for example, we called him to the front to help check groceries. He never came. We called again with the same results. When the rush was over; Les sent me over to the Pine Top Cafe’ to see if he was sitting in the coffee shop. Nope. We made a cursory search of the store with no results. We even called his house to see if he’d gone home for some reason. No luck, but his wife Leslie, hurried down to help with the search. They’d been married just a few months. Leslie was gorgeous and I had a secret crush on her.

I personally had checked the produce cooler a couple of times. The light switch was on the outside of the door. Both times the light was off. On my third trip around I looked in the cooler again, nothing. Just as the door was closing, though, I heard something and opened the door and turned on the light. A wall of lettuce boxes had collapsed and fallen on top of poor Mark. He’d been there under the pile in that cooler for over three hours. He was shivering uncontrollably and Leslie took him home for the rest of the day.

Another time we had a late night stocking project. Us kids went home at midnight and Les and Mark stayed behind. When we got to the store in the morning it was locked up. We rattled the door and Nellie from the bakery, who had been inside for hours making bread and doughnuts and stuff, let us in. It was dark up in the office so Sue Connor, the head checker made me go
up with her. There we found Les and Mark passed out after polishing off a bottle of Jack Daniels. As in the rest of Utah, a bottle Jack Daniels isn’t available in a grocery store and I had never even seen one. Mark had fallen asleep with his neck propped between two coke bottles in a 24 bottle crate. We let them sleep. When they finally came down about eleven, Mark couldn’t hold his head up and he stayed that way for about a week. One Friday morning we got this huge shipment of cantaloupes. Les was livid. We’d never sell that many in a million years. Desperate to prove him wrong before the cants spoiled, Mark put on his thinking cap. Where he got his stroke of genius we’ll never know.

Rarely, had the hippies actually stopped in the store, but on this particular day they were swarming the place. Oh, they bought the usual stuff and tried to look casual but it soon became apparent that it was cantaloupes they were after. Every sale included several! By Saturday night they were almost gone! We had nearly sold the entire stock in two days!

Now, in those days the most common advertising method in the grocery business was the painted sign. Poster paint on butcher paper was the medium. These were usually stapled on a wooden “A” frame out on the sidewalk for the passing traffic to see. For a couple of days none of us employees had noticed what Mark had done. There on an ordinary “A” frame was this message. “NOTICE – IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DRYING THE RINDS OF OUR CANTALOUPES AND SMOKING THEM – WE ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO SELL OUR MELONS FOR ANY OTHER THAN THEIR INTENDED PURPOSE!”

Sometimes we get so desperate to find happiness, we’ll try anything.

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