Bramwell, Idaho 1905

The following post is courtesy of Aunt Carol. Many, many thanks.

Laid out in alkali soil, Grandpa’s farm flourished anyway. The land, flush up against the foot of the butte, had little on it when Grandpa bought it, their first home the chicken coop sitting on the land. Grandma scrubbed and white-washed every inch, tacked flour-sack muslin on the walls, Mama said, and they moved in.

Grandma always set a pretty table, so Mama told me. She used her whitest linens, put out her best cooking and her best China for visitors, never once apologized for living in a chicken coop. From there they moved into cousin Warren’s house, and then Grandpa got their house built. A house with a fence, a gate, and a black dog named Collie to keep Mama in the yard. They always housed the school teacher, too, partly because they had room, mostly because of Grandma’s cooking.

It must have been a nice place, set right on that road I drove down not so many years ago, looking for it. I never found it, wasn’t even sure I had the right road. All that’s left now of Bramwell is a railroad crossing and a cemetery.

If Mama were here today, I believe she’d tell me it was a bold thing for my grandpa and grandma to leave Bloomington, where Nelsons and Madsens–Grandma’s people–had long-established farms and where the friends and family of a lifetime lived. Grandpa’s cousin Warren had gone to western Idaho a year earlier and told Heber to come on.

So he did. They did, leaving behind everything they knew. But they were young then, a family of three. Heber, Samantha, and their little girl, Lola. They would make a go of it.

The farm they built made Mama proud. “The best dry farm in the valley,” she said.

But it was Grandpa that made her proudest. She was only a small child back then, so I wonder if she knew what it meant to eat well, but that’s what she told me. They ate well those years, because her dad could make anything grow. Heber Nelson. He knew how to work the land, how to outwit that old white soil.

It was on that farm Mama got her scar, the scar she carried on the inside of her left arm from the day she got it until she was eighty. It was actually seven scars, one long scar with six smaller ones surrounding it. I didn’t mind the scar. I used to touch the long part to see if it felt as silky as it looked. But I’ll bet Mama minded it, since it ran the length of her forearm. Now, I suppose, it’s gone.

I liked to hear the story of it, even though it scared me. I could just see it too well, I guess.

It happened this way.

Dinner time she heard her kitten meowing, trapped somewhere, and ran to rescue. Kitty was locked in the mowing shed and her crying just got louder and louder until my mother found her. Mama yanked open the shed door, and the kitten ran out. I don’t know which action dislodged the mower blades, but they fell. All seven stuck in my mother’s arm.

Her screams froze Grandma halfway out of her chair, afraid she’d lost her only child.  Grandpa ran to the shed, pulled the mower blades from his little girl’s arm and wrapped it tight to slow the bleeding. He bundled her in blankets, hitched up the team, then loaded her into the wagon and raced around the butte and down the valley to the hospital in Caldwell.

It must have seemed a long ride that night, a race against time and against the bleeding. I am pretty sure Grandma made the trip, cradling her little girl all the way. That was never part of the story, but I can’t see her waiting through the night at home. I’m guessing she blamed my grandpa for the whole thing.

But Mama didn’t.

You could tell Grandpa’s farm afar off, Mama said, by his hay stacks. Most farmers in that Idaho valley rolled their hay. Not my grandpa. He baled and stacked it tight, a point of pride with him, used his Mormon derrick to lift and lay the bales so you couldn’t even get a knife blade between them.    

They didn’t live there long, only a few years. Long enough for Grandpa to be called as Branch President of the Bramwell Branch, Union Stake.

When Grandpa sold the place he moved his family back to eastern Idaho, this time to Preston, because it was a town. Probably he farmed there, too, though Mama never mentioned it. She attended Oneida Academy there, had many friends. Harold B Lee and Ezra Taft Benson among them.

Eventually, they moved to a bigger town, Salt Lake City. Grandpa got a job as a night watchman in a mattress factory, and Mama said it broke his heart. That’s the way she saw it. Always counted it a sacrifice her dad made and said it was all for her, so she could have better schools, better music teachers, and all the advantages of a city.

That is what Mama told me.


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