Kathleen Summers, born just two and a half months before me, was my very best friend when I was growing up. She lived at the Hyland Hotel, a small hotel in Monticello that had nine rooms to rent. The foundation and first floor of the two-story craftsman-style house were made of local sandstone from South Creek near the Abajo Mountains. This warm welcoming home and hotel was also a community gathering place.
Kathleen and her family lived on the main level. Guests at the hotel rented rooms that were on the top floor. In a way, it was like a modern bed and breakfast, except that breakfast did not come with the room. Kathleen lived just two blocks from the school. It was an easy walk. Then I would wait for Dad to pick me up, as my mother did not learn to drive until we moved to Salt Lake City when I was twelve.
Kathleen’s father was the bishop of my LDS congregation, as well as a cattleman who ran herds in Utah and Colorado. He was a short man who was a little bow-legged because he had ridden horses for so long. Kathleen’s mother, Beth, was the sweetest woman in the world. Whenever I was at her house, she made me feel like I was at my own home. She often would make us a treat. I just loved going to Kathleen’s because it was my second home.
The old sandstone hotel was built in 1918. It had a three-inch ridge around it where we kids could hang on and slow-edge our way around the building. If you could manage it without falling, you got a great big victory shout from the kids––plus your pride shot up by 100 percent. There was no hospital at the time in Monticello, so a visiting doctor would come to the hotel to see patients in the front office. I am told that there were tonsillectomies performed in the hotel.
As you faced the house, the right side of the house was the office where guests would check in. The office had beautiful dark beams that flowed across the ceiling as well as recessed windows with padded seats. Often, after school, we would remove the pads and play school. After the pads were gone, it was easy for us to use the wooden seats to write and create our school work that was assigned by our friend, who was the teacher. We took turns being the teacher and pupil. We always had such fun but would clear out when guests came in to register.
As we grew older, Kathleen and I worked as hotel maids. We would have to clean the guest rooms upstairs before we could play. I learned how to make a proper bed and to fold the corners of the sheet to create a “hospital corner.”
We piled the dirty sheets by the laundry chute. After the beds were changed, we would run into the hall, open the chute, and stuff the dirty sheets down inside of it. Once they were all stuffed down, we then jumped down the chute, pushed aside the door, and jumped out of the closet into the bedroom. We then puffed the sheets back up to create a soft landing. Then we closed the closet and ran back upstairs to jump down again. We never got tired of jumping down the chute.
I remember one time when I watched Kathleen’s family make homemade root beer. They sealed it up and put it under Kathleen’s parents’ bed. I was told that, in the middle of the night, some of the bottles began to explode. The explosion woke everyone up and sprayed the underside of the bed with homemade root beer.
Every Sunday, after the kids in town had gone home from their morning church meetings and had eaten lunch, we gathered on the hotel lawn. There must have been 15 to 20 of us who met there every week to play red rover, red rover, kick the can, and hide-and-seek, hour after hour. About an hour before the evening meeting, we all rushed home, changed out of our play clothes, and went back to church.
I will never forget the fun that I had at the Hyland Hotel. Kathleen and I have remained friends. Each year, we call each other on our birthdays. Kathleen is two months older than I am, so I always rib her for getting old.
Homemade Swimming Pool
On the far end of the 240 acres where we lived, there was an old abandoned CCC camp—a Civilian Conservation Corps building that had been built in the 1930s during the Depression to house men who worked on CCC projects. At the CCC camp, there were several abandoned buildings filled with enough interesting stuff to keep kids busy going through it for years.
I was nine and Jared, my brother, was seven. We played together and spent a lot of our time exploring different buildings at the ranger station. One day while we were playing in the CCC camp, we found a pile of canvas. Pretty much anything at the abandoned CCC camp was fair game for us to play with or to build with.
Monticello was a very small community and we did not have a swimming pool. It had always been our dream to have a swimming pool. This was a time before the time of plastic, so it was not possible to go to the Sears and Roebuck catalog and order a pool. I looked at the big pile of canvas and said to Jared, “I wonder if we could talk mother into sewing a swimming pool with all of this canvas?” We got so excited, we jumped on our bikes and rode back to the house. Our first job was to get Dad to say it was okay for us to use the canvas. Then we would see if we could talk my mother into constructing the canvas into a swimming pool.
With all of our enthusiasm and excitement for the project, we were both very good at achieving parent persuasion. Dad said we could use the canvas. The more challenging job was to try to talk my mother into helping us transform the canvas into a swimming pool. We assured her that we would do anything she would ask us to do to help move the project along.
After much persuasion, she agreed to try. The first step was to create a pattern. Then she cut the canvas. The most difficult step was sewing the canvas using her old Singer sewing machine. I think she must have broken a thousand needles while she sewed the thousands and thousands of stitches it took to make the pool.
Many days (and endless stitches in the canvas) later, the pool began to take shape. Jared and I had to go back to the CCC Camp to find old pipes to put through the casing to hold the pool up. We tied the pipes to the back of our bikes with a rope, and then dragged the pipes the distance of about three blocks to our backyard. Our last activity before we could put water into the pool was to paint the canvas with hot wax to waterproof it. We decided blue was the color we wanted the pool to be, so we got our blue crayons and melted them into the wax we needed so the pool would be blue.
I knew it had turned into a much bigger project than my mother had originally planned. We filled the pool with water and let it warm in the sun for a few days. Then the fun began! Kids from all over town came to see our new creation. Jared and I could not have been prouder. We played in the pool for a couple of weeks before we had the idea of hooking a rope onto a tree above the pool so we could swing and drop in the pool like Tarzan. Then one day a kid dropped into the pool and slid right through the seam on the end of the pool. As the water ran out, so did our dreams. Yes, we were very sad, but the memories of this amazing experience and the pool we so loved will last forever.
Selling Educated Worms
When I was nine, my allowance wouldn’t cover the items that I wanted to buy out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Monticello only had two small grocery stores. The only place we could shop was in a catalog, and, in using that shopping method, we could only shop with our eyes.
I thought a lot about how I could come up with the money to buy a croquet set and a pogo stick I wanted for summer. The only option that I could see was to look for a kid’s job. We lived a mile out of town on the way to the mountains. A lemonade stand just would not work to accommodate my entrepreneurial spirit.
I kept my eye out for a kid’s job I thought that I could get or create. It seemed like every time I went to the grocery store, a young boy was stocking the shelves. I knew that when my mother brought her groceries home that it was my job to stack them on the shelves. I decided that stacking items on shelves was a job that I could do.
I picked the day that I would ride my bike to town and go in and ask Mr. Adams, the store owner, for a job. After all, he knew my parents and I hoped that acquaintance would give me an in. When I got to the store, I went in and asked his assistant if I could see Mr. Adams. As he came to the door, I bent my neck back to look up at him as he was 6′ 4” inches tall. When I looked up, I began to wonder what I was getting myself into. I did my best to blurt out the words, “Can I have a job stacking cans? He looked slowly at me and smiled. Then he said, “You are far too young.” I felt dejected and I did not know what else to do but to go home. I got on my bike, and as I rode the one mile back home, I passed a small stream that went right by our house. It was our prime spot to dig worms for all our summer fishing trips.
All of a sudden, an idea flashed into my head. I could start a business selling worms in Campbell’s tomato soup cans. My whole energy shifted, and I could not wait to get home. I ran into the house with all the enthusiasm of a young entrepreneur. My mother thought I had a very good idea. I talked to my younger brother, Jared. He was also excited.
So Jared and I decided to start our small business. We made a little list of the things which we would need. At the top of the list was an advertisement about the worms. We planned to place the ad on our Federal Baker Ranger Station sign. My older brother, Jay, was a good artist. We all sat down and began to think of ways in which we could make a sign that would draw in sales. We finally felt that we had originated the perfect idea. We made the sign on a piece of poster board; Jay drew a picture of a worm winding its way down the sign. He then drew a “mortarboard” graduation hat on top of the worm’s head. Then he added the words, “Educated Worms—12 cents a dozen.” It just seemed like the perfect marketing tool to launch our little business. When the fishing people came to buy the worms, we always gave them 13 worms-twelve worms plus one extra so that the total comprised a baker’s dozen. The people that bought our worms seem to be charmed by our enthusiasm for our new business.
Needless to say, our business took off, and both Jared and I had earned all the money we needed to buy our summer fun.