Dora Boyce was born into an LDS (Mormon) polygamous family in 1896 to a struggling farmer and his second wife. Although John Boyce was a hard worker, a good farmer and orchardist, the family was hard-scrabble poor, living from day to day. Although he worked hard and had a well-producing farm and orchards and berry patches, the demands of heavy indebtedness and the constant needs of a large family permitted only a hand-to-mouth existence, between the good times and the hard times.
An example of the poverty in which they lived, in this Diary Dora tells how much she loves parties and particularly dancing, but often doesn't go because "My shoes are too ragged.", or "I don't have any clothes to wear." Of course, that plaint of most women is quite common. When faced with an impending important event, "I don't have any clothes" is often heard, and in Dora's case, it was probably true most of the time. When she is able to go to some of these much anticipated activities, she delights in confessing to her Diary how much she enjoyed herself and what a great time she had.
Dora seemed to be invited to many activities and was popular among her friends. It is difficult, then, to read of her self- doubts and fears that seem to preclude her from some activities. It would be too simple, perhaps, to discount those as arising from her "teen-age" years, though they seem to be most prevalent then. As one begins to read this Diary in depth, one discovers that these doubts and fears creep into her later years, also. Shortly after marriage, and at long intervals when her husband is away from home, either working or looking for work, she expresses her doubts about her self. When children are misbehaving or doing things they should not be doing, she blames herself for their conduct. "It is my fault." "If only I had done something differently." "Why can't I put more trust in the Lord?" in their various forms, are repeated through the years.
This perhaps could be summed up in the following words: "No one has called me up all day. I guess they are tired of me. I haven't any friends because I'm not sociable with people. I wish my parents loved and appreciated me a little."
This may come as a surprise to her children, who relied on her strength to pull them through their "tough" times. She was always there for them, but who was there for Mother? Here we have some insightful comments from a basically shy (read `lonely' here) young girl, woman and teacher, young married woman, who begins to find her strength as she is often left alone to feed, clothe, and shelter her small children. She had four children during her first five years of marriage. In all she gave birth to eleven children, of whom nine grew to adulthood, married and had children.
Her nine children had 56 grandchildren, over 150 great-grandchildren and about 10 great-great grandchildren.?????
Dora lived for her children. Her source of greatest joy came in doing things for them. Making dresses on the old treadle sewing machine. Washing their clothes on the ‘scrub board'. Ironing with the ‘flat irons' that had to be heated on the stove. Giving them their ‘Saturday night' baths and encouraging them in their many activities. Turning out costumes through the years. Watching them perform in their school and church activities. She still remembered late in life the times she worked as a "soda jerk" in Nevada and the great joy she had as she lined up her small children on the seats in front of the soda fountain and spent most of her paycheck providing them with ice cream about twice a week.
She continued involved in their lives and then in the lives of her grandchildren, keeping track of what was happening in their lives, their missions, and their marriages and her great-grand children proved to be a source of wonder and joy for her.
Born into the small community of Granite, at the mouth of the Little Cottonwood canyon, on what was called The Bench, many of her family and close relatives worked in the granite quarries (from which the granite for the Salt Lake Temple came), which was managed by her grandfather Solomon Joseph Despain, her mother's father. She mentions the many teams needed to haul the huge blocks down the canyon and into Salt Lake. Her father and brothers were involved in this back-breaking work, often leaving home before sunrise and returning home sometimes after 10:00 at night. They were constantly in danger, from the teams, from the sleds and wagons, and from the possibility of being crushed if a team became unruly, or the sleds began to run away coming down the mountain side.
For the first half-century of her life, she had a perpetual worry as she struggled to find the money to feed her family from day-to-day. By 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression (Great Depression photos), she had seven hungry, demanding children. It never let up. Breakfast, dinner and supper and in-between snacks. She tried to be prepared for them. The lack, at times, of even the bare necessities was embarrassing to her. "I can't hold my head up in front of my friends any more.", was stated more than once as the bills and the creditors seemed overwhelming to her. In 1938, as they were beginning to come out of their personal Depression, she had twins, which ended her birthing activities.
Her husband worked hard but with only an eighth grade education, found it difficult to find work, especially during the terrible days of the Great Depression. He worked in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps, part of Roosevelt´s New Deal) fighting "Mormon" crickets in Nevada and other projects in the mountains and away from home. With the WPA (The Works Project Administration, also part of the New Deal) he went into Idaho on road construction jobs, always having the most menial, the hardest, and of course, the least paying jobs. This left Dora alone quite often, to worry about how to pay the rent, buy the food and find wood for the insatiable stoves, especially in the cold Utah and Nevada winters.
Her husband's apparent callousness is mentioned from time to time. "Wilford is away from home. . . .Pretty lonely without him." He is away from home, she is missing him terribly, but he doesn't write to let her know how he is, or if he is still alive, and she is left to wonder about him. And, he seldom sends any money or just a pittance when he does. "(It) was our sixth anniversary. He never remembers (anniversaries), birthdays." One must often read between the lines, as she does very little complaining to him, or to her children, and sometimes, as above, just remarking what she has come to accept from him.
Of course, when he was courting her, and remember she promised "to wait for him until he returned from his mission" he kept up a fairly steady barrage of letters. Later, after they had "settled down", he had difficulty keeping up his correspondence. [See the Endnotes for some of these letters from Wilf to Dora while on his mission.]
There are times when she thinks that if they only had "$50 more a month", they could begin to hold their heads up and look people in the eye and feel better about themselves. We could safely say that her credo was "ENDURE TO THE END!" That was her daily prayer. Give her the strength to "endure to the end". Sometimes it would be to be able to make it through the day. Or through this current crisis. Or to the end of the month and get the bills paid.
Although the lack of money was a continuous theme for over fifty years, none of the children can remember ever going hungry or missing a meal, unless sent to bed, by their father, for misbehaving. The food sometimes became boring and often consisted of only beans, bread and milk. But there always seemed to be plenty for every one. Her common statement was "Come to Supper. If you don't like it now, you can eat it in the morning." Nothing was wasted. If she had known how to make a "purse out of a sow's ear," she would have done it, as she used "everything else except the squeal."
Dora was an amalgamation of two starkly different areas of the country. Her father descended from the New England Boyces from Salem, Massachusetts. They were closely connected to the Southworths of that area, who were members of the Quaker faith, and the Boyces suffered along with those early Quakers because of their religious differences. They brought with them the strengths and the weaknesses of their New England forefathers. Their tolerance for religious differences came along with their inherited intolerance of thinking everyone wrong but them. Dora was very tolerant of people in the news, until they became a problem in her neighborhood.
She would be the first in line to give help and food and clothing to others less fortunate than she and she never asked the color of their skin or their religious denomination.
This may have been inherited from her mother whose parents came from the South. Good food and great hospitality were just part of her nature, along with a natural suspicion of anyone who "didn't work for a living."
At one time, all the tramps and bums [to the younger generations, it may help to explain that "tramps and bums" were the words used, but not as we think of them today, but these were men who were out of work and most had families 'at home', and were 'riding the rails' to find work.] of the area must have put a hex on her doorpost, because they always found the way to her table, even though the farm was several miles from the railroad tracks. There was often one standing there in the doorway, at supper time, hat in hand, asking if there was "any work to be done for a bite to eat." There always was. She never sent anyone away hungry, even if it was the last that she might have. She trusted in the Lord.
More often than not, he seldom ate outside but with the family, as one of the members, around the big kitchen table. In the morning, after sleeping outside or in the barn, (she wouldn't allow them in the house after dark) there was always a pile of wood cooked, or the yard raked and weeds pulled by the grateful recipient. Then a big breakfast and he would be on his way.
Before the war (1941) in Wapato, there was a steady stream of bums outside her gate. Times were different then. These hoboes were tolerated. She had seen many hard-working, good men out of work. She tried to make a difference in those around her. Dad loved to tell the tale of a group of men standing around, lamenting the plight and hard luck of one of their neighbors, who had fallen on hard times. After a great deal of discussion of what could be done, and of hearing of how sorry they were for their neighbor, Dad pulled out a ten dollar bill (his last in the world, he claimed) and said, "I feel sorry to the amount of $10. How sorry are you?" He was able to
raise a fair amount and helped that man feed his family. Dora said, secretly, one time to one of her children, that she loved that story because she had quietly "shamed" him into action by just saying, "Wilf, put your money where your mouth is!"
Her husband one day brought home an old "colored" gentleman who was looking for work. Dad thought that the "old gentleman" might be able to help mother and give her a hand in keeping up the garden, feeding some animals, chopping wood and carrying it for her. When asked what she should call him, he answered, "Jus' ca' me Shorty, mam, yual jes' ca' me Shorty.". So Shorty it was from that time forth. She invited him to our table but he elected to eat outside by himself, joined sometimes by some of the younger ones of the family. On special occasions, he would eat with the family, and would join them on their 4th of July picnics. Thanksgiving and other holidays, he would be at the table with us.
Now Shorty was about five feet tall and probably never saw 100 pounds at any one time, but he was a hard worker, always asking Dora if there was something he could do. We learned that he had been married, had a married daughter living in Chicago, with whom he would stay during the winter months, but come spring, he would "hop a freight", or in other words, get on a railroad car heading west. We helped him clean out the "grain house" (something akin to a saddle room, but where wheat and oats were stored) and a bunk bed was put in and Dora made curtains and a "throw" rag rug, possibly out of the hop strings she had the small children roll into balls while they were picking hops.
Shorty stayed with us several summers and even moved with us to the Kittitas Ranch, near Ellensburg, in the Kittitas Valley.
He was old when we first met him, short cropped white hair and wrinkles. We thought he was as old as Methuselah, at least 150 years old, but he probably wasn't that old. He just looked that old to the young kids. And he never seemed to get older. As the years went by, he was the same. It so happened that when Shorty first came to the farm, we had a dog also named "Shorty", brought home by one of the brothers after their stint in the military. Dora would have some scraps for the dog, and would call, "Here, Shorty! (whistle), Here, Shorty!" whereupon here would come the dog and our black friend, racing up to the house. "Here I is, missus. Here I is.", he'd breathlessly say, wondering what she wanted. It always was that way, he never failed to show up, with the dog, to discover her wishes. Well, this is another story, but it is felt that it illustrates her ability to show tolerance and love.
Shorty had a problem and it was drinking. He was very discreet and tried hard to conquer that habit, but occasionally he would slip. Then he would turn up missing for a few days, until he sobered up enough to come back to the ranch.
At these times, he would come to the house, hat in hand and apologize for being absent, (AWOL), so to speak. Sometimes he would receive a stern lecture and then penitently go back to work. But often he would get fired and we would be crying as we saw him slouch away down the road. He would give Dad a day or two to think about it and then would show up at the farm, where we would all welcome him, like the prodigal son, back into our lives. Of course, the younger kids missed him the most, because he would do a lot of our chores for us, or help us with them.
I have, over the years, often wished I had learned Shorty's real name. He told me one time, when I asked him where he was going after he left us, that he was going to visit his daughter and grandchildren in Chicago and would see us next year. There came a year, though, when he never returned, so I never knew
if he had decided to stay with his family, or if he had died, or anything more about him. I'm still sorry about that.
All her adult, married life, Dora longed for a much closer relationship with the Church, but for much of her married life, she lived at great distances from the local branch or ward.
In Nevada, while living on the remote ranch at
LaMoile, she was several miles from Church and it was an all-day trek to Sunday School and back.
In Washington State, she lived 10 or 12 miles from the branch in Toppenish and about twenty miles from the Yakima Ward. But she yearned for closer ties to the Church to raise her family.
In Wapato, she was so anxious to give Wilford Jr. a religious schooling that she enrolled him in a protestant Sunday School, where he progressed rapidly and even won a wonderful children's Illustrated Book of the Bible that he kept for many years.
Finally, she prevailed upon her husband to get permission to start a dependant Sunday School in Wapato where Wilf Sr. was the Superintendant and the Whitakers met with the Nelson Family, who had several children about the same ages as Dora's younger children. [La Fawn, Sherron, Thad and a younger boy about the age of the twins]. Thad Nelson was about the same age as Wilf Jr and they advanced through Primary togeter. Thad much later moved to West Valley City, Utah, where he had a hardware store which burned down and some of his children attended Kennedy Junior High School where Wilf. Jr. later taught. The dependent Sunday School did not last long and the long Sunday trips (in the 1939 Plymouth) to Toppenish were resumed, to the LDS meeting house there, which was held above J.C. Penny's Store, in the Odd Fellows' Hall.
After her move to the ranch in the Kittitas Valley, Dora seemed to come into her own once more. She was active in the Ellensburg Branch and when her husband became the Branch President (and built the first LDS building in Ellensburg), she was the Relief Society President, which she enjoyed and fulfilled her responsibilities very well.
She enjoyed meeting with the sisters and planning their many activities. Although she still had to travel twelve - fifteen miles to attend her meetings, she never complained, even though she had to be driven everywhere.
Although she had learned, out of necessity, to drive during the difficult Thirties, she didn't drive after that. Sis. Messinger, Sis. Gibb and others would frequently pick her up and they would travel together and they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time together.