The Great Depression hit Wall Street in the fall of 1929. However, in those days of few radios and telephones, the full impact of this event was slower to reach us. By 1934, the consequences were being firmly felt in our little town.
Lindon, nestled between Mount Timpanogos and Utah Lake in the center of Utah County, had a fairly mild climate and seasons of good length, so most families made their livelihood raising fruit. Usually incomes were supplemented by a few cows, chickens and a pig or two. These helped tide families over until the yearly fruit crop was harvested and marketed. There were between two or three hundred of us living there. Most were related to each other either by blood or by marriage. All of us were members of the LDS Church. Some were active, some were not so active and some were a downright concern for portly Bishop Cullimore, who when he was released from his duties as bishop, had served for 22 years.Nineteen thirty-four was a year that tested the mettle of the people in our town. A late spring frost caused damage to fruit trees and killed most of the blossoms. This meant that when fall came there was at best a very small fruit crop, but by then markets for the fruit in the East had dried up because of the Depression. In addition, we were in a drought that lasted three years and reduced Utah Lake by one-third. That year it hit with a vengeance and there was hardly enough irrigation water to keep fruit trees alive, let alone produce large sweet fruit from the few remaining blossoms.
Besides the difficulty with the economy, it seemed as though death had been a constant visitor. Our neighbor's beautiful, brown-eyed 6-year-old daughter died of acute appendicitis. Funny, short and round Grandma Ash made her trip to the next world as a result of pneumonia. Our beloved doctor, the only one around, caught his foot in a screen door while making a house call. He got a large sliver in the heel of his foot and sustained blood poisoning. We lost him in one short week.
In our home, my mother had died from a head infection a couple of years before, leaving behind a heartbroken husband and four little girls. I was now 10, Dorothy, 11, Marcia, 7 and JoAnn, 4. To help, Aunt Hazel had come to live with us with her girls, Shirley, 12 and Florance, 14. Her husband, Uncle Joe Bailey, had been killed in an accident in Salt Lake City a few years earlier. The impact of all these things weighed heavily on us.
When December came that year, there was an attitude of discouragement, helplessness and in some cases despair. This was before Family Services, Aid to Dependent Children, Toys for Tots, County Welfare or any other organized program. The only help people in trouble had was at the end of their arms or from family or friends.
Something had to be done to lift heavy hearts and spirits, to rejuvenate Christ's message of hope and joy. Where the idea came from, I'm not sure. I suspect Bishop Cullimore, who owned the general store, had something to do with it. Electricity had come to Lindon about 10 years before. Why not use that modern miracle to light one of the tall pine trees that stood on the church house lawn? The trees were nearly 75 feet tall and stood on a hill overlooking the town which was across the street from our home. If one tree was decorated, everyone would see it. A lighted Christmas tree was something hardly anyone had ever seen.
The idea grew rapidly. As it passed from house to house, excitement was generated. People talked and worked together to gather what was needed, a socket from one house, a bulb from another, bits and pieces of wire, pennies and nickels. Soon there was enough to piece together a string of 20 colored lights. Some of the women and children popped corn and strung it. Others took apples they could spare and tied strings to the stems so they, too, could be hung. As people worked together, a love and unity developed that lifted the heavy hearts.
It took the bravest of the brave men to climb the chosen pine tree and string the lights, popped corn and apples. On the top was placed one white light to represent the star of Bethlehem.
When Christmas Eve finally arrived, we all gathered at the church near the base of a the tree. We sang a few Christmas carols and listened to Erva Kirk, who was our town's reader, recite "A Visit From Saint Nick." Brother Thorne read the Christmas story from St. Luke and then . . . someone plugged in the lights and all 20 sprang to life; red, blue, green and yellow with the one white one on top.
There were ooh's and ah's and oh's. Throats choked with emotion. Tears slid down cheeks. We sang a final reverent "Silent Night, Holy Night." Then the crowd dispersed to their homes, each person filled with the wonder of Christmas. We had been reassured by the joy of knowing that all were loved and everyone cared. There were no empty stockings in our little town that night. Someone, probably Bishop Cullimore, donated an orange, peanuts and three pieces of hard candy for everyone.
All week the 20 lights glowed and twinkled on the Lindon hill tree. Even the birds enjoyed the message of our shared Christmas as they feasted on popped corn and apples. When the time came, the lights were carefully taken down and packed away to be used another year. Each time a few more lights were added until the tree stood beautifully decorated every Christmas. Only in 1942, when young men were going off to war was the lighting of the Christmas tree discontinued.
Each year Christmas trees come and go in all their splendor. But the tree I remember best is the 75-foot tall Christmas tree on the church house lawn with its 20 glowing lights and message of caring, that said to each of us: "You are not alone."
About the author
Lorraine Wadley Wells was born Oct. 6, 1924, on the farm her grandfather homesteaded in Lindon, Utah. After her mother's death when she was 8 years old, she and her sisters were raised by their father, their grandmothers and various aunts. She was graduated from Pleasant Grove High School and attended LDS Business School.
In 1943 she married Leland J. Wells. They are the parents of five daughters and two sons and have 32 grandchildren. The family moved to Billings, Mont., 25 years ago. Mrs. Wells has taught early-morning LDS Church seminary for the past 14 years.
After writing this story for a church program, she shared it with her family. As a surprise for her mother, daughter Sharren Anderson of Sandy submitted it to the Deseret News' "Christmas I Remember Best" contest.