For Tessie Peck Larson Lewis, one of life's lasting nuggets was found on a late December day in the 1930s, when Maurice Larson waltzed into her life, six feet tall, with chewing gum in his pockets and a guitar at hand.
Young Tessie was in love in a minute, and in due time she and Maurice were married and embarked on a life's adventure that creates a fascinating microcosm of the Utah story.Tessie Lewis, now a resident of West Valley City, has collected the memories into a book, "Among the Valiant," that is an honestly tender slice of Utah history covering several generations. Many who lived in the state during its formative years would recognize the themes, with bits and pieces of mining, farming, coping and struggling in a country not long past its frontier days. They are stories that might appear in many a family journal as the warp and woof of Utah history.
As a child, pre-Harold, Tessie didn't know her family was poor. Not until the day she surprised some school friends at a birthday party from which she had been excluded. The family lived then in Silver City, a Tintic Mining District hamlet now lost to the onward march of time.
Wounded by a boy's unkind "You can't come because you are too poor," she rushed home to validate the new adjective he had used to characterize her.
"We should feel sorry for that boy," her mother told her. "He is the poor one. Too bad he doesn't know how rich we are."
Particularly touching is a collection of letters her father, Richard Carl Peck, wrote to his wife, Margaret Saunders Peck, while he was living in Pioche, Nev. He had gone to the mining town to try to earn enough to provide for his family of eight children. Living in his car, he wrote touching letters haunted by loneliness and filled with yearning for his family, along with interesting glimpses of life in a Depression-era mining town.
Learning to live with poverty in agreeable juxtaposition to pride, Tessie maintained the attitude as she married, gave birth to 10 children, saw some die before they were adults and, ultimately, lost her first husband in a farm accident.
The family lived for years in what others described as a "shack" in Fielding, Box Elder County. In one of the many homey poems that preface or conclude chapters, however, she saw it for what it was - "a palace . . . where the good, the true and the earnest transform the mundane to rich enchantment."
Maurice had contracted with U&I Sugar Co. to dedicate a portion of the 40-acre tract to the growing of sugar beets. The farms were located, appropriately, she writes, on Poverty Flats east of Fielding. Five of her 10 children were born in that humble home.
With a kerosene lamp for light, a scrubbing board to wash dirt out of clothing and natural air conditioning with the opening of a window, it was a place where two young parents welcomed a new child almost annually, and loved them all. Through the stories of good times and bad, the book is threaded on typical pioneer Mormon faith, determination and reliance on a power beyond human.
After a particularly difficult time, Maurice was chosen as one of five farmers to pilot a program of the Farm Home Administration. The family acquired an 80-acre farm in Corinne and, sometimes chafing under oppressive government guidelines for operating the enterprise, made a success of it. At the same time, for several years, they kept three properties going, plowing sometimes by moonlight to meet the demands of nature's cycle.
There were some golden years when the family prospered, gaining notoriety for its hard work and unity. They were followed by bad years.
At the age of 44, Maurice slipped on ice while returning to the house from some farm chores, hit his head on the house foundation and was dead instantly. A son was suffering from cancer and died shortly afterward, joining a sister who had died as an infant.
In time, Tessie married Boyd Lewis. Together, they have weathered additional deaths in the family, the inevitable sorrows and joys of family ties.
For anyone who lived in the Tintic area, Utah County, Fielding or Corinne any time during the past four decades, there is a story here that almost certainly parallels their own at one point or another.
The book was self-published and is available for $12 by calling Mrs. Lewis, at 968-5646.