Ruth Mary Priestley Butler’s Life History Written by her daughter, Betty June Butler Larsen
It is imperative that a reading of Grandmother Priestley’s saga should precede the reading of mother’s life story. Each child born is a part of the product of the generation that came before. Grandmother’s account is the prelude to Mother’s legend.
My mother indoctrinated her children. My brother and I heard her repeat two words “HONOR BRIGHT” over and over as we grew up. Those words reminded us to make good choices in life, to be responsible, kind, thoughtful, understanding, honest and virtuous. “Honor Bright” was our family motto. Mom would never tell us to mind our manners or to keep our clothes clean as some parents might. Another thing Mom would say to us was, “I have a “TL” for you.” This meant that she heard something good about Everett and I would “Trade Last” when we were ready to share something good we had heard about her. This little gem was her subtle technique for helping us learn and remember to earn and keep the respect of those with whom we associated.
Her 42 years and 5 months on earth made a difference in each day of the lives of those that touched hers. Suffice it to say mother was a Saint, one of the Lord’s earth angels.
She was born January 20, 1904 in the little podunk town of Hayden Idaho on the Idaho side of the majestic Teton Peaks. The town has long since winged its way into being part of Felt, Idaho where Ruth Mary Priestley Butler lived from birth to age 17 when she left the valley and moved to St. Anthony, Idaho.
Mother’s mother was self willed, thrifty, honest, frugal, hard working, proud and a strict disciplinarian. These characteristics governed the lives of her children in the stubborn hardships under which they existed.
Mother was the youngest in her family of six. She followed four brothers and one sister. Their early childhood was spent in Felt, Idaho where mother attended and graduated from grade school. The brothers worked for hire having attended only a year or two of school.
The once provider, Grandfather Priestley, was a traveling man. For years he was there then gone, which added to the emotional stress of the family’s life. These years were trying times for Grandmother and her children.
The country then was in a deep depression. Only the landowners and commercial businesses were surviving. Grandmother took on every menial task she could to earn sufficient for their needs. She crocheted and knitted numerous beautiful articles and sold them for the cost of the
material plus a menial stipend to take home in her pocket. She was a marvelous cook and exchanged her bread for wheat to grind to make the bread. She sold each loaf to neighbors and to the only store in town for a pittance
so she could feed her family and start a savings for their future needs.
Grandmother was a janitor for the school where mother was a pupil. On one occasion Grandmother could not find mother who always stayed after school to help her clean. She opened the door to the small broom closet where the rags and cleaning articles were and there was mother slumped down in a heap on the dirty floor. Mom had been in that small hot space for most of the afternoon with practically no air circulating through a locked door. The teacher had disciplined her for something and went home forgetting to get her out. Mother was sweaty, limp and scarcely breathing. Needless to say the said “Janitor” had a word or two with the teacher and the Principle and the Mayor and any one within earshot. I remind you of Grandmother’s Danish heritage. Need any more be said?
The one social affair of the year at the school was in the Spring. The weather was sunny and the happy students were ready to “Wind the ribbons around the May Pole”. Different colored ribbons were attached to a tall pole. The girls were dressed in their Sunday best for the yearly tradition. There were two groups of girls. One group would go one direction and the other group in the opposite direction to weave the ribbons around the pole. The occasion, a show and tell situation, called for the girls to wear Sunday best dresses, polished slippers and pretty ribbons in each special hair do. The boys looking like “Dapper Dan” escorted the parents and visitors to their places. Ruth Mary wore a clean white hand-me-down dress from a neighbor, a ribbon of sorts in her clean dark hair and her brother Heber’s old shoes that were too big and not at all shinny.
Her brothers herded sheep on the near by mountain range for the sheep owners in the Valley. The pay was very little. People in the area felt concern for the family and often gave food and clothing to help them in their need. Grandmother was a proud woman. It was difficult for her to take help from anyone. She always wanted to pay her own way. She made beautiful quilts and hand knitted articles that she sold to people in town.
When mother was very young Grandmother bought several acres of land about 5 miles north of Felt. There was a small two-room log cabin on the property, which was in need of much repair. Mother’s daily jobs were carrying buckets of water up and down the hill from a ditch half-mile away, milking the one cow, and feeding the chickens and other tedious tasks.
Mother left her Valley Home at the age of 17. She was determined to do all that she could to improve her life and situation. The aftermath profile at the end of World War 1 seemed not worth the pain of the rehabilitation for those who fought the fight and won the war. The people of the United States were in need of regrouping and carrying on. Every one was looking for work anywhere they could find it. Mom was one of those.
Dad, Private Laurel H. Butler, had just returned from France where he fought for our country’s freedom as a foot soldier. His regiment was one of the first to march through France as shouts of victory came from the liberated people on a continent from across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and across our nation to his home in Idaho.
Dad and mother met at a dance in St. Anthony, Idaho. After a short courtship they were married in Salmon City, Idaho on April 22, 1922. They lived across the Mighty Snake River on the South side of St. Anthony. Mom worked at a hospital where she got her nursing experience and Dad worked on his family farm with his dad and brothers, which was located in the Green Canyon country.
The Butler, Bailey and Garver families were eligible for land grants from the United States government. If they planted and harvested crops for a number of years the land would be theirs. They were all close relatives of Grandpa Butler and had moved from Missouri to locate in Idaho and farm the land.
I was the first grandchild of the James Butler family. Mother and Dad had to paddle a small boat across the canal to visit with dad’s folk’s. Mom was their favorite in-law, which didn’t set well with other in-laws. I was their first grandchild and got a lot of attention. When I got a little older I remember sitting on Grandpa’s lap and he’d rock back and forth singing funny songs. I’d always look up at his face and see his mustache wiggle when he took a breath in and out. I loved those tender moments.
Mother was the favorite in-law in the family. She was the in person to be with as far as the Butler family were concerned. She was the caretaker, the counselor, the party person and she could top nearly all of their family practical jokes any time anywhere.
When I was in the first and second grade we lived in the owners home that needed a manager for his twelve rental cabins. Mom was hired to be the manager, which included that she clean and rent the rooms to travelers going through town day or night. The work was hard for her but she was always there for me when I needed her.
Mother’s slogan was, “How do you know you can’t until you try.” Only once did I hear her say I can’t. “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” was her own explanation of her monotone voice. But that did not stop her from teaching her primary class of young boys how to play a harmonica and then organizing them into a band that played in the
community for years. She never did learn to play the harmonica but she was the teacher. She did not have the capacity to take a deep breath let alone blow an instrument because she lost one lung when she was a small child. A bad-tempered horse stepped on her chest as she tried to roll away from his stamping feet. She would jokingly say, “I’m not a blow hard, I only have one blow pipe.” My mother would say of herself, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” But she never said, “Why me?” Vicariously she was a Harmonica Monotone Queen because she knew the worth of a soul. Ten boys adored her as they added to their talents and shared them always remembering their mentor.
Mom’s managerial job ended when the owner sold the cabins and we moved to the north side of St. Anthony. My parents rented a brown shingled home just a few miles East was the County Industrial School, which was housing for many way ward boys and girls. I was in the third grade and scared to go to a new school. Mom again came to my rescue by inviting some of the girl class members to come to our house to play games and have treats.
After a few years of working on his family farm Dad worked in a shoe repair shop. After learning the trade he rented a space near the center of St. Anthony and Butler’s Shoe Shop was up and running just a few blocks from our newly rented home.
Our home was located near a canal that ran from the middle of town near the electric power plant. The kids living in the neighborhood would go swimming almost every day. Sometimes the water was high and deep but there was an eddy where it was safe to swim. Other places further down stream the water was only deep enough for us to lay out flat on our stomachs and push ourselves along over the shallow parts.
One afternoon mother decided she wanted to go swimming with me. The water was waist deep where we would get in but only a few feet further down was a steep drop off and the water ran swifter there. Mom didn’t know how to swim and I warned her about the danger. All at once I looked up and saw her drifting down stream with her head bobbing under the water and staying there for seconds. I swam to her side as fast as I could and grabbed hold of the front of her swimsuit and did the best side stroke I could until we were finally able to reach the branches hanging over the water. I was praying continuously that mother would be safe. Suddenly my feet touched solid ground. Mother and I clung to each other as we stood up and walked through shoulder high water to the bank of the canal where our toes were in the sandy soil along the canal’s edge.
When I was young our family often went swimming at Pincocks, a swimming pool located in Teton Canyon; Mother had a lot of lady friends that she loved to plan parties and trips for. She planned an outing for the elderly single girls who were living alone after the death of their mates. Dad had just bought an old car so he could load up his buddies and go on short fishing trips. Mother didn’t know how to drive a car, but dad taught her a few things while she sat beside him while driving around the block. So she was confident that she could manage a short trip to the swimming pool with 3 of her elderly lady friends. It was party time. Two of the ladies were comfortably seated in the back seat and one sat in the front by her.
The road going to the pool was on the main highway. That few miles went without a hitch but then they turned off the main highway onto a rocky road leading up hill with several small boulders in the middle to circumvent before arriving at the pool.
About two car lengths toward the top of the elevation mother romped down on the gas. The car sputtered a few feet forward then came to an abrupt stop. She could not make the car move. While the car chugged and sputtered between the rocks and hard spots the ladies were screaming, “we’re going to die” while clinging tightly
to any support available.
A car approached from the opposite direction. Seeing the elderly ladies stranded, with a frustrated driver at the wheel he stopped to lend a hand. He approached the befuddled group and offered a suggestion as to how they could arrive at their destination. His simple directions were to turn the car around and put it in reverse because cars of that vintage do not have enough power to move up hills going forward but it had power enough to drive backwards up a hill. So if mother gunned it the vehicle would chug its way backwards up hills. The Good Samaritan looked at mom and ventured to ask, “Does that make sense?” Then thinking she understood he then tipped his cap to the elderly ladies, waved goodbye and headed on his way. Mother thanked the man for the lesson, told the ladies to get comfortable while she turned the rear end of the car up hill. Then mom directed them to get back into the car and they’d soon be at the pool. With mom at the wheel, following the man’s directions . . . the car lunged forward. Mom put the pedal to the metal and shouted, “Ladies hang onto your teeth you’re in for the ride of your life.” Mother laughed and the ladies held onto their false teeth with both hands as the wild ride up hill ended and mom turned the car around facing down hill. Car and occupants ended up close to a building, very close, really close.
Following their near death experience the 3 oldies opted for one of the Life Guards to back the car up the hill, turn it around and instruct mother to leave her foot off the gas peddle until they rolled to a stop at the highway junction. Dad heard of the trip to the swimming pool trip and carried the only set of keys to the car always in his pocket.
Mother was “a mother of all trades.” She was self-taught in most. She’d nurse the sick back to health in the capacity of a home nurse. She would not only care for the sick but was the cook for the family’s meals, where she worked. She cleaned the homes, washed the clothes and ironed them. Her specialty was loving the children. In like manner the children loved “Nurse Ruth” and never tired of her creamy home made tomato soup. My brother and I missed her as she served neighbors and friends but we learned the great lesson of self-reliance while mother was away.
At one time our home was a birthing place for new babies. Sometimes Dr. Kelly would be there for the delivery but often because of home calls and epidemic situations or the severe Idaho winter blizzards he wouldn’t make it on time to bring the little lives into the world. So mother would welcome them and make them comfortable. When I was about years old, I’d wake up from a sound sleep to hear the mother’s cry out in the pain of childbirth. The sounds came through my thin bedroom walls but above the agonizing of the birth mother I heard mother’s soft voice encouraging with love and understanding.
Bright and early the next morning I would peak out of my bedroom door and see a tiny new baby nestled in my mother’s arms as the old rocker moved back and forth with its creaking lullaby. Sometimes she’d let me hold the warm clean-blanketed littlest angel smelling of baby talcum. Before I could hold the newborn I’d wait for the tiny hand to let go of my mother’s finger. Mother, with a sweet smile would wink at the new mother and say, “Betty June, look what the stork dropped off.” I went along with the bird bit in those days but came to realize it was no joke when the stork dropped twin boys off for me.
Mother moved to Rexburg, Idaho When I was in the fifth grade and Everett was about to start 1st grade. Dad stayed in St. Anthony for a time and followed a few months later.
When I was born mother purchased a Singer Sewing machine and it was her main stay of occupation. She became a fine seamstress and got even better after taking an extension course in Pattern Making and Clothing Designs. She made beautiful gowns for women and tailored suits for men. Her patrons, the rich and the famous, came from far and wide eager to pick up the articles of clothing finished in the early dawn of a coming day. She would greet them at the door of our humble home always happy and enthusiastic to have made the garments. Her smiling face, slim figure attired in her an attractive dress presented them with their treasure. There was seldom acclaim for her meticulous work and creative talent. She, herself, was almost apologetic as she asked for her pay of just two or three dollars for the very fine finished garment.
She made all of my clothes. Sometimes they were from store bought material and sometimes from material given to her by neighbors and friends. Sometimes she even made coats, shirts and pants for my dad and brother.
For the most important dance of the year for me she bought some cheep red checked gingham material and made a formal for my Junior Prom. It was beautiful but I tried to explain to mom that cheep gingham material was never appropriate to be worn as a formal for a prom. I
complained as she cut the material and fitted it on me. Her design was a modest top, cap sleeves, long circular skirt and slender waste. As the finished produce hung pressed and ready on a hanger I thought it would be OK but I didn’t know it would be the most envied dress at the ball. I didn’t think that every girl in my class would want mother to make them one just like it only in a different color.
A neighbor had an old black velvet coat she found in her hundred year old stuff. Mom thanked her, imagine that, and then she began making it into a coat for me. “I will never wear that. I’d rather die than be caught dead in it.” I whined. Mother patiently cleaned it, cut it into a short coat, lined it with red satin and embroidered my initials B J B with black embroidery floss inside the right front side on the red satin lining. I was the envy of every girl in the school. To compliment the dress and me my date was a Senior 1st String Basket Ball Player. He gave me a beautiful red rose corsage. I felt like Cinderella at the ball.
The Easter when I was a Senior in High School mother did not have enough money to buy me a new dress so she cut her only best pink silk polka dot dress into an adorable pattern to fit me. She wore her very old, next best, dress to church and I got compliments on my new Easter dress.
During the summer of my Junior Year mother was having a lot of trouble with her back. She thought she had hurt it while lifting disabled patients. The pain was so severe she would stand at the end of the bed holding onto the frame with tears running down her cheeks. The doctors that examined her said there was nothing that could be done except maybe going to Lava Hot Springs and have some water treatments and manipulations from a Chiropractor. She took my friend and me with her. Dad drove us down from Rexburg. Then he went home to be with Everett
for the length of her stay. After each visit to the therapist and a lot of time spent in the hot water the excruciating pain never let up. After about 4 weeks of agony she decided that she should just go home to Rexburg and live with the pain. I can remember night after night seeing Mom standing by the bed or a chair suffering unbearable pain. Never did she complain to any one. She did a bit of sewing while
hunching over in great pain tolerating hours of misery that could not be controlled. She would not take pain pills in heavy doses she was afraid she would become addicted. Dad, Everett and I got used to seeing her in this condition knowing that we could not do anything about it but pray as she did. Many times she was given a Priesthood Blessing by the Bishop or Elders. Even in this condition she continued
tending children for parents that were working or going on vacations. Knowing her condition they made conditions as easy for her as they could. When mother came home she would tell us of her experiences with the family. Her favorite charge was one little three-year-old boy. In those days many families didn’t have indoor plumbing and the bathing experience was usually in a 10-gallon round tin washtub filled with water that sat on the floor. Water was heated and the children were bathed often leaving the tub full of water in the house until someone would empty it out side. One morning mother saw the little boy kneeling by the side of the tub. She heard him say over and over, “Keep your chin. Keep your chin up.” A little mouse about to drown was circling the circumference of the tub with just his head out of water.
From mother we inherited an imagination. To imagine is magic. It brings marvelously wild and wonderful dimensions to life, which makes for exhilaration.
Finishing a project was important to mother. She left a brightly blazed trail for us to follow. She wrote many poems for many occasions sending them to friends and neighbors. She was an artist. She painted scenes of the mountains and other beauties of the earth with oil paints.
She was a motivator, an achiever in every sense of the word. She earned her high school diploma and graduated along with me in the class of 1941 from Madison High School in Rexburg, Idaho.
After graduating from High School I left for St. Joseph Missouri to attend Nursing School. Mother and my brother, Everett, moved to Salt Lake City. Dad was working at a shoe repair shop so he stayed in Rexburg. In Salt Lake Mother rented an upstairs apartment that had two rooms, a small kitchen and a bath. She found work at the Remington Arms Plant where bullets were manufactured during the World War II conflict. The work shifts were divided into three: early morning, afternoon and midnight. Employees rotated through the three shifts spending a month on each shift.
Everett was 12 years old and because mother knew she would be away from him much of each day and some nights she explained her situation to the friendly owner of a small grocery store near where they lived and inquired of him if there might be an opportunity for Everett to have a part time job. Everett started working at minimal hours
receiving a minimal wage. He worked for Myron for nearly 3 years. He moved up the work ladder from sweeper, shelf cleaner, culler and arranger of produce, waiting on customers, cashier, meat cuter, and ordering staples to fill the shelves. In essence he was being educated to make
judgment calls, manage and own a business at age 15.
During summer vacation at Nursing School in Missouri I flew to Salt Lake City to be with Mom and Everett. Understanding the situation with my family I opted to stay in Utah with them and not go back to Nursing School. Mom’s health was improving somewhat now and she was happy to be employed earning a good salary so she could get on with her life. I moved into their small apartment with them. It was about 4 blocks away from the Temple. Mom spent her free time researching Genealogy records for the Priestley family.
Encouraged by mom I also found employment at Remington Arms Plant. I met LaGrande there and after a short courtship we were married in the Salt Lake Temple. Mom got her recommend and went through the Temple for her first time with us that same day to receive her endowments. She attended the temple at every opportunity from then on.
After World War II ended, Remington Arms Plant closed the
Salt Lake City plant and transferred all activity to their Yakama, Washington plant. Mother transferred there to work. Dad came to Salt Lake and was working at a Wallgreen Distribution Center. After Everett Graduated from West High he worked for Browning Freight Lines in Salt Lake. He and Colleen met during this time and were married.
When the Arms Plant closed in Washington mother came back to Salt Lake. LaGrande and I had purchased a house near the University of Utah campus and since he had to quite work to finish his education and I was expecting twins Mom offered to move in with us and pay our house
payments for her rent. She then rented a small-vacated building about two blocks from our home. She got back to her favorite thing to do, that of designing and sewing clothing for the rich and famous. Her time there was short lived when her health began to worsen. She looked pale and was so week and she began was losing a lot of weight. She was diagnosed as having Cervical Cancer and it was in the terminal stage. After a major surgery she was strong enough to come back home with us..
Throughout her life mother was always active in the church. She attended church every Sabbath Day to renew her covenants with the Lord. As she got too weak to go to church the Bishopric, ward members and her many friends from early years came to visit with her. They wrote letters and sent cards to encourage her as she faced the greatest health trial of her life.
About a week before mother died . . . she became so weak that she needed assistance to move or to feed herself. One morning she called me to asked for another pillow to prop her up so she could see my face while she talked to me. Looking into my eyes I heard her weak voice saying, “I would like a pre- death funeral. I know what they will say about me when I’m gone. They’ll say nice things. But I won’t be around to decide who speaks, who sings, what hymns they chose and what instruments are played. Let’s have a practice run through so I can be here to see if they get it right.”
Living in this little house with only one double bed, two used baby cribs for the twins and a dresser and a card table and four orange crates to sit on at mealtime, and one electric hot plate to cook on, and a brand new cedar chest to put across the kitchen door so the twins couldn’t get into trouble, who were now 18 months old, and a black Cocker Spaniel dog named Darky. . . What was I to say to mom?
Saturday, May 24, 1947 4:00 PM
The Second Councilor in the Ward Bishopric, George F. Hemingway, who had become a close friend of mother’s, having visited her weekly, helped grant Mom’s dying wish. Relief Society ladies cleaned our home from top to bottom, Deseret Industries delivered a used front room couch and chair set; the ward Elders manicured the lawn and planted a few Spring flowers by the porch. Mom was looking as happy as a kid in a candy store (a phrase she often used). Guests arrived from all walks of her life. Old friends, best friends and good friends sat on folding chairs that had been delivered from the ward by the Boy Scouts.
The curtain was ready to go up. Her outlined request was ready to take center stage. A portable organ was placed up-stage, a marimba was left-stage, Sterling Bush, a young gentleman friend of the family who had a beautiful tenor voice, sat on the front row and wouldn’t you know two of those “old lady” friends were seated near center stage waiting to enlighten the audience with their story of Ruth.
There was an ethereal hush in our humble home that day. After all the love that resulted in the preparations for that special day I was sure I saw a “Halo of Heavenly Light” shinning over mom’s small body.
“Sister Butler has requested that I, Bishop Norman H. Martin, conduct the program for today. The program that follows will be according to her desire. The audience applauded as the following took place.
Myrtle Low – organ medley of hymns such as:
Softly and Tenderly, In the Garden and Oh My Father
Sterling Bush (tenor soloist) The Perfect Day
Tribute – Ada Sears and her sister Merell
Marimba Solo – Mrs. George F. Eason
Friends and family sang Love at Home
(Accompanied by the organ and marimba)
As the sun was setting in the sky that evening mother’s moment of earthly joy faded into only a very few tomorrows. She was admitted to the hospital the next morning. I visited her that evening. She held my hand and asked about my health. Our third son, Steven, was on his way to earth in September and she asked what I was going to name our new baby girl.
I returned home just in time to receive a phone call saying that mother was going to go very soon. I rushed to get there and hold her hand once more as she had always held mine in my times of need but she had closed her eyes and was gone minutes before I got to her bedside.
When she arrived “up there” she found out she was having another grandson and probably jokingly warned Steven what life would be like for him with me.
Mother taught me to laugh about or in spite of almost everything; to laugh with others, to be happy and to have wholesome good fun. I actually think she had something to do with inventing a sense of humor. From years of observation it’s my belief she willed the concept to her progenitors. “Life is not worth living unless you can
laugh here and there.” she would say.
Finishing a project was important to mother. She left a brightly blazed trail for me and my family and Everett and his family to follow. She was a motivator, an achiever in every sense of the word.
She taught us to endure as we had watched her endure all things. By example, she taught us to try the seemingly impossible. “How do you know you can’t until you try?” prefaced her message to us, which was a supportive
reassuring invitation to set goals and reach for them by doing our best.
At the end of her four short decades we didn’t have a mother at a time in our lives when we needed her most. At age 42, she rushed along into eternity to get things ready for me and mine. Our family appreciates the legacy left by those who traveled before us. Hopefully, we can learn of their sacrifices, heed their example and carry on with similar faith. To have the personal character traits like mother’s to bless our lives. She won FIRST PRIZE as matriarch of my large family of 197 at last count and Everett’s family of 54 at last count.
Article submitted by Betty June Butler Larsen Everett Butler helped her to remember.