Humble Pie

image0The boys in Woodruff lived in a world apart from everyone else around them. They worked and played and went to school, but it was separate from the adults and other children in town. Girls went to school and then went home to help their mothers make dinner and take care of the younger children. Boys came home to do chores, but usually a little later. First they had other things to do.

For one thing, when cars came into town, they had to find everything about them. Then they learned to drive, and found racing irresistible. Family lines dictated whether they liked Fords or Chevrolets, and the Ford-loving Staceys often challenged the Chevy-loving Coxs to prove their metal. In time the Stacey boys were so certain of their dominance, they took to calling their Cox cousins Chevy Idiots. That seemed funny until Chevrolet came out with a transmission which humiliated all Ford lovers. The battle raged on for years. No one else in town cared much, but the boys never let it go.

Then there were the guns in town. Almost every young man had access to a gun, often worn at his side in a holster. It wasn’t for protection or for food so much as it was a guy thing. That’s what they did in Woodruff. It wasn’t until later they heard of places where guns were used for terrible things. In Woodruff guns were what young men took with them almost daily, usually with the sense to use them wisely, though not always.

image1Once in a while, there was rivalry in Woodruff which erupted along family lines, and caused bad feelings. Boys would go to great lengths to prove themselves. Those who couldn’t prove themselves one way would find another. Those who didn’t find a niche in school would quit and find it elsewhere. Boys definitely had their own rules, their own talk, their own world.

One element of being a boy in Woodruff was freedom. Boys didn’t like being told what to do. Their lives were tied closely with their families, and most boys were expected to do chores, often for hours every day. But that was a manly occupation, and they chose to work willingly, part of being a man and becoming a man. That freedom became their banner, their prized possession. Boys in Woodruff were strong and smart and free. What they did they chose to do.

That’s why when someone came into the old Woodruff School one afternoon and said all the children had to go across the street to Primary after school, some of the boys were annoyed. They liked going to church, and they enjoyed Primary, but they resisted the idea that someone would come into their class and force them to do it.

Bill Stacey was an obedient boy. He, like the other boys in town, loved his freedom to become a car expert. He loved wearing a gun and working on the farm. He was proud of being an intrinsic part of his father’s responsibilities, willingly giving up his own freedom to work like a man. But he did those things because he chose to do them–not because anyone forced him to do any of his responsibilities.

image2image3“I escaped,” said Bill. “When she came to our class and told us we had to go to Primary, I just decided I wouldn’t go. She stood at the door so no one would get away, and I had to think of something. So I went out the window and down the fire escape. It’s the only time I ever did that.”

Finally the war intervened, and many of those boys ended up in foxholes and planes, in Navy ships and watchtowers. They prized their freedom, but were willing to use it to work for greater causes. But Woodruff never left them, wherever life took them.

image4Like most of the other young men in town, Bill Stacey finished almost four years in the Air Force and returned home to Woodruff to help his dad on the farm. He rented the Orange House in town for his wife and child, just down the street from the old Samuel Bryson home. Then he wondered what he would do with the rest of his life. Woodruff was his home, but there were other things he wanted to do. After working a couple of years for his father, he received money for a college education from the new G.I. Bill, and moved to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah.

Attending school was one thing, but providing for his family was quite another. He knew he loved his Engineering classes, but suddenly found himself at the bottom of the ladder when it came to finding a job. For a long time he had considered staying in the Air Force. There he was proficient and respected. Other men would come to attention and salute him on the street or when he entered a room. It had been so tempting he told his superior officers he would stay with the Air Force after the war. But as time went on he realized it wasn’t the best thing for his family, and that he had made the wrong choice.

Now here he was, unknown and untrained for any job, but with a family to support. The immediate problem was that a second child would be coming soon, and he took the first job he could find–a night janitor at Petty Ford Company in Salt Lake City. Over the next few years, he continued to eat Humble Pie as he worked at the smelter at the south end of Great Salt Lake. He drove Taxi Cabs for years and worked for the Salt Lake City Roads Department. Somehow he supported his family and finished school.

Humility is a choice, and Bill chose it. He gave up what he wanted for the good of his family. He probably learned it when he got to the bottom of the fire escape and watched the other children walk across the street to the church that day long ago.

image5image6“I like church,” he said. “I wanted to be there that day, and I knew it would have been a better choice. Going down the fire escape taught me something. You can give up what you want for something better, and it’s OK. You haven’t given up your freedom, you have just used it to make a better choice.”