Fifty-Five years ago today my oldest sister, Lyla, married her husband Clifford. Lyla is the oldest of our sibling and perhaps the smartest, although all of my sisters are very smart and gifted in many ways. Perhaps the greatest gift each of them has is generosity and empathy.
Lyla was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and was the first one of us who went to college, which must have pleased my mother and father. Mother had an eighth grade education and my father perhaps had a sixth grade education. They were both readers and learners, though, and could hold their own with most people. If we needed help with math, my dad was the one who could help. Mother loved to read and one summer when I wasn’t supposed to read, she would take time from her busy schedule to read to me. Lyla was a reader too and now that she has macular degeneration, it is harder for her but she still reads. She subscribed to a book club when I was in grade school and I loved reading her books, as well as wearing her shoes and clothes. Most of the time she didn’t know that I did that.
There were six of us and each of the older ones had responsibility for one of the younger ones. Lyla was my “Little Mother.” She would put me to bed at night and tell me stories. She often tells how after she would tell a story and think I was asleep, I would pipe up and say, “And den vat?” German was spoken in our home so we sometimes had a little German accent. I am sure that she humored me and went on to the next episode in the stories she told me.
She was a born teacher and after a disastrous experience with a young inexperienced teacher during the World War II, the school board hired Lyla to come in and try to straighten the mess up. I was in the 7th grade and had to take state tests in order to proceed to the next grade. Proficiency tests are nothing new. We were all six weeks behind and there was no discipline, little learning and a feeling of hopelessness. Lyla had just graduated from “Normal School.” A normal school or teachers college is an educational institution for training teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name. The term is no longer used but it was a good way of defining the purpose of the schools. Lyla brought to our school some new ideas from her training as well as life experience learned from trying to rein in five active and diverse sisters. She also knew all of the parents in the school district, so the students were loath to cross her.
We went to a one room school. I believe there were less than ten students in all eight grades that year. The teacher had to be part juggler, part parent, part instructor and part magician. Lyla was up to the task and even though there was one parent who tried to tell Lyla how to teach, how to arrange her classroom and what to do, she did her own thing. She brought in wonderful, exciting things for us to see and examine. She brought in exotic seashells from the South Pacific sent to her by one of her many beaus. She sent for cotton bolls and we were able to feel the cotton and learn how it was picked and processed. I still know about Chester White and Duroc and Poland China hogs as well as Black Angus and Hereford and Guernsey and Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. I remember sitting outside with my classmate and drilling each other on typhoid and tuberculosis and how to avoid them. We did well on the state test and passed to the next grade.
Lyla taught in various places and then signed a contract to teach in a country school – I believe it was South Stacey Elementary School. She was rooming with a family named Green and it was here that she met, fell in love with and married the eldest son in the family, Clifford Green. She was a rancher’s wife for many years, raised three daughters as well as keeping many nieces and nephews in the summer, including my own child. She raised animals, had a huge garden and did all the things that rancher’s wives do. She was a great cook and a wonderful baker. My mouth still waters just thinking about the sweet rolls she made.
They have had their share of hardships. Lyla had cancer, Clifford had open heart surgery, their beautiful daughter, Michele, died in an airplane crash in Alaska. A little over a year ago Lyla suffered a number of strokes and is now in a nursing home in Miles City. Her husband spends every day with her. It is so sweet to see them together. She says they have a closeness greater than they ever had before. Happy Anniversary.
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