by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"Aw, Ma! Let me hold her just a little longer!" complained tall, thirteen-year-old Albert.
"No, Albert," replied Mother Hale. "You know she doesn't sleep well at night. We must not get her over-excited. Put her in my bedroom."
Albert tenderly carried the small child through the front room, past the large, round, crocheted covered center table, and laid her in the large hand-made bed.
After returning to the kitchen, Albert made this positive announcement: "I just won't call her Aroetta; it doesn't fit her at all. I like 'Retta' better, and that's what I am going to call her."
In such a manner, Retta received her second christening, which had little resemblance to the first one. The first christening was performed by bearded, solemn Alma Hale in the Grantsville chapel. The child had been dressed in the special christening dress which had been worn by the other eight children of Alma and Sarah. The yards of hand-embroidered eyelet, edged by a wide strip of knitted lace, allowed the dress nearly to reach the floor when the infant was held in Alma's arms. In spite of the voluminous yardage, the wriggling black head at the top let all know that there was a baby balancing on the hands of the Elders christening her.
Of the two christenings, the first was the more impressive; but the second nomenclature was more effective, as "Retta" became the accepted name for the ninth child of Sarah and Alma Hale.
When Retta was weaned from her mother, she was no longer allowed to sleep curled in her mother's arms, but was transferred to the large fancifully-wrought iron crib that father Hale had purchased in Salt Lake City. This crib represented one of the few pieces of especially bought furniture in the Hale home, and was slept in by Retta the nine years she lived in Grantsville. The crib was pulled close to the parents' bed so that childish nightmares could be stilled by mother's calm, loving hand.
Retta became the favorite of her older brother, Albert, and each day she awaited with joy the after-supper games with him. After the dishes were removed from the table, Albert would set two-year-old Retta on the table, and with curled fist he would invite his sister to 'hit him hard'. Retta's curled fist answered the invitation, and she would strike at the dodging Albert. Each time she missed, Albert laughed at her and teasingly sang: "Retta got fooled! Retta got fooled!"
Soon it was Retta's turn to dodge; in turn she laughed and sang, "Albert's a caught fool! Albert's a caught fool!"
The resultant family laughter brought ecstasy to the child's excited face. Then Albert hugged her close to his heart and replied, "Yes, I am a caught fool; you have caught my heart."
Retta's fourth Christmas was a memorable one. Father Hale had made one of his infrequent trips to Salt Lake City, and the air was full of anticipation. At early Christmas dawn, Katie and Grace, the two older sisters, pulled the sleeping Retta from her crib and rushed her into the front room to see Santa's gifts to her. There, half-awakened Retta beheld a beautiful, black, shining doll buggy, with flat, red-fringed, surrey top. And there sitting in its red upholstery was a large china-headed doll. The sleepy eyes opened wide, and were filled with childish joy as she lovingly took the treasured possession in her arms. Yes, Santa was truly a remarkable person.
This doll and buggy happily filled many hours for the shy, Retta, who, because of her frailty, avoided the more boisterous play of her friends. But even these treasures had to be set aside for the performance of household tasks. With a large apron tied around her grey and white, homespun, Lindsey dress, and, with her black braids protectively covered, she crawled under the heavy home-made beds, and swept the rough floors free from dust. Father had made, especially for that purpose a small broom from corn straw, that could be wielded under those beds. Often the broom handle became entangled in the interlaced ropes, which served as springs, and proceeded into the straw ticks, emitting a swirl of dust around her head. She would come from under the bed coughing and sputtering. As compensation, the sisters allowed her to roll in the large feather ticks, which covered the harsher straw mattresses. Little Retta especially liked to clean under her parents' bed, as the rough floor had a protective covering of straw, topped by a tightly woven, hand-made rag carpet. The dampened broom prevented the dust from becoming quite as offensive.
Harsh house hold tasks were forgotten as each evening the family assembled around the pedal-pumped, Mason and Hamlin reed organ. With either the mother or older sisters playing, the family's pleasant voices harmonized the hymns that had influenced their mother's conversion to the church, and which had sustained them all through heart-breaking, perilous pioneering. Those hymns had special significance to these people.
It soon became apparent to the family what a sweet clear voice belonged to five-year-old Retta; and the mother created many opportunities to teach this child songs. It is difficult to see how this mother, who cooked, spun, and sewed for a family of thirteen (she had since given birth to another girl, Viola) could find time to teach special songs to her children, but she did.
Albert was particularly proud of Retta's voice. He coaxed her to sing at a coming Primary Conference, but the frightened Retta cried at the thought of it. Finally, he promised to buy her material for a pretty blue dress if she would sing. The reward was so inviting that Retta could no longer refuse to sing. Her mother made the dress, and lined each ruffle with grey satin. Her song was about her doll, and each day she practiced it (with three-year-old Viola as her audience) in order that the song might be as lovely as the dress.
Finally, the Sunday arrived, and with her hand clutching Albert's, she entered the Grantsville church. There were two pulpits at the head of the church, one four feet higher than the other. Her mother, who was Stake and Ward Primary President, was sitting with her officers near the lower pulpit, and she smiled reassuringly at her frightened daughter. When the time came for Retta's song, bouncing ruffles and curls accompanied her progress to the lower pulpit. There, with her back to mother, hugging her beloved doll, she began the following song:
"Dolly, you're a naughty girl,
All your hair is out of curl,
And you've torn you're little shoe,
Oh, what must I do with you?
You must always have dry bread,
Dolly you must go to bed - -"
"Do you hear, Miss, what I say?
Are you going to obey?
That's what mother says to me,
So I know it's right you see;
For sometimes I'm naughty too,
Dolly dear, as well as you."
"They weren't laughing at you," comforted Albert. "They were laughing at Viola. She had climbed up on the pulpit above you, and was singing along with you, comically imitating your motions. They were laughing at Viola, not you! You sang it beautifully, Retta, just beautifully."