Elvie Renshaw

"The greatest job of life is to love and be loved." — R.D. Clyde


Mary Elizabeth Strong Bailey

There is nothing really unusual about the life of Mary Strong, but it is important to her posterity. She was born on June 9, 1866 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her parents were James Thomas Strong and Catherine Swaner, She was one of eleven children. Her brothers and sisters were: James, John, Susan, Henry, Julia Ann, Arthur E, Ernest J, Alvin C, Ettie Irene, and Clarence. The beauties of her character so impressed those who surrounded her that she is still remembered for her warmth, patience, and ready smile. If it is true that “As we sow so shall we reap,” then the love, which Mary has sown, has multiplied many times, and those of us who are her descendents are still reaping the harvest.

Two of the prettiest girls in the Tenth Ward in 1888 were the Strong sisters, Mary and Julia Ann. They loved to go to the Salt Lake Theatre, Fuller Gardens, and especially the ward entertainments. Black eyed, fun-loving Mary liked to dance. She was the “Belle”, and her friends always said it wasn’t a party unless she was there. In the spring before her eighteenth birthday, Owen Albert Bailey first saw her. Whether it was her beautiful hands, sweet disposition, or graceful figure that first attracted him, we do not know. But on June 12, 1889 they were married in the Logan Temple. A reception was held in their honor in Salt Lake City on June 14th. Mary’s six brothers probably were reluctant to see her go into her own home. One of them said, “many times I would come in and she would be scrubbing the floor, but she would never complain about stopping her work to press my suit so I could go out on a date. Even if one of us walked across her newly mopped floor, there was never a cross word.”

According to fairy tales, we should now leave Mary and Owen to live happily ever after. However, this was just the beginning and not the end for on April 26, 1890, their first child, Mary Lorene was born and seventeen months later on September 26, 1891 Lorene had a baby sister, Susie Luella. At that time the family was living between Ninth and Tenth East on Fourth South in Salt Lake City. They then built a small home in Strong’s court and moved into it. There were three rooms: a parlor, bedroom, large kitchen and a back lean-to shanty room. In the rear of the house was a woodshed, coalhouse combination. Of these rooms it was the parlor, which was the pride of the family. It had a lovely red velvet sofa, a full-length mirror and a beautiful hanging lamp. A small table sat in the center of the room holding the top of Mary’s wedding cake protected under glass. There were two lovely oil paintings hanging on the wall, painted by her brother Arthur E., and given to her for a wedding present. There was also a folding bed where Lorene and Sue slept. The kitchen and dining room were together and had a wooden pullout couch which was used for a quick nap or when one of the children were sick. A large pantry led off from the dining room, large enough to make pies and cakes. The lean-to had a coal stove, which was used in the summer for cooking and preserving fruit. In her bedroom, Mary had a nice set with a dresser and a washstand with a marble top.

“Elvie was the first child born in the new home on December 5, 1892. Then one year later Annie arrived on February 10, 1894. However, it was after the birth of her son, little Owen, on March 28, 1895 that Mary and the baby became critically ill. Owen wrote, “She had had wonderful health during our marriage until our only son was born. She then had milk leg, brain fever, and typhoid fever. The baby started having convulsions when he was six weeks old and was nearly given up for dead. When Mary took sick, the baby was moved to the house of her sister, Julia. Mary could not move nor speak a word, so I was lying down by her when a light flashed across the ceiling. She sat right up in bed and cried, “my baby, my baby”, and lay right down again. The next morning, I learned that between twelve midnight and one in the morning, Grandfather Strong administered to the baby and when little Owen stopped breathing, had dowsed him with ward water. The baby then started to breathe again.”

“Mary slowly returned to health, and as she and the little boy recovered, the family once more settled down to the routine of daily living. Of these days her daughter Elvie has said, “In those days bobbed hair was unthinkable, so bright and early every morning, four little girls had to suffer through brushing and combing long hair into side twists and pigtails (except Sue who had curls). Mama must have felt relief when grooming her small son’s cropped head. Sundays and parties were special days for the side twists were held together with a pretty ribbon bow and the pigtails brushed into long wavy crimps down the back.”

“Christmas was a wonderful experience in that little house. The tree was trimmed with popcorn and cranberry strings and candleholders with colored candles and tinsel trimmed ornaments. Sometimes the tree was in the parlor, sometimes in the big kitchen, and once Mama and Papa fooled us and put it in the little shanty-room. We thought that Santa hadn’t left us a tree until Sue opened the kitchen door and there it stood in all its glory. I smile now as I recall the struggle our parents had getting that trimmed tree through the door into a more suitable place in the kitchen. All that trouble just to hear the delighted squeals and see the radiant faces of their little brood. Sure the angels above enjoyed the happiness in Mother’s and father’s faces.”

“The very first gift I remember buying was a Christmas gift for Mama and Papa. Dad Gave Annie and I (Elvie) each twenty five cents and with the help of a neighborhood girlfriend, Elfie Barker, we went to Bishop Speir’s store and purchased two little dolls, one dressed in pink and one in blue. Oh, I thought they were beautiful! Our parents seemed overjoyed with their gifts because they smiled at each other every time they looked at the dolls or us. Mother said it was just what they wanted to put on the high shelf under the tall mirror—and she did just that. The dolls were out of reach of two little girls. A pair of blue eyes and a pair of brown eyes looked longingly at two little dolls on a high shelf. Mother enjoyed teasing us for a while, then she said we could hold the dolls if we’d be very careful with them. The dolls never graced that shelf again.”

“Mother was a wonderful cook. She made everything taste good. Her homemade mincemeat pies, I’ll never forget, or her rice puddings and the Sunday roast served with Yorkshire pudding! Ho, they were delicious! I recall the large bread pan mother mixed her dough in. I liked to watch her knead the dough. My chin came about to the top of the pan and if I’d get too close in my curiosity, a quick little flip of her floured hand reminded me to move back. She’s always say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ but the twinkle in her eyes and the smile on her lips somehow caused me to sense that she was enjoying my confused flour speckled face.”

“I remember one crying spree I got on once. I do not recall why, but I know I followed Mama all over the house bawling loudly. She stopped her work a few times to ask, ‘what on earth are you crying about?’ I just kept on crying and following her. Then it came like a thunderbolt! She turned me over her knee and paddled me good. She stood me up with a jerk and said, ‘there now, you have something to cry about! She should have done it sooner for it shocked me out of my crying.”

“I remember a very pretty blue velvet hat that Papa bought for Mama. She said, ‘Owen, it is lovely.’ She looked so pretty in it, but she kept it in a hatbox on the shelf in the closet. She never wore it to my knowledge. I asked her once why she didn’t wear that pretty hat. With a little smile she said, ‘I will when I get the dress, shoes, and gloves to go with it.’ I’ve often wondered what became of that lovely blue velvet hat. I thought mother was pretty. She had lovely dark hair and smiling brown eyes and a keen sense of humor which she retained even through thirteen years of illness.”

“I couldn’t write this memoir without mentioning a very important little white house about fifty feet north east of our little abode. It had a toilet seat equipped for two persons. One was child size, the other for adults. ‘Twas here we kept our old catalogues. I remember thumbing through the attractive pictures and choosing my own special page for service. This little house brings to mind the old broom and mop bucket, with suds and a little lye in it. Mama was bound and determined to keep the place as sanitary as possible. The aroma-well she could do little about it, but that is why this important little house was fifty feet away.”

When the children were little and Mary wanted to get away for a minute to visit her mother, she would tell them she was going to Grammas’ and would be back in a minute so to be good. They were a little frightened being left alone and would all jump on the couch all trying to reach the back where they felt the most secure. Lorene said is she counted to 62 slowly that this would be a minute. She always did the counting and at 62 all would yell Mama! Mama! Poor Mama couldn’t visit at all.

One proud day Owen led the children to Mary’s bedside to let them see their new baby sister, Mildred, who was born on July 13, 1900. When Mildred wa small she had a mastoid and had to have a serious operation on her ear. While they were operating, Lorene led the little group to a log at the end of the court where they all knelt down and prayed for her. This was quite a testimony to all the neighbors.

Five years after Mildred was born, on April 1, 1905, another little dark haired baby girl completed the family circle. Lorene was fifteen and had read an Elsie Dinsmore story. She had fallen in love with the Violet in the story, so Mother let Lorene name the new baby violet.

Mary had always enjoyed taking her family for strolls pushing the old wicker baby buggy. However, she didn’t get much time to chat with her friends along the way because little ones would tug at her skirts and whine, ‘come on Mama, let’s go!’ However, when baby violet was only six weeks old, Mary had her first stroke. She was just thirty-nine years old. Brother Keddington and Bishop Christensen were called to administer to her, and many times they stood up in testimony meeting to relate that when they placed their hands upon her head, they felt their strength go from them for her faith was so great. That stroke was the beginning of life as an invalid for Mary, which lasted thirteen years until her death. Never the less, she never lost her sense of humor and her brown eyes never ceased to smile kindly.

While Violet was small, the family moved into a home at 857 East 4th South. They lived in large tents while the house was being remodeled. This was a beautiful nine-room home and here the family grew up, found romance, and finally left for homes and families of their own.

Because of her illness, Mary now had to depend a great deal upon her older daughters for help. Mary’s mother, Grandmother Strong, a strong minded Dane, stepped in to see that Mary’s household continued to function in the orderly, immaculate Danish fashion. Although she had always been on hand to help in every emergency, now she felt it necessary for her to stop in and take over complete control of the situation, which she did competently and vigorously At times her dictatorial manner was most irritating to the daughters as they were growing up since she didn’t hesitate to scold whenever she felt the girls were being “allowed too many worldly privileges.” Since Grandmother Strong now became so important in the family, it is interesting to note the recollections of her made by her granddaughters. Lorene remembers of often walking to church with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma was always two steps ahead. She would turn and say, “Hurry up Papa.” He would say, “all right, Mama,” and give Lorene a wink, but they never made an effort to catch up. Grandmother was very strict and gave each girl a sunbonnet every morning to wear to school. (It was very bad to have a tan in those days.) We would hang them on the picket fence and pick them up on the way home. Sometimes Grandma found the bonnets and then everyone got a spanking. She interfered with our pleasures by meeting us at the bottom of the court while we were walking home with our friends after school. She’d waste no time in sending the friends home and hurry the girls on to help our mother. However, we soon learned a short cut through Laker’s Court and by-passed her for a time. Sometimes when we wanted to go to a Saturday show, we would hurry through our work, only to have Grandma march in just as everyone was ready to leave to ask mother if she were crazy for letting girls go out to a show alone. Usually we didn’t get to go, and Grandma always timed her arrival so that work would just be finished….no need to disappoint the girls until the house was clean. Every summer Sunday Grandma pinned a flower on each girl as we walked down the court to Sunday School. Our hankies were always pinned nicely underneath the flowers and couldn’t be used even if a life depended on it. Every Saturday one of the girls had to go down to help Aunt Edie clean since she had small children and Grandma said, “Mary has four girls.” So each Saturday one of them took the street ar to Aunt Edie’s, but when the work was finished, Aunt Edie always had a lovely meal prepared. When the girls were older and had boy friends Grandma never interfered at all. She would even call us to the phone whenever they would call. We all loved her and even though she made us mad many times, now we can see how concerned she was for our welfare.

It was six months before Mary could get out of bed after her first stroke. Then when she did get about, she always had to drag one foot and hold one hand. As the years passed she once more cooked Sunday dinners and flipped fours on Violet just as she once had on Elvie. Violet never knew her mother when she was well. Since the stroke had affected her speech, it was sometimes difficult to understand Mary, but Violet grew up understanding her and acted as the interpreter. Since she was the youngest, she spent much time with her mother.

Violet said, “I remember playing shoe store and dragging every shoe, boot, house slipper out to try on Mother. Mother had a little matchbox she kept change in and would pay me for the shoes. When the game was over, back went the money into the box. Sometimes Aunt Lizzy would offer me a nickel to sit with her while she visited mother to help her understand her.”

Mary was a prayerful person; perhaps it was from her prayers she gained the strength to face her illness and still keep doing the best she could. Violet said she often found her praying when she came home from school. “I would get the little match box and jingle the coins saying over and over, “can I have a nickel?” Finally Mother would lift her head from prayer and say, “Take a nickel and go out quietly.” We had a yellow canary called Dicky. He wouldn’t sing for anyone but mother. She would ask him to sing and he would sing his heart out. When Mother died the bird didn’t sing another note. He died a week later.

It was during the time of the flu epidemic of 1918 when there were no doctors or nurses available that Mary’s condition became critical. Even though she herself was very il, Mary told Sue if she would help those down with the flu, she wouldn’t catch it. She did as her mother requested, helping others and did not get sick. On December 13, 1918, Sue had come home from making her rounds of flu victims and had been sent to bed exhausted while Lorene and Aunt Ida, (Alvin’s wife) were sitting up with Mary. (Owen had taken time off from his vigil with Mary to rest for a while.) Sue wasn’t in bed long when Lorene called her to come quickly for Mary was dying. Sue put on a robe and house slippers and ran in knee-deep snow up the court to get Annie and Elvie. Because of the epidemic, only graveside services were permitted and everyone had to stand in groups of no more than three and wear masks. Later, memorial services were held for all who had died during this period.

This then is Mary’s story. If Owen has seemed to be neglected, it is not because he wasn’t well loved, but because his daughters hope to meet again one day and “remember Papa”.

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