“‘L Is for Indian’—And Other Family Projects,” Ensign, Aug. 1973, 63
We live in a world that frequently excited by someone’s creative thinking. Perhaps a scientific discovery, a book, a song, or even a comment showing new insight into social problems stirs our hearts, and we marvel once more at what one individual—that amazing concentration of potentialities—can do. But there is an even more amazing concentration of potentialities, and that is the family.
Basically a family is a group of individuals brought into proximity through marriage and parenthood. Members may be bound by blood relationship, by covenants, and by love; but like a committee or a jury, the family is nevertheless a cluster of distinct individuals, each with his own concentration of potentialities. Combine them, and the possibilities increase. Ignited by imagination and a desire toward a shared goal, there is little a dedicated family cannot do.
Meet some dynamic families who have turned good ideas into exceptional accomplishments. Each has pioneered in new directions. Each has made the most of its assets. Each has shown courage and creativity. And each has discovered that wonderful sense of family which we hope to enjoy eternally.
Douglas and Shirley Cromar of Holladay, Utah, faced a problem that demanded a family conference. The problem was a common one—their three sons needed spending money and money for missions and college. The solution, however, was far from usual. In fact, it developed into a successful business that seems to be meeting all the goals set for it, with some rich byproducts.
Even before this new solution ever occurred to the Cromars, each boy had found summer work mowing and trimming lawns around the neighborhood. The boys had no difficulty finding work, because each had had a section of his own large yard to keep weeded, trimmed, and mowed, and each had had experience cultivating flower beds and helping with seasonal cleanups. But something was unsatisfactory in their efforts.
Every evening Kevin, Doug, and Bradley would come home exhausted and share their discouragement around the dinner table with their parents and younger sisters. They were earning very little money for a lot of work and were not finding their solitary day much fun, either.
It was then that the Cromar family decided on a new approach to their problem. Why not set up a family business? Why not work together, instead of alone? And why not do a professional, complete job of yard beautification?
Brother Cromar, a lineman for a power company, worked alternating shifts. He could help about twenty hours a week. Each family member could be assigned a specific job: Dad on the power edger, Kevin on the big mower, and Doug on the smaller one. Brad could clear all obstacles from lawns, clip where necessary, and keep everyone else’s clippings disposed of. Mother could operate the trimmer, and the girls could run errands to and from the truck. Everyone could help with the final touching up, and Dad could check over the yard to make sure nothing had been neglected. If necessary, he could ask the boys to jump off the truck and mow an overlooked area, or call the girls to sweep a missed row of stepping stones. As the children grew, of course, their responsibilities could change to suit their abilities.
Where would they get money for additional equipment? Dad agreed to finance a truck and whatever else would be necessary, with the understanding that the money would be replaced. The Cromars were in business: a family yard maintenance operation that included mowing, trimming, pruning, cultivating, planting, fertilizing—every imaginable aspect of outdoor beautification.
Business has thrived for four summers now, growing each year and involving the family from daybreak to dusk on most weekdays from March through November. While most of us are still a little stiff from a long winter chill, the Cromars have their equipment ready to go and are doing early spring cleanups.
Each fall when most of us eagerly retire our mowers to the garage the moment conscience will allow, the Cromars know they have another month or two of fall cleanup to go. And even then, they cannot fill all the requests for their services.
Their business has been successful because they brought skill and experience to their work. From his boyhood, Brother Cromar had worked part time for a floral company, and he had taught his family his skills. Also, they had decided that the customer would come first. Other activities that seemed desirable simply could not always be fitted into a busy schedule of promises, and all promises must be kept. This meant sacrifice. Douglas and Bradley gave up little league ball for the business, and a few Scouting trips had to be missed along the way.
Another reason for their success has been the high quality of their work. Brother Cromar has told his boys often: “Anyone can come in and mow a lawn, but people want something extra.” Each family member has an assigned task and is expected to do his best. This insistence on excellence is, in fact, reflected in everything the Cromars do. The children are honor students and active in music. The boys have Duty to God awards, and the two older boys and their father are Eagle Scouts.
It is easy to feel a little envy and even awe as we contemplate this united family, spending their summer outdoors together, doing something they like, and earning money besides. But do they have any fun? Do they enjoy their project?
The answer would have to be a qualified yes. They do enjoy each other, and one of their rewards has been increased family closeness. Yet there are difficulties. “We found it takes more good nature than we sometimes have to spend so much time together, under pressure, always working against the clock and the weather,” says Sister Cromar. She adds that this kind of thorough yard care is very strenuous and is as demanding as growing grass.
But there are subtle, deep, and meaningful enjoyments. They could not be called fun, but for the Cromars they bring satisfaction and an inner awareness of personal growth. When the family members contemplated setting up their own business, they were drawn to it by the fact that they could schedule their own time, removing any necessity for Sunday employment. Also, they liked the idea of utilizing their summers fully, thus freeing their winters for studying, music, school activities, and skiing together as a family.
Then there are the many useful skills that have increased the children’s independence and sense of responsibility. The boys have learned many aspects of operating a small business: public relations, careful bookkeeping, the necessity of investment if growth is to continue, and the maintenance of machinery. Regarding this last point, the Cromars have followed a regular schedule. The children know that a broken or abused tool cannot do a job, and each family member is responsible for the equipment he uses.
Their original goal of earning spending money and a financial reserve has been amply realized. And there have been specific goals along the way that have been reached and enjoyed. Last summer, Cheryl, 9, and Karen, 7, decided to work for a piano. Although the girls sometimes became discouraged, by the end of the long working season they had earned enough to buy their piano. Now mother and daughters take lessons together. Another special goal was a trip to Hawaii for parents and Brad, to watch Doug compete in a swimming meet.
Now add to all these things the fact that while reaching their goals they have been doing something that has been a service to others.
Kevin, 20, is not working with the business this summer, because he is serving in the Hong Kong Mission, benefitting from the financial fruits of his labor. But Douglas and Shirley Cromar, young Doug, 17, and Brad, 15, are busy again, depending on the help of Cheryl and Karen. Kevin anticipates coming back to the business upon his return, and they hope to expand. The family members seem even more excited and more eager than they were that first summer when their good idea came to them.
How many families do you know who have had a book publishing adventure to raise money for a new chapel? That is what the families of Gail and Laurel Ulrich and Dell and Laura Fox of Durham, New Hampshire, have done. And they recommend it.
The idea began with Sister Ulrich, a part-time English teacher who had suggested several times that one of her very capable friends write a book for Latter-day Saint children. She suggested that it might be a way of earning money for the ward building fund. Then she awoke one morning last August with a brand new idea: I’ll write the book myself!
She spent the day writing verses, with her son Nathan at her side. Before many hours had passed, not only was the rest of the family involved but also the family of Major Dell Fox. Major Fox responded enthusiastically to Sister Ulrich’s phone call. Yes, he would do the illustrations. He had already made a promise to himself and to his Father in heaven that any income he could earn for art jobs outside of his employment would go to the ward building fund.
Time was limited if the book was to be published for Christmas. The families worked steadily for three months on their project. Sister Ulrich had decided that the book would be “an alphabet for little Saints,” a series of rhymes on Mormon topics for each letter of the alphabet. And since the verses were to be for children, she relied on her own young family for help.
Hour upon hour Mother and children, especially Nathan, 8, and Melinda, 9, worked on the poems. As Mother tested lines aloud, the children responded with a child’s ear and judgment. They also suggested words for several letters. It is easy to imagine how these sessions went: B? Book of Mormon, naturally. P? Patriarch! L? Indian, of course, for every LDS child knows that an Indian is called a Lamanite. Why not title the book L Is for Indian?
Sometime during these idea sessions, Melinda was asked to give a talk. She chose the Sabbath as her topic, and it was logical to ask Mother to write an S poem for her. They did it together.
That is how the adventure unfolded at the Ulrich home. Of course, Brother Ulrich had been involved from the beginning, because the project would require an investment of family savings. Later he would handle all distribution and mailing for his family.
Meanwhile, illustrations for the book were taking shape at the Dell Fox home. Heidi, Erin, Nathan, and Paige, ages 11 down to 6, stood over their father’s shoulder most of the time as he drew, offering suggestions and criticisms. The complete layout was done by the families themselves, and daughters Heidi and Erin helped their father a great deal with layout and pasteups for the press.
Sister Fox, of course, helped in all the usual supportive ways in which mothers and wives excel; in addition she helped Sister Ulrich with ideas. She wants most to be remembered as the one with the unglamorous but essential job of erasing all pencil marks and smudges from the layouts.
The result of this unusual activity is an original, witty little paperback book whose words and pictures seem precisely tuned to young people. Now that the book is being enjoyed and the excitement of sales toward the building fund is being realized, it seems almost anticlimactic to talk about other benefits. However, there have been several.
The children now know what it means to pledge income to the Church. They know what they are working for, and that it takes a lot of such work to build a chapel. The Fox family now have a rapidly filling building fund jar, and the children freely add pennies and dimes of their own.
The book has also given the children an opportunity to introduce the Church to their teachers and friends at school. After seeing the book, Melinda Ulrich’s teacher asked her to do a special report on the Church for her fifth grade class. Neighbors of the Fox family who have watched the illustrations take form have also been intrigued. One of them ordered several copies for gifts.
Besides these benefits, there has been a closeness between the two families, who live far from other members of their families. For both children and parents, their friendship has helped to take the place of having cousins and grandparents near.
Sister Ulrich also describes her own belated discovery that children can find so much enjoyment in doing what mother herself finds pleasure in. She talks of the more conventional mother role in which the mother accommodates herself to a child’s interests. Now she knows that what she loves can be fun for her children, too.
“But the greatest benefit of the whole project for our family,” she says, “was that it was fun. I don’t recall any frayed nerves or missed meals or tension during the whole production.”
“Keep together. Work together. Starve together.” Ivan Gardner, now in his seventies, repeats the sensible-sounding philosophy with which he says he and his wife, Gladys, reared their ten children on a dairy farm in Afton, Wyoming. The “keeping” and the “working” have been fulfilled repeatedly in their children’s lives. But the “starving” one doubts will ever occur, because these ten children, each in a home of his own, enjoy hard work and each other to a remarkable degree. And when they put their skills, energy, and imagination to work together, buildings are raised and problems are solved.
When daughter Karma and her husband, Ken Cook, of Syracuse, Utah, decided to enclose their carport and convert it into a greenhouse and barbecue area, 30 family members gathered to help. Brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, all converged.
Each applied skills gained over the years in numerous and similar enterprises. A nephew and brother did the wiring. Others removed brick from the side of the house and cleaned it for use on the front. Insulation was put in, walls erected, Sheetrock applied to walls and ceiling, windows installed. Three doors were hung, including a sliding door into the house. Part of the frame finish was even applied to the front of the new addition before dusk set in.
When Mervin, who is a dentist in Orem, Utah, asked for help one Saturday to landscape the new medical complex where he has his office, 38 family members came with their tools and know-how. Along with others of the professional staff of the complex, they prepared soil and set out several hundred shrubs of various kinds.
The same ingenuity that members of the family apply to their work together can be seen in the planning for their reunions each summer. Last year the youngest son, David, who lives in the family home now, put his imagination to work. When family members arrived with their tents, sleeping bags, and campers (they all want to sleep at the old home instead of at homes of neighbors), David had made a dam with straw, old tires, plastic, and poles, and had flooded the pasture. All went to the fish hatchery together and soon their homemade lake was stocked with rainbow trout.
After the fish had been there a day, each child was given a fishing pole so he could catch his own dinner. Those who didn’t succeed with a pole enjoyed a fish scramble with their hands. Each was then expected to clean his own fish—an assignment that was met with mixed reactions, but with Gardner willingness to try anything—and the afternoon ended with a fish fry on a huge open grill. Hash brown potatoes, sliced tomatoes, corn on the cob, and homemade ice cream helped to make the meal a Gardner tradition.
One looks at these family activities and knows that whatever Ivan and Gladys Gardner did in rearing these children to be concerned about each other was effective. Hard work must have been a continual, pressing necessity. How did they cultivate this helpfulness, this enjoyment of work and of each other?
Listening to the Gardners reminisce, one catches clues to the answer. When Dad went down to the ranch three miles away to do the evening milking, everyone went. The older children helped and the little ones played games, under Mother’s watchful eye while she did handiwork. At harvest time, everyone went into the fields, even if all the youngest could do was hold a pitchfork. Afterward, there was always homemade root beer and a swim in the river. When they played ball in the pasture, Dad batted to the youngest as well as to the oldest. Weeding the huge vegetable garden was a family responsibility; no one had to be out there alone. “Let’s have a party,” someone would say, and up to Swift Creek the family would go with whatever was already on the stove for supper.
One particularly impressive example of the kind of thinking and doing already seen here occurred in the 1940s when Brother and Sister Gardner realized that they would have three children in college the same year. Economically, it would be difficult, and there were music lessons and other family goals to consider.
Brother and Sister Gardner went to Logan, Utah, to help find an apartment where their son and two daughters, with their piano and other instruments, could live together. None could be found. Yet they wanted their children to share their piano, to help each other with their music, and to remain close as a family. Instead of modifying these goals, they decided to build a place for their children in which they all could live.
They purchased land, but, because of wartime shortages, they could not find lumber to build a home. This difficulty scarcely slowed their determination. They and their children wrecked an old vacant home that had stood on their property in Wyoming for years, serving as a place for feed storage, and brought the best lumber to Logan by truck. They cleared away the milkweeds that grew higher than their heads on the new lot, and while their oldest daughter took charge at home, they got busy building a home.
Dad Gardner built the forms, ordered concrete, and smoothed it himself. Side by side, he and Gladys erected walls and ceilings. While he did the wiring, she hammered nearby. The rest of the family came to help with the shingling, painting, and other finish work, and within ten dairy-farm-long days, the home was finished. Nine of the ten Gardner children have lived there while attending college, and the home is still a popular residence for college students. Brother and Sister Gardner now live in Brigham City, Utah.
In the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, it is said of the hero bird Jonathan, who loved flying above all things, that he “was no ordinary bird.” Jonathan knew that a bird could sit or soar, feed or fly. The source of his extraordinariness was not that he had stronger wings, a wider span, or greater resilience to failure, but that he chose to fly and to fly farther and in ways no seagull had ever flown before. As he told his friend Fletch, “This kind of flying has always been here to be learned by anybody who wanted to discover it.” For families in today’s world, this is good advice.