Today is the anniversary of the birth of my Mother, and I thought I’d celebrate by sharing a tribute I wrote for/about her in 1999. She had 10 more years to leave (she and our Father both lived to be 95). Dad had been gone since December of 1997 (they were 12 years apart in age). (Please remember that I hate to proof-read; thanking you)
Ella Mary Middleton was born in Rigby, Idaho, on 29 August 1914, to Charles Franklin and Mary Wolfensburger Middleton. Most of her young life was spent in Fullerton, California. She graduated from Fullerton Union High School and was such an outstanding athlete that they gave her a permanent pass to attend any athletic function at the high school for the rest of her life. Her main sport was tennis. She went into nurse’s training at Orange County Hospital and graduated in 1936. She did post-graduate work including time at Shriner’s Hospital in San Francisco. She was a surgical supervisor at Hanford Sanitarium.
On 22 June, 1937, Mom married Paul K Edmunds in the Mesa Arizona Temple. They lived in Corcoran, California and drove 25 miles to attend Church. Mom worked as office nurse to our father, a physician. In 1938, Paul K Edmunds Jr. was born. Then in 1939 the family moved to Van Nuys, California. I was born in 1940 in downtown Los Angeles (Good Samaritan Hospital) . Charlotte came along two years later and chose to be born in Hollywood. In 1943 our family moved to Cedar City, Utah where we would stay for 14 years. Five more children came to be with us — Susan in 1946, Franklin Middleton in 1950, John M in 1951, Ann M in 1953 and Richard M in 1956. Dad worked as a “family doctor” and “house-call doctor” for these 14 years. Mom was active in the nurse’s organization and also in the medical auxiliary group. During the war she would help to train nurse’s aides. Mostly she was at home, a fact we deeply appreciated as children.
Mom and Dad bought a huge flour mill (I mean huge… we’re not talking about something which would fit on any kitchen counter), which we still have, and milled whole wheat flour which we’d sell in 5 and 10-pound sacks. We could follow Paul around Cedar City by looking for the exploded flour sacks which had fallen off his bike. In our home there was always lots of activity, lots of books, great dramas on the radio, and much music. At one time there were at least 3 of us taking piano lessons plus violin, cello and clarinet. How do parents do it?? Our parents have always allowed us to be unique — our own person. Charlotte’s dolls went to dances, and mine went to war. One year for Christmas Mom and Dad turned a little room in our home into a “play store.” They had worked on it all year. It turns out everyone in the neighborhood had been opening all their things carefully during that year, and Uncle Leo (our neighbor who was a carpenter) put them back together — a block of wood in the package of a bar of soap, water in soup cans and so on. There was even a little cash register with play money, and a scales on which to weigh such things as dried beans and peas, which were put in little paper sacks. We learned so much from our little store. During these years Mom taught Red Cross home nursing and baby care classes at the high school and also to community groups, including the Paiute Indian women who lived in a little village at the north of our town.
After we moved to Mapleton she continued teaching Red Cross home nursing classes and did so for a total of 20 years. She received a special service award. She was involved in lots of other community service including the PTA, high school health fairs, parades and such. Mom was the one who used to provide a huge, unforgettable picnic for ALL the Little League participants at the end of the season. It was an “all-you-could-eat” affair, and boys that age DO eat! Mom was the one who invited the people who came to work in the orchards in the summer to come and wash their clothes, get a drink, watch TV or take a bath. I remember Jim Cocking who lived in the tiny house down the street and how tenderly Mom cared for his live-in girlfriend, Nellie, especially when she gave birth to a little baby. Mom organized a “shower” for her so she’d have plenty of baby supplies, and Mom was the one who took her to the hospital when the baby came. And, while she was there, Mom completely cleaned and fixed up the little house. Mom would take Nellie to get her hair done at the beauty parlor once a week because she said it gave Nellie such a lift. She has always been willing to care for those sick enough to go to the hospital but whose families wanted them to die at home. Florence Corry, Nellie Allen, and David Whiting to mention just a few.
There were always extra people staying or living with us. From the time we were little we got acquainted with relatives and strangers from all over the world. They were always welcome, and they were never strangers for more than a few minutes. Aunt Florence, Grandmother Edmunds, Grand Ida, Margaret Andrade from Mexico, Alia Raad from Lebanon, Mom’s little brother Jimmy, our Navajo Sister Pamela, John Muir from England, Radene from the Philippines, Marie Lehman from Holland, Trudy from Bountiful, 8 student nurses at one time (and Mom would get up early and make about 17 LUNCHES every single morning…YES! we were SPOILED!). Frans, who had no parents, and Jim, Pamela Allen whose Mother was dying of emphysema, Akram and Nasrat from Damascus, Russell from Ogden, Naoko and Yoko from Japan, Darsi from Indonesia, Davy from Washington, Julio from Mexico, friends from the Philippines…. Some stayed a few days or weeks, some a few months or years, and some stayed until they died.
Another “hallmark” of our life was animals. We always had at least one dog and sometimes had 14 or 15 (during the years Mom raised St. Bernards). We had horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, guinea pigs, mice, cats, pollywogs, bunnies, Shetlands, salamanders, turtles, birds, lambs, pigs, ducks, geese, and cows (Mom milked the cows for at least 30 years when we first moved to Mapleton). We became very attached to our animals. I remember when Mom and Dad stopped killing and cleaning the turkeys themselves and we’d gather them up and drive them down to Salina. One year when Mom and I went, she had the people really wondering as she called goodbye to each “bird” as if she knew them personally. With pretended emotion she called out “Goodbye, Ethel. Thanks, Gertrude. I appreciate your sacrifice, Thelma!” The folks at the processing plant could only wonder if she was serious. I tried not to laugh. We put on some crazy hats and gowns and went in and watched them go through the whole process. Mom was (and probably still is) hilarious! Having so many animals has been a source of joy and also a source of much learning. I will remember forever what it felt like to see Mom sitting alone out on the back porch or out in the orchard, sobbing at the death of a cow….
We were taught to work. We all have memories of those summer mornings when we’d get up at 4:00 a.m. and go pick cherries or raspberries, or pod peas or something. One morning when Charlotte and I weren’t working as fast as Mom thought we should she gave us each a pill saying it would help us. It sure did! We were like machines on high speed the whole day. It wasn’t until we crashed that night that Mom revealed she had given us each one of her diet pills….
Both Mom and Dad were always true and faithful in the Church. Mom served as Relief Society president several times (remember the bazzars??) and has done a lot with Primary and Young Women. I remember the year Charlotte and I got to go with her when she took her Beehive girls to Zion National Park for a camping adventure. She had the girls do such creative things as having as many tourists as possible from as many different places as possible autograph toilet paper…. Mom was always fantastic with young people. Whether it was scouting or road shows or MIA camp or neighborhood stuff, she’s always been a “hit.” She earned her Silver Beaver award for all year many years in Scouting. She deserved it! I’ve loved reading things and hearing things from about “her Scouts.” My brothers and sisters and I were pressed into service many times for a “Scout-O-Rama” (her troop always seemed to take first place) or girls’ camp or whatever and have seen her in action. She has had many memorable moments including the year she taught the young women how to cook a turkey in a pit. She was a very popular skit person for young women’s camp and almost always was the one to teach first-aid. I especially remember Shane, Mom’s Scout who everyone said couldn’t be a Scout because he had Down’s Syndrome. Mom disagreed and brought him into her troop and loved him dearly. One year he got away from Mom at the Scout-O-Rama and was up on the main stage with all the dignitaries. People remarked at how sweet it was to see her go up and whisper kindly in his ear and have him come with her immediately. Later we found out that what she had whispered was something like “Come with me right this instant, Shane, or I’ll wring your neck!” How Shane loved Mom! She picked him up for every single meeting and every single event, and when he’d see her coming he’d run towards her with open arms and great enthusiasm. I’ll never forget the day he got his First Class Scouting award. As he stood in the chapel grinning out at the audience he spied Mom and ran right down to climb over people to reach her and hug her. I think we all cried.
As a special project for the Bicentennial in 1976, Mom got her scouts together and they decided they’d like to help get a flag for Mapleton. Mom made “tons” of chocolates and the boys helped package and sell it. They aimed for about $40 but got over $400 and ordered a beautiful flag from New York. Mom would regularly go to Deseret Industries and hunt for old uniforms so all the boys could be fully outfitted even if they couldn’t afford new stuff. In the years after those Scouting ones, Mom spoke at countless Eagle award ceremonies and missionary farewells. She treasured the letters she received from literally all over the world. And she’d write letters to these dear Scouts. One wrote her from Fort Leonard Wood to say that his drill Sargent made a comment on the envelope decorations she came up with.
I remember the letters and packages I used to get while serving as a missionary or living away from home. Mom would always stick hilarious things in, like pages (especially ads) from 50 yr-old magazines, huge rat traps, old aprons, things she’d purchased at D.I., toilet paper, and perhaps something crazy like an Avon catalog for my friends in Indonesia or Africa or somewhere else that had never heard of Avon. When she sent one to Africa, she said she thought the Sisters out in the “bush” would enjoy having a Tupperware party. Mom took 20 years going through all Dad’s journals (he kept a daily journal for almost 70 years!) and write the history of our family in “long-hand.” We now have most of this material on computer. She made countless picture books which are priceless collections of our family in action through the years.
Almost every year we would have a family vacation. Mom and Dad never went anywhere without us (which, as they looked back, may have been a mistake… grin). One of the most memorable trips was the year 8 of the 10 of us went all the way to Niagara Falls in one car. Wheeee. This was before seat belts. We attended the Pageant in Palmyra along with many other adventures. Mom was a very spontaneous person. I remember many times when she’d all of a sudden announce that we’d be having supper in the canyon. Off we went! It was not unusual for her to show up at an orchestra practice when we were in Jr. High and High School with a huge pan of fresh, hot cinnamon rolls. The summers I worked at Zion National Park (1956 and 1957), she’d show up on some of my days off with an enormous picnic complete with fried chicken, watermelon and chocolate cake.
Mom was an incredible cook and didn’t have to follow very many recipes. I remember sitting down to many a Thanksgiving dinner and realizing that almost everything was right from our own little farm — including the turkey. As Mom would say “We did everything ourselves except for the silverware, the plates and the salt!” What she meant was that she had done about everything herself. She taught herself so many things, like making butter and cheese and curds & whey, etc. But she became most famous for her chocolates,(and she continued being famous for her whole wheat bread and cakes and such). She began making candy in 1961 and, as always, became an expert. More than once she won “Best in the Show” at the county fair and collected many trophies and ribbons.
Mom was always very service oriented, and there’s not space or time to even scratch the surface in this category. She’d help anyone and everyone. For years she’d take Sisters Houtz, Whiting, Bunce and Young to do their weekly shopping and down to the Manti Temple and sometimes just out for a drive. Each year for more than 20 years she’d have several sessions of “Farm Day” where whole school classes and other groups would come to romp and play for hours. She’d plan it so there were baby chicks and ducks — lots to see and do. Often she’d hide hundreds of boiled eggs so the kids could have the fun of funding them. If there were fewer than 50 children she’d bake each one a little loaf of whole wheat bread. Sometimes there would be several busses and more than 100 children at a time. And if the kids couldn’t come to the animals, Mom would take the animals to the kids — right into their school rooms!
Mom had a wonderful, zany sense of humor. If you never heard her laugh hard you missed one of the great moments in life. She was so good at putting other people at ease. We’re convinced that one of the reasons she came back so remarkably from a stroke was because of her ability to laugh at herself and her circumstances. I remember the morning when I was with her at the hospital and she was going through the ward list to try to recognize names and bring back what the letters meant. She came to a particular name and I could see she was studying it intently. All of a sudden she laughed. “It’s me!” I also remember the day she was out by the gate after she’d come home from the hospital. Someone walking by stopped to visit and at some point asked her how old she was. She said “I am 100.” And then, hearing what she’d said, she laughed harder than he did. I remember the year someone was putting together a book about all the women who had served as Relief Society president in Mapleton. They asked each to list their favorite scripture. Someone just happened to look up Mom’s before they printed their booklet (they knew her): “Thou shalt not commit adultery!”
Mom had a pioneer spirit. Truly. She made her own soap, bottled thousands of quarts of fruit, milked cows, made butter and cheese, killed and cleaned her own chickens and turkeys, taught herself veterinary skills (many in the community would call her for advice), helped design and build a barn, planted huge gardens every year, learned to make apple juice and dry fruit . . . and on and on. The only thing I can think of that she didn’t succeed at was her goal to play “Silent Night” on the organ. Her plan was to surprise us by playing it for the family on Christmas Eve. She even bought the organ and signed up for lessons, but it just didn’t “take.”
In 1965, the BYU Women honored Mom with a surprise “My Life in Review” and a special gift. In 1981 she was first runner-up as Mother of the Year for the state of Utah. As I mentioned she received a special 20-year service award from the Red Cross and an honorary Golden Gleaner award. And, as I also mentioned, she received the Silver Beaver award for her many years in Scouting. She always seemed to have more hours in a day than anyone else I know, and more energy, enthusiasm for life, more tenderness underneath her humor and busy-ness….
Was she perfect? Of course not. But she was a wonderfully unique human being. Here ae some excerpts from her obituary: ELLA MARY MIDDLETON EDMUNDS / 29 AUGUST 1914 – 15 MAY 2009. Ella Mary Middleton Edmunds passed away peacefully on 15 May, 2009, at her home with her son John, his wife Melanie, and their family in Orem, Utah. She became a genuine farmer during her many years in Mapleton, and was also known as a self-taught “vet.” Many in the community called for advice. She made some of the best hand-dipped chocolates anywhere. At her “peak” she was making around 45 varieties which were shipped far and wide. Many LDS wards have had the blessing of a box of her chocolates on Mother’s Day through the years. One of the most endearing qualities of our Mother through her whole life has been her sense of humor and her infectious laugh. Everyone has a collection of stories about something funny she has said or done. She loved life! Ella has been a faithful, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints her entire life, serving in many positions including Relief Society president. She’s also been a teacher and leader in both the Primary and MIA (Young Women), and she served with her husband Paul in the Provo Temple for several years. We offer a very special thank you to John, Melanie and their children for welcoming our Mother into their home, their family, and their lives, for so many years. They helped to make her last years and her last days so pleasant and peaceful. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, 21 May, at the LDS stake center on the corner of 800 East and 600 North in Orem, Utah, beginning at 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers, buy a cow.
OK… we actually had people contact us who did buy a cow! One was from a fellow who found a way to donate a cow to a family in Africa! There were some unique things about Mom’s viewing, funeral, and burial. There was a picture of Marilyn Monroe displayed prominently at each of the three “events.” That’s a long story for another day. A large furry St. Bernard was placed on top of the casket (in lieu of flowers). Each of the 8 of us spoke at her funeral (as we had done at Dad’s), starting with the youngest and ending with the eldest. I love the way my parents lived their lives — simply and happily with much generosity and contentment. We miss our parents. Dad was no less wonderful and amazing than Mom. Maybe I’ll do a tribute to him on his birthday. For now I suppose I can finish by saying to those of you who never met Mom that “I wish you could have known her.” She was “one of a kind,” just as your Mother probably is/was too! Happy Birthday, Mom! (She would have been 101 today).