It was but a small descent from the original settlers of the beautiful Heber Valley in Utah to Aunt Ruby’s front door. As a child I loved our Sunday afternoon forays from Salt Lake City to the frequent family gatherings in her living room. The men would talk deer hunting and dairy farming while the women would catch up on quilting, weddings and recipes. We cousins would laugh and play about the house or yard depending on the weather.
Shortly after graduating with a degree from U.T. Austin, my new employer sent me to a reading conference in Salt Lake City. I was more than happy to have an excuse to visit the place of my birth; it had been a long time.
The conference lasted most of the week and included long hours—until Thursday afternoon. The organizers announced that we would have the afternoon and evening free and made some suggestions about what we might see and do in the area. The attendees had come from all over the country and for most it was their first visit to the Mormon mecca. One gentleman from the Midwest was at a loss. He had no transportation and told me that he would most likely spend the rest of the day reading in his hotel room. “Not so,” said I. “I have a rental car and I will be most happy to serve as your tour guide.”
We set off on a grand adventure that included attending a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a visit to “This is the Place Monument” where Brigham Young stood up in his carriage and announced, as he looked out over the valley of the Great Salt Lake, that that was the end of their 111-day journey.
(It is a strange thing. The original 1847 pioneers descended into the valley via Emigration Canyon, which was steep and rocky. They had to tie logs onto their covered wagons to keep them from plummeting down the precipitous slope. If they had come down Parley’s Canyon, one canyon to the south, they could have come right down the Interstate Highway! But I digress.)
From Emigration Canyon we drove past Park City to the beautiful Heber Valley nestled at the foot of lofty Mount Timpanogas. My friend had no idea that I had relatives there. “These are some of the most hospitable people in the world,” said I. “Take that modest red brick house over there—the one with the picture window and the blue spruce in the front yard. I’ll bet the people who live there would invite us in and give us something to eat.” He was incredulous as I pulled over and started to get out of the car.
“You’re not serious!” he said. “Those people don’t know anything about us!” “Not to worry,” I retorted. “I have a hunch we’ll get something to eat here.” He meekly followed me up the front steps and worriedly examined his shoes while I knocked loudly on the door. A slender grey-haired bespectacled lady, adorned in a frilly apron, opened the screen and asked who it was. “I can’t see very well any more,” she declared. “You’ll have to tell me who you are.” She, along with my friend, were surprised when I announced that I was her long-lost nephew whom she believed was living somewhere deep in the bowels of old Mexico.
I introduced my companion and we were ushered into her comfortable kitchen. “I was just about to put some rolls in the oven,” she declared. “Can you stay long enough to share some?” As the aroma of the baking rolls filled the kitchen, she went to the fridge and got out a little dish of real butter and some fresh freezer-recipe, homemade strawberry jam. For an hour or so we basked in the warmth of her down-home hospitality and unashamedly consumed roll after delicious roll.
When we returned to our rental car, I noticed my friend wiping a tear from his eye. “That was wonderful,” he said. We returned to Salt Lake City over the Alpine Loop, which has to be one of America’s most scenic drives. When we arrived at our hotel, he told me that he and his family had been planning a vacation to the mountains of Colorado. “To heck with that,” he said. “We’re coming here!”
So, what made him change his mind? I don’t think it was necessarily the Choir or the scenic drives. I think it was Aunt Ruby’s hot rolls and strawberry jam.
Sam Walter Foss said, “Let me live in a house by the side of the road Where the race of men go by—The men who are good and the men who are bad, As good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner’s seat Or hurl the cynic’s ban—Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man.”
Hot buttered rolls and fresh strawberry jam sure can’t hurt when it comes to making friends.