Feb 3, 2007

Tag, I'm it

by Anna Arnett

I love tag. I wrote this right after Liz tagged me, but decided it turned out way too long to just post it as a tag. Yes, I know I get wordy and off track. Anyway, I waited to post it as my regular BLOG--see how easy? Five BLOGS done! It hasn't worked. Somehow, I wanted to write other things, and now this is no longer exciting for me. So, guess what? I'm posting my tag along with my regular BLOG. Now, before I forget again how to do it. Does anybody mind if I don't proof-read it again?

What could be more appealing to a female egotist than to be tagged with a penalty to write five things about herself? What a thrill it would be if I were one.

They say everyone is unique, but what would anybody like to know about me?
My triumph as a judge?
How I loyally wrote a letter a day for nine months to a man I liked, even though I never got even one letter in reply?
The time I watched the sunrise from atop Mount Fuji?
The picture I snapped of gypsies pickpocketing in Italy?
The one time I gave away everything I owned that I couldn’t carry with me?
There, I’ve done it. Very technical writing. Woops, the question marks are still there.

When I was about twelve, I joined the first 4-H Club ever organized in the farming community where I grew up. We called ourselves the “Sunnydell Sunbeams” and almost every girl over ten joined. There were seven of us. Mary Buckland became our leader, and as she learned more of the program, she pushed harder, encouraging us to enroll for every project, and enter absolutely every contest we could crowd in. She had us practicing demonstrations to present at the county fair, and drilled us on judging procedures. The aggregate score of the three top contenders in each club constituted that club’s team.

When at Madison County’s 4-H Club fair our team won first place for judging homemaking skills, Mrs. Buckland was thrilled. I barely made the team, because I was not considered a good judge of bread. My mother, naturally the best bread maker ever, pleased my dad with a tad more sugar, and I judged accordingly.

A couple of weeks later, at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, I was relieved to see they had no bread to judge—just four jars of peaches, and of green beans, four hand-hemmed dishcloths, tablecloths, and four dresses. We had to grade them A, B, C, and D, and for one category give reasons for our choice. Simple.

The demonstration I participated in on making quick-bread biscuits was a real fiasco. We used water because we forgot to bring the milk, and the dough became almost soupy. I was humiliated.

So, when we gathered for the disbursing of awards, I had no real hope. We watched other clubs walk off with honors, but finally things brightened up.

“The winners of the homemaking judging contest are from Madison County.” I was excited. That was my county, but who? The voice droned on. “From the Sunnydell Sunbeams.” Then it dawned on me that we were the only team representing Madison County, so it had to be us. “Betty Buckland, Lorna Hacking and Laurene Liljenquist.”

The announcer paused, and amidst loud applause, we made our way up on the stand. “And the winner of the individual medal for judging, scoring 495 out of a possible 500 points is Laurene Liljenquist.” (Do you recognize my name? Anna is my first name, but I didn’t use it the first thirty-six years of my life.)

I was flabbergasted, yet still curious. I’d only been given 95 points for my reasons. “What better reasons could I have given?” I asked my county agents.

They laughed. “We’ve never heard of them giving that high a score before,” one answered, as proud as if he had won the medal himself.

After graduating high school in 1942, I passed the (very easy) civil service test for clerk stenographers with high scores, and went back east to live with my brother in Cincinnati and, later that year, in Indianapolis.

After Pearl Harbor, eligible men were even more scarce than Hershey bars, so when a couple of Air Cadets from some sixty miles away showed up at Sunday School, I was definitely interested. I could go on for chapters about this, but suffice it to say I spent the afternoon with the two of them. Lt. Chuck Arnett asked if I’d answer if he wrote me, and I agreed. When a letter came Tuesday, I posted an answer that night. The next week they were back for a Saturday dance, and I saw them again after Sunday School. I hadn’t really been serious when I said I’d go to their graduation the end of August, but one of them believed me. So I went. After all, his mother couldn’t come. Besides, what better way to celebrate my nineteenth birthday than to pin on someone’s wings?

We wrote regularly from that first meeting on through B-24 bomber transition training, and he called me just after he got his orders to go overseas in April. I’d transferred to Washington, D.C. by this time. In June, the day I got his second letter from England, there was a letter from his mother as well. I opened it first, and wept quite uncontrollably. Lt. Arnett was ‘missing in action.’

Some time in August his mother wrote that he was a PW in Germany, and gave me an address and instructions. There was no restriction on how many letters could be sent to a prisoner of war, but only one package a month. They, however, could write only three postcards and two letters per month.

So for the next nine months, I wrote (typed or printed) seven letters a week on the prescribed form. At Christmas time I received his first five-line card, hand printed in June, 1943 .

All that letter-writing on my part paid off—even if he only got to read a few of them. On about the first of June, 1945, my liberated friend called me at Utah State Agricultural College, and five days later proposed marriage. Ten days after I had flunked all my finals, we were married in the Arizona temple.

I’m writing too much, so I’ll make this short. Our seventh child was ‘made in Japan’ and when he was about a year old our church group planned to climb Mount Fuji. We stood on a packed train for an hour or so, then rode a bus to the timberline where the trail really started. Twelve stations dotted the trail, and at each one we had our hiking stick branded with some squiggly lines of Kanji that identified the station. The idea was to climb until nearly sundown, and spend the night at the eleventh station, then in the pre-dawn make our way by flashlight to the top, in time for sunrise.

At the tenth station, David turned pasty white and was nauseated. A Japanese man told us David had attitude sickness and couldn’t go any higher without oxygen, which was not available. Charles took three kids on up the trail with him, leaving Karen, our youngest daughter, with David and me. I asked why he didn’t stay with David and let me go on up, but he quietly ignored my plea. Next morning, after sleeping in our clothes on a tatami-matted floor, David felt fine and wanted to climb higher. We’d hardly ascended ten feet before he turned white again. So, we stayed, and waited for the rest to return.

Marolyn, our oldest, had stayed home with the baby, so the next Friday, she and I went with another couple. The first part of the trip was even more enjoyable to me than the first had been. We spent the few hours of that night at Station Eleven, and proceeded by flashlight on up the winding trail. Above and below us tiny lights snaked up, like candles in paper bags marking a sidewalk. We climbed slowly and others often passed us in the dark. Some Japanese men were carrying big packs on their backs. I knew that all the station supplies had to be back-packed in, so thought little about it, until one man passed with a big bass drum. A whole marching band eventually passed us!

We hurried to the top, hoping to beat the sunrise. Quite a large group assembled, mostly facing east, where a slim line on the horizon promised daylight. The band tuned up. Their leader stood in front of the orderly lines. I wondered what music this JAZDAF group would play. When the first rays of light appeared, the conductor lifted his baton. The Japanese band joyfully played . . . John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”!

The sky lightened. My family and friends had told of the wonderful sight from the top, and I strained my neck to look. The sun rose, brightly illuminating . . . the top of a solid cloud cover. Well, you can’t win them all.

For many years after we married, I’d mentioned to my husband how much I would like to go to Europe. He always smiled and said, “Stick with me,” and I’d reply, “I’m stuck with you.” It became our standing joke. Finally, in 1994, we went! On May 19, we stood with Charles’ navigator and radio operator, their wives and some of our children at the spot in Holland where Charles had crash-landed the B-24 they called the Boomerang, after having three engines damaged by fighter planes over Germany. The woman who lived in the farmhouse, where the German soldiers had taken the crew and summoned a doctor to treat the gash in the navigator’s head, was still living there! And the doctor who came still lived in the village! We were treated royally. But that’s another story. (I get distracted so easily.)

A week or two later, after our two sons and their wives flew home, Charles and I still roamed Europe. In the huge square in front of the Cathedral at Milan, Italy, beautiful white pigeons outnumbered people by at least ten to one. Somebody shoved a handful of dry corn into my hand, and I was immediately covered with birds. “Take my picture,” I squealed at Charles. He did. Then I took the camera to get some good shots of the Cathedral.

Suddenly, three young girls, looking to be about eight, ten, and twelve years old, swarmed all over Charles. One pushed a magazine almost into his face and they all chattered animatedly, though unintelligible to us. Charles looked surprised, but pleased. I stepped back and raised the camera. When it flashed, the girls turned to me in surprise, if not horror, and ran quickly away. I laughed, until I looked at Charles’ breast.

“Did you unbutton the shirt pocket?” I asked, and his hand went immediately to investigate.

“Those little rascals,” he said, “They picked my pocket!”

“What did they get?”

“A handful of lyre, probably not worth more than thirty-five dollars, which doesn’t matter, but they got our Eurail passes. Without them, we’re in trouble.” I nodded. You could only buy those in the States.

We could still see the girls across the square, circled in conference together, looking our way. The youngest gypsy left the others and ran back to us, handing the passes to Charles, while making motions to indicate she had found them on the ground. Uh huh. While I was thanking her, Charles was pointing his finger. “You naughty girl,” he said. “You picked my pocket.”

She ran back to the others, and they stood, still deliberating. Then one girl brought back the lyre, and they disappeared.

It had to be because my camera caught them in action, and we could take it to the police. Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. I could hardly wait to get the film developed after we got home. It was not there! There was the picture before and the one after. I had not held the button down long enough to get past the red-eye flash and take the picture.

If only the gypsy girls had known. It’s reminds me of one of our favorite quotes from Josh Billings, whoever he is. It goes like this: “It ain’t what a man don’t know that makes him a fool. It’s what he knows that ain’t so.”

In the fall of 1987, we were preparing to leave Arizona for an eighteen month temple mission in Sydney, Australia. We leased our house with an option to buy, and wondered what to do with all our possessions. None of it was priceless, and most of it not even what you would call ‘good’. Then we got an awful idea. To quote Dr. Seuss, “a wonderful, awful idea.” We’d simply give it away. The amazing part is that we did.

“Come choose what you want,” we told the kids.

Marolyn said she didn’t want to come. “It would seem like you were dying, and we were dividing things up,” she said with a moan. But she came, and changed her mind. “This is fun,” she said, this time laughing.

“The things you take are yours,” I told them, “but when we come back, I reserve the right to recall privileges.”

When the kids took everything they wanted (and I admit a few of my several hundreds of books gave me a few parting pangs) we filled a couple of barrels with things that seemed important to keep (though we disposed of them after we got back) and hefted them into Wayne’s attic, along with the file cabinet I still haven’t cleaned out. We packed our allotted bags tightly, and put everything else out for a carport giveaway to friends, then on to Deseret Industries.

The most surprising thing, even to us, was the wonderful feeling of freedom that overwhelmed us. I’ve never felt so unhampered. Never been happier. I have no idea whether it would work for anybody else, or even again for us, but I treasure that experience.

I’ve since collected more, and can’t seem to throw anything away. Even junk mail sometimes makes its way into a pile along with things that need to be filed, and when the pile gets too deep, I toss it in a box, planning to sort it later. I have a whole closet full of yarn and craft kits, and my books are often two-deep on the shelves of huge bookcases that crowd my room. I keep hoping that some day I’ll read them all, or knit, crochet, or craft them.

The day surely must be nearing when my kids will divide again, and history will repeat itself, for we’re told, ‘you can’t take it with you.’ But then, who wants to? Not I. I’m looking forward to that day—a dozen or two years hence—when I’ll not only give away all I own, but leave all aches and pains behind. Now, that will be freedom.

I’ll tag Lorna Hale, Linda Hansen, Delsa Andersen, Janette Rallison, and Camille Arnett.

Marsha's note: Ladies, if you don't have your own blog, please send your blog message, and your list of taggees, to me.


  1. Anna, I hadn't realized that's how your courtship with your husband went. Oh my! What a story!

    My five things (not nearly as dramatic as yours) are on my blog.

  2. Anna,

    I could read about you all day long. You've had such a fantastic life and write about it so well. Is there anyone who could read your prose and not love you?

  3. I loved each of these stories. They fill me with joy and anticipation at living a life I hope will be what could only hope to be half as full as yours!
    Jennifer Griffith


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