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Helen Lela Valantine Stay's Autobiography Part 1




I was born January 1, 1924, in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, at the General Hospital. My parents were Vernon Wilson Valantine and Ruby Potter Valantine. I was the second child in our family, my sister Lora Virginia being born on December 10, 1921, in Cedar City, Utah. They named me Helen Lela Valantine. They said I had hair that stuck out all over my head, and was an easygoing baby.

At the time of my birth, my parents had been in Los Angeles only nine months, Dad having come from Utah in search of work, and having found a job as a Meter Reader for the Department of Water and Power for the city of Los Angeles. They had bought a lot on a hillside in a canyon in the foothills in the northeast part of the city, and Dad had dug out a level place to put up a tent. The tent had a board floor and the walls were boarded up to a height of four feet. The furniture consisted of a double bed, two cribs, a kitchen table and four chairs, a washbowl, and a stove. Later, Daddy dug a cess pool, added a little room off to the side, and installed a toilet.

I remember sitting with Lora on the top of a black trunk in our tent, watching the rain outside. Since our canyon road wasn't paved, the water rushed down it like a muddy brown river. Sometimes the tent leaked, and Mother put pans all over to catch the drips. Mother often sang us to sleep, and how we loved to hear her sing to us, often begging her to "sing just one more". Singing was a big part of our life, and I have always loved to sing.

Salaries were low in those days, prices were high, and we were quite poor, although we always had enough to eat. I can remember many suppers (our evening meal) that consisted of only a glass of milk with an apple or dates cut up in it, and we thought that was a perfectly fine supper. We ate a lot of oranges, apples, and vegetables, because they were cheap and because they were healthy for us. We rarely had meat because it was too expensive. We always ate whole wheat bread because Mother wanted us to be healthy.

Dad managed to pay for the lot the tent was on after a few years, and borrowed $500 to get materials to build a house. We rented a house nearby and lived there for three months while Dad put up the framework for our house practically alone, working from early until late, digging out dirt, hauling lumber, setting foundations, and so on as well as doing his regular job. The house seemed like a palace to us, with a front room, kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, and a half screened room for storage and washing, and eventually a two car garage, although we never had a car.

We thought it was so fancy to have a built in bathtub. Before, we had always bathed in a portable, round, tin tub. Mother planted fruit trees, bushes, flowers, vines, and other things to beautify our little lot. Since we were in the hills, we saw lots of quail, lizards, and spiders.


Sometimes Mother would take us "downtown", into the center of Los Angeles. We would walk down the winding canyon road about a mile to the streetcar tracks. There we would take the "W" streetcar to town, about a 45-minute ride. I liked to watch the different houses, the hills, the railroad yards, and all of the exciting things in the "outside" world as we rushed along. We would sometimes get to ride on the "Angel Flight", a cable car going up and down a steep hill downtown. It cost a penny to ride it each way, and was very exciting. Then Mother would shop at a big market downtown, and we would each have a bag or two of groceries to carry back home.

At Christmas time, Mother would take us downtown on the streetcar, and we would look in all of the big department store windows which were all decorated with beautiful Christmas scenes, with mechanical people and animals that would move in all sorts of interesting ways. Then we would go in the stores to the toy section and ooh and aah at all of the marvelous and exciting toys. We could never afford them, but just looking at them was exciting enough.

There weren't many other children living nearby in the canyon, so we usually played alone. We liked to gather black walnuts from the trees growing on the hills around us and crack them with stones and eat them. We would also go exploring on the hills and save our "treasures" of broken colored glass, pretty rocks, or wild flowers. Mother would often take us to a nearby park to play while she did her mending. This park was about three blocks past the streetcar tracks, along Figueroa Avenue. It was named Sycamore Grove for the beautiful sycamore trees that grew there. The park had a natural spring which bubbled out into a little stream, which was dammed up to make a children's wading pool, and on to make a goldfish pond. On the banks of the stream grew clumps of bamboo in which to play house or hide and seek. There were also swings and teeter totters. Many a happy day was spent running and playing in the park.


Another park we liked was Westlake Park, which was far away and involved a long streetcar ride. There we would occasionally rent a rowboat and row around on the lake for an hour or two, or rent canoes and do the same. Another park we liked to go to was called Lincoln Park another long streetcar ride. They had a zoo there, and we enjoyed going to see the animals, and once saw a lot of crocodiles and alligators at an alligator farm. We lived at 463 Museum Drive. At the foot of the canyon was the Southwest Museum, which we visited frequently. It was full of Indian artifacts, and was very interesting. We especially liked the Indian costumes decorated with dyed porcupine quills, and the large teepee made out of skins. Once we went to see the "Casa de Adobe", an old Spanish house, which was only a few miles away. Sometimes if a relative or friend with a car came over, we might get to go to the beach, which we loved to do. We would usually go to Venice or Santa Monica, two beaches popular in those days.

We spent two summers at Venice Beach, renting little houses near the sand, usually while Dad was doing some building on the house that couldn't be done with us living there. At the beach, we would make elaborate sand castles, dance in seaweed hula skirts; walk out on the pier to see all the rides, eating places, and games of chance (we learned early in life how crooked those games really are!). Sometimes if we had enough money, we would ride on the bamboo slide, the roller coaster, or go to the Fun House. But the most fun of all was swimming and jumping in the waves for hours, and lying in the sun.


Mother always dressed us very nicely out of remnants and other inexpensive materials. She would make our clothes and they were always very pretty. I remember one Sunday dress of yellow lace over a satin slip, with ruffles and a satin belt with little flowers on it. Another I remember was two shades of light blue satin with a little pink satin flower on it. Another was a purple flowered print on a white background, bound in purple bias tape with a matching jacket. I was always so happy with my pretty clothes.

The school we went to, Mt. Washington, was on the top of the hill about two or three miles up the hill from our house. We thought it was a tedious walk to get there and would dilly and dally on the way. We could get to school two ways: by climbing the hill behind our house to a winding road and following it to the top of the hills to the school, or by going up our street to its end about a mile, then climbing up a steep path to the school. We usually took the latter route as it was shorter, but muddy when it rained, and was covered with poison oak bushes which gave us several cases of the rash.

I always liked school, and I always did well in my classes since Mother always read to us every day and helped us at home. At school, there were two grades in the same classroom, so it was easy to listen to what the older grade was learning and to learn it also. Because of this, I skipped the last half of the first, second, third, and fifth grades. And because of that, I finished the sixth grade when I was ten years old; Junior High when I was thirteen; and High School when I was sixteen years old.


We took tap dancing and piano lessons when we were young. Mother would sew for the teacher to pay for our dancing lessons. I liked the dancing, but hated to practice the piano, so of course didn't learn much and had to quit. Mother's lack of time to sew, or money to spend, soon ended the dancing lessons.

I was baptized when I was eight years old, and always wanted to be good, although I usually wasn't and teased my little brothers all the time. I thank my dearest Mother for taking us to Church when it was so far away and hard to get to without a car, and with lots of little children to bring along in later years. The ward house we went to (Garvanza Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints) was a rented building about five miles away. We could walk the mile and a half to the park, take a bus, then walk another block or two to the building, or we could walk the mile to the streetcar and walk farther when we got off at the other end. We did it both ways.

We liked to go swimming in the summer time. There was a city pool about five miles from our house. It cost 5 cents to swim, and a few cents for the streetcar, so usually we would go on the streetcar. Sometimes if we didn’t have enough money, we would walk home. It seemed to be a long ways! But we would pass interesting sights: a doll hospital; a home like a large play house, for midgets; and once we were given a ride by an old lady in an electric car that looked like an old-fashioned carriage. We always loved to swim and became quite proficient at it. It was always my favorite sport.


When I was four years old, Mother, Lora, and I went to Salt Lake City, Utah by train–a big adventure in our lives–to stay until the new baby was born. He was a boy, Vernon Edwin Valantine, whom we called “Ted”, born September 3, 1928. We stayed with Mother’s sister, Aunt Lenore and her husband Clayton. Aunt Lenore took us to visit the ice cream factory where she worked, and they gave us each an ice-cream bar, which really impressed us! Our mother’s mother, Grandma Olive Potter also lived with Aunt Lenore, and I remember her as being a sweet, thin woman with grayish-red hair, who never got angry with us even when we were naughty.

On the way back to California, we stopped in Beaver, Utah, to visit my father’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa Valantine. They lived on a small farm and had cows, chickens, and other animals, as well as an outhouse, the first I had ever seen or used. I didn’t like it at all! Grandma was a sweet, tall, stocky woman with gray hair, who had to walk with a crutch because of a hip operation. Grandpa was a small, wiry man who scared me because he looked and sounded gruff, although I’m sure he was very nice also. Then back to our little canyon home. Daddy was very proud of his new little son. He was always very thoughtful of Mother in one way, always giving her presents for every occasion. Every Valentine’s Day, or Easter, or Mother’s Day, or her birthday, he would give some present or bring home a sack of chocolate, or a box of See’s chocolates, English toffee, or pecan rolls. He would knock on the door, leave the candy, then run, and we would run after him after racing to the door, and try to catch him and give him a kiss. He always kissed her goodbye and hello. Although he loved Mother and us very much, Daddy was sometimes sarcastic and angry, which made Mother very sad, and made us somewhat scared of him.


Another little brother came into our home on April 12, 1930, named Roy Russell. We stayed in California this time, and Mother had a lady come in to tend us. We loved our little brothers and often tended them, although as I said, I also teased them, much to my discredit. Ted had beautiful brown eyes and light brown hair, which became wavy when he grew older. He always had a ready smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Roy had beautiful blue eyes and curly dark brown hair and little chubby cheeks. He was peaceful and easy-going.


Some neighbors, named the Seiferts, lived across the street in a little shack. Mr. Seifert always had some sort of a car, some of them long and elegant, and others more commonplace. Since those were the days of liquor prohibition, and they liked to drink, they had a “still” in their yard, hidden away, although we never realized it when we were little. It was raided once by the revenuers. Mr. Seifert gave us rides in his cars, showed us the intricate 3-D pictures he carved out of wood, and played the concertina for us, singing plaintive songs like “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.” Mrs. Seifert sometimes brought us little presents, and they were nice to us.

Sometimes we would make miniature-golf courses on the hillside, and play it with a tennis racket and tennis ball, since we didn’t have any golf equipment. It was kind of hard to keep the balls from always rolling down the hill, but it was fun. We got roller skates one Christmas, but it was also hard to skate on the hill, since we would go too fast downwards and it was hard to go uphill. We always went barefoot in the summer, unless we were going somewhere, and loved to feel the soft dirt on our feet as we played on the hills.

The weather in my younger years was truly beautiful: bright blue skies, sunny warm days, dark nights which showed off myriads of brilliant stars, including a very clear Milky Way, and smog was unheard of. It rained, sometimes hailed, and one winter it even snowed an inch or two. After several days of hard rain, we had a bad flood in 1932 or so, and the rains softened the dirt hill in back of the house. It seemed strange to wake up and see it still dark because the windows were buried in mud. Dad worked frantically night and day to dig it out before it crushed the house. He then put up cement retaining walls, cement stairways, and a cement patio with a built-in wading pool and sand box. It was a terrific amount of backbreaking work to do. Daddy was always a very careful and thorough workman. Everything he did or built will probably last a hundred years or more.

The next year, 1933, Los Angeles had a terrible earthquake, centered in Long Beach. The earth roared and shook and I was terrified. Daddy was home from work, and ran to shut off the gas and electricity. Our little frame house suffered no damage, for which we were thankful, but many parts of the city had severe damage and several lives were lost.


We went to Salt Lake again where a little sister was born on February 19, 1934, named Saralyn. Mother wanted to be there to be near her mother and sisters, and to have someone to watch us while she was in the hospital. Saralyn had blond hair, and was sweet and loving. But now our family was too large for our little two-bedroom home in the canyon, so we moved up into Highland Park, about four blocks from the place where we went to church. The folks bought a large, old two-story frame house for $2500, at 229 So. Ave. 60. It had a front room, large hall, dining room/family room, a kitchen, pantry, half-bath, large front porch, and a side porch downstairs. Upstairs, it had three bedrooms and a bathroom. It had a large yard, garage (still no car), and a beautiful magnolia tree and palm tree in the front yard. We loved that big old house.


There were many things that hadn’t been invented when I was young, or that we didn’t own. We had an icebox, not a refrigerator. The ice had to be brought in by an “ice-man” every few days. He would chip a block of ice off of the huge blocks in his truck, grab it with huge tongs, sling it onto his leather shoulder pad, bring it into the kitchen, then chip off little pieces until it fit into the ice-box. The ice would melt and drip into a flat pan at the bottom of the icebox and would have to be emptied periodically or water would run all over the room. We didn’t get a refrigerator until I was about fourteen years old.

My first nine years, we didn’t have a washing machine, and scrubbed our clothes by hand on a scrubbing board, which in our case was a metal-covered board with ridges in it. Later, the family bought a washing machine which had an electric wringer on it, to wring the water out of the clothes. We would wash the clothes in the washer, then wring them into the first rinse water, then wring them into a second rinse water, then wring them into a basket that we would take outside, and then hang the clothes on a clothesline. Once I got my hand caught in the wringer and smashed the tendons in it.


Zippers hadn’t been invented, or anything made of plastic, or any synthetic fabrics such as nylon, acrilan, or polyester; no frozen food or freezers, or packaged mixes, or plastic wraps, or aluminum wraps. There were no microwave ovens, televisions, VCRs, jet airplanes, rockets, or helicopters. The atom hadn’t been split, no one ever dreamed of going to the moon or beyond; there were no stereos, videos, tape recorders, CDs, lasers, no calculators or computers, e-mail, or internet. There were no dishwashers, or mixers, clothes dryers or garbage disposals, no garage-door openers, or crock-pots or video games; no electric can-openers or car phones. But we had a happy childhood and didn’t seem to miss such things.

There were things that had been invented which our family never had for lack of money: a car, telephone (the family got one after I was married), a radio (although we got one when I was nine years old) or a daily paper. We did have a nice wind-up record player which wasn’t electric. You would hand-crank a big spring, and the record would play until it ran down, then you would have to crank it up again. The phone was black and hung on the wall, and you had to share the line with other people you didn’t know. The earpiece hung on a cord and you could put it up to your ear, but the mouthpiece was part of the phone on the wall, so you had to stand next to it to talk into it. No one ever dreamed of cell phones!

I first heard of television when I was a teenager and took my little brothers and sisters to downtown Los Angeles to see the movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when it first came out. They had a TV in a room off the theater lobby for people to see. It took up about half the room, with only a little screen–black and white. They said that someday everyone would have one in their homes. I thought, “Why would anyone want that in their house?” Little did I know!


I was so blessed to have such a wonderful mother. She had to do things the hard way, without modern conveniences. Yet she gave us so many advantages–taking us so many places so we could have varied experiences, reading to us and helping us learn to read, teaching us to love music, feeding us healthy food, teaching us to be self-sufficient and how to live frugally, and most importantly, taking us to church and teaching us the gospel of Jesus Christ, and giving us her great love unconditionally. Thank you, my dear, dear Mother!



I started school at Luther Burbank Junior High School in Highland Park–a beautiful school
with a nice principal. I loved those school years! I graduated from there in 1937 when I was 13 years old. We had some nice neighbors, a family with a girl Lora’s age, and they became bosom buddies. That summer the family went to Snowflake, Arizona for a vacation. We stayed with Mother’s sister Pearl who was living there, and later stayed in a little house in Lakeside, Arizona. We had a cousin Dece who was Lora’s age, and they were so nice to us. We had a lovely summer riding horses, going on hayrides, wiener and corn roasts, and other enjoyable country activities. There was a group of young people who all went together to these activities. We had a wonderful summer, and hated to come home again.


I went to Benjamin Franklin High School that fall. It was about a mile and a half from our house, and we usually walked to school. I enjoyed high school and the football games and the fun. I was elected treasurer of the Senior Class and enjoyed working with the other school officers. My best friends were smart girls and lots of fun to be with. I took college preparatory classes.

I usually wore dresses or skirts and blouses to school, with bobby-sox (socks with the top turned down into a cuff) and shoes. I didn’t own a pair of silk stockings (nylon wasn’t invented yet) until I was in college and earned enough money to buy a pair. We would wear them with garter-belts since there were no such things as pantihose. I had some slacks, but girls never wore them to school. My clothes were usually cast-offs from other people or were made from remnants of cloth Mother would buy. I had a cotton-yarn lightweight sweater which buttoned down the front, and I remember being cold a lot of the time in the winter.

There wasn’t much peer pressure to do bad things. Most of the school kids didn’t drink or smoke, and none of us had even heard of drugs. The small group who smoked were looked down on, at least by all of the people I knew and went around with. There were no other church members in my class, so these were just the average students who felt that way.


Since we didn’t have a phone, the only way a boy could ask us out was to do it face to face, either at school or at our house. My folks didn’t get a phone until after I was married. The boys we went with just came and picked us up. If they didn’t have a car, we went on the streetcar. Since our family never had a car, going on the streetcar seemed perfectly normal to us. I wasn’t particularly popular in High School, but had some dates. We would go to the movies (they were decent in those days), or to a roller-skating rink, and once a boy took me to an ice-skating rink. We would go bike riding, or play baseball in the park (a group of us from church). A girl in my class invited me to join a group of them from her church at a get-together every Friday night at her folks’ house. That was lots of fun and I was able to meet lots of other people. We would play games, talk, and have refreshments.

I worked at whatever job I could get during those years. I would baby sit (25 cents an evening, including doing dishes, folding laundry, straightening the house, and feeding and caring for the children and putting them to bed), and I was happy to get the work. I worked at Kresses on Saturdays and earned 25 cents an hour which was $2.00 a day, from which they deducted 4 cents for social security. The summer I was 15 years old, I got a job as a Mother’s Helper at $20 a month with a Jewish family who lived near Beverly Hills. I would help care for the children, clean the house, wash and hang the clothes, and do the dishes. I bought myself some clothes with the money I earned.


I loved to go to church, Primary, and Mutual (Mutual Improvement Association) for those age 12 and on up. We had many Primary productions where we would sing and dress like flowers or some such (Primary was held on Saturday in those days). MIA met every Tuesday night, and we had lessons, and almost every weekend, a dance. I liked speech and drama work. They often put on plays, and I loved to be in them. Sometimes one of our teachers, usually a Sunday School teacher, would take us on outings. They often took us to the Fun House on the Venice Beach pier, and a time or two to the mountains nearby. During my Mutual years, the church built its own meetinghouse off York Blvd., at about Ave. 53. We would have to walk about two miles or take the streetcar to get there.


I started to Los Angeles City College the fall of 1940. Lora and I would walk three blocks, take the streetcar downtown, then transfer to another streetcar, then walk another five blocks on the other end–it took about an hour or so. From time to time, we would pay to ride with other students who would drive. I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher so took those kinds of classes. It was fun going to college, learning new things and meeting new people.
I worked as a typist for a teacher under the National Youth Administration (NYA), a government program to help college students earn money to go to school. I was allowed to earn $14.00 a month (50 cents an hour), which I used to pay my expenses. Since tuition was only $6.00 a semester, I was able to get by on what I earned, especially since we lived and ate at home.

I was voted into the college’s social women’s club, joined the “Future Teachers of America” club, and joined the “Lambda Delta Sigma” (LDS) club. The latter was the church sponsored fraternity/sorority, chapters of which were located at most of the colleges and universities in southern California. We would have meetings once a week, with religious lessons, and have lots of social activities, often with the other schools. Most of my friends and family met their mates through the Lambda Delta Sigma. It was sort of like BYU in that way. In those days, no one I knew went to BYU–we were all too poor. We never could have afforded the tuition there nor have afforded to live away from home.

I took swimming and archery while at college for my Physical Education classes, and enjoyed both of those sports. In May, 1942, a group of school officials chose five girls to reign over the Open House festivities at the school, and I was amazed to be chosen Queen. It was quite exciting.


In the summer of 1941, July 3, 4, and 5th, the Lambda Delta Sigmas of all the colleges in southern California held a joint mountain party at Barton Flats in the San Bernardino Mountains. There was a lodge with kitchen facilities, and a campground with cots on which we slept out under the stars. We had chaperones from among the parents of those attending. Lora and I went, and were awakened early the first morning by this fellow who came driving into camp with some more kids, honking his horn and yelling “Hi!” to everybody. “Boy”, I thought, “I wonder who he is, waking us all up so early in the morning!” Little did I know he would soon become my husband.

His name was Jesse Eldred Stay, and he was there with the group from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). We sort of started walking around together at mealtimes and on hikes, and he asked if he could take me home on the last day. But I had told another boy who wasn’t there that he could take me home. Jesse asked if he could wait with me while the other boy came, and we decided to hike up a nearby hill. It was steep and Jesse gave me his hand to help me up. When we got to the top, he didn’t let go of my hand. I thought, “Hmmm! This is getting interesting!”

Jesse had an engaging smile and a wonderful personality. When we came back down, almost everyone had gone, so we decided to go too. On the way down the mountain, we met the other boy coming up, so regretfully we parted, and I continued home with the other boy. Without a phone and living so far apart, I thought that probably Jesse and I would never meet again. But that night I went to a pay phone to call Jesse to see if I had left my purse in his car, and he asked me for a date, to go see the movie “Fantasia”. From then on, we went together almost every week, and Jesse kept asking me out. We went to fun places, like beach parties, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, swimming, Lambda Delta Sigma parties, and an occasional show.


Jesse had joined the Air Force to learn to fly before we had met, so he left for flight training in Texas and Oklahoma in November of 1941. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed by the Japanese, and the United States declared war on Japan and Germany, and World War II began. The California government thought we were also in danger of attack by the Japanese along the coast so all of the important places in the city were covered with barrage balloons. Those were big balloons about half the size of blimps so that enemy airplanes couldn’t fly too low if they wanted to bomb us. Searchlights were also placed at strategic places, and every plane that flew over was targeted by the lights until they passed out of the area.

Every night was a blackout. In other words, all of the street lights were turned off and no light could show from your windows. It was pretty scary being out at night in all of that darkness. Both of my parents were “Air Raid Wardens” or “Block Wardens”. They were responsible for seeing that no light shone from anyone’s window, and to report any suspicious activity. They would have to go around the block every evening checking on that. They wore metal helmets and identifying arm bands.


There were “air raid warnings” every so often when unidentified planes or submarines would be detected off the coast. There were sirens placed everywhere that would go off when a warning came. Once I was on my way to college, and the warning went off. It must have been a serious warning because all of the streetcars and busses quit running, and the people were supposed to stay inside. There was apparently a real threat of a Japanese intrusion of some sort. After the war we learned that several times Japanese submarines had been detected off the coast.

Each family was issued a ration book, with coupons for various items: gasoline, shoes, and foods like sugar, butter or margerine, meat, and various other items. The food rationing didn’t bother us, but there wasn’t enough gasoline to go anywhere. I had enough coupons for gasoline to either make one trip to church each week, or drive to the market to buy groceries each week. I usually chose the latter, to have a car to carry the food home in. Shoes were also a problem for my little brothers since they wore them out so quickly and didn’t have enough coupons to replace them, so I gave them my coupons since I had enough shoes.

There were no new cars, refrigerators, stoves, washers, car tires, or anything like that. They weren’t being made. All of those kinds of materials were being sent to help the war effort. If you wanted any of those things, or if something broke, you either had to buy a used item or do without. Everyone was also urged to plant a “Victory Garden”. Mother planted a large garden in the back yard, and we all helped care for it. People were asked to give blood, save scrap metal and turn it in, and be frugal. People were asked to buy war bonds and war stamps. We tried to do all of those things and to be good citizens.

It was very rare to see a young man between the ages of 18 and 30 or so. They had all been drafted into the military. Families who had sons or daughters in the military service would hang a silk fringed rectangle in their windows, with a blue (?) star on it. Jesse’s Mother had one in her window. If the service person were killed, they hung a gold star in the window. It was sad to see how many gold stars began to show up.


Jesse was in flight training for nine months, and during that time I went with other boys and became quite fond of one of them, a returned missionary going to USC, whom I considered marrying. I wondered which to choose: Jesse or Claude, for they were both wonderful young men. I fasted and prayed to be guided in which one to choose. So when Jesse came home July 5, 1942, with his newly won wings and 2nd Lieutenant bars, I knew he was the one for me, and we were married eight days later, on July 13, 1942.

We had wanted to be married in the Temple in Salt Lake City (there were no temples in California at that time), but because of the war, Jesse only had a week’s leave, so we were married in the lounge of the Huntington Park Stake House by Jesse’s Bishop, with both of our families there. Since Jesse was to be stationed in Salt Lake City for his first assignment, we had planned to be married in the Temple there as soon as it opened after being closed for summer vacation. However, he was transferred before it opened, so we didn’t get to have our marriage sealed in the Temple until Jesse returned from overseas. We then had that beautiful ceremony done on March 22, 1945, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Our wedding was lovely. Jesse’s brother Carroll had brought big bouquets of flowers for the decorations, and also flowers for the others and my wedding bouquet. It consisted of several large gorgeous gardenias, satin bows, orange blossoms, and centered with a large delicate orchid. It smelled heavenly! I wore a beautiful white satin wedding gown with a fitted bodice, sweetheart neckline, and lace designs on the full skirt. My headpiece was of orange blossoms on a full veil. Lora was my Matron of Honor, wearing a blue lace dress and holding a boquet of red roses. Jesse was dressed in his uniform (during the war he was not allowed to wear civilian clothes), and Howard Hopper (his best friend) was his Best Man.

After the wedding and reception, we went to the Biltmore Hotel for a one-night honeymoon, then on to Salt Lake City by train. We stayed at the Hotel Utah, then with some of Jesse’s aunts and cousins who were so hospitable to us. We palled around with one of Jesse’s friends from cadets and his wife, another recently married couple, Bob and Pat Shaw.


In about two weeks, we were sent to Walla Walla, Washington, to an airbase there. We had a little basement apartment, and continued to have fun with Bob and Pat. We would go on picnics and drives. We also went to the church branch there. After a month, we were sent to Ephrata, Washington for another month. It was in a dry, deserty location. Jesse had to stay at the base, and I slept on a rented couch in a home, later renting a bedroom. Then we were sent to Sioux City, Iowa for a month. There we rented an apartment on the third floor, and I discovered I was pregnant. The food odors drifting up from the other apartments made me feel sick, but we got by.


Then Jesse was sent overseas, and I went back home to stay with my parents, who were so good to take me in and welcome me. He couldn’t tell me where he was going for security reasons, so we worked out a code. If he was going into the Pacific war area, he would mention San Francisco in his post card. If he was going to the European war area, he would mention New York. He mentioned San Francisco, so I knew he was going to the Pacific area. When he arrived, and was able to write to me, I learned that he was in Hawaii.

Jesse was overseas for two and one-half years, and it was a long, lonesome time, even being with my dear family. But all of my friends were in the same situation, which seemed to help. I stayed active in the church with many callings, and that helped also. I was activity counselor in the MIA, dance director, speech director, Junior Girls (15-year olds) teacher, and Stake speech director. The whole family was so good to me while I was home waiting for Jesse, and I will never forget how kind they were to both Sharon and me. During that time, Jesse’s Dad died of diabetes and heart trouble, but he wasn’t allowed to come home from the war for the funeral.

I wrote to Jesse every day, and he did the same to me, whenever he could. They would censor the letters if they felt anything was said that would help the enemy in some way. I hated to have anything Jesse said cut out of his letters. It was also a little embarrassing to know that someone was reading our romantic exchanges. My great regret is that I threw the letters away once after the war when we were moving, and we were told we had too much weight for the Air Force movers to move us, and had to get rid of some things. If I had it to do over, I would throw a chair away and save the letters. They were so precious to me.


On May 15, 1943, our dear little beautiful daughter, Sharon Lee Stay was born. She was 22 months old before she saw her Daddy. We sent him a telegram saying she was born, but he didn’t get it until three days later. It was the most wonderful thing in all the world to have a baby daughter, and I was so elated and happy. Sharon had black hair when she was born, which soon lightened to white blond towhead when she was about nine months old, and she had beautiful soft little blond curls all over her head. I had so much fun with her, and Mother was so good to help me care for her. Sharon learned to talk quite fluently while still quite young. She tended to get some words backwards though, and would call a sidewalk “walkside”, and a grasshopper, “hop grasser”, and spaghetti, “busgetti”. She also loved to sing, and we would sing all sorts of songs together.

The last nine months before Jesse came home, I moved into a big house we rented in Highland Park, with two other girls from our ward, Peggy and Muerline. Muerline’s husband had been killed in a training flight, and she had a little boy Sharon’s age. Peggy’s husband was also overseas as a pilot, and later, unfortunately, was also killed in a plane crash. They were wonderful girls and friends and wonderful roommates. I felt lucky to get to know them and be with them.

During this time, I bought a car, a used car. After we got the tires patched up and a few repairs made, it was a very nice car. I had to teach myself to drive, so I would go out at night when the traffic wasn’t thick, and drive around the block, making right turns, until I had mastered that. Then I would go around making left turns until I had mastered that. Then I would drive to Mutual. Finally, I felt like I was good enough that I could pass the driver’s test and get a driver’s license, so I drove over to Glendale where the tests were given, and got my license. It was good to have a car, but since gasoline was rationed, you couldn’t go very far on what they gave you. There were no automatic shifts in cars in those days, so part of learning to drive was learning to shift gears and start out without jerking.


During these years, Jesse was participating in bombing raids on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, being based at Hawaii, Funafuti, and later on, Guam. Many of his companions were killed or lost at sea, but he wasn’t wounded and returned home to us safely on March 11, 1945, now a Major. He was sent to a 2-week processing center, then sent to an airbase at Tonopah, Nevada. I remember that we left California on the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.

Tonopah was a little mining town in the deserts of Nevada, and housing was non-existent. We rented a little converted coal-shack for $60 a month (a lot of money in those days), which was just one room barely big enough for a double bed on which all three of us slept. We had to pay to rent a shower each time we wanted one at the local hotel, and we had to eat all of our meals in restaurants, since we had no way to cook in our shack. But it was worth it to be with Jesse again and resume our life together.

Shortly after this, Jesse was sent to War College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, so we moved there. We rented a bedroom in a family’s house and had kitchen and bath privileges. We spent a happy month there, then were sent back to Tonopah. Jesse went there to try to get us a decent place to live, while I took Sharon and went to Los Angeles to stay with the folks again while he was arranging a place.


While we were in Los Angeles, Sharon contracted polio (infantile paralysis), which paralyzes people. We rushed her to the hospital, where she had to stay for two weeks, which was awful for her and for us, since they would only let us visit once a week for 10 minutes. Thanks to the blessings of the Lord, she wasn’t paralyzed and was able to come home to us. Because she still had to have treatments every week, we had to stay in the Los Angeles area, and Jesse was transferred to the Ontario Air Base, California. Sharon developed weakness in her right leg in a few months, and had to go back into the hospital for more treatments. She then had to wear corrective shoes for a couple of years, but eventually seemed to be fine.

We bought a house trailer and put it up in the folks’ back yard. Jesse was then transferred to
Kingman, Arizona, but was able to get back to Los Angeles every so often. After a few months, he was transferred to Riverside Air Base in California, so we sold the trailer and bought a two-bedroom house in Riverside for $10,000. However, our time there was short-lived as Jesse had the opportunity to finish school at UCLA, where he had gone to school for two years before the war. We sold our house in Riverside, and bought a house in Westchester, California, for $12,500, on Airlane Ave. It had a front room, kitchen, laundry room, two bedrooms, and a huge yard. We were very happy there.


At this time, a new little son was born to us, Randall William Stay, born June 17, 1946, in Los Angeles, California. He also had blond wavy hair, blue-green eyes, and fat little cheeks. How overjoyed and excited we were to now have a little son, as well as our darling Sharon. Randy adored his father, and tried to stand just like him, leaning against the wall and crossing his leg. He loved metal pipes of all kinds, and Jesse gave him some he could screw together and unscrew, which he even liked to take to bed with him. Randy loved to climb and we would find him precariously perching in some spot he had climbed to and couldn’t get down from. His hair turned white blonde, and he was a towhead until he grew up.

During our time in Westchester, we lived in a wonderful ward (Inglewood Ward) and made many fine friends. Jesse was made a counselor in the Elder’s Quorum. After two years, Jesse received his BS degree from UCLA in Industrial Management, and since he was still in the Air Force, was transferred to Washington D.C. to the Pentagon.


But before we left, while Jesse was taking his finals at UCLA, on February 2, 1948, our third child was born, our beautiful little Linda Jean Stay. She was born in a fancy hotel that had been converted into a military hospital in Pasadena, California, near the Rose Bowl. Linda had blondish-brown hair and blue-green eyes, and has been such a joy to us. Linda was very self-sufficient and liked to keep things neat. While very little, she would fold her clothes to put them in her drawers. She liked to change clothes and would sometimes change two or three times a day. She was very sweet and agreeable. How happy we were! How proud we were of our three precious children!


We sold our house in California and rented a house in Arlington, Virginia, about a ten-minute drive from the Pentagon. We had a wonderful ward there also, the Arlington Ward, and many special friends. The ward was constructing a building to meet in and was trying to raise money to finish paying for it, and the Bishop asked everyone to give all they could. So we gave all of the money we had, which was $500, to help pay for it. It was what we had left after selling the house, buying a new car, and making the trip East. We felt good being able to help pay for the new ward. We always loved Arlington Ward. I was the dance chairman in the ward, and we put on some wonderful dances. Jesse was the scoutmaster.

Our house in Arlington (1402 No. Adams) had a front room, kitchen, side porch room with lots of windows, a bathroom, and a large hall. Upstairs were 3 bedrooms and a bathroom. The house had a fantastic yard for birds, and we were always being visited by cardinals, bluebirds, blue jays, catbirds, cowbirds, woodpeckers, flickers, thrushes, orioles, painted buntings, cedar waxwings, thrashers, scarlet tannagers, goldfinches, hummingbirds, warblers, robins, and other colorful, beautiful birds. We were always running into the house to find the bird book to see what a new bird was called. We also had many lovely bushes and trees–a huge 10-foot tall rose bush with white roses all over it; a maple tree that would go gorgeous shades of red every fall, dogwood trees that would bloom with white and pink blossoms every spring, and other beautiful bushes and trees around us.

We had very nice, friendly neighbors, and had a happy time there. I would often drive Jesse to work at the Pentagon–a short ten-minute drive–and stop on the way back to let Randy watch the drawbridges raise and lower as the boats went by on the river. Sharon went to first and second grades there.

The weather in Virginia was very hot and humid in the summer, and often snowed in the winter. Sometimes there would be ice storms, where everything would get coated with ice, and the roads would be so slick no one could walk or drive on them. Once, during one of these ice storms, while Jesse was on a flying assignment out of the state for a few days, I had a miscarriage. I stayed all day on the couch and six-year old Sharon took care of Randy and Linda as best she could, but I still lost the baby. It made me feel very sad.


On December 15, 1950, our fourth child was born, our beautiful little Judith Ann Stay, at Bolling Air Force Base hospital, Washington, D.C. She was coming in such a hurry that Jesse drove right up on the lawn of the hospital to get us closer. Judi had golden hair and blue-green eyes. We were elated and overjoyed to have another little girl. I always hoped that maybe she was the little one whom I had miscarried, who was given another chance to come to earth. Judi loved to wander and explore, and once pushed her little doll buggy all the way downtown while I searched frantically for her. While I was in the hospital with Judi, Jesse was made a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force.

While we had lived in California, we had enjoyed going to the beach nearby, visiting our families, and going to church affairs. In Virginia, we enjoyed touring the beautiful attractions in and near our nation’s capital, such as the Capitol building, visiting the Senate and House of Representatives, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument, the Arlington Military Cemetery and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the White House, and Mt. Vernon, plus enjoying the Ward activities and getting together with our friends. We also managed a trip back to California, driving, at least once a year to visit our families.


That spring, we were transferred to Provo, Utah, where Jesse was to start the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Brigham Young University (BYU). We arrived in May, 1951, and rented a little house for a couple of months, then moved into another rented house with a nice landlord, Stan Cox. We had the upstairs floor of a large house, at 945 N. 50 E, with 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. Students rented the apartments downstairs.

Sharon and Randy were baptized in Provo, in a baptismal building near the center of town, which has since been torn down. They went to school, first at Joaquin Elementary, then at the BYU teacher-trainer elementary school on lower campus, which has since been discontinued. Linda attended kindergarten there also.

I worked in PTA most of the time we were in Provo, as a room-mother, safety chairman, and vice-president. It was nice doing what I could to help the schools. I was also president of the Newcomer’s Club, part of the BYU Women’s Club, for one term. We made many fine friends in these organizations. I taught Primary and led the singing in our ward, and Jesse was in the Bishopric. We first attended the 4th ward, but then our ward built a new chapel called University/Park Ward.


While we were in Provo, another beautiful little son was born to us, named Laurence Richard Stay, born June 10, 1953, at Tooele, Utah, in a military hospital there. Larry had white-blond hair and beautiful sparkling blue eyes and was always smiling and happy. All of the children were delighted to have a little brother, especially Randy! Larry liked to pretend that he was Superman, and had a little cape to wear. He would scare me jumping off of tall places to try to fly. Larry was a joy to us!

My brother Roy lived with us for a year while he was going to BYU, and it was so wonderful having him with us. He was so good natured and fun to be with. I don’t know how he stood it though, since he did all of the dishes every night! He played the violin and bought other musical instruments to learn to play.

During our four years in Provo, another beautiful little son was born to us, named Gregory Alan Stay, born on May 4, 1955, at Utah Valley Hospital, in Provo, Utah. Greg had curly blondish-brown hair and blue-green eyes and chubby cheeks. He liked to follow Larry around and tried to do whatever Larry was doing. He was happy and peaceful. Can you imagine our joy and excitement and fulfillment at now having these two more wonderful sons come into our family? With three girls and three boys, we felt exceedingly blessed.

We had many happy times while we lived in Provo. We had picnics in the canyon, climbed to Timpanogos Cave, took drives in the mountains, went to Utah Lake, and had get-togethers with friends. A group of us got together every week or two at somebody’s house, and each couple presented whatever program they wanted. They were fun times.


Now our Air Force assignment in Provo was up, and we were transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, while Jesse went to Command and Staff School at the Air Base there. We rented a little house, and had our first battles with cockroaches, a true pest if there ever was one! We were just about two blocks from the church branch’s little meeting-house, which made it nice for us. They didn’t have an MIA, so we started one with the Branch President’s permission. By driving around and picking up the girls, we ended up having a large Bee-Hive class for Sharon, which I taught and enjoyed. I also taught Randy’s class, the Blazers, in Primary. Linda was baptized while we were there, in our little chapel. We had to lift up the one-step-high stage to fill the baptismal font which was below it.


After nine months in Alabama, we were transferred to Lincoln, Nebraska. We bought a lovely brick house there for $17,000, at 1801 East Manor Drive. It had a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom, and a den upstairs, with an unfinished, walkout basement. Jesse finished off some of the basement, and put in a bedroom, bathroom, and a family room. We also got our first “second car” there, a heavy old car which Jesse drove to work, since the Air Base was across the city from where we lived. Oftentimes it wouldn’t start, and he would have to let it roll down the hills to try to get it started.

There was a nice church branch in Lincoln, and we enjoyed the activities. As well as having local and Air Force members, there were many who taught at or were students at the University of Nebraska. I taught MIA, then taught Primary and was a counselor, then later, was a counselor in the District Primary. Our District meetings were held in Omaha, and we traveled even into other states to visit our branches. Judi was baptized in a nice font at the chapel, and Randy received the Aaronic Priesthood there.

Sharon graduated from Junior High School in Lincoln, and was Valedictorian of her class. We were so proud of her! Sharon had a good friend there whose father was also in the military. There were lots of young people the ages of Randy and Linda in our neighborhood, and they had good times together. Judi had two little friends her age, Larry had a good friend up the street a ways, and Greg was good friends with the little girl next door.


Jesse had to be gone a lot while we lived in Nebraska. He often had to be on “alert”–ready to take off instantly in armed bombers in case we were attacked by Russia. Their group had the motto “Peace is our profession”, meaning, that by always being ready to defend our country with strength, it kept the peace, because enemies were afraid to attack us. The world situation was very tense in those years and the Air Force wanted to be ready. Jesse went to “survival school” in the wilds of Nevada a couple of times, to learn to survive in case he ever crashed in enemy territory. He also spent a couple of months in Kansas learning to fly B47's. They were jet bombers. So the rest of us were alone a lot of the time. But the children were always good and we were as happy as we could be without Jesse.

The weather in Nebraska was very violent. In the summer there would be terrible all-night thunder and lightening storms, as well as tornado alerts. We saw several tornados passing in the distance, and many were the nights I would carry the children sleeping upstairs down into the basement to spend the night for safety’s sake. In the winter the temperature often dropped below zero, and the snow was heavy. The wind blew a lot and caused large drifts. The school busses wouldn’t come when the snow was too deep or when it was icy, but the children were still expected to be at school. I spent many scary moments trying to drive them in snow storms, and spent many hours digging snow off of our driveway to get the car out of the garage. Sharon usually walked home from Junior High School, a long walk, and arrived home with frosty face and frozen legs.


Mother, Dad, and Roy came back to visit us while we were in Lincoln, and Dad checked into the Veteran’s Hospital there to have some tests done, since he had not been feeling well. There they discovered he had a fast-growing cancer of the bladder. They operated, scraped out his bladder, and removed a kidney. It was to no avail though, and in a couple of months, he returned to Los Angeles to the Veteran’s Hospital there, and died a month later, on April 29, 1958. I went home to Los Angeles on the bus for the funeral, and Jesse took off work and cared for the children in Lincoln. It was a sad time to see Dad suffer so and then die.


We were in Nebraska from the summer of 1956 to the summer of 1959, and then we were transferred back to Montgomery, Alabama, so Jesse could go to the War College there. So we sold our beautiful little house, and started out again. This time we were able to rent a house on the Air Base, which made it very convenient for Jesse to get to work. It was also very nice for the children, with bowling lessons, free movies every Saturday morning, two swimming pools, warm, lovely weather, and lots of nearby friends. We lived in a large converted barracks with cheap rent, which we liked. While we were there, Jesse was promoted to a full Colonel in the Air Force.

We had a fun branch there and lots of good friends, most of them also military. We would have parties and get-togethers and go to the lake nearby. One Easter vacation, we all went down to Florida, rented house-trailers there on the shores of a lake, and had a fun vacation. In Montgomery, we went into town to church, to the same little branch we had gone to before, though they were raising money for another chapel. Again I was called to teach in Primary. In fact, from the time I started teaching Primary in Utah in 1951, I never stopped teaching or holding some office in Primary for about 45 years.

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Owner/SourceHelen Lela Stay
File nameHelen Lela Valantine Stay's Autobiography Part 1
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