Stories from the Muddy

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Laura May Gentry

 Laura May Gentry, was born May 24, 1897 to Harry Gentry and Mary Ellen Syphus. 

In her own words:  What little schooling I had, I compare to the present day politicians who claim to be middle-of-the-roaders.  I was a middle-of-the-roader when it came to grades.  I got some A's and B's and C's.
I started school in St. Thomas, Nevada in a big tent, 40 X 40 feet.  All the grades were there.  When I got out of eighth grade, there wasn't a high school in the Moapa Valley, so under an excellent teacher, several of us took 9th grade.  In tenth grade, I started school in Las Vegas.  I got some ailment and came home.Next year, I went to St. George, Utah, to school.  At that time, there were no good roads.  Three of us went from Moapa to Modina, Utah, and from there, took a stage through Enterprise to St. George.  I remember we arrived at sun up.  I put in two years of high school in St. George, living with Mrs. McCallister. 

Once, my brother Sam, came up to get us for Christmas holiday in his Studebaker car.  He'd returned from a mission in the Society Islands. The next year, I went to Brigham Young University as a special student, because I didn’t have the credentials.  I didn't like Provo.  I thought it was terrible.  It was too dismal, so that did that year.  I quit and came home to the sunshine.

            About 1919, I went to the University of Nevada.  At that time, the highway from Las Vegas to Reno wasn't traveled much.  I went by train the long way to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco, and on to Reno.  I didn't go back after that semester.  My mother was in poor health and I didn't like to be away from home.

            My next venture in school was in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah.  I'd worked up enough credentials to enter, but I only stayed until Christmas.  I kept getting homesick all the time.  The next year, I went back up to Salt Lake to finish a business course at the Henegar Business College.  In 1923, Osborne and I lived in Canyon Hotel on Main Street.  I studied voice under Alfred Best.  At the same time, I was doing some genealogical work.  It was considered one of the best in the Moapa Stake.  I later turned this record over to my cousin.  Now I've lost track of the records.

            As far as I can remember, my next try at schooling was at University of California at Berkeley.  This was financed by Governor Scrugham, a friend of the family.  He wanted me to get some training in archaeology.  At that time, the Lost City had been found and work was being done on it by Dr. Mark Harrington.  Two friends went with me just for the trip.  I always took courses in geology along the way.  I had a good memory for it, I guess because I liked it.  Anyway, I worked hard, I wanted to have a good record for the Governor's sake, so he wouldn't feel the State of Nevada had wasted their money on me.  I got good passing grades there.  The weekends, we'd go down to San Jose to rodeo, up the Russian River, or wherever.  We toured on weekends.

            I was a little unhappy.  My mother had passed away a week or so before I left to go up there.  I ran into a second cousin named Lillian Gentry.  A train had run over her legs and taken both of them off.  She was handicapped, but you'd never know it.  She ran races with us on artificial legs.

            I got discouraged with studying voice.  One of my trips home, they asked me to sing at Sacrament meeting.  I sang, "Dry Those Tears."  It was a hard song to sing.  The hall was jammed.  I was scared silly.  My knees were banging.  I knew it was a very poor rendition.  After meeting someone caught up with me and said, "Laura, I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life, as I did for you."  Well, that ended voice training.  I never sang in public again.  After Berkeley, I went to work for the State of Nevada in Carson City.  I did some work in the State Department and Transportation Department, and I worked with the artifacts that were being processed then.

In 1935, during the depression, I'd had all the indoor work I could take.  I was anxious to be out and free.  I was doing a little prospecting work, so I left there and spent a few weeks at home, then went to Denver, where I took a federally financed school for the winter in commercial, secretarial, and arithmetic.
            The people of St. Thomas had sold out and left by 1935 or there abouts, so it was after that that I went to Denver.  Before that, with my share of the money from Mother and Father's estate, around $3,500, I went to New York City.  I had a Plymouth coupe and drove across country.  In Texas, I passed a mountain of watermelons.  I had trouble picking out one that was small enough.  They were two feet across.  I'd never seen such a pile.  We arrived in New York City and took the fifth floor of an apartment near Columbia University.  There were six of us.  I got into a post graduate course in Geology.  In English, the professor told me my mechanics in English were terrible, but she let me in.  I thought it was an honor when she read several of my themes to the class.

            The geology class was ten boys doing post graduate work, and me, the only girl.  When it came time for the final examination, I was about to chicken out of it.  I crammed pretty hard.  On the way to the exam, I was pretty shaky.  That was during prohibition.  There were some speak easies along the way.  I drank some wine and settled down.  I was right in the middle with my grades, that's why I call myself a middle-of-the-roader—five boys ahead of me, five boys behind.

            I spent my money to the best advantage I could.  I'd go to the Metropolitan Opera and buy standing room tickets and stand during the whole performance.  I went to the theater.  I saw the Barrymore family and Eva Galian.  I heard the leading opera singers at the time.  I didn't go to the movies, because I thought I could see movies in the west.  I went to Yankee Stadium to see the ball games--all that sort of thing.  In the meantime, we'd eat at the automats.  It was good food and cheap.
            I enrolled in philosophy.  It was very difficult for me.  It was beyond me.  When I left New York, one of my roommates had a job in Gunnison, Colorado, so I drove her there.  That was June, and I thought why go home in the heat, so I stayed for the summer and went back to Nevada in September.

            School never came easy for me due to my hearing.  When I was thirteen, I contracted scarlet fever.  I have no hearing in my right ear.  It was a pretty bleak few days when I got home.  Mother was gone and the house was empty.  Osborne was there holding down the fort, so that was some consolation.  We stayed there four years until Boulder Dam was finished.  We were there together at home, trying to hold it down until the sale closed.  The value and price had already been set.  Three years passed before the money came through.  So we never got any further than Overton.  We hung around in Moapa Valley.

            Aunt Laura made the best doughnuts a kid ever tasted.  In the middle of summer, with sweat pouring off her face, she rolled out the dough to give us a treat.  She was never afraid of work.  I'm grateful I grew up around strong women who were not afraid to work.  I didn't grow up thinking there was anything I couldn't do if I wanted to, because I saw my mother, or Grandmother, or Great Aunt do things well. 

            One day, Laura took me with her to plant a field of melons.  It was the biggest field I had ever seen.  I kept asking what time it was.  It was hard for a kid to be patient to see the job through.  I made myself a sun dial and periodically, I ran to check it to figure out how much time had passed.  For lunch, she made sandwiches of crackers and Velveeta cheese.  It was one of the best meals I ever ate.  It tasted so good after working in the sun.  Elna Gentry told me one time when they were out in the hills, she saw Aunt Laura clean off a shovel really well then cook eggs on it.  They were the best eggs she ever ate, she said.  I admire the people of that generation who knew how to use what was at hand to get a job done.
            Aunt Laura always had a great garden, just like Grams.  She went early to her garden and weeded or harvested before the heat started.  One summer she planted a huge field of beefsteak tomatoes.  They were the reddest, most beautiful tomatoes I had ever seen.  I needed to get a job so I could buy my school clothes.  I was offered a job at the local café, but I was terrified of being a waitress.  It was Aunt Laura who came to my rescue.  She gave me the field of tomatoes to sell.  I sold a lot of tomatoes and earned my school clothes.
            In the autumn of 1967, I took a semester off college to work.  Aunt Laura was living in a little house in North Las Vegas.  One day, I visited her and it stands out as one of the most evocative days of my life.  The air was crisp cold, the leaves were golden, but still clinging to the branches, and the quality of the light was luminous.  She drove her pickup down Pecos Road to visit a friend.  I had never been that way.  There was still a grove of cottonwood trees next to the wash and their leaves were gold.  Pecos is still my favorite street in Las Vegas, even though now, the trees are gone.
            A few years later, we took a trip to Tassi together.  As she was driving the desert washes, I remember saying, "You seem happy in your life, what is your secret?"  She said, "I haven't spent much time thinking about myself."  She spent her life in service to others.  She didn't have her own family, so wherever there was a need, Aunt Laura was there. 

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