Sunday, September 23, 2012

Clair Huffaker: Novelist, Screenwriter, A Native Son of Magna, Utah

On September 8th of this year, the Magna Arts Council held it's first Books & Authors of Magna event at the local library, a branch of the Salt Lake County Library System in Utah. The event was organized by Doug Wood, a book and history enthusiast and a member of the Arts Council, and supported by Trish Hull, the library's manager. The featured panelists were Philip F. Notarianni, Jr, Mary Martinez, and myself, Robert Goble. 
I was to speak on Clair Huffaker, highlighting his novel, One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, give a quick overview of I'm Mad as Hell by Howard Jarvis (Doug Wood provided both books from his extensive collection.), and introduce my new novel, In Older Worlds, a serial dark fantasy set in Magna, Utah. Due to time constraints I felt I wasn't able to satisfactorily present what I'd prepared on Clair Huffaker. Regardless, what seemed a minor frustration, turned into a moment of fortune, when, a friend of mine, Darrell "Monte" Kelson, spoke up (taking up what I thought were my last precious minutes) and provided valuable and welcome input on his cousin, Clair Huffaker. "Did you know that book is ninety-five percent true?" Monte asked.
 This little event, in turn, led to the following interview a few days later with Monte, which I will provide it its entirety. Before I do, I'd like to introduce Clair Huffaker to a new generation who have probably never heard of him, and to reminisce with those of an older generation who might fondly remember the novels and movies of the early sixties such as The Cowboy and the Cossack, Seven Ways From Sundown, and The Comancheros, starring John Wayne. Elvis Presley starred in Flaming Star, a movie based on Huffaker's novel, Flaming Lance. At the time, he had become one of the most successful authors and screenwriters with Utah ties.
Clair Huffaker
September 24, 1926 - April 3, 1990
 Clair Huffaker (Little Clair) was born to Clair Huffaker and Orlean Bird in a little home just off Magna's Main Street September 24, 1926. In his novel, One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, a lightly fictionalized remembrance (fictionalized in that it was novelized into a smooth narrative form, timelines and minor details slightly altered to give flow and color to the story) "Little Clair" writes about his young parents' first home. 

His father had just started work as a railroad electrician for the Utah Copper Company. He'd be working seven long days a week, but they would be getting paid twenty-four dollars a week. His mother was expecting her first child (Little Clair). He'd found them a garage that had been turned into a one room apartment for nineteen dollars a month.
           Clair describes the wedding night, when his father took his mother over the threshold of the doorway, the frost on the window, the small sink, the old pot bellied stove, the simple furniture, and the kerosene lamp that was their only light. In that beautiful scene his mother declares she'd never loved anyplace so much in her life.
           Monte Kelson remembers his mother, Margaret Abiah Bird, (who is mentioned several times in the novel), saying she could look across the street, north east from her house on "Fifth East" (Today's 8850 West), and see the little home of her sister, Orlean, and brother-in-law, Clair (Big Clair). That little home still stands today on a property next to 8845 West 2700 South, the old Woolfenden home. A "new" property line actually divides the old garage from the corner house, so the tiny garage apartment actually sits on the neighbor's property to the east.
Monte Kelson at the place he identifies as where his cousin, Clair Huffaker, was born. Looking north west in a driveway just off of Magna's Main Street second house east from the corner of 8850 West.
The first little home rented by the Huffakers might have originally been the garage to the Woolfendn's old home on the corner of 8850 West and 2700 South. Few of that generation are left who remember Woolfenden's Market on Magna's Main Street.
Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

The story of One Time I Saw Morning Come is about love through thick and thin, mostly thin. It's about the struggles of the Huffaker family to make their way through the depression, through tragedy, finally to success and to reflections upon a fight well fought. No regrets.
           As for success, the Huffaker family were known locally for their furniture store in Magna, Utah. The author tells of how his father started his business back in the depression days with an old Model A coup rigged with a platform to carry furniture. Many local people, the older generation, had known the the family and at some point had done business with them.
           My uncle, Grant Goble, told me in a separate interview that he'd worked for them after graduating Cyprus High School in 1959. When I asked what it was like working for the Huffakers, he told me in four words, with a smile, "It was hard work."
Huffaker Furniture Company on the corner of "First West" (9150 West and 2700 South).
Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

Old Huffaker Furniture Company advertisment.
           Note: To understand the streets and landmarks mentioned in the following interview, Magna's history as a name only goes back as far as the second decade of the 20th century. It was known originally, for several generations, as Pleasant Green--not ignoring Coonville just to the south. The name "Magna," sort of an invasive creature born of the Utah Copper Company (the Magna Concentrator and the B&G row houses put on the hill above Pleasant Green), was something relatively new when Clair Huffaker (senior) and Orlean Bird first met. "Magna" as a name change was something the original residents of Pleasant Green were never given a chance to vote on. In One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, Clair Huffaker (senior) endearingly mistakes the concentrator and mill on the mountainside to be the Bingham Mine, from where the ore is actually shipped--twelve miles to the south.
             The original streets of Pleasant Green had different names. Today's 9100 West was Center Street. From there the streets (running north to south) going east were progressively named First East through Fifth East, until you reached Spencer Avenue, today's 8800 West. Going west toward the Oquirrh Mountains, you had First West, today's 9150 West and Second West, today's 9200 West, or the very last street at the edge of the foothills--nothing but grass and sagebrush from there.

Young Clair Huffaker and his sister, Dolores.
Courtesy of Monte Kelson
           Interview with Darrell "Monte" Kelson, recorded 6:00 pm, Friday, September 14, 2012 at Monte's home in April Acres. Note: Monte's house is one of the original B&G row houses, built around 1916. The rest of the houses on the street were some of the original houses moved from Garfield in 1957.

Early Memories

           Note: Darrell "Monte" Kelson is mentioned in One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, the hard back edition 1974. Simon and Schuster. It's at the beginning of chapter sixteen, when the Huffaker family had moved back to Magna, Utah from Omaha, Nebraska.

           Robert: Tell me about your relationship to Clair Huffaker. He’s your cousin?

           Monte:  Clair Huffaker Junior, they called him. There was a senior, but it was Clair Huffaker. My first memory of Clair goes back when he lived on Third East, and his folks…and it was during the depression years. One thing, him and I used to pick these wild current berries. There were black ones and red ones, and we’d go down below the Kelson garage along the ditch banks, and they would grow wild, and we would pick them and come home, give them to Orlean Huffaker, Clair’s mother up on Third East, and she’d make jam out of them, and she’d give us a few pennies for our work. 

Kelson's Garage on the corner of 8560 West 2700 South, Magna's Main Street.
             And in the summertime when it was real hot, Clair and I would go downstairs in the basement and open one of her jars of fruit and have ourselves a little feast there. Then we would take washrags and dip them in cold water coming out of a tap and lay on the bed and put ‘em on our foreheads, and we thought, man, that’s real neat. It’s hot out there, and we’re cool as a bear. We thought that was a great thing to do in them days with no air conditioning, not swamp coolers, not nothin'.
            And I remember ridin’…I bought a bike off of Orlean Hufffaker for about three dollars...three dollars and fifty cents. It was something that Clair and Delores had used over the lifetime. 

Robert: How does he depict your mom and dad?

Monte: They were in the same boat they were in, and they worked together and helped one another. Because it was in the depression time…Clair senior, was selling…it was hard to sell furniture. But he didn’t have a store or nothin’ goin’ then. He was workin’ for a guy up in Ogden, and he paid him one percent of profit for anything he sold. And two weeks he’s been up there and Orlean hasn’t heard a word from him. She’s got three cents to her name. It costs three cents to buy a cube of yeast to make some bread or one cent to send to he husband to see what’s goin’ on. Up there Clair tells the guy, “I gotta go home. I haven’t heard from my wife for two weeks. And the guy says, “You can’t go home. You’ve got to stay here.” So Clair quit and come home. But before he did that his wife had to make a choice. She bought a cake of yeast and made some bread. She had to. It was that tough.

Aunt Melva Never Drank Coffee

On this book, One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, by Clair Huffaker, he tells in there about his aunt Melva, his aunt, Melva Larson, and probably it was my mother and Orlean, I’m not sure. They were huddling around, drinking a cup of coffee and keeping their eye open for the bishop. That’s basically what the story says. Well, Melva Larson never drank a cup of coffee in her whole life. And she was so mad at Clair ‘cause he wrote that, he says, “Lady, there’s a little bit of fiction here like this, but I have to sell the book.” And it meant no slur to her at all. In a way, I guess, he’d slandered her in her eyes, ‘cause if you didn’t do it, you didn’t do it. And if somebody says it, I guess you can get mad. It was childish.

Gravel Pit
Right at the last Hal Larson was working as a foreman up at Kennecott. He was makin’ a little money there. And he helped us a lot when my mother was in the hospital. I stayed up there, and I had my tonsils taken out when I was pretty young.
My dad, he had a dump truck during the depression. He would haul sand and gravel, and at one time he would haul salt for the salt company, and he’d come home on Fifth East, and then he’d have to wash the whole truck down to get all that salt off it, so it wouldn’t corrode everything. And he worked with a guy down in the flats called Harvey Magera. And they’d make a living that way. And I’ve shoveled more than my share of loads of sand and gravel. We used to get this…north of the Webster School. There was a gravel and sand pit there, and the sand there was good and so was the gravel. In fact I found a fletching tool right…chert scraping tool by them Indians. They used to scrape their hides with this. It’s curved and all chipped on one side, sharp as a knife, an they’d use that to scrape it. So somewhere up in that area at one time the Indians were livin’ in there.
And my grandfather used to help us every once in a while. He worked at Kennecott for a while. I don’t know whether he had social security or not, but when we pulled in that day, my dad reached in his pocket and give my grandpa over a dollar for helpin’ him load that stuff. And then my dad was an expert at goin’ down your driveway and lettin’ it fall down, and put it down your whole driveway without you doin’ much shovelin.’ And that’s how he got a livin’ during the depression, was haulin’ sand and gravel and later workin’ at the salt company.

Lindbergh Goggles
But they worked together, helpin’ one another in housing and one thing or another. Because they had no choice. Like I says, Clair, back in Omaha, had a pair of goggles and a helmet that were replicas of…supposedly representin’ Charles Lindbergh, who was a hero at that time. And when he come back to Utah, one Christmas morning I ended up with ‘em. And also I got a little airplane from the people called Smiths, lived in Salt Lake. He was a railroader. That’s the first time I got really associated with trout. He was out…been fishin’ and caught some trout in the river, and I thought, oh, that’s the greatest thing I ever seen, them wild fish. But their boy was later…become a jet pilot and was killed in Viet Nam.
And I think this model airplane was a metal airplane…you pedaled it just like a car but it had wings on it and a propeller that turned. And I had the goggles and the glasses and I thought I was the king of the water. I thought I was Charles Lindbergh myself. (laughs) I’d run everybody off the sidewalk on Third East goin’ up by Deluca’s and Larson’s and Huffaker’s and down to where my mother and dad lived there on Third East, just a little south and west of the Baptist church.

Monte in middle with Clair's old goggles.
 Joe Lewis

           When he lived on Third East--I’m gonna get that exact address soon--we were listenin’ to the radio, and we listened to the championship boxing match of the United States where Joe Lewis won. And I think it was 1936, but I’m not sure. And that was the first time a black guy outside of the earlier one…uh…everybody knew Johnson. And Clair and I were walking up Third East to Larson’s place, and we both said, “well, the best man won.” Although we were disappointed, because that’s the first time that a modern negro had won the thing. But I accepted it. Because, like we said, we said, “the best man won.” And I was eight years old. We accepted it.

The Weber River
            But he used to tell stories up on the Weber River. We camped up there, and his mother used to sing “Red Wing” and play the guitar. And we’d sleep out in straw, mainly with blankets. There were no sleeping bags or anything. One day we was up there, and a cowboy come by, and he wanted some matches. He run out of matches, and Orlean give him a big handful of kitchen matches. And he said, “Well, thanks for that.” He said, “Well, maybe I’ll look and see what this old nag can do,” and he spurred this wild horse, and it went buckin’ outa there like a wild man. And that cowboy stayed right on and bucked his self right outa camp. We thought that was pretty great, getting’ a real picture of a real cowboy. 

To hear Red Wing, click here
            And Clair used to tell really scary stories up there, and he’d have us all scared. And even had some girls come over. He was always good at tellin’ stories. And we enjoyed that.
But this one time we was out on this lake up there. I can’t remember the name of it. I think it might have been the Weber Lake, if there is such a thing. And it’s real cold, and I was…we were just walkin’ in it, ‘cause at that time I couldn’t swim, so I must have been pretty young. I can’t remember for sure, six, seven, eight years old, something like that.
On the way up there, we would stop, and Mr. Huffaker would buy us all a holiday all-day sucker, was made out of hard caramel, was five cents, and you could chew on it all day long, practically. We thought that was one of the biggest treats we could get. We got this five cent all-day sucker as we were going up the canyon.
And back to the river…er…the lake, Clair and I was walkin’ out in there, just walkin.’ All of a sudden I step off in the deep water. I can’t swim. And I panicked and started thrashin’ around, and Clair was right behind me. I don’t know what I said, but he grabbed a hold of me and just gently pulled me in where I could touch. And if he hadn’t have been there…he probably saved my life, ‘cause I would’ve drown for sure. Once you’ve panicked in the water, you’ve had it. 
Well, we used to have a lot of fun at the Weber River. We used to go play softball up there on a meadow that was adjacent to the Weber River. Invariably somebody would knock the ball in the river, and we’d have to go chasing it, and usually it ended up me goin’ across the rocks and gettin’ it. And Clair junior says, “I don’t know how you can go across them rocks like that. We played games there, and Clair told them spooky stories.

Edgar Rice Burroughs
Me and Clair, we'd go to the library. He was always readin' them Edgar Rice Burroughs books.

Note: Clair wrote the screenplay for Tarzan 66, which eventually became a movie starring Mike Henry, released as Tarzan and the City of Gold.

Keyhole Cave

Keyhole cave, lower left. Ant Hill, upper right. This photo was taken September 22, 2012, looking south at the lower part of Hog's Back from Pleasant Green Cemetery. Below, unseen in the photo are the railroad tracks. Monte said the upper tracks weren't there when he was a kid. There was only one set of tracks at the time. I remember my dad, Gordon Goble, taking my brother and I on a hike up to this cave. Inside it I found an old seventh grade Utah history book, probably from a Brockbank Junior High School student having left it while skipping ("sluffing"in the local jargon) school. Since then there has been some apparent damage to the cave, as if the floor and face had collapsed or even been blasted out. You no longer see the "Keyhole."
And then we used to go up on Hog’s Back. And one winter day, Gene Kelson, my cousin, and Clair Huffaker, myself…. Clair had to get a merit badge for his…to become an Eagle Scout. He eventually become and Eagle Scout. We went up to Keyhole Cave. It’s right above Magna. And you can get up to the cemetery, and look up there. You can see this cave. And if you look close, you can see two other holes that looks like the back end of a kitchen keyhole that used to be like a butterfly. There was two holes in it, and they named it Keyhole Cave. Well, we got…you have to crawl up into it.
It was so cold, and Clair couldn’t get his hands in his Levis, and so he finally kep’ his hands real stiff like. And he shove ‘em in his Levis. And he get it down there. And he finally got a match, and he’d pull one out like that (Monte demonstrates with a stiff hand) and light it, and about twelve of ‘em went out ‘cause part of the deal with the Boy Scouts and this fire was you couldn’t use no paper. You could start a fire with a match but no paper. So he had little fine sticks there that he was tryin’ to light a—finally about the twelfth one he got it goin’. We got a good fire goin’. And I remember Gene Kelson, who was my cousin, was wearin’ low cut shoes, and the bottoms of ‘em were all gone. He had cardboard in there and of course—

Robert: What are low cut shoes?

Monte: Low cut. Dress shoes. And, uh, in the snow. And, of course, cardboard dissipates. And then he was practically barefooted. That was the way we went around in the depression years. Didn’t have brand new shoes.
Anyway, we crawled out of the cave, and was goin’ down across the…the, uh, there was tracks to go over, they kept these tracks in there (Utah Copper Company railroad). You’d go right out of Keyhole Cave and walk right over to the Magna Cemetery (Pleasant Green Cemetery). And they had a fresh grave there. They was buryin’ somebody. We walked and went home. I remember that vividly, how cold it was that day.

Death in the neighborhood
And then during one year we had real high snows. I can’t remember, was it…Huffakers were livin’ in a house just northwest of Cyprus High School. They tore all them old houses out. But the weather was so bad, the snow was clear up to the roof. And I remember that’s when I run into…aware of death. A little kid by the name of John. I think it was Alice Ribotto’s brother died. He was about six years old. And I thought that was terrible that somebody should die. That was my first association with death. And that was in the Huffaker house up, like I say, just north and a little west of Cyprus High School.

Robert: How did that little boy die?

Monte: I don’t know. I think it was pneumonia.

Robert: So the Huffakers lived north and west of Cyprus?

Monte: Yeah. They lived up there for a while.

The Pistol in the Shed

            Everybody was moving around. And while I was up in there…uh…that’s when Clair (senior) was first starting his furniture store. But I remember livin’ there. He spent most of his time on Third East. And up the street was Al and Melva Larson. They were up between…uh…There was a bishop that was a barber. Can’t think of his name right now. And Delucas were just one house above him. He lived one house north of Delucas.        
            And in the back they built a little shed in there. And one night I was. It was summertime, prowlin’ around, and I got into that shed. And hangin’ on a coat rack was a pistol in a holster. And I took that pistol out and admired it and looked at it and put it back and left. And I thought that was really somethin’ that he had this pistol in his little cabin, or not cabin, a room he had out there in the back.


            Okay. On that little house on Third East, just below Huffakers, My mother and dad lived in a little house down below there that Marvin, Dale Kelson.... And it was right north of Bill Beck, mister Bill Beck and his wife and Bill Beck Junior, that I grew up and palled around with for a long time. But…uh…I remember when we was up at Huffakers one day. Delores was trying to learn how to ride a bicycle. She got on the bicycle. She was very giddy (getty) and had a lot of nerve and was a very beautiful girl.

            Robert: Now who’s Delores?

            Monte: Delores was the second child of Orlean and Clair Huffaker (senior). There was Clair (junior), Delores, Nancy, and Jerry.
            And, uh, she got on the bike and started down, and just as she got down by the church on Third East and went over to the Baptist church, she lost control and plowed into a fence and went flying. She didn’t get hurt, but she didn’t know how to put the brakes on. So she learned a lesson there.
            But her and I and Clair used to go up on Ant Hill. It’s just above Magna, just a little east of Keyhole Cave. And we was up there one day and we started runnin’. Clair and I got down and Delores decided she was goin’ to run down it. We were hollerin’ at her to not run. You can’t run! Well, she got up some pretty good speed. Well, you get runnin’ down a hill fast enough and you’re not gonna pull out of it when you get to the bottom. She crashed. It didn’t hurt her. She was a pretty gutsy little girl.
            One time down at my parent’s house on Fifth East her and I got in a tussle about something, and I challenged her for somethin’, so we got in a wrestling match and fell on the bed. Believe it or not she got me pinned down and had both her knees on my shoulders. And…uh…course we was just kids, and it didn’t mean nothing, except she just won the match (laughs).
            And she later went and worked for Fay Gillette over in Tooele and become his assistant. I think he was a deputy at one time out there. He was the old time Sheriff in Tooele. I got a lecture from him when—well that’s another story. Back to Huffakers.

The Fight

The old Baptist church, now an historical site, sits on the corner of the old Fourth East (8900 West and 2900 South). Slightly to the right of the photo in the middle, behind the church, which is now a back yard, is the field where the fight between Huffaker and Wing had taken place.
             Um…I seen him one time right in the field by the Baptist church between Third East and Fourth East. Him and a guy named Wing was gettin’ into a fight. Wing cleaned his wagon. They was fightin’. Wing accused Clair of takin’ his Saturday Evening Post Magazine route off…on the B&G row, where the bosses lived. But…eh…I know Clair was up there a long time before that. Later on Clair fought Laurence Honeycutt if front of our house on Fifth East. Of course he whipped old Laurence pretty easy out there. He (Clair) was the same guy over in Columbia University, decided he wanted to be the champion of the school. And he trained and went in the ring and knocked out the champion and took over the title.
            And when we was up there hikin’ above Magna, I’d get tired sometimes and I’d tell him, “Clair, I’m tired.” And he’d stop, and we’d both sit there on a rock and take a little nap and then we’d continue on our trip down to Magna. And he’d never get angry or push you. He’d just go along with you and help you.
One time we were down there at Herons. He was down there to get a merit badge for his Eagle Badge. Mr. Heron was pretty knowledgeable about Indian relics and stuff like that. And I can’t remember what the badge was. He was quite a goer.

Hunting with the Huffakers
One time when my mother and dad, Daryll and Margaret…uh…we lived in a house just above Russell’s on Fifth East, Myron Russell’s place. I was sleeping on the porch in the summertime, well it was early fall, I guess. I’d been to the show, and I was waitin’ for Clair Huffaker (senior) pick us up in his pickup truck. He had sideboards on it he used to haul furniture for the furniture company. Him and my dad were goin’ deer huntin’ down at Oakley. So they finally showed up and we all got in the truck. There was Orlean there and Dolores and myself and my mother and dad. And we ended up down at Oakley. And one day my dad and Clair Huffaker senior left camp to go deer huntin’, and Clair and I, we had our twenty-twos. We did a little plinkin’ there. Pretty soon they came into camp later that night. I thought, Oh boy! I was so proud. I thought my dad shot. Turned out that Clair (senior) had shot it with a thirty-aught-six, and my dad hadn’t got it. But we had a good time down there and finally camped out. Back in them days you might have stayed in a tent. I’m not sure, but in back of a truck, usually with straw and sleep in there.
He had a twenty-two, and I had a twenty two, and once we went down in the flats. And it started rainin’ and thunder and lightning like crazy. So very foolishly we got underneath a shell of a car to get out of the rain a little bit and the wind, and it was thunder and lightning. Clair said, “I think we better say a prayer before we get killed.” So he said a prayer in this car that day for us kids, and I remember that.

Cyprus High School Memories

At the time I went over to Cyprus High School, I had to be in the tenth grade, because it was either the eleventh or twelfth grade was puttin’ on an assembly, and they had a little magician show they were showing. They had a table with a cloth over it and a guy standin’ there with a blindfold on him. And then a guy next to him would hand him somethin’. And this guy with a blindfold on him was supposed to be a…read his mind and tell ‘em what he had. So the guy that actually had it was blindfolded and actually look away from him. And the guy, they’d hand ‘em and apple, a book or somethin’, and the guy would say, “It’s a book.” And everybody was really dumbfounded. “It’s an apple!” And underneath the table, under this sheer sheet that was under there, Clair Huffaker was hidden under there, and he would see what the thing was, and whisper it to his buddy what it was, and then he’d call it out. He had us all baffled. So I think Clair was only a couple of years older than me. I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.

Cyprus Junior High

Robert: That was over in Cyprus Junior High, right?”
Monte: High School.
Robert: So that’s after it burned down. That’s after the Junior high burned down?
Monte: Before.
Robert: But Cyprus High School was built then? Was there a junior high next to the high school? Is that how it was?
Monte: Yes.
Robert: So you had two buildings then at the same time.
Monte: Two buildings. Yes.
Robert: I didn’t know that. (laughs). So the old building…the junior high—
Monte: The junior high’s the one that burned down, not the high.
Robert: Where was that at? Do you remember? Where would it be if I—
Monte: It seemed like south of there, but I don’t know. It might have been east-west of there, I can’t remember.
Robert: Was that—
Monte: You had a picture of it there.
Robert: I did. It doesn’t show me where it was.
Monte: It was a short building. Uh…I can’t remember…
Robert: You think it could have been out on the field? You know, you go behind the football field, and they have the big practice field. And someone once told me it was out there. But I don’t know if that’s true.
Monte: I remember it wasn’t air conditioned. Seemed to me it might have been south and east of there a little bit. But it couldn’t have been much east, because that’s right up against the street. I don’t know where it was for sure. I remember the fire department chief, Roy Smith, when it caught fire they didn’t have no water. He took his new Buick and blam! Jammed it into a irrigation ditch with water in it, and they got water out of that to start with. I mean, that’s using your head.

Fire Chief Roy Smith's buick in the ditch as Cyprus Junior High burned July 24, 1947.
Courtesy of Monte Kelson

  Later Days

The home on the corner of 3370 South and 8400 West Monte Kelson identifies as the house Clair referred to in his novel in chapter nineteen, when he takes about his parent's later years, such a contrast to the tiny garage where it all started. 
 Then in later days his dad got cancer, and they lived up there on 8400 and built a nice home up there. Clair was up there. He’d come up there, and we’d go visit with him and we’d talk about some of the things he was doing. He was trying to take his dad back to Mayo and see what he could do for him. But actually his dad had terminal cancer nothin’ nobody could do for him.
And about once a day he’d have to go up in a room all by himself, and nobody could bother him while he wrote an article. He had a weekly article in a paper in California he had to put out every week. So there was an hour or so there he had to be by himself while he wrote this article for them.

Clair Huffaker on right with Monte's mother, Margaret Abiah Bird.
And he come down later on when his mother died and was at Peel Funeral Home. He used to always stop in and see my mother on Fifth East. I remember one year my wife had just cooked up a big turkey dinner over here on Elmer Street. And we were gettin’ ready to sit down for it, and my mother was supposed to come up and she called and said she wouldn’t come up. I found out Clair Huffaker dropped in on her. And Dolores was with him. That time she was living with him down in California. Her and her first husband got divorced, and she was down there. And I was so angry at my mother, cus they could have both come up and had a beautiful turkey dinner, and my mother wanted Clair all by herself.

The Songs We Sung

In this book, One Time I Saw Morning Come Home, we got some songs that we sung I was very familiar with:
“Pony Boy.” Tells about two boys that grew up together and went to war in World War I. One of them got wounded or killed, and the other one said, I’m not gonna leave you, cus they were pony boy’s as children.
“She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” I think that’s that old Texas song.
“The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Who flew through the air with the greatest of ease. I was at a church meeting when I was a very young kid, and my cousin, Lois Bird, who later become Lois Bird Johnson, was there when they sang this song, and a guy was swinging in a swing as the daring young man as the flying trapeze.
“Among My Souvenirs.” I’m not too sure about.
“Grandpa, Grandpa.”
“Sentimental Me.”
“The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” I remember singing that.
“My Heart Stood Still.”
“Home Sweet Home.”
“Casey Jones” They had that old railroad song. I remember singin’ that.
“Red Wing,” was Orlean Huffaker’s favorite song. She used to play a guitar and sing Red Wing. It was about and Indian brave that was far, far away and was dying.
“The prisoner’s song,” was one of my favorite songs. My mother had it on a record. We had an old Victrola record player. You wound it up with a spring and then played these records. It tells about a guy that got put in prison. And I made some copies of it. I haven’t heard of it for…clear back in the thirties. The other day I run into it, and I made some copies, and I even got it memorized. I could probably sing it to you. Tells about a rich man. Was in jail, prison, and evidently he talks about, “If I had wings like and angel, over these prison walls I would fly.” He’s in prison. He can’t get out. He owns a boat decorated in silver and gold, and he’d sell it if he could just be back in his lover’s arms and die there. Very old time song.
“When you were seventeen.”
“Welcome to hard times.” Vaguely.
“My Merry Oldsmobile.” I remember that.
One of my favorites and still is, is the “Red River Valley.” When they sing it and they talk about the cowboy, it wasn’t a guy or me, it was a cowboy. That was an original song.
“Jolly Old St. Nicholas.” Everybody knows that.
“Bye Bye Blackbird.”
“I’ll Take You Home Again, Cathleen.” Another famous Irish song that my grandmother had records of. And I named one of my daughters after Cathleen. I think that’s a beautiful name. And I named her that going over to the church. We hadn’t picked out a name for her, and on the way over there, I thought of that, and that’s what we gave her. Cathleen Kelson. (Laughs)

           Note: Clair Huffaker's daughter, Samantha Clair Kirkeby, currently works as a script supervisor for a long list of films from the late eighties to the soon to be released movie, starring Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger. This long list of films includes, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Angels and Demons, and many more.


  1. Pretty cool reading this! Family storys are alway fun and novel. Sad to see Grandpa's garage without Kelson's splashed across the front, seems odd to have it missing from the building, it's a landmark in Magna! I spent a lot of time sitting in front of the doors of that garage watching the world go by!

  2. What was Alice Huffakers husbands name?

  3. My Dad, Stan Boicourt, grew up with Clair Huffaker (who dropped a minor character named Stan Boicourt into some of his novels). These stories remind me of my Dad's Magna stories.