Helen Harding Atwood – My Aunt

Helen Harding AtwoodHelen Harding Atwood

Daughter of John James Harding and Helen Christina Palmer

I was born in the town of Taber Alberta Canada on the 13th day of May 1911.  My father was John James Harding and my mother was Helen Christina Palmer Harding.  I have been told many times about my birth because my lovely mother died four hours after I was born.  My father was beside himself with grief.  His dear wife gone and three children to raise was more than he could bear.  This little 2 ½ pound baby, prematurely born he knew would die without special care, and so he told my mothers parents that if they could pull me through and raise me that he would never take me from them.  A promise that he kept.

When I was old enough I spent the summer holidays with my Dad, brother Bill and my sister Iola whom I loved very much.  My father married again and Aunt Molly, as I called her, until I had children, and t hen we called her Grandma Harding, presented us with another brother Norman and two lovely sisters, Vera and Phyllis.  They also had another child Mary (named after my mother) who died in infancy.  I looked forward to the holidays so I could spend it with my other family.

My grandparents raised me.  My grandfather’s name was William Moroni Palmer and my Grandmothers name was Christina Helen Larsen Palmer.  I called them my parents, my mama and papa, which I continue to call them throughout this history.

I grew up in a household of love; they loved each other.  They loved their children and their grandchildren, and most precious of all was the great love they had for me, the little child of their first daughter, who died when I was born.  All my life I have felt their love and tried to heed their advice.  There have been times when I fell short of this, but their advice and warnings were always in my mind and so I committed no serious wrongs.

Once when I was quite young I can remember going over the High level train bridge at Lethbridge.  It was the highest, longest bridge in the world.  I looked out of the train window, we were so high up that the horses and buggies and people looked like little tiny toys.

I remember when I was five years old my Mama and Papa took me with them to Aurora Utah to visit their son, Uncle Jim Palmer and his wife Aunt Jane. The whole ride, the scenery and everything was so new to me and different too, to what I was used to. I enjoyed every minute of that train ride as well.

When we got to Uncle Jims & Aunt Jane’s place their youngest boy was just about my age so I had a playmate right away. His name was William after my Papa, his grandfather. We called him Willie as Papa didn’t like anyone named William after him,

We went to Aunt Jane’s sister’s place on Sunday for dinner, we called her Aunt Pearl. They had a player piano. That was a marvel to a five year old. A piano that played by itself. I watched it and listened to it. My folks told me to go out and play with Willie so they could visit. I did but before we went back to Aurora Aunt Pearl asked me if I would like to hear another tune on the Piano. I loved it. I think that must have been where my interest in music began.

After I started school and was in grade two we had a music teacher by the name of Lorenzo Snow Mitchell who had many degrees in music and taught it from grade two through high school. I loved the music classes. He taught us many beautiful songs and how to lead music, beat time, and help others to learn, which has helped me a lot through the years. Although I am along way from being perfect at it I enjoyed it.

When I was seven years old I got the measles after which I contracted pneumonia and was very ill. I had to have a special trained nurse, Miss Harris, who was a sister to Sister Fanny Walker. She was such a good and kind nurse, under her care and the care of Dr. Greenaway and mostly the blessings of the Priesthood I finally got well and went back to school.

I will never forget my 13th birthday. I was born on Friday the 13th and this birthday came on Friday the 13th. No one said anything about my birthday before I went to school and I thought “Has everyone forgotten it is my birthday” but when I got home from school and opened the door to go into the house “Surprise”! Here were all my friends and neighbors. My two cousins, Helen and Marie O’Brien who lived across the street from us, had walked me home the long way so the others could get there ahead of us. It was a very special birthday for me after all.

When I was in grade six in school, I along with two of my friends Anne Smith and Rachel Winters, had to stay after school to finish some work we had not been prepared with that morning. Well this being Primary day and something important going on there, we hurried and finished our assignment, and waited waited and waited and for our teacher to come back into the room before we left.  She didn’t come.  It was getting later and later and the other girls said they would wait no longer.  They were not as mild tempered as I and besides I was afraid to disobey, but with persuasion I followed them out of the school and to primary.  The next day at school our teacher, Miss Holmes said, “I want three girls to stay after school, you know who it is.”  We stayed.  We told her why we left but she said that was no excuse which it wasn’t and we all got the strap.  That was my first and my last time for the strap.  It taught me a valuable lesson in obedience.

I was baptized in the canal that used to run East and West on the South side of Raymond Alberta close to the old flume where we use to go swimming. That was a cold day in May. My dear uncle Leslie Palmer baptized me and papa confirmed me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I received the Holy Ghost to watch over me and guide me to make the right choices in life. I am so thankful for this and for the faith that my parents had. Such strong wonderful faith. Papa was blind for several years when a boy and received his sight through his faith and blessing of the Priesthood, and many other faith promoting stories have happened in his life through his trust in the Lord. (These can be found in his history.)

Because Papa had spent so many years in the mission field, and preached the gospel at home and abroad, and held the Priesthood it had to be the truth, but way down deep inside me something said, “Are you sure,” I was about 12 years old at the time.

One Sunday as I sat in Sacrament Meeting listening to Melvin King speak, he gave what was to me the best talk and the most convincing that I had ever heard.  He told of the church in the meridian of time when Christ established it upon the earth.  He explained it so clearly, and t hen he pounded his fist upon the pulpit and said, “This is the church of Jesus Christ, established just as He established it when he was upon the earth, with prophets and apostles just as Jesus Christ had when he was on the earth with every organization.”  Well I didn’t need to hear anymore, now I knew the Church was true.  I felt it in my heart.

I wonder if anyone saw me going home. I skipped and hopped and ran and jumped and all the while I was saying, It’s true, It’s true It’s true! Oh thank you Lord for letting me know.

As a teenager I had many desirable young boy friends and a few who were not so desirable. All the while my ideal young man had not yet arrived on the scene, and then a family moved to our town which was Raymond Alberta Canada where my Papa and Mama and I had lived all of my life. Two daughters from this family were in my grade at school; their names were Mabel and Luella Atwood.

One night at a dance in the Opera House I saw a young man who I had never seen before. I turned to Luella who was standing beside me and asked her who the new fellow was.  She promptly told me that he was her brother, which of course was one of my embarrassing moments. During the course of the evening Luella introduced me to her brother Jesse and we danced. I was attracted to him but had no idea that someday I would be married to him. At that time I was going out with his best friend.

One time when we were getting ready for a music festival, Brother Jim Walker was directing our chorus in Emma Dahls home where we went for practices because she was the organist. Brother Walker stopped in the middle of a song and had me sing a couple of lines by myself. It frightened me so much I wondered what notes I was singing wrong and when I had to do it three or four times I was about ready to cry.

He finally said that’s fine, everyone sing. Little did I know what was in store for me the next sunday. A note was passed to me in the choir asking me to sing “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words To Each Other” and the choir would come in on the chorus. Thelma Smith (Stevens) was the organist and was sitting beside me while not playing. I showed her the note and told her I couldn’t do it. She said sure you can.  I said, “I don’t even know the song,” so she hummed the tune to me all the while Ken Knight was reporting his mission.  Let me tell you I sure prayed for help that day and got it. After church I looked around to see how I could get out and go home without talking to anyone, but I couldn’t so I just stopped and put my head on my arms on a window sill as people passed by. Then I felt my dear uncle Leslie Palmers arm around me and he said, “come on let’s get out of here, you sang like an angel.” He lead me out the side door were I could breathe the fresh air and then he took me home.

I was asked many times to sing after that but at no time was I as frightened as at that time. I always felt humble and weak, needing the help of the Lord. I never refused an invitation to sing, but I always had plenty of practice before hand, except for once and a while when Wilford Henninger was taking charge of the meeting and would call me out of the congregation to sing, giving me a few minutes while someone was speaking to pick a song of my choice from the Hymn book. When it was his turn to take charge I knew I had better watch out.

My brother Bill Harding from Taber decided to go to the school of agriculture which was in Raymond at that time. He lived with us. I was so wonderful to have my brother in our group where I got to know and love him all the more. Bill set such a good example for me. Many times he kept me from following the crowd to parties by saying, “I thought maybe you and I would go to the show.” He always won because I dearly loved going to the movies.

One summer when I was sixteen my cousin Marie O’Brien got a job washing dishes in the Club Cafe during stampede time. She said they needed more help there why didn’t I try for a job, I did and I got it. When the stampede was over and things began to quiet down, the owner asked me to stay on and work through the summer holidays.  I asked Papa and Mama and they gave their consent.  They knew it would be for me to have so extra spending money.  None of us knew that I would keep that job until I got married, so my schooling ended with grade ten.

My sister Iola came from Taber and worked with me for quite a while.  She lived with us and we had a wonderful time together.  She was another good example in my life.  I shall always be thankful that her example helped me to want to be more like her, and live a good life.  With my Papa and Mama’s teachings and my sisters example, and my special Uncles who had been on missions, and my good and kind brothers loving thoughtfulness, I can see now that my life was being molded into righteous living.  I thank my Father in Heaven for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for all of these wonderful teachers.

My Aunt Ada, whom I have mentioned before used to have lots of parties for the young people at her home.  We really had some good times there.  She worked at the Sugar Factory way back then and so did Daniel Jesse Atwood who she invited to come and join the young folks at the parties, which he did sometimes bringing a girl friend, and sometimes not.  If I didn’t bring a date he would walk me home occasionally.  Finally it became a permanent thing and we began to go steady.

I remember one day in January 1929 when Uncle Arlo (?) [who was mama and papa’s youngest living child and just 10 years older than I, and who was running the post office then and who later became a patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] came by the Café where I worked and told me that I had better hurry home if I wanted to see papa alive.  I ran all the way home, how could this be?  He seemed alright when he went to bed last night, but sure enough, just as I got there he died.  He had passed away very quietly.  Just gone to sleep which was a wonderful thing for him.  Oh how my heart ached.  I loved him so much.  I can remember how the week before he had been talking to his good friend, PJ Christenson who just lived down the street and who came to visit with papa.  I heard Papa say, “Well PJ I think my work here is finished, I am ready to go any time.”  This brought me up short, and I thought Oh NO, Papa will never die.  This had slipped my mind until I saw him laying there.  This all came back to me – the talks I had had with him, his spirituality, his pleading with me to find a man who was worthy to marry me in the temple; Telling me how to keep myself worthy of this blessing too, feeling his love and promising him that I would try very hard to do this.

Papa’s death was very hard on Mama also, and we soon discovered she had high blood pressure and also cataracts on her eyes, one was especially bad.  Uncle Aael and aunt Maydell took her to Lethbridge with them to keep her under Doctors care, and to look after her, which they did wonderfully.

This was a lonely time for me.  Neither Papa or Mama was with me.  I spent many nights crying myself to sleep.  Uncle Les and Aunt Florelle came to live in our house and I slept upstairs.

Jesse was so good and kind to me during this hard time of lonliness there was something about this man that I couldn’t resist.  He took care of me and no one had before, he respected my womanhood, and we grew to love each other very dearly.

I remember when Jesse and I took Mama for a ride in his car, the beautiful Maxwell Coupe.  It was then he asked her for my hand in marriage.  (I think she liked him pretty well too, for she gave her consent.)  I will never forget my 18th birthday on May 13th, 1929.  We went to the movies that night.  His relatives were sitting all around us.  Some behind and some in front of us.  He reached over and took my hand and slipped a beautiful diamond ring on the third finger of my left hand.  Well I was stunned!  I couldn’t watch the show any more and we couldn’t leave with his relatives all around us, what would they think?  I couldn’t even throw my arms around him and kiss him I just had to sit there with my thoughts.  I don’t’ know what Jesse was thinking, but I thought “what a dumb place to give a girl an engagement ring.”  It wasn’t even romantic, but the first thing I did when Jesse left me at my door that night was run across the street to my Aunt Ada’s house and wake them up to show them my beautiful diamond ring.  We talked for a while and then I went home to wake up Mama and tell her of my engagement.

Jesse had never been raised to keep the Word of Wisdom and found it pretty hard, but thanks to his strong character he overcame his habits and we planned a Temple marriage.

One time in the latter part of July, when the Stampedes and fairs and midways are prevalent in the country, a group of people brought a midway to Raymond.  Jesse helped them haul the tents and other equipment from the train to the fair.  He got well acquainted with the fellows there, and when we went to the fair they showed us special attention and when the fair was over Jesse helped them load there things back on the train and they were gone.

A group of young people from Raymond were going to Sweetgrass, a town across the border into the United States from the Canadian town of Coutts.  There was a stampede in Sweetgrass.  I asked Mama if I could go with Jesse and she said I could and she cautioned us both to take care.  I thought this would be a great holiday as I hadn’t been across the line into the United States since I was five years old.

Well when we got there who should we see but out friends from the carnival and they made even more fuss over us than they had in Raymond and we had a great time.  We had so much fun going to the Stampede on rides, and seeing the sideshows.  Then the dance to me was the highlight of it all, oh how I love to dance.  It was an outdoor dance floor, and we seemed to just glide along to the music and the beautiful singing of our friends from the midway, under the calm and starlit sky.

Back in the car we sat awhile.  The stars and the moon were bright that night.  Romance was in the air, and I heard my sweethearts voice whisper in my ear, “Lets get married tonight, it’s legal here across the line-what do you say?”  I sat for a long time, strange thoughts going through my head.  To be married to Jesse would be heaven, and tonight.  The temptation was almost more than I could bear, then slowly; carefully I remembered the urgency in my Papa’s voice – “A temple marriage.” And I finally said, “Oh Jesse I couldn’t break my Mamas heart.  I just have to be married in the temple, isn’t that what you really want too?”

Just then someone jerked the car door open.  It was Raymond Brancombe he missed his ride home and wanted to know if he could ride back to Raymond with us.  Jesse said sure jump in.  he had won a saddle at the Stampede and he threw it in the rumble seat and climbed in beside me, and we went home.

Once Satan’s temptation was foiled, the Lord made it easy for us.  How thankful I am for the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

On the 2nd of October 1929 Daniel Jesse Atwood and Helen Harding were married in the Alberta Temple at Cardston.  I was sealed to Jesse for time and all eternity according to our faithfulness, a blessing I had prayed for for years.  If we live as we should there will be no divorce at death as there is in an ordinary civil marriage where you marry until death do you part.


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