Elizabeth Willis Barrett
I saw a basket the other day–rustic, grayish, large with a small handle on each end. It reminded me of my Aunt Mona Campbell–Dad’s oldest sister. Aunt Mona lived behind us in Mesa, Arizona, on a large piece of land in a rambling two-story that was as interesting as she was. She would walk across the little bridge over the very narrow and shallow irrigation ditch, come to our back door and call out “Yoo Hoo!” as she opened it.
I don’t think I was very aware then of how much I admired her, but looking back I can see that she made an impression. She had deep red hair that was caught into a low bun and she was always dressed up to go somewhere with her Country Club group, gloves in hand. When I was still in possession of childlike believing, she would take me to the Country Club to meet Santa. I think he always came there first. I should have kept my belief at least as a cover so I could continue this exciting tradition. But as soon as Aunt Mona knew that I was privy to the Santa myth, I was no longer invited.
When I was in grade school we had a glorious day of playing with clay. Sadly, I think it only happened once. It was a salt clay that would harden and we could make anything we wanted. I was ecstatic. I chose to make a little bowl with a chicken for a lid. Very enterprising for a Third Grader who had all the desire for art but not much inner skill. Aunt Mona had a bowl like that and I wanted one too.
Aunt Mona grew nasturtiums around her house and her house had a musty smell that, if I concentrate, I can smell now. She was an antique and garage sale shopper and her house was filled with old things. I’ve never been into decorating styles much but I wish I could go back to that house and look around again to get a sense of her style. I would like to copy pieces of it. She had an extremely old piano that filled one complete side of the living room. It looked like Mozart might have played on it. I could never play it, though, even when I started taking lessons from Sister Alta Standage. It was never tuned, was just for show and was definitely not put there for children.
Coming from a very old Mormon Pioneer family that settled Snowflake Arizona, you’d think her faith would run deep. But Aunt Mona was the only one of twelve children that didn’t cling to the Church, not counting two siblings who died in childhood and another sister who didn’t attend Church very often. Her other siblings served well in various Church callings as teachers and Bishops and Presidents of this and that, but Aunt Mona had her own set of friends and priorities.
Her lack of faith isn’t what I admired in her because I am a devout Latter-day Saint and feel that the Church could have used Aunt Mona’s special gifts. But I applauded her for her ambition and her get-it-done abilities and the way she made things happen in her life. She went to college in her forties, receiving her Bachelors and Masters. Then at fifty-seven she received a doctorate from ASU and became a professor.
She built her own cabin near a lake in Arizona’s beautiful White Mountains with some help from Grandpa Willis. When something went awry, she’d fix it herself whether it be the roof or the plumbing. And she thought nothing of cutting off the legs of frogs for a tasty morsel which makes me shiver even now. Her son, Gordon, caught the frogs and she did the rest. Gordon, by the way, became a very successful lawyer and wrote a book that made it to the New York’s bestsellers list. It’s called Missing Witness. Check it out.
When her husband, Uncle Bill, died, she didn’t fall apart. She took charge as she always had and bought a place on Coronado Island and made a new life for herself.
Then, in her 90‘s–not allowing age to get the better of her–she followed her son’s example and wrote a great book called Up From Backstreet. It never made it to a bestsellers’ list but it was the crowning glory of a full life, describing Snowflake and her time there.
I don’t have a need to be like Aunt Mona in every respect, but I hope to have her drive and her desire for accomplishment and her clear thinking mind well into my nineties.