Mel and Aldene in the spring of 1938.
Life is not simple or easy.
That's what most people tell their kids. But certainly some do not have it as easy as others.
Take Aldene Cadez Thomas' life for instance. It has not been simple, nor easy. But somehow she turned out the better for it.
"I didn't have what you'd call a happy childhood," she said as she sat at one of the cafeteria tables at the Carbon County Senior Center in Price after spending an hour and half line dancing. "But you know what I think the hard part made me stronger, made me who I am."
Certainly when one heres of the trials and tribulations she went through in her life, it is easy to see why this 93 year old has lasted so long and is still so active. She has a lot to still live for and even at that age is still trying new things.
Born in Lark in 1919, she came from a mining family, and she has never really strayed from those beginnings. Her father worked in the Lark mine but wasn't well much of the time. Before that he had a job at the ASARCO Smelter (now the location of the Intermountain Medical Center) in Murray. This is where her older sister and brother were born. However after some time at the smelter his health was deteriorating and his doctor advised him to get out of the smelter and go to work somewhere else.
He ended up at Lark, but that kind of hard rock mining was bad for his health as well so then the family moved to Reliance, Wyo. taking up the profession he had had when he first came from Europe, coal mining. They didn't stay there long. Soon they found themselves in Carbon County.
The family moved to Spring Canyon and while Thomas' father was still not well, and they were poor, as a little girl she was happy. Then the family found out her father had diabetes, a disease that in the early part of the 20th century there was really no treatments for. He ended up in bed most of the time.
"I remember sitting on my dad's bed and singing Slovenian songs all the time," she said. "I idolized my father."
Her parents had saved for years to put away enough money to return to eastern Europe one day. It was her fathers dream to go home.
In 1923 her father was badly injured in a mine accident. They lived on the road that went to the mine he worked in and whenever miners were hurt they were always carried by the house on a stretcher. The day of her fathers accident her mother saw them carrying a stretcher down the road and realized that it was her husband. He was in the hospital for about four months and Aldene can remember him coming up the road toward home on crutches.
However, he never really recovered from those injuries, probably because of his diabetes. In 1925, a year before insulin was discovered and changed the lives of most diabetics after that time, her father died from complications of the disease at 41 years old. She was heartbroken.
"I don't remember it so well but my mother told me that when the morticians came to get my fathers body I held onto their legs and wouldn't let go hoping they wouldn't take him away," she said
The death of the breadwinner in those days was more devastating than it is today. There was no Social Security for dependents, no welfare, not food stamps. Suddenly Aldene's mother had four children to care for and raise and no means of support.
"She started taking in wash from the miners around town to take care of us," said Aldene. "At first she was washing clothes on a scrub board and we would help her sometimes. Then she got a washing machine but those kind weren't run by electricity, but by hand. I remember taking my turn at that machine with my brothers and sister."
She also remembered taking baths.
"We would all use the same water over and over," she said.
One day her mother announced to the children that she would be getting married again and that they would have a new father. They were married in 1926 and Aldene was immediately scared of him.
Once he was in the house the step father had a friend who would visit and try to pick Aldene up and hold her on his lap. She would struggle to get loose and one time when she did she went in the room where the man hung his hat and cut wedges in the hat brim. He was mad and she got a licking for it, but he never bothered her again.
Her step father had a huge temper and could be really mean. One day she and her brother were playing and he came up with a razor strap and started hitting them with it for no reason at all. It was even worse when he was drunk.
In 1928, Aldene's mom divorced the step father, but later that year he came back and convinced her that he could be different and they remarried. He was okay for awhile, but soon returned to his old ways.
`"I hated to see weekends, holidays and paydays come up," she said. He would get drunk and break dishes, throw food on the floor. He often took out the frustration he had at work with someone on the family. One time when he got mad he took an ax to the furniture in the house.
Sometimes the kids would go outside and hide until dark and until the lights in the bedroom went off and he had enough time to fall asleep. Then they would go back home to sleep. Sometimes their mother would come in the bedroom with them.
Aldene attended schools in Spring Canyon and Rains. The family also moved back to Lark for a time so she went to school there for awhile. Eventually she became a teenager, but the struggles with her step father continued.
Her step father was also involved in illegal activity, in terms of bootlegging. As a young girl she began immediately to enjoy dancing and she learned the polka. But with her step fathers activities she found herself dancing in another way; crushing grapes for illegal wine making. Her step father also had a still to make whiskey hidden in the hills. Aldene said there were always problems with what he was doing and her mom would get the brunt of his anger over things going wrong. The kids were warned not to tell anyone, and Aldene resented his activities a great deal.
"There was always money for wine and whiskey supplies but not for some of the necessary things the family needed," she said.
Aldene's first boyfriend and her were very close. He joined the Navy when she had started her senior year at Carbon High. She had many letters from him and he asked her to wait for him, but circumstances arose that changed all that. For years she wondered what had happened to the letters he had written her. Later she found out that her mother had burned them when Aldene got married.
It was about that time that her step father and a friend conspired to have the friends son come to the United States and marry Aldene. The son (named Joe) arrived in the area just as Aldene began her senior year. She didn't know what they were up to, but later found out.
They always tried to pair the two up but she was afraid of the man. Obviously he knew what they were trying to do because he soon became very possessive of her. He couldn't speak English and she could speak Slovenian. He also drank too much, just like her step father. At Christmas 1936 Joe brought her a ring and it came out that her step father had arranged it and he told her she would be marrying the man.
It wasn't long after that she met Mel Thomas, the man she would eventually marry. The step father never liked Mel and "really never got over the fact I married Mel instead of Joe."
Aldene graduated from Carbon High School in 1937. When asked what she did after high school she said "I got married."
This was a start of a new life for her, a marriage that would last 38 years. Mel had been born in England and was 13 years older than her. He had joined the Marines in 1933 and got out in 1936. His parents had settled in Colorado, but he didn't visit them much after he came to Rains to work in the mines. He didn't see eye to eye with them on many things.
"They were against dancing, card playing, alcohol and movies," she wrote in a book she has put together on her life. "He did them all so it's not surprising..."
They moved into a two room apartment that had been built out of the mens bunkhouse.
Mel's work in the mine eventually led to his being a a board member for the U.M.W.A. and finaly a vice president for District 22.
As with all couples they struggled financially and sometimes socially. She was not a drinker and he was. He liked a party, she did not. But she liked to dance and he would have none of it. Eventually he abandoned his friends for her and stopped.
Soon they were living in a three room house and in 1940 their first son Lynn was born.
Not long after Aldene became the Post Mistress of Rains, after the previous woman in the job had been fired because she was basically taking money that belonged to the post office. Post Mistresses were paid by cancellations (the number of stamps that were sold and the number of stamps that were cancelled). The previous tenant of the job and been falsifying how many she did and thus was getting more money than she deserved.
World War II soon began. Aldene had to face the burdens of a wartime economy just like everyone else around her.
"Everyone was in the same fix, but we always had plenty to eat and a roof over our head."
The mines were very busy producing coal for war production. Sometimes Mel had to work double shifts because someone would not show up to work.
One of the luxuries (although maybe a necessity for some women) that was in short supplie was nylon stockings.
"I knew the woman that worked at JC Penney's in Helper very well," she said. "When they got nylons in she would put some under the counter so they would be sold and I could buy them."
One day Mel came home from work and asked if Aldene would like to buy a house in Mutual, the house of some people they knew. They paid $300 cash; it took everything they had, but she finally had a nice home.
In September 1945 Max, the couples second son was born. At the time Mel had to go to Wyoming for union business and they thought Max would show up after he returned. Well, he came sooner although Mel was home in time to bring the new baby and mother home.
After that Aldena quit the Post Mistresses job. Mel and Aldena were concerned about the stability of the staff at the school in Rains (they couldn't keep teachers) and Lynn was coming close to the age where he would be going to school. They decided to look for a place closer to Price. The found a home in Carbonville, the one that Aldena still lives in today.
That was in 1946 and Aldena wasn't sure she would like it. In fact she didn't unpack a number of boxes for months hoping that Mel would say he wanted to move back.
The house only had a small basement so Mel decided to dig out the dirt under the house to create a full one. He did it wheel barrow and wheel barrow. When he was done he put up forms to put in cement. Aldena helped with the dirt and mixing the cement.
"I look back and wonder how we survived allthat hard work," she wrote in her book.
Mel continued to work in mines after he left the jobs in the U.M.W.A. He worked at Rains again and the Lone Pine Mine up Little Standard Canyon. Then he went to the Vulcan Fuel mine which became Western Coal. The family was asked to invest in the mine and they did, but it failed, so there was a substantial loss of money in that investment. He later went to work at Hiawatha for a time.
As the kids grew Aldene wanted a little more. She noticed that Carbon College was offering square dance classes. She asked Mel if he would like to take the classes with her but he said "Naw, I don't think I'd like it." She said she finally nagged him into just trying it. Once they got going he wanted to go every night. She said that some nights she was so tired that she didn't want to, but that she had had bugged him so bad about going at the first she didn't dare not go when he wanted to.
In the fall of 1955 the college began to offer nursing classes. The idea was to produce LPN's. Aldena asked Mel about taking the course but he said "Don't even consider it" so she dropped it. She also tried to talk him into it in 1956, but he still refused to say yes.
Then something happened that changed both their lives. In June of 1957 Mel was working at the Columbia mine and they were building new tunnels. Mel got his leg caught between two mine cars and he got a compound fracture which led to a very dangerous infection. Despite the doctors at the East Carbon Hospitals efforts the infection started to spread and got worse and worse. A final try with a very strong antibiotic kept Mel from losing his leg and maybe even his life.
Mel told Aldena he thought he wouldn't make it and he began to think of her trying to support two young sons with out a good job. He told her to register for the fall nursing classes at Carbon College.
That fall 25 women were given tests to see if they could fit into the nursing program. Aldena was one of 12 that were chosen that fall. Getting an LPN in those days was somewhat different than it is today. She studied for three and a half months, and then spent eight months going to the Carbon County Hospital for three days a week for practical training and two days a week still taking classes at the college. In total it was a one year course. There was a book of procedures that the students must master at the hospital before they could do those things with patients without supervision.
"At first I found it hard to study as I'd been out of school for 20 years," she wrote. "It was a very good program and our class got along so good together."
She finished the course and soon was a regular at the hospital. She spent 25 years helping people and came away with a lot of good stories and some sad ones as well.
"I remember one time I was helping this Italian gentleman to get dressed," she said. "I went to put one of his shoes on and he stopped me. 'You are putting on my left shoe first. That is unlucky.' I have been careful when helping others ever since."
One day she was on the medical hall in the old hospital. She saw this elderly Greek man walking down the hall, holding his glass urinary bottle that was hooked to a catheter. He was stark naked. She ran and got a hospital gown and put on him and took him back to his room. He looked up at her and said "Lucky George, Lucky George" while she was walking him back.
A dispute over wages in the hospital eventually led to a sick out by nurses too. The states prevailing wage for LPN's was much higher than was being paid to Carbon Hospital personnel. The nurses approached management a number of times and they promised to do something about it. After a few times of doing this and nothing happening all the LPN's called in sick one day. The four RN's int he building had to handle everything. A bulletin went out that the LPN's would be fired if they didn't come to work, but they still didn't go in. The hospital adminstration finally met with a committee of workers and agreed to wage hikes, benefits, overtime pay and other things.
In the late 1960s Mel took a job in Moab working with the Potash Mines. In 1968 Aldene followed and lived there for a year. She soon found herself working at Allen Memorial Hospital there for the duration of their stay. She came back to the Carbon Hospital in 1969.
Aldene retired from the hospital in 1982. For years she had volunteered for the Red Cross, but now she found herself doing other volunteer activities as well including helping at the Senior Center. She has also worked for years at the Helper Mining Museum.
Mel was diagnosed with cancer in 1974 and died in August of 1975. Aldene has never married again.
"I have had a lot of proposals, but I just never have wanted to do that," she said.
These days she keeps busy and in contact with her two boys, nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. She also is active at the senior center (particularly with line dancing three days a week) and the mining museum. She still drives herself and does everything she has always done on a regular basis.
She spends a lot of time keeping her mind active by doing puzzles and crosswords.
And she is not shy about using a computer either, but it did take some proding. Lynn and Max had been after her for some time to get a computer and to learn to use email. She didn't want to.
"I told them I was too old to learn that," she said. "But they bought it and brought it to my house. Now they are after me to get an Ipod and other fancy stuff. They are always plotting."
Ninety three, going on ninety four and still dancing and learning new things. Her sons are right.
Who knows what else she can do.