Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Muriel Webster Layton's Life Story

Muriel Webster was born in Central, Arizona, the 6th child, to Frank Alva and Maria Forestdale (Della) Adams Webster on October 30, 1913. Five other children, Nettie, Ruth, Lavon, George and Gwen had paved the way before her and were excited to have a new little sister. The oldest daughter, Agatha Pearl died before Muriel was born. Because her mother served diligently in the Relief Society, she often said that her sister Nettie was like a mother to her. She was later to return that gift to her younger brother Art when their parents went to the goat ranch. She and Art were both in school and stayed at home in Central in the house on the highway. Muriel took care of him. He said she would cook for him. She wasn’t the greatest cook at the time, but they got by.

Muriel attended school in Central through the 8th grade and was their valedictorian. Her 7th grade teacher thought she was a smart alec and went to the Webster home about it (I'd like to know how THAT turned out). In 9th and 10th grade, she went to Thatcher schools, then on the Gila Jr. College for her junior year. Her last year was spent in Ft. Thomas schools because Gila would only take Thatcher residents. Muriel loved school and was a good student. She developed into an interesting mixture of curiosity, intelligence and capabilities. She loved to learn and to read. The Webster family had a granary and she would go up the stairs to the top and read. It was the perfect place because she couldn’t hear when they called her. Sadly, Muriel didn’t get to attend her graduation exercises; she got appendicitis. Her father couldn’t afford the surgery, so she had to stay in bed. Later, they had to do the surgery anyway.

The Websters lived on a big farm. Along with the granary they had a barn, with a big pigpen inside. There were also two corrals and a shop with farm equipment and tools. They had a horse named “Whitey” which the kids would ride and a workhorse called “George”. It was about a mile walk to school, so she sometimes rode Whitey.

One thing she loved was their fancy 2-seated buggy. Nettie and Ruth drove and Muriel got to go along. She also remembered the 1-seater buggy, which Nettie, Ruth and Gwen took to school. She got to ride with them. As they clopped along, they would pick up kids on the way. By the time they got to school, there were kids hanging out all over that buggy. Muriel was very proud of her father and talked about the goat ranch and how he was a contractor and built the lower part of the Coronado Trail.

The Webster family had a nice home. Her father made a good living. Like everyone else in town, they had an outhouse. It was quite a distance from the house, so they couldn’t wait until the last minute to go. Unlike most, however, they also had indoor plumbing. They had a well with a windmill pump.

When Muriel was a young girl, she was badly burned. She was always cold and had gotten too close to the fireplace. Her nightgown caught fire. Nettie and Ruth rolled her on the floor to put out the flames. Treatment for burns was much different then. To keep from getting infection, the doctor poured warm wax on her back. Aunt Ollie Webster, who lived close by would come over and help Della take off the wax and dress the wounds. Muriel was very angry because they held her down and the pain was so great.

On June 30, 1939 her brother-in-law, Silas Jarvis married Muriel and Max Layton. She had known Max for many years before they dated. They did much of their courting at the goat ranch. Reece remembered getting on the big old horse and following them around. They made their home for a year in Thatcher next door to Gordon and Bernice Stowell. Then, in 1940, they bought the home on Church Street where she lived until her death. She and Max had three children, Maxine Faye, James Arthur and Gwen Kaye, now deceased. Muriel’s love of family was apparent in the names of her children. Maxine was named after her father Max. Jim was the namesake of Uncle Jim Lyon (Aunt Gwen’s husband) and her brother Uncle Art. Gwen was named after her sister Gwen.

Gwen Kaye and her two daughters, Kliss Ann and Dasha lived with Muriel until Gwen’s death in 1996. In a letter sent to Dasha when Muriel was staying with Maxine in California in 2001, she stated: “I do get homesick, but should be grateful to have a daughter to care for me. She is so good to me.” Muriel was very thankful for Maxine. She often said how much she appreciated her and that she knew she couldn’t get along without her. In April 1990, Muriel had two knee replacements. She wore a brace on her legs after that. Maxine took her everywhere. For a woman who had a hard time getting around, she sure went a lot of places.

One of Muriel’s loves was teaching. She received her Elementary degree from NAU in July 1963 at the age of 49. She taught in Clifton, Safford and Pima. One of her loves was special education. She enjoyed the challenge and rejoiced in every small improvement her students made. She donated time to the Graham County ARC. In 1987 the Association of Retarded Citizens awarded her a certificate of appreciation for nomination as teacher of the year.

Muriel was also a long-time book club member. She enjoyed reading until her eyes refused to let her. You could always find a book or three in Muriel’s bed. If anyone was missing a good book, someone would say, “Have you looked on Grandma’s bed?”

Muriel was an active member in the church and held many positions. Her favorite was that of Cub Scout Leader. She loved the rough and tumble little boys. Max laughingly told the story of how Muriel once hi-jacked a Carnie at the fair. He did caricatures of people. She was quite impressed with this and wanted her Cub Scouts to try it. She approached the man and wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. Max relayed how embarrassed he was, but she wouldn’t give up. Finally the man agreed and showed up at the next Cub Scout meeting. He said that he really enjoy being with the boys and teaching them. Muriel really loved her scouts.

Muriel was also a great auntie/grandma. All the young nieces and nephews loved to visit. Aunt Muriel would take them crawdad fishing over in the college canal. She always seemed to have something planned outdoors. She adored children and passed that down to her own family. Every grandchild and niece and nephew that spent any time with Auntie/Grandma could feel of her love for them. Her friend Leila Branch, who has since passed away told of how Muriel taught her children that to pluralize the word “mouse”, you had to say “meeses” and to pluralize cactus, it was “cacteeses”. I quote, “As you can see, she was a big help to me in the education of my family.” She was also a comfort to Leila when she was pregnant with her first child. Muriel already knew about birthing babies, as she had already had Maxine, so when Leila complained about being so big and uncomfortable Muriel laughed at her and said, “Quit complaining, it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.”

When the name Muriel Layton is spoken, there are two thoughts that come to mind; service and humor. Muriel was always in the service of her fellowman. She would do whatever she could to help someone in need or ease their pain. Her children often watched good food leave the house to benefit others. In Leila’s tribute to Muriel on her 90th birthday, she said that they would sometimes drop into her home unexpectedly. She would make them feel welcome and glad they stopped by. She’d rustle up something good for them to eat or drink. She always treated them with a snack of some kind.

In our family, Muriel was the one to depend on. She was there for any family member who needed help. As Nettie and Ruth aged, she was always there to take them places when needed. Not a day passed that they did not communicate. She loved her brothers and sisters and their spouses. Their children became her own. Muriel was there for every family function imaginable, if at all possible; baptisms, blessings, weddings, whatever the occasion. She had such joy in family and we all felt it. If anyone needed help, it was Muriel that was called. Everyone knew she would be there. One of the last words her sister-in-law, Bea Welker spoke were, “Get Muriel.”

As most know, she loved to garden. Many of us became happy recipients of her green thumb. We were loaded down with zucchini and tomatoes and other yummy things. Her roses were her love. She had beautiful bushes. It was a sad day when she could no longer care for her dear garden. She wanted to keep her thumb in it so bad that for a while, she would have someone come over and water and pick the vegetables for her.

As a young girl, she was allowed to cook a few times on the cook wagon for the workers on the ranch. She didn’t start out too well. Once after she had made something, a work hand told her not to worry. She’d get better when she got older. He was right. She did. Muriel could make the best lemon meringue pie on the planet. Another one of her joys was making candy. She and her sisters would get together at Christmas time and make tons of fudge, peanut brittle, divinity, caramels, Boston Creams, taffy and who knows what else? It was fun watching them dip chocolates. They turned out beautifully with a little swirl on the top. Many years ago she and Nettie came up with a pecan log where they made a divinity roll, wrapped it in homemade caramel, dipped it in chocolate, then rolled it in chopped pecans. They then sliced it in rounds. It was heavenly.

Muriel served her friends and neighbors. Leila wrote that she had a keen sense of knowing when someone was hurting inside privately. Without prying into the why of it, she found a way to talk to that person and help them understand what they could do to feel better. She had a strength inside that she was able to communicate to others.

Muriel outlived most of her friends, as well as the neighborhood. She lived in the only inhabited house on the block. One of her dear friends is here today, Vivian Lambson, who is only a year younger than Muriel. They have been friends almost since birth and lived down the road from one another. She said she didn’t know what her friend loved more, making fudge or playing bridge. She also loved to indulge in ice cream and drink Dr. Pepper.

Everyone who knew Muriel knew of her fun sense of humor. She loved to laugh and make others laugh, too. She always liked a good story. She would make fun of herself and her inability to see, hear, walk or remember. Muriel loved to take baths. One Wednesday afternoon she filled up her tub for a long hot soak. When she tried to get out, her legs would not let her. She finally gave up, knowing that someone would eventually come. When she got pruney, she drained the water and put towels over herself to keep warm. When she got too cold, she would fill up again. It was a nice system she had going. Finally, on Friday afternoon, Kliss came home and could not get in. After breaking into the house, she heard Grandma call. She ran to the bathroom and there she was, still resting in the tub. Kliss called the home teachers who came and got her out. She was asked, “Are you OK?” She replied, “Yes, I’m kind of hungry, but not very thirsty.”

One day, when she was at Walt and Jenene’s, still using a walker she walked through the family room, to get to another room on the other side. Her vision was poor, especially in dim light. When she got to the doorway to go through, she didn’t see the 6” step down and fell through to the hard floor. Chuy, a young man who was living in our apartment at the time, and Walt, jumped up to help her. They picked her up, got her on the couch and began cleaning up the places that were bleeding. Aunt Muriel said, “Boy, if I’d known I was going to get this much attention, I would have done this sooner.”

Everyone who knew Muriel has a story, or remembers some funny thing she said or how she made them laugh. Leila’s son Steven once said something that quite up sums Muriel Layton: “Aunt Muriel has such a laughing noise that it makes me feel like happiness lives inside of her and of me, too.”

In conclusion, one story Jim said she liked to tell, though it wasn’t about her, was when her parents owned the goat ranch out at Hot Canyon, which, I believe, is now part of the Apache Indian Reservation. They would sheer the goats, load it on mules and a worker would bring them out to Central or wherever the drop off place was. After that, they would just turn the mules loose and they would find their way back home to the ranch. They didn’t always make it back, however, because some of the good neighbors along the way would catch the mules and pen them up and try to find out who they belonged to. This held up business because Frank would have to go out hunting his mules. He finally got tired of it. The next time the mules were seen wandering home, there was a big sign draped over the lead mule, which read: LEAVE ME ALONE, I’M GOING HOME.

So, for you Auntie/Grandma, we will love you and keep you in our heart’s fondest memories. Thanks for the great examples of love, compassion, humor. We are all better for having known you. Now, we will leave you alone and let you go home to your family and loved ones, knowing that one day we will see you again.

--From the Life Story given by niece Jenene Maybury at Granma Muriel's Funeral

Friday, February 16, 2007 at the Thatcher Stake Center, Thatcher, Arizona

Photos: (1) Three Little Websters--George, Muriel, & Art, circa 1916; (2) Max T. Layton; (3) Lovely Muriel at age 28 with Baby Maxine, 1940 (4) Little Jim- James Arthur Layton, age 9, 1953; (5) Jim Layton's marriage to Lyndi Elrey--Bill & Lyn Elrey, Lyndi & Jim Layton, Muriel & Max Layton--1970